Why You Should Read the Book of Numbers

Years ago, I taught a class at my church in which I planned to teach though one book of the Bible. My first choice: the book of Numbers. Some people mistook this as a joke: Who would actually prefer to teach Numbers? But my good friends knew better and laughingly responded, “Of course you want to teach Numbers, Kelly!”

Numbers is truly one of my favorite books of the Bible and I always get excited as I finish up Leviticus and turn to those opening lines, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai…” Sure, it opens with lots of… you guessed it… numbers. But this book is action-packed and full of key events in Israel’s history. One of the reasons I wanted to teach it in my class was to debunk the myth that it’s a boring and irrelevant book.

In the end, it was just too long for me to cover in that 8-week class. Maybe one day, I’ll get the pleasure of teaching through this book. But for now, I simply want to commend it to you as an irreplaceable resource in your walk with God (as is each book of the Bible).

So here are a few reasons to jump into Numbers.

IT’S ACTION-PACKED

I think Numbers get a bad rap because people give up too early. They get into chapters 1, 2, and 3—a recorded census and the arrangement of the tribes of Israel—and assume the whole book will be much of the same. Now don’t get me wrong, those details are important and have much to tell us. Please don’t skip those chapters! But they are not representative of the book as a whole. This book is really about the Israelite’s journey through the wilderness on their way to the promised land. In fact, the title of this book in the Jewish Old Testament is “In the Wilderness.” (The name “Numbers” comes from the Greek title for this book, given because it begins and ends with a census.)

But once you get through chapters 1-10, which set the scene for life in the wilderness, it is action-packed. There is a superabundance of quail, conflict between leaders, a severe case of leprosy, the spying out of the land, plagues, battles, the ground opening up to swallow up whole families, and that’s only in chapters 11-16. There is so much happening in this book! It is truly a page-turner, leading readers through feelings of shock, sorrow, anger, despair, and curiosity with every chapter.

IT’S FULL OF GOD’S THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS

God is speaking through every verse in the Bible because he is the ultimate author behind it. But there are times in the Bible when God’s thoughts, feelings, and opinions are conveyed directly. And Numbers is a book that is full of that. As the action progresses it is often punctuated with God’s thoughts about the situation, and there is so much we can learn about his character through these moments.

For example, in chapter 11, the people complain that they don’t like the manna God is daily providing but instead desire the food they had in Egypt. God responds to their complaint with this: “…because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt.’” (11:20) This is HUGE! God has made it clear that these desires are a rejection of him personally. It’s simply an expression of their hearts that God is not enough. Wow. This has massive implications for me as a reader as I evaluate my own desires for things God has not seen fit to give me.

Over and over again in this book, God speaks to his people and it tells us so much about his character. As you read, notice what God loves, what he hates, what he responds to and what statements he makes about himself and his people. It helps us get to know our God!

IT’S OFTEN REFERENCED IN THE REST OF THE BIBLE

Did you know that the famous John 3:16 is framed by Jesus referencing a story from Numbers (Num. 21)? Did you know that the infamous Balaam—referenced in 2 Peter, Jude, and Revelation—is given 3 whole chapters in Numbers (Num. 22-24)? Did you know that the events in Numbers are so significant that they are referenced countless times in the rest of the Old Testament?

If we don’t know the book of Numbers, it will hinder our ability to fully understand many other parts of our Bibles.

IT’S GIVEN TO US AS A WORD OF WARNING

One of my favorite references to Numbers occurs in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Read through 1 Corinthians 10:6-11 below.

[6] Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. [7] Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” [8] We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. [9] We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, [10] nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. [11] Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.

Verse 7 is a reference to Exodus 32.

Verse 8 is a reference to Numbers 25.

Verse 9 is a reference to Numbers 21.

Verse 10 is a reference to Numbers 16.

Twice in this passage, Paul says that these things that happened to the newly freed Israelites “as an example for us.” Specifically, so that we might not desire evil like they did. And of his 4 specific references, 3 of them come from the book of Numbers.

Numbers is a gift to us so that we may learn from the mistakes of others. We should read it with an eye to see where these same attitudes, practices, and habits are cropping up in our lives and repent of them quickly.

IT MAY BE WEIRD, BUT IT’S WORTH IT

Yes, there are undoubtedly some strange things in the book of Numbers. Like the law of jealousy in chapter 5 and Balaam’s confusing character in chapters 22-24, just to name a few. And yes, you will likely leave with some unanswered questions. But that’s no reason not to read it! We shouldn’t be in the habit of picking and choosing what parts of God’s Word we want to study. Like the rest of scripture, the book of Numbers “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Written by: Kelly Needham

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