The book of Numbers tells the story of the Israelites during the nearly forty years from the time they left Mount Sinai until they reached the eastern border of the land that God had promised to give them. The name of the book refers to a prominent feature of the story, that is, the census which Moses took of the Israelites at Mount Sinai before their departure, and again in Moab, east of the Jordan, about a generation later. In the period between the two censuses the Israelites went to Kadesh Barnea on the southern border of Canaan, but failed to enter the promised land from there. After spending many years in that area, they went to the region east of the Jordan River, where part of the people settled and where the rest prepared to cross the river into Canaan.
The book of Numbers is an account of a people who were often discouraged and afraid in the face of hardship, and who rebelled against God and against Moses, the man God appointed to lead them. It is the story of God's faithful, persistent care for his people in spite of their weakness and disobedience, and of Moses' steadfast, if sometimes impatient, devotion both to God and to his people.
Outline of Contents
The Israelites prepare to leave Mount Sinai (1.1—9.23)
a. The first census (1.1—4.49)
b. Various laws and rules (5.1—8.26)
c. The second Passover (9.1-23)
From Mount Sinai to Moab (10.1—21.35)
Events in Moab (22.1—32.42)
Summary of the journey from Egypt to Moab (33.1-49)
Instructions before crossing the Jordan (33.50—36.13)
The Israelites wandered in the wilderness (desert) for forty years before entering Canaan, the land God had promised to their ancestor Abraham. The name of the book comes from two censuses taken during the journey. Numbers includes instructions for celebrating religious festivals and for dividing the land among the twelve Israelite tribes.