1. Author and Time of Writing
The book of Leviticus as well as the book of Numbers follow immediately after the book of Exodus. The book of Numbers begins with the words "And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinaļ, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt." (Compare Ex. 40:17)
The Lord Jesus includes the book of Numbers in His words when explaining to His disciples all that was written concerning Himself ("in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms." Luke 24:44).
2. Purpose of Writing
In Numbers the history of Israel during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan is described. It is a sad history of continual failure. The long period of 40 years was the punishment of God for the disobedience of His people and it was not according to His counsel.
The wandering in the wilderness is depicted in the New Testament as to take warning from for the Christians (1 Cor. 10:1-22; Heb. 3-4). The wilderness is a picture of earthly circumstances wherein faith is tested.
The Levites and their service play an important role in this book. This ought to show us that the Christian also is responsible to reveal the testimony of Christ, his Lord, in the world.
After receiving the law at mount Sinaļ the people went through a census which was repeated after the wandering in the wilderness (chaps 1 and 26). In chapters 1 to 10 instructions on the service and consecration of the Levites and the Nazarite precede the description of the journeying of the camps. After a short time the people reach the boundaries of the south of Canaan and there the twelve spies are sent forth. But ten of the spies have so little faith that they discourage the people and make them rebellious. God answers by punishing them: The people have to wander another 38 years in the wilderness until all (except for Joshua and Caleb) who have come out of Egypt have died (chaps 13 to 14).
Then follow the rising up of Korah (chaps 16 and 17), the failure of Moses and Aaron (ch. 20) and renewed murmuring of the people and the plague of fiery serpents, where Moses had to erect the serpent of brass in chapter 21. The Lord Jesus mentions the serpent as a symbol of His death on the cross (John 3:14,15). Then Israel comes into contact with the enemy. First they meet Balaam, who according to the will of the Moabites ought to condemn Israel but then has to bless it instead (chapters 22-25). After that various people in the land of eastern Jordan were conquered until at the end of Numbers Israel finally arrives at the boundary river Jordan.
The book of Numbers finds its parallels in the New Testament in the Epistles to the Corinthians which describe the order and the conduct of the assembly of God.
a) Very little is mentioned about the nearly 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. In chapter 10:11 the camp sets forward for the first time on the twentieth day of the second month in the second year of the exodus out of Egypt. In chapter 20:1 we read already of the fortieth year (compare Aaron's death in chap. 20:28 with 33:38).
Different grave sins of individuals or of the people of Israel as a company are mentioned:
b) The instructions of the law in Numbers are in connection with the wandering in the wilderness and the failure of the people, such as:
4. Overview of Contents
I. Numbers 1:1 -10:10: The camp of the people of Israel at Sinaļ
II. Numbers 10:11-20:29: The 38 years of Wandering in the Wilderness
III. Numbers 21-32: The Sojourning on River Jordan
IV. Numbers 33-36: Retrospect and Forecast