There were four elements to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1–3, and they all play a role in Numbers:
1. The land. Numbers describes Israel’s journey toward the Promised Land.
2. Descendants. Abraham had been promised that his descendants would be as many as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). Jacob’s family consisted of just 70 persons when he entered Egypt (Gen. 46:27). Now they had increased immensely. The first census (Num. 1:1–46) showed that the fighting men numbered 603,550. That did not include women and children. Surveying their camp from a hilltop, Balaam declared, “Who can count the dust of Jacob or number the fourth part of Israel?” (23:10). Balaam went on to predict that Israel would become a powerful kingdom in its own right: “a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (24:17).
3. Covenant relationship with God. The essence of the covenant was, “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.” The Lord’s presence with Israel is constantly highlighted throughout the book of Numbers.
4. Blessing to the nations. This is the aspect of the promises to Abraham that is least apparent in Numbers. To a greater or lesser degree, the nations that Israel encounters are all hostile. Nevertheless Balaam recalls the phrasing of Genesis 12:3 when he says, “Blessed are those who bless you, and cursed are those who curse you” (Num. 24:9). Nations who treat Israel generously by blessing her will themselves be blessed.