The opening verse of the book of Numbers says, “The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt.” Numbers is the fourth installment of the larger work called the “Pentateuch.” The first five books of the Bible are just one main work. The Jews called in “The Law.” It is a continual narrative from book to book. Each of the five books contributes to the whole story. Duguid says, “the book of Numbers wants you to know that it never existed as an independent narrative: it is itself a continuation of the story of God’s dealings with his people already begun in Genesis, Exodus, and Leviticus.”[1] The name of the book of Numbers in the Hebrew Bible is “The Lord Spoke.” That represents the first phrase in the book. Each of the five books in the Pentateuch is named after the opening word or phrase of the book in the Jewish Old Testament. This makes sense when you see that they are not independent books but parts of a greater whole. The Septuagint, however, separates the five into their individual accounts and attempts to name them according to their content. Genesis begins God’s work in the world. Exodus explains the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Leviticus records the instructions to the Levites regarding the sacrificial system and Numbers reflects the census that God told Moses to take of all the men of fighting age as they prepare to enter the promised land.

The speaker in the opening verse is the personal name for God: YHWH, Yahweh. The expression, the Lord spoke, occurs almost one hundred times in Numbers alone and shows God’s special direction of Moses as Israel’s authorized leader.”[2] It’s interesting to notice that the account of Numbers begins in the wilderness and finishes in the wilderness. The notable thing about the book is the lack of progress in the story of Redemption. Progress won’t actually be picked up until after God reviews the Law again in Deuteronomy and then Joshua takes over for the mobilization of the army numbered in the wilderness.

A blogger writes, “A ‘wilderness experience’ is usually thought of as a tough time in which a believer endures discomfort and trials. The pleasant things of life are unable to be enjoyed, or they may be absent altogether, and one feels a lack of encouragement. A ‘wilderness experience’ is often a time of intensified temptation and spiritual attack. It can involve a spiritual, financial, or emotional drought. Having a ‘wilderness experience’ is not necessarily a sign that a believer is sinning; rather, it is a time of God-ordained testing.”[3] Jesus had his wilderness experience after his Baptism. Israel was in the wilderness for 40 years during which time it experienced hunger and thirst and temptation. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days. He too experienced hunger and thirst and was tempted. God had a purpose for the wilderness experiences of Israel. He had a purpose for the wilderness experiences of Jesus. He has a purpose for ours as well.

[1] Duguid, Iain M., and R. Kent Hughes. 2006. Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Woods, Clyde M., and Justin Rogers. 2006. Leviticus–Numbers. The College Press NIV Commentary. Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.