What is the Book of Numbers About?

Read this 4-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and inspire you to read Numbers!


Historical Context

Moses is the source and primary author of the book of Numbers, which is the fourth volume in the Pentateuch. Its English name comes from the censuses in chapters 1–4 and 26.

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Numbers for your good and to lead you into joy.

Journeys in the Wilderness

c. 1446 BC

The book of Numbers details the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness as they journeyed from Mount Sinai to Canaan. As with the exodus, it is difficult to establish the exact route that the Israelites took, but it is generally believed that they headed east from Mount Sinai until they reached the Red Sea, where they turned northward to the top of the gulf and on to Kadesh-Barnea.

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

Between Two Worlds by Josh Parsons

Check out this phenomenal 8-part message series by Josh Parsons. In short 38-minute messages, Josh Parsons discusses the difference between modern-day and Numbers in areas of blessing, grumbling, unbelief, failure, deliverance, protection, faithfulness, and inheritance.

Numbers Dictionary

As you read through Numbers, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know!

A place where sacrifices were made to worship God. An altar could be a pile of dirt or stones, or a raised platform of wood, marble, metal or other materials. The bronze or brazen altar was used for burnt offerings in the Tabernacle’s courtyard. It was a large box, eight feet square and four-and-a-half feet high, made of wood covered with bronze. A much larger altar replaced it when Solomon built the Temple. The altar of incense (also called the golden altar) was smaller, covered with gold, and placed just in front of the veil to the holy of holies. Every day, both morning and evening, incense was burned here, symbolizing the prayers of the people.

To make up for a wrong act; to become friends again. In the Bible, atonement usually means to become friends with God after sin has separated us from Him. In the Old Testament, the Israelites brought sacrifices to atone for their sins. The New Testament teaches that Jesus Christ made atonement for our sins when He died on the cross. Because Jesus died to “make up” for our sins, we can have peace with God.

A Hebrew word that means “master.” Baal (plural, Baalim) was the name of many false gods worshiped by the people of Canaan. They thought the Baalim ruled their land, crops and animals. When the Israelites came to the Promised Land, each area of the land had its own Baal god. Names of places were often combined with the name Baal to indicate ownership (Baal-Hermon shows that Hermon belonged to Baal). Eventually, Baal became the name for the chief male god of the Canaanites. They believed that Baal brought the sun and the rain and made the crops grow. The Israelites were often tempted to worship Baal—something God had told them they were never to do.

To praise or make holy. The word bless is used in different ways in the Bible: (1) When God blesses, He brings salvation and prosperity and shows mercy and kindness to people. (2) When people bless, they (a) bring salvation and prosperity to other persons or groups; (b) they praise and worship and thank God; (c) they give good things or show kindness to others.

A sacrifice, or gift, to God that was burned on an altar. The offering was a perfect animal, such as a goat, sheep, lamb, or ram. Burnt offerings were always given for cleansing, or atonement, for sins.

Counting the number of people living in an area or country.

(1) A request that harm come to someone; (2) blaspheme. In the Bible, curse does not mean to swear or to use bad language. When a person cursed something, he or she wished evil or harm to come to it. When God cursed something, He declared judgment on something.

Pure; set apart; belonging to God. God is holy. He is perfect and without sin. Jesus is holy too. He is without sin and dedicated to doing what God wants. Because Jesus died to take the punishment for sin and then rose again, people who believe in him have the power to be holy too. God helps them to become more and more pure and loving, like Jesus.

A mixture of spices held together with thick, sticky juice that comes from trees and plants. Incense is burned to make a sweet smell. In the Tabernacle and Temple, incense was burned on a small golden altar to worship God.

Money, property, or traditions received from another person. Often a person receives an inheritance after another person’s death. The Bible tells us that everything that is God’s belongs to Jesus Christ. By His death on the cross, Jesus made it possible for us to share His inheritance with Him.

Descendants of Levi, one of the sons of Jacob and Leah. Some of the Levites were religious teachers. Others took care of the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple. Only Levites who were descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron could become priests.

A smooth, greasy, thick liquid. In the Bible, oil almost always means olive oil, which was squeezed from olives and used in food, as a fuel for lamps, as a medicine for wounds, and as a hair dressing, and skin softener. Olive oil was used to anoint priests and kings. It was also used in religious ceremonies in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

One of the Jews’ most important feasts. The Jews celebrate Passover every spring as a reminder that God freed them from slavery in Egypt. The word comes from the way the angel of death passed over the homes of Israelites on whose doorposts the blood of a lamb was sprinkled. In Egyptian homes, where there was no blood on the doorposts, all the firstborn sons died. This terrible disaster convinced the Egyptian pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt. At the Passover feast, the Jews eat bread made without yeast (unleavened bread), bitter herbs, and lamb. The unleavened bread reminds them that the Israelites left Egypt in a hurry; there was no time to let bread rise. The bitter herbs remind them of their suffering in Egypt. The lamb reminds them of the lamb they killed for the first Passover. The Passover feast was the last meal Jesus ate with His disciples before He was crucified.

(1) A very serious disease that spreads quickly among people in an area, often causing death. (2) Anything that causes great harm or suffering. Sometimes crops were destroyed by a plague of locusts. (3) The ten great disasters God sent to the Egyptians to convince the Pharaoh to free the Israelites (see Exodus 4–12).

Among the Jews, a man who offered prayers and sacrifices to God for the people. Priests led the public worship services at the tabernacle and later at the temple. Often the priests also taught the Law of God to the people. The priests of Israel were all descendants of Aaron’s family. All Christians are also priests (see 1 Peter 2:9). We are to help others learn about and worship God.

A gift or offering given to God. A sacrifice usually involved killing an animal to pay for sin. The New Testament tells us that Jesus died as the once-for-all sacrifice for sinners, and that no further sacrifices for sin are necessary.

A holy place; a place where God is worshiped. In the Bible, sanctuary usually refers to the Tabernacle or to the Temple.

(1) A desert peninsula between Israel and Egypt at the northern tip of the Red Sea. (2) A mountain on the peninsula where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Sinai is also used in reference to the Old Testament’s covenant of law.

The portable tent where the Israelites worshiped God. They used it while they wandered in the desert after they left Egypt and for many years after they entered the Promised Land. Moses and the people built the Tabernacle by following God’s instructions (see Exodus 25-27). The Tabernacle was used until it was replaced by a permanent place of worship called the Temple.

A group of people related in some way; clan; family. Each of the twelve tribes of Israel was descended from one of the twelve sons of Jacob. The descendants of Levi were assigned the honor of caring for the tabernacle and were not given a territory, as were the other eleven tribes. (They were given forty-eight towns in which to live.) The descendants of Joseph were divided into two half tribes named after Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

(1) Money, or services a weaker nation was made to pay to a stronger nation. (2) A gift, or service given to indicate respect, affection, or thanks.

(1) Dirty. (2) Any action, thought, food, person, or place that God has said is displeasing to Him. A Jewish person can become unclean by eating food that God had said not to eat, by touching a dead body or by getting a skin disease called leprosy. A person can become clean again by going through certain ceremonies.

A promise, usually made to God.

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions