Numbers - 'Its very title puts the modern reader off', writes Gordon Wenham. 'In ancient times numbers were seen as mysterious and symbolic, a key to reality and the mind of God himself. Today they are associated with computers and the depersonalization that threatens our society.'
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.
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“Here, then, is an alliance of priest and prophet, the two archetypes of Israelite religion, challenging Moses’ position as sole mediator between God and Israel.” (Page 124)
“Exodus concentrates on the deliverance from Egypt, the covenant at Sinai and the erection of the tabernacle. Leviticus highlights the nature of true worship and holiness. Numbers focuses on the land of promise and Israel’s journey towards it.” (Page 44)
“The Bible startles its readers by the way it juxtaposes the brightest of revelations and the darkest of sins. The lawgiving at Sinai was followed by the making of the golden calf (Exod. 20–32), the ordination of Aaron by the disobedience of his sons (Lev. 8–10), the covenant with David by the Bathsheba affair (2 Sam. 7–12), Palm Sunday by Good Friday. Here we have another classic example of this pattern, the wonderful prophecies of Balaam are succeeded by the great apostasy at Peor. In this way Scripture tries to bring home to us the full wonder of God’s grace in face of man’s incorrigible propensity to sin.” (Page 206)
“The spirit was bestowed within the court of the tabernacle, in the clean and holy area; the quails fell outside the camp, in the zone associated with uncleanness and death. The gift of the spirit drew men towards God; the quails led them away from God.” (Page 123)
“The fifth word of the book, bĕmidbar ‘in the wilderness’, constitutes its Hebrew title. This more aptly describes its contents, for it is wholly concerned with the forty years the tribes of Israel spent wandering in the wilderness between Mount Sinai and the plains of Moab.” (Page 15)