Lecture 9: The Law: Numbers
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: The Law: Numbers
I. Orienting Data for Numbers
A. What is especially interesting about Numbers is this—at the beginning of Numbers they leave Mount Sinai, so now they have received the covenant. They have really received what we call the Sinai Covenant. What is the Sinai Covenant? From Exodus 20 to the end of Leviticus, that is the Sinai Covenant. It is a great big thing. It is a book and a half of what we call books of the Bible. With Numbers, however, the reception of the law does not cease, rather, the Israelites now set out for the promised land and we get a mixture of stories about their travels on the way to the Promised Land which take thirty-nine years, it is rounded off to forty, but technically take thirty-nine years, along with a mixture of laws on issues that come up as they travel. So what God, in his mercy did, was to give them a covenant, get them all settled enough to leave Sinai. “Okay, you’re a people. That is your basic constitution.” Then very mercifully and graciously gives them some further laws in Numbers as the occasion requires. As they raise questions, as they encounter problems, as things happen, he pronounces those laws. He has given them a pretty heavy bunch in the first place and so giving them a little time to assimilate those and get new ones is useful. If you want a rough analogy, it certainly did not come about the same way, you can think of the United States Constitution. You have the constitution but then you have the long list of amendments. Those amendments became part of the constitution, they are very important, they are relied on all the time, they are just as if they had been written there in the first place. As the years went by, and the need was seen for those amendments, they were added. God did something like that for the Israelites. Showing that, not so much that he had forgotten to include stuff in the first place, there is no hint of that, no need to even think that way, but rather, it is the way he works with us now. It is the way that he has always worked. He gives you enough information to get started and he keeps teaching you and you keep learning and you keep growing in grace and so that is exemplified for us in the way that God continues to teach his people as they wander in the wilderness and partly because of their sins.
B. Again, Moses [is the author.]
C. Date of Composition: basic same time except that it goes over a period of time.
D. The coverage is that forty-year period between getting to Sinai and getting to the Promised Land.
1. Preparation for military conquest. In Numbers you will notice the Israelites are described as moving “by divisions”. That is a military term. They camped by divisions. They are starting to think of themselves as an army. This is a new thing to them. They were not in the army in Egypt. They could not fight, God had to fight fort them as they left Egypt but now they are beginning to think that way.
2. Constant leadership and care. When you preach Numbers that is a great theme to preach and teach.
3. The people’s tendency to doubt God. So they have a lack of confidence. Again and again they demonstrate that.
4. They demonstrate it so severely when they have a chance to enter the promised land and will not because they are afraid, they are afraid of the Canaanites, that God says, “Okay, you don’t want to go into the promised land? I’ll let another group go in.” And He says, “You adults will die off, it will be your children that go into the promised land.” That is the forty year time period to let most of the adults die off and let the younger people and little children grow up and enter the promised land as the new generation. That new generation, by the way, is going to need a whole new statement of the law to them and that is what Deuteronomy is. They are going to need that.
5. [Reception of additional laws as conditions described in the narrative lead to the need for those laws]
6. [Alternation of law and narrative]
7. The blessing of Israel through a pagan prophet. That is the story of Balaam. Fascinating how God, if he needs to, can use some pagan, use an idol-worshiping pagan. Can God do that? Sure, if he wants to he will do it.
8. Israel’s committing cultic immortality. That is informative. Sadly, even in Numbers 25 you have examples of the way the Israelites get into full-blown, cultic prostitution and all the miseries that it brings about. The Israelites got suckered into a lot of bad stuff.
9. Major preparation for the new conquest.
10. Finally, actual, initial, what you might call token, conquest of the promised land because they do, by the end of the book of Numbers, get into what we call the Transjordan, the area to the east of the Jordan River, not the heartland of Israel yet but certainly the area to the east of the Jordan.
I know that came fast but these materials are also available to you in a lot of places. This is not some mysterious thing. Most study Bibles will have many of these same bits and pieces of data. Certainly, any Bible dictionary, you just look up Numbers and one way or another it is going to give you these themes.