The book of Numbers tells a story that has two main characters—God and Israel. The way the story is told sounds odd and often harsh to readers today. In spite of the difficulties imposed by Numbers on today’s readers, the main point of the book is of immense importance for God’s people in any age: exact obedience to God is crucial.
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.
“The blessing itself is a prayer that God would grant his gracious presence and watchcare to his people.1” (Page 149)
“The point of this whole story is that, in contrast to the important status of Balaam as a seer (see vv. 2–21), he is more blind to the presence of a messenger from Yahweh than his supposedly dumb beast. In his natural state (i.e., with ‘covered eyes’; see below on v. 31) Balaam was unaware of the reality of the spiritual world in spite of his professional reputation. This kind of statement would not be lost on an Israelite audience that might have been uncomfortable with a non-Israelite soothsayer being the vehicle of God’s word.” (Page 457)
“In v. 10b Moses comes to the nub of the matter—not being satisfied with the position to which God has called one, but wanting more for the sake of power and prestige. It is clear that the Levites’ call was to ministry or service of the people, not to power and position over them. This misunderstanding is near the heart of that which makes Korah’s rebellion so tragic: a misunderstanding of God’s call as to privilege and not to service.” (Page 309)
“The Israelites turned south in order to circumvent Edom, and on the way the exigencies of life in the desert once again caused them to complain. The section shows that, even in the face of victories such as that in 21:1–3, the Israelites’ basic character has not changed. They complain against both God and Moses because of a lack of acceptable water and food. Once more these people show themselves to be out of touch with reality as they long for Egypt and talk as if they had a choice about dying in the wilderness (cf. 11:4–6; 14:2–4; but see 14:33–35). In previous times complaints about food had brought a divine supply of their needs (11:4–35), but now the response of God is to send a scourge of fiery serpents that kills many people.” (Page 402)
A balanced and sensitive treatment. Highly recommended as a fresh and authoritative approach to this difficult but theologically rich Old Testament book.
A reader of Numbers will find much help in this extensive commentary.
—Journal of Religion
An excellent, well-informed treatment of an important and difficult book. It holds many lessons for the pilgrim people of God.
—Southwestern Journal of Theology
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