The book of Numbers is one of the lost books of the Bible—lost because it is neglected by many Christians. Named for its two “numberings,” or censuses, of Israel—the generation that left Egypt and the generation that entered the land of promise—Numbers frames a fascinating account of the pilgrim people Israel learning to trust God. Readers are frequently puzzled by the dazzling variety of literature that makes up this book of Numbers and wonder how to make sense of the whole.
Raymond Brown discloses the careful design and message of Numbers. He shows how God provides for the basic needs of the ideal life: to be loved, to be free, to be clean, and to be sure. He also highlights the rich theological themes, untangles its meaning for today’s readers, and shows its enduring relevance for God’s people.
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“Their unbelief in what God had plainly said is a sombre warning. As we face the unknown future, we do so with a reliable Bible in our hands. God ‘has given us his very great and precious promises’,9 assuring us that, as we encounter the unknown, everything we need will be unfailingly provided.” (Page 115)
“There is an inevitable loneliness in leadership. Most of the heartaches cannot easily be shared, but the Lord generously provides his servants with good colleagues who can relieve some of the pressures.” (Page 97)
“Obedience is the validating sign of authentic Christian discipleship. It is impossible to exaggerate its importance in the message of Jesus. He not only taught it but exemplified it.22 Even Jesus, we are told, ‘learned obedience’,23 not simply by accepting the inevitable limitations of an incarnate life24 but throughout his entire ministry.25 His followers are not content simply to learn what he says; they do it.” (Page 34)
“Believers acknowledge a higher priority. They recognize the importance of waiting upon God. Our dominant thought is not ‘What suits me best?’ but ‘What honours God most?’ Like Israel at this crucial time in her history, we too face an unknown future. We like to think we have things reasonably mapped out, but the months and years ahead are not revealed to us.” (Page 113)
“Priests and Levites were conscripts. It is refreshing now to read a passage that makes room for the volunteer, any man or woman (2) who wishes to offer time and service to God for whatever purposes he or she may determine.” (Page 48)
Raymond E. Brown, S.S., taught for many years at Saint Mary's Seminary in Baltimore and was Professor of Biblical Studies at the Union Theological Seminary for two decades. He was the author of three books in the Anchor Bible series on the Gospels and Epistles of John and wrote the classic Anchor Bible Reference Library volumes The Birth of the Messiah, The Death of the Messiah, and An Introduction to the New Testament. He died in 1998.