The English title Numbers comes from the two censuses that are features of this book. The Hebrew title, In the Wilderness, is more descriptive. Numbers tells how God's people traveled from Mount Sinai to the border of the Promised Land. But when they refused to take possession of the Land, God made them wander in the wilderness for forty years. Throughout the book, God is seen as a holy God who cannot ignore rebellion or unbelief but also as the one who faithfully keeps his covenant and patiently provides for the needs of his people. Numbers ends with a new generation preparing for the conquest of Canaan. Jews and Christians recognize Moses as the author.


Numbers 1:1-3

Then the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head from twenty years old and upward, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.

A commission from the Lord was issued for the numbering of the people of Israel; and David, long after, paid dearly for doing it without a commission from the Lord. The place is given at God’s court in the wilderness of Sinai, from his royal palace, the tabernacle of the congregation. The time is in the second year after they came up out of Egypt; we may call it the second year of that reign. The laws in Leviticus were given in the first month of that year; these orders were given in the beginning of the second month. None were to be numbered but the males, and those only such as were fit for war. None under twenty years old; for, though some such might have bulk and strength enough for military service, yet, in compassion to their tender years, God would not have them put upon it to bear arms. Nor were any to be numbered who through age, or bodily infirmity, blindness, lameness, or diseases, were unfit for war. The church being militant, those only are reputed the true members of it that have enlisted themselves soldiers of Jesus Christ; for our life, our Christian life, is a warfare. The account was to be taken according to their families, that it might not only be known how many they were, and what were their names, but of what tribe and family, or clan, of what particular house every person was; or, reckoning it the muster of an army, to what regiment every man belonged, that he might know his place himself and the government might know where to find him. They were numbered a little before this, when their poll money was paid for the service of the tabernacle. But it should seem they were not then registered by the house of their fathers, as now they were. Their number was the same then that it was now: 603,550 men; for as many as had died since then, and were lost in the account, so many had arrived to be twenty years old, and were added to the account. As one generation passes a way another generation comes.