Numbers - Bible Brief

Numbers - Bible Brief

Numbers is the fourth book of the Pentateuch and covers forty years of Israelite history. The book contains many interesting and important historical accounts of Israel as well as an important shadow of Christ.

Numbers include Balaam and the talking donkey (Numbers 22:1-24:25), the earth opening to swallow all involved in the rebellion of Korah (Numbers 16) and the commissioning of Joshua (Numbers 27:12-23), to name a few. But the event that overshadows them all is found in Numbers 13:1-14:45 which tells the account of the Israelite spies being sent to Canaan – the land that God promised as their inheritance.

Twelve spies – one from each tribe – were sent to spy on the land. The report of the spies was meant to encourage the people for the hard work of entering the land. Instead, ten of them brought back a report that the inhabitants of the land were too strong for the Israelites to overtake, saying the people of Israel were like grasshoppers compared to the people of Canaan (Numbers 13:33).

But two of them – Caleb and Joshua – said, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them (Numbers 14:7–9).” They pointed to God who would bring them in. However, their word was overruled, and the people wanted to stone them (Numbers 14:10).

The results were terrible. God swore that none of that generation who were twenty years or older would see the promised land due to their unbelief. Except for Caleb and Joshua, all the people would die wandering in the wilderness (Numbers 14:29-30). Considering God’s punishment, it cannot be overstated how sinful their lack of faith was.

One other key event occurs in Numbers 21:4-9. The people grumbled about the lack of food and water. God sent serpents that bit and killed many of them as judgement (Numbers 21:6). God also told Moses to make a bronze serpent mounted on a pole and anyone who was bit was to look at the bronze serpent and they would live.

This event points to Jesus and He spoke directly about it when talking to Nicodemus. Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:14-15).” The Israelites had to look on the serpent to prevent physical death, but Jesus was pointing to His crucifixion and the fact that all must look on Him and believe He was resurrected to prevent eternal death.

Later in Israel’s history during the reign of Hezekiah, there is an account of idolatry with the bronze serpent. The king destroyed it because people were making offerings to it (2 Kings 18:4). We cannot make Jesus an idol; He is God and deserves our worship. But can we make the cross itself an idol? Maybe if we believe a hanging cross around our neck can save us. Or maybe if we think seeing an artifact in a place that claims to be part of the actual cross Jesus hung on draws us closer to God.

These beliefs are just like the Israelites who believed the bronze serpent itself saved them when in fact it was God who saved. We cannot have faith in the cross itself; rather, we must have faith in the work of Jesus on the cross. Only He can save.