Numbers tell us of a journey that should have been short but ended up being 40 years in the making. Why? Because Numbers is a story of stubborn rebellion from God’s people.
Numbers is a book of stubbornness: stubborn sinfulness from God’s people and stubborn grace from God himself.
Context is important as we read Numbers.
It comes after Exodus – where God miraculously and mercifully rescued his people from Egypt.
It comes after Leviticus – in which God comes to live among his people.
Numbers then tells of a journey to the Promised Land. But what should have taken weeks ends up taking 40 years! Why? Because of their STUBBORN sinfulness!
The heart of the book is one account after another of the STUBBORN SINFULNESS of God’s people. As you read Numbers you’re likely to come to the conclusion that Israel is a bit like one of these: STUBBORN AS A MULE!
Repeatedly they will accuse God of being a wicked murderer not a merciful saviour. That’s their conclusion when they spy out the land. That’s their conclusion when they don’t like Moses' leadership. That’s their conclusion when they don’t have enough food to eat and water to drink. STUBBORN SINFULNESS!
God responds in just punishment of the peoples' STUBBORN SINFULNESS.
- The generation that came out of Egypt will never enter the Promised Land.
- The priests who lead the rebellion against Moses are swallowed up by the ground.
- Even Moses is told he won’t make it into the Promised land because of his STUBBORN SINFULNESS.
So, as we read the book of Numbers, remember the book serves as a warning to us. Our hearts can easily repeat this STUBBORN SINFULNESS. Numbers reminds us that if such attitude and action is left unchecked it will incur God’s right judgement.
The latter part of the book of Numbers tells us of someone else’s STUBBORNNESS. Not the peoples' but God’s. And his STUBBORNNESS is a gracious thing.
An enigmatic figure, Balaam, comes onto the stage. He’s hired to CURSE God’s people. But under God’s direction, and even through his donkey, he BLESSES God’s people time and time and time again; even promising a future King for Israel to bring them victory. All of this goes on without Israel knowing; without Israel asking; without Israel deserving. How come? Because God is STUBBORNLY GRACIOUS towards his people.
So as we read the book of Numbers, remember that it’s because of this grace we can have hope; hope that God will show us GRACE too as we turn to him.
The book is structured around three locations and two journeys.
- Mount Sinai is INTRODUCTION
The camp is set up with God slap-bang in the middle and the people given further instructions on how to be holy.
- The Wilderness of Paran, and the journeys too and from, are characterised by Israel’s STUBBORN SIN
As both God and Moses are opposed. And we find God responds in judgement.
- The Plains of Moab are characterised by God’s STUBBORN GRACE
As God blesses his people, counts the new generation that will enter the Promised Land, gives them military victory and even starts to settle some of them in the land.
The book of Numbers is a book about STUBBORNNESS.
It EXPOSES our STUBBORN inclination to sin – serving as a warning
It EXULTS God’s STUBBORN inclination to GRACE – giving us HOPE
The Bible Project
For a more detailed look at the book of Numbers see the Bible Project video below, from which the structure above was taken.