Numbers is the fourth book in the Hebrew Bible and is part of the Torah. It recounts the historic events of Israel’s experience with her God, Yahweh, from her time at Mount Sinai until her arrival at the plains of Moab. The purpose of the book is both theological and practical. Theologically it brings focus to Yahweh’s love for Israel and His patient adherence to the Sinaitic covenant and the promise that His covenant people would indeed inherit the promised land. Practically, it sets many of the patterns of worship and behavior that would be necessary when they inhabited the promised land. More specifically, it provides historic examples of the consequences for unfaithfulness and ungratefulness for Yahweh’s provision for them.
—The Lexham Bible Dictionary, Lexham Press
Best Commentaries on Numbers
Gordon J. Wenham, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (TOTC), InterVarsity Press, 1981, 192 pp.
In his effort to bridge the great gulf between the book and our own age, Wenham first explains the background of Numbers, discussing its structure, sources, date, and authorship as well as its theology and Christian use. A passage-by-passage analysis follows, drawing on social anthropology to offer helpful insights into Old Testament ritual.
- Level: Basic
- Type: Devotional
R. Dennis Cole, New American Commentary (NAC), B&H, 2000, 575 pp.
The book of Numbers is about faithfulness. It recounts thought-provoking accounts of man's sinfulness and God's divine grace. It answers questions such as: Why did the people of Israel wander for forty years in the desert? Can God overpower the will of any human heart? Will God follow through with his promises even if man disobeys him? Through careful examination, Dr. Cole reveals the historical and theological truths in this crucial but often neglected text.
- Level: Intermediate
- Type: Expository
Jacob Milgrom, JPS Tanakh Commentary (JPSTC), Jewish Publication Society, 1990, 520 pp.
Milgrom’s exhaustive commentary on Numbers offers penetrating insights into this sacred book. He maintains respect for classical Jewish commentators throughout but does not hesitate to incorporate modern biblical research. The commentary itself is divided into two parts—"The Generations of the Exodus" and "The Generations of the Conquest"—which are both supplemented by additional forays deeper into the text. These include sections on the census in the wilderness, purification from contamination by a corpse, the war against Midian, and many others. And all this is over and above the line-by-line analysis, the informative introduction, the footnotes, the charts, the maps, and the 77 excursuses to the commentary.
- Level: Intermediate
- Type: Technical
Timothy R. Ashley, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (NICOT), Eerdmans, 1993, 683 pp.
This comprehensive and erudite commentary—resulting from nearly a decade of study of Numbers by Timothy Ashley—presents a thorough explication of this significant Hebrew text. Ashley’s introduction to Numbers discusses such questions as structure, authorship, and theological themes, and it features an extended bibliography of major works on the book of Numbers, concentrating mainly on works in English, French, and German. Dividing the text of Numbers into five major sections, Ashley’s commentary elucidates the theological themes of obedience and disobedience that run throughout the book’s narrative. His detailed verse-by-verse comments are intended primarily to explain the Hebrew text of Numbers as we have it rather than to speculate on how the book came to be in its present form.
- Level: Intermediate
- Type: Expository
Dennis T. Olson, Interpretation, Westminster John Knox, 1996, 196 pp.
The book of Numbers is the story of the people of Israel in the wilderness as they departed from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the promised land of Canaan. It contains a variety of materials relating to this transition from the old generation of Israel to the new, including stories and laws, census lists, instructions for worship, reports of military battles, and accounts of legal disputes. Numbers chronicles a community faced with many competing interests, groups, and issues, endeavoring to define itself and its mission in the world. Dennis Olson offers readers a comprehensive interpretation of this often overlooked book. He provides a thoroughly contemporary reading of Numbers that enlightens the modern Church as it navigates the contemporary wilderness of pluralism, competing voices, and shifting foundations in the journey toward the twenty-first century.
- Level: Intermediate
- Type: Expository
Best Books on Numbers
Wenham states that the purpose of this guide is to introduce modern readers to a book that, at first glance, appears droll and unexciting, but upon further reading and reflection, contains some of the most gripping stories in Scripture. The book of Numbers is comprised of stories containing humor, magic, prophecy, drama, solemn ritual, and practical laws. Yet many miss these interesting tales by failing to press through the droll beginning. The author examines this vital volume in six chapters: “The Arrangement of Numbers,” “The Genres of Numbers,” “The Sources of Numbers,” “Numbers and History,” “The Theology of Numbers,” and “Later Interpretation of Numbers.”Learn more
This overview of the Pentateuch reviews the various historical-critical attempts to read it based on ideas about the social evolution of Israel’s religion and culture. Among the questions it addresses are: Is the Pentateuch an accumulation of folk traditions?; Is it a work of ancient historiography?; And is it a document legitimizing religious reform? Van Seters, in dialogue with competing views, advocates a compositional model that recognizes the social and historical diversity of the literary strata. He argues that a proto-Pentateuchal author created a comprehensive history from Genesis to Numbers that was written as a prologue to the Deuteronomistic History (Deuteronomy to 2 Kings) in the exilic period and later expanded by a Priestly writer to make it the foundational document of the Jerusalem temple community.Learn more
The Moses Tradition contains sixteen essays on the life of Moses. The authors employ form-critical and traditio-historical exegetical methods, paying careful attention to the text. The essays in this volume examine Exodus 3, Moses in Midan, Moses and Amalek in Exodus 17, the crossing of the sea in Israel’s early history, Moses and the golden calf, texts that describe Moses’ death, Moses’ marriage to a Cushite woman in Numbers 12, the call of Moses and Exodus 2, and Moses as a model for ministry, healings, and more. The Moses Tradition is an authoritative summary of current scholarship on the life of Moses and the implications of Moses in Israel’s history.Learn more
This unusually comprehensive textbook represents the most recent approaches to the biblical world by surveying Palestine's social, political, economic, religious, and ecological changes from Paleolithic to Roman eras. Designed for beginners with little knowledge of the ancient world, and with copious illustrations and charts, this volume explains how and why academic study of the past is undertaken, as well as the differences between historical and theological scholarship and the differences between ancient and modern genres of history writing. Classroom tested chapters emphasize the authenticity of the Bible as a product of an ancient culture and the many problems with the biblical narrative as a historical source. Neither "maximalist" nor "minimalist," it is sufficiently general to avoid confusion and to allow the assignment of supplementary readings such as biblical narratives and ancient Near Eastern texts.Learn more
Reinhard Kratz provides an introduction to the narrative works of the Old Testament, explaining their sources and the nature of their composition. In his textual criticism he relies on certain basic assumptions: a distinction between priestly and non-priestly text in the Pentateuch, the special position of Deuteronomy, a Deuteronomistic revision in the books of Joshua to Kings, and the literary dependence of Chronicles on the books of Samuel and Kings. Kratz expects his readers to “look at the texts of the Old Testament” as they read the material presented in his book, especially as he describes the content of biblical passages.Learn more
Best Courses on Numbers
In Book Study: Numbers, Dr. Dale Brueggemann examines the history of Israel’s wilderness wanderings from Egypt to the promised land, as recounted in the book of Numbers. He covers iconic events such as the spies’ report of Canaan, Moses’ striking the rock, Balaam’s blessing Israel, and the bronze serpent in detail and also reflects on the major theological themes behind such events—themes such as rebellion and sin, intercession, divine mercy, covenant promises, and purification/expiation. You will come away from the course with a better understanding of not only the content book of the book but also its lasting message for New Covenant believers today.Learn more
In Introducing the Pentateuch Dr. David Baker provides a broad overview of the background, structure, content, themes, and literary styles of the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. He traces the continuous story line from creation to Israel’s arrival in the promised land with a bird’s-eye view, while exploring key stories, topics, and theological messages in greater detail along the way. Throughout the course, Dr. Baker draws out and discusses the implications of this portion of the Old Testament for the Christian’s life and ministry.Learn more
Mobile Ed: BI205 Old Testament Exegesis: Understanding and Applying the Old Testament (15 hour course)
Embark on a journey of Old Testament Hebrew exegesis with Jason DeRouchie. The books of the Old Testament were the only Scriptures Jesus had. It was books like Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and Psalms that shaped Jesus’ upbringing and that guided his life in ministry as the Jewish Messiah. It was these Scriptures that Jesus identified as God’s Word and that he considered to be authoritative; it was these Scriptures he believed called people to know and believe in God and guarded them against doctrinal error and hell. This course will give you the tools you need to access meaning in the Old Testament, then apply it to your life. It will help you to grow in reading God’s living Word for depth and not just distance.Learn more
Join David W. Baker on a whirlwind tour to explore the Old Testament from many different angles and how it relates to ancient Near Eastern literature. From creation accounts and stories of destruction to Wisdom Literature, discover different biblical literary genres that have parallels in ancient Near Eastern literature. Explore extrabiblical historical texts that mention key events and figures from the Old Testament. Understand how Israel fits into and is impacted by its ancient Near Eastern environment but also how it is separate and unique, mainly on a theological level but also by its distinct worldview.Learn more
In an age of international travel and migration, we’re familiar with people who look, sound, eat, and believe differently than we do. To become friends, it’s helpful to understand where they come from and how they do things differently, or the same, as we do. In the same way it is necessary to understand someone who comes from a different place than we do, how much more necessary is it to understand someone who is from not only a different geographical place but also a different time than we are? The Old Testament starts at the beginning of the world. This course will undertake the task of crossing the bridges of geography, climate, time, and a landscape unknown to us: ancient Israel. Throughout the course, David W. Baker will address aspects of life from our own culture and time, as well as family structure and societal systems from ancient Israelite life. As you learn more about the social world of the Old Testament, you will be struck not only by our differences but also our common humanity and that we share the same dreams, hopes, and fears as they did.Learn more