The Book of Numbers

The Book of Numbers

The Book of Numbers

The Book of Numbers


The book of Numbers tells a story that has two main characters -- God and Israel. The way the story is told sounds odd and often harsh to readers today. In spite of the difficulties imposed by Numbers on today's readers, the main point of the book is of immense importance for God's people in any age: exact obedience to God is crucial.

This comprehensive and erudite commentary -- resulting from nearly a decade of study of Numbers by Timothy Ashley -- presents a thorough explication of this significant Hebrew text. Ashley's introduction to Numbers discusses such questions as structure, authorship, and theological themes, and it features an extended bibliography of major works on the book of Numbers, concentrating mainly on works in English, French, and German.

Dividing the text of Numbers into five major sections, Ashley's commentary elucidates the theological themes of obedience and disobedience that run throughout the book's narrative. His detailed verse-by-verse comments are intended primarily to explain the Hebrew text of Numbers as we have it rather than to speculate on how the book came to be in its present form.


The book of Numbers will never replace the Psalms at the heart of Christian devotion nor the Gospel of John and the Epistle to the Romans at the heart of Christian theology, nor should it. the book of Numbers tells a story. the story has two main characters, God and Israel. the way the story is told sounds odd and often times harsh to modern ears. For example, I suspect that the opening four chapters with all their names and numbers have defeated many folk who have decided to read through the whole Bible and have just emerged from the rigours of Leviticus. I suspect, as well, that the brutal nature of such passages as the end of the Korah story (ch. 16), the story of Phinehas (ch. 25), and the war with Midian (ch. 31) are repellent to many.

In spite of all these difficulties, and others, that confront modern readers, the point of the book of Numbers is important for God’s people in any age: Exact obedience to God is crucial. Numbers makes the point most especially through examples of disobedience such as those found in chs. 11-21. Although it is clear that God punishes disobedience, at the heart of the book of Numbers is the God who, while demanding exact obedience, is constantly revealing ways in which Israel can render that obedience through new torah (i.e., teaching; see chs. 5-9, 15, 17-19, 27–30, 32–36). It is notable that the invitations to new obedience often come right in the midst of Israel’s failure and rebellion. Israel thought that the story of its disobedience and failure was important enough to tell. By claiming the Bible (including Numbers) as our standard of faith and conduct, Christians have implicitly said that the story of Numbers is worth re-telling. It is important that God’s people re-learn the fact that their rebellion will still lead to “death in the wilderness.” Numbers is the story of a people who did what they ought to have known better than doing and suffered for it (see also Paul’s lament in Rom. 7:15). the failure of others may be salutary for us all.

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