Smith's Bible Dictionary

Numbers, The Book of

Num'bers, The Book of. The Book of Numbers is the fourth book of the law or Pentateuch. It takes its name in the Septuagint (LXX) and Vulgate, (whence our "Numbers"), from the double numbering or census of the people, the first of which is given in chs. 1-4, and the second in chapter 28.

Contents. -- The book may be said to contain, generally, the history of the Israelites, from the time of their leaving Sinai, in the second year after the Exodus, till their arrival at the borders of the Promised land, in the fortieth year of their journeyings. It consists of the following principal divisions:

i. The Preparations for the departure from Sinai. Num 1:1; Num 10:10.

ii. The journey from Sinai to the borders of Canaan. Num 10:11; Num 14:45.

iii. A brief notice of laws and events which transpired during the thirty-seven years wandering in the wilderness. Num 15:1; Num 19:22.

iv. The history of the last year, from the second arrival of the Israelites in Kadesh till they reached "the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho." Num 20:1; Num 36:13.

Integrity. -- This, like the other books of the Pentateuch, is supposed , by many critics, to consist of a compilation from two or three or more earlier documents; but the grounds on which this distinction of documents rests are, in every respect, most unsatisfactory, and it may, in common with the preceding books and Deuteronomy, be regarded as the work of Moses.

The book of Numbers is rich in fragments of ancient poetry, some of them of great beauty, and all throwing an interesting light, on the character of the times, in which they were composed. Such, for instance, is the blessing of the high priest. Num 6:24-26. Such too are the chants which were the signal for the Ark to move when the people journeyed, and for it to rest when they were about to encamp.

In chapter 21, we have a passage cited from a book called the "Book of the Wars of Jehovah." This was probably a collection of ballads and songs composed on different occasions, by the watch-fires of the camp, and for the most part, though not perhaps exclusively, in commemoration of the victories of the Israelites over their enemies.

Taken from: Smith's Bible Dictionary by Dr. William Smith (1884)