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INTRODUCTION TO NUMBERS

  1. NAME OF THE BOOK

    1. In the Hebrew (MT) the title is "In the Wilderness" (BDB 184). This is not the first word but it is in the first sentence (i.e., the fifth word). It documents the revelations and events from Mt. Sinai to the plains of Moab across from Jericho.

    2. In the LXX it is entitled "Numbers" (arithmoi) and in the Vulgate (numeri) because a census was taken twice in chapters 1-4 and 26.

  2. CANONIZATION

    1. It is part of the first section of the Hebrew Canon called "The Torah," "Teachings," or "Law."

    2. The section is known as the Pentateuch (five scrolls) in the LXX.

    3. In English it is sometimes called "The Five Books of Moses."

    4. It includes a continuous account by Moses, from the beginning of creation through Moses' life, Genesis ‒ Deuteronomy.

  3. GENRE ‒ This book is very similar to the Exodus. It is a combination of historical narrative and legislation as well as the ancient poetic oracles (i.e., Balaam, Numbers 23-24).

  4. AUTHORSHIP

    1. This is the first book of the Torah to name a written source, "The Book of the Wars of YHWH," Num. 21:14-15. This clearly shows that Moses did use written documents as well as oral traditions (see John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture).

    2. This book states that Moses could and did record the events of the wilderness wandering period. See SPECIAL TOPIC: MOSES' AUTHORSHIP OF THE PENTATEUCH

    3. Numbers also provides several examples of obvious editorial additions (possibly by Joshua or Samuel):
      1. Num. 12:1,3
      2. Num. 13:22
      3. Num. 15:22-23
      4. Num. 21:14-15
      5. Num. 32:33ff
      6. Num. 32:33ff

    4. In most cases Moses is referred to in the third person except in direct quotes. This implies Moses used scribes in compiling these materials. See SPECIAL TOPIC: SCRIBES.

    5. It is interesting to notice that Numbers includes two non-Israelite literary productions:
      1. the Amorite taunt poem in Num. 21:27-30 (possibly v. 30 was an Israelite addition)
      2. BBalaam's conversations with Balak, King of Moab, in Numbers 23-24

        They do show the use of written or oral material included in the compilation of the book (cf. The Book of the Wars of the Lord, Num. 21:14-15).

  5. DATE

    1. TThe book itself gives the date:
      1. Num. 1:1 and 10:10 say it was the 2sup>nd month of the 2nd year after the Exodus. After this there was a 38 year wandering period.
      2. Num. 9:1 says it was the 1st month of the 2nd year after the Exodus.

    2. The time of the Exodus is uncertain. It is either 1445 B.C. or 1290 B.C. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE DATE OF THE EXODUS.

      See SPECIAL TOPIC: ANE CALENDARS

  6. SOURCES FOR CORROBORATING THE HISTORICAL SETTING

    1. There are four items from the book of Numbers that uniquely reflect an Egyptian culture:
      1. TThe layout of the Hebrew camp by tribes (Num. 2:1-31; 10:11-33) and the marching arrangement of the tribes (Numbers 1-7). This fits exactly the order used by Rameses II in his Syrian campaign, known from the Amarna Texts. These Canaanite documents, from the 1300 B.C. period, describe the social, political, and religious interactions between Canaan and Egypt. It is also significant that this Egyptian layout and arrangement changed as we learn from the Assyrian bas-reliefs of the first millennium B.C. The Assyrians camped in a circle.
      2. The silver trumpets of Numbers 10 reflect an Egyptian source. Archaeology has specifically found them mentioned in the reign of Tutankhamen, dated around 1350 B.C. Also these silver trumpets, used for religious and civil purposes, are common in the Amarna Texts. /li>
      3. Horse drawn chariots were introduced to Egypt by the Hyksos, Semitic rulers of the 15th and 16th Dynasties. The ox drawn carts were also unique to Egypt. They are seen in the Syrian campaign of Thutmose III 1470 B.C. The people of Canaan were unfamiliar with these wagons, probably because Canaan was so rugged and hilly. These carts were used to get Jacob (cf. Gen. 45:19, 21, 27). They were also used by the Hebrews in the Exodus (Num. 7:3, 6, 7).
      4. One last uniquely Egyptian element that was copied by the Hebrews was totally shaved priests (Num. 8:7)./li>

    2. The two censuses found in chapters 1-4 and 26 are paralleled in:
      1. tthe Mari Tablets from the 1700's B.C.
      2. a document from the old kingdom period of Egypt, 2900 - 2300 B.C./li>

  7. LITERARY UNITS (context)

    1. Brief Outline Based on Geographical Setting:
      1. preparations at Mt. Sinai for the journey to the Promised Land, Num. 1:1 - 10:10
      2. the journey to the Promised Land, Num. 10:11 - 21:35
        1. to Kadesh, Num. 10:11-12:16
        2. at Kadesh, Num. 13:1-20:13
        3. from Kadesh, Num. 20:14-21:35
      3. the events on the Plains of Moab, Num. 22:1-36:13

    2. Detailed Outline
      1. R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 614-615.
      2. E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 84-90.
      3. NIV Study Bible, pp. 187-188.

    3. One of the difficulties of analyzing Numbers is its rather unusual organization of material; i.e., the mixture of law and narrative and its inclusion of miscellaneous material. Some theories about its structure are:
      1. This was obviously used by the proponents (Wellhausen) of the "documentary hypothesis," J.E.D.P., to divide the book into many non-historical, non-Mosaic sources. SPECIAL TOPIC: PENTATEUCH SOURCE CRITICISM.
      2. J. S. Wright proposes a compilation of Mosaic materials at the end of his life, in consultation with scribes. The piece-meal character of Numbers is noted but relegated to Moses' lifetime.
      3. Gordon J. Wenham (Tyndale Commentary on Numbers, p. 14-18) proposes a triadic parallel using the biblical material from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, and relating them to the three journeys:
        1. Red Sea to Sinai
        2. Sinai to Kadesh
        3. Kadesh to Moab

        By doing this both for material related to "journeyings" and "stoppings" a remarkable parallel becomes evident. He further relates this triadic parallelism to Genesis 1-11, Genesis 12-50, and Deuteronomy. This approach seems very promising. It does show us that Ancient Near Eastern authors had literary structures or patterns which controlled their literary forms but are unfamiliar to us as modern westerners.

  8. MAIN TRUTHS

    1. It is a continuation of the historical narrative started in Genesis. But it must be remembered that this is not a "western history" but a Near Eastern theological history. Events are not exhaustively recorded in chronological order but are selected to reveal God and Israel's character. SPECIAL TOPIC: OT AS HISTORY, SPECIAL TOPIC: OT HISTORIOGRAPHY COMPARED TO NEAR EASTERN CULTURES, SPECIAL TOPIC: OT HISTORICAL NARRATIVE

    2. It shows God's character:
      1. His presence seen in the cloud:
        1. The Cloud rested onto the "Holy of Holies" of the Tabernacle, Num. 9:15. God accepted it and its procedures as the way and place for God and humanity to meet!
        2. The Cloud led the people, Num. 9:17-23. God was with them, and led them by His very presence.
        3. The Cloud embodied God's presence revealing Himself to Moses, Num. 11:17, 25; 16:42-43.
        4. The Cloud became a symbol of God's presence in judgement as well as revelation, Num. 12:1-8; 14:10.
        5. the Cloud was the visible symbol of God's presence, not only to Israel, but to the surrounding nations, Num. 14:14; 23:21.
        6. God's presence symbolized in the cloud during the Exodus and wilderness wandering period was suspended as the Israelites entered the Promised Land, but still God was symbolically with them by means of the Ark, 35:34.
      2. His grace and mercy in:
        1. His continuing presence with them amidst their grumbling and rejection of His leaders, Num. 11:1; 14:2, 27, 29, 36; 16:11, 42; 17:5; 20:2; 21:5.
        2. His provisions for them in the desert:
          (1) water
          (2) food
          (a) manna (daily, except on the Sabbath)
          (b) quail (twice)
          (3) clothing that did not wear out (cf. Deut. 8:4; 29:5)
          (4) the Cloud:
          (a) shade
          (b) light
          (c) guidance
          (d) revelation
        3. His harkening to Moses' intercession:
          (1) Num. 11:2
          (2) Num. 12:13
          (3) Num. 14:13-20
          (4) Num. 16:20-24
          (5) Num. 21:7
      3. His justice (Holiness) in:
        1. Israel's punishment of a 38 year wilderness wandering period (Numbers 14)
        2. Moses' punishment of not being able to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:1-13; 27:14; Deut. 3:23-29)
        3. The death of Korah and the leaders of Reuben (Num. 16:1-40)
        4. The plague for the people rejecting Moses' and Aaron's leadership (Num. 16:41-50)
        5. the idolatry at Shittim was judged by God by the death of the offenders at the hand of the Levites (Numbers 25)
      4. See SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT)


    3. As Israel settled into the Covenant agreement revealed at Mt. Sinai and began to trust in YHWH, strict obedience to His Word became the central issues.

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