The title of Numbers comes from the Greek name given to it in the Septuagint, Arithmoi (“Numbers”). The Latin Vulgate followed this title and translated it Liber Numeri, “Book of Numbers.” These titles are based on the two numberings of the Israelites described in the book—the first at Mount Sinai (Num. 1) and the second on the plains of Moab (Num. 26). Numbers also has been called the “Book of the Journeyings,” the “Book of the Murmurings,” and the “Fourth Book of Moses.”
Most of the book describes Israel’s experience as the contentious people wander in the wilderness. What originally was to be an eleven-day journey for Israel became a forty-year agony. Thus the book provides a clear lesson: While it may be necessary to pass through the wilderness, you do not have to live there.
Numbers teaches us that God will allow us to go through prolonged wilderness experiences, not only in order to get our attention, but also to change our thinking or behavior. It isn’t enough merely to engage in self-examination. We can see a problem and know ourselves thoroughly, but unless we change our response to God in some way, we will never benefit fully from our wilderness experiences or grow as a result of them.
If, on the other hand, we are willing to allow God to use our wilderness experiences to surface the inner rubbish of our lives, and if we are willing to change what needs to be changed, we will emerge from the desert much closer to our heavenly Father, more mature as His child, and with far greater potential to reflect the love of God to the world around us. This is the great lesson of the Book of Numbers.
Theme: Numbers demonstrates that wrong choices bring specific consequences, some of them very painful. When the first generation of Israelites that left Egypt rebelled against God and sinned against His law, its members were forced to spend years wandering in the wilderness—though God intended for His obedient people to spend those years in the Promised Land.
Time: The events recorded in the Book of Numbers began about one year after the exodus from Egypt (c. 1446 B.C.).
Structure: The first ten chapters of Numbers contain legal instructions and record a census (or “numbering”) of the people of Israel. The remainder of the book records the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, as well as their complaints and rebellion against God and their leader, Moses.
Charles F. Stanley, The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005), Nu.