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Old Testament: Numbers

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Summary

Though the census lists in chapters 1 and 26 play an important part in the book, the title "Numbers" does not adequately represent the content. The Hebrew title Bemidbar ("in the wilderness"--the first words of the Hebrew text) captures the theme much better: the book tells the story of how Israel's exodus generation entered the desert where most of them died away in faithlessness and disobedience, and how the next generation emerged, prepared to claim the promise of a new land. The book of Numbers continues the story of the journey out of Egypt, emphasizing the theme of God's faithfulness that endures even in the face of arduous journeys, physical privation, vacillating leadership, and unbelief.

So What?

Numbers is the story of a people on a difficult journey, with everything--life, health, purpose, destiny--on the line. As such, it has provided a point of reference and a framework of meaning for communities of faith over time. In the New Testament, Paul refers to the wilderness journey as an instructive example for his people in Corinth (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Where Do I Find It?

Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible; it is also the fourth of the five books of the Torah (Pentateuch). It follows Leviticus and precedes Deuteronomy.

Who Wrote It?

At one point (33:2) the text records that "Moses wrote down their starting points, stage by stage, by the command of the Lord"--one basis for the traditional claim of Mosaic authorship. Ascribing the material to Moses was a way to anchor it in antiquity and name its authority. The book, however, encompasses so many forms of literature and betrays so many different periods in its style that it is best understood as a compilation from sources that stretch from Israel's earliest history to postexilic times. These have been edited to give an account of Israel's wilderness journey, warning subsequent generations against apostasy while promising God's ongoing work of restoration and renewal.

When Was It Written?

While much of the material comes, no doubt, from earlier periods, scholars now think the book reached its final form after the exile, perhaps as late as the fifth century B.C.E. The book's narrative of the "quest for a homeland" may have found particular resonance for Israel while in exile from Judah.

What's It About?

The book of Numbers describes the travels and fortunes of the people of Israel during the "in between" period: their journey from the wilderness of Sinai (1:1) to the plains of Moab, close to the borders of the promised land (36:13).

How Do I Read It?

The writers of the book of Numbers used a variety of sources and a variety of literary forms, including stories and narratives, laws, census lists, itineraries, instructions for worship, summaries of legal disputations, battle reports, poetry, and blessings. As a whole, it is best read as part of a historical saga written for a theological purpose: as a warning against disobedience and a promise of God's faithful guidance toward new life.

AUTHOR: Fred Gaiser, Professor of Old Testament, David Stewart, Director of Library Services

I. The Camp at Sinai (Numbers 1:1-10:10)
In the second year after the exodus, Israel remains encamped in the Sinai wilderness, where they have been since the third month after their departure from Egypt (Exodus 19:1). A census is taken and the arrangement of the camp is described, along with the duties of the priests and legislation to ensure holiness. The tabernacle is dedicated, and Passover is celebrated.


A. The First Census and the Ordering of the Camp (Numbers 1:1-2:34)
God orders the Israelites to take a census, numbering "everyone in Israel able to go to war." The people camp by "regiments," each group facing the tabernacle in the center of the encampment.


B. The Duties of the Levites (Numbers 3:1-4:49)
The Levites, not included in the first census because of their priestly responsibilities, are now numbered and assigned their duties. The Levites are accepted by God as "substitutes" for all firstborn males, who belong to the Lord because God spared them in the exodus.


C. Measures to Prevent Defilement (Numbers 5:1-6:27)
Measures are taken to prevent the defilement of the camp by unclean persons and those who wrong others or commit infidelity. Vows are instituted for those who choose to be especially dedicated or consecrated to God for a temporary period ("Nazirites"). This section closes with the familiar Aaronic benediction.


D. Consecration of the Tabernacle and the Levites (Numbers 7:1-8:26)
The leaders of the tribes bring lavish offerings for the dedication of the tabernacle. The Levites are cleansed and consecrated for service at the tent of meeting.


E. Celebration of Passover and Final Preparations (Numbers 9:1-10:10)
Israel celebrates the first Passover in the wilderness (the second overall, following the first Passover in Exodus 12-13) and makes final preparations to resume the exodus journey that had been interrupted by the two-year stop at Sinai.


II. The March to Moab (Numbers 10:11-22:1)


A. The Departure (Numbers 10:11-36)
The people set out by stages, journeying first from the wilderness of Sinai to the wilderness of Paran.


B. A Wilderness of Death (Numbers 11:1-19:22)
The journey is marked by conflict among the people and murmuring against God, which results in God's announcement that none of the generation that experienced the exodus will survive to enter the promised land.

  • Murmuring and Jealousy (Numbers 11:1-12:16): The people complain against God, and God appoints seventy elders to assist Moses in "bearing the burden" of the people. God gives the people quail to eat, but they continue to complain. Miriam and Aaron are jealous of Moses' leadership.
  • Spies and Rebellion (Numbers 13:1-14:45): Moses sends men to "spy out" the land of Canaan. They find a wealth of produce but bring an unfavorable report because of their fear of the inhabitants. The people rebel at this news, and God announces that none of them will survive to reach the new land. They will wander in the wilderness for forty years (one generation).
  • Offerings Prescribed (Numbers 15:1-41): An interlude in which various offerings and rituals are described.
  • Rebellion against the Leaders (Numbers 16:1-18:7): The people rebel against Moses and Aaron, and thousands die. Aaron's priesthood is confirmed.
  • Priests and Purification (Numbers 18:8-19:22): God prescribes compensation for the priests and provides a complex process of purification, involving the ashes of a red heifer, for those who come in contact with a dead body.


C. Leaving the Wilderness (Numbers 20:1-22:1)

According to one tradition, the forty years in the wilderness are now past, and the survivors resume the journey. In frustration, Moses and Aaron doubt God and, as punishment, will be denied access to the promised land. After Aaron's death, the final murmuring story involves death from poisonous snakes. The journey continues, and the people arrive at Moab.


III. The Camp on the Plains of Moab (Numbers 22:2-36:13)
Along with a shift in geographical setting (from the wilderness to the plains of Moab) comes a shift in outlook: with the passing of the earlier generation, a new census is called for. Though new threats present themselves (especially the Midianites), the long-awaited objective is now in view.


A. Balaam Blesses Israel (Numbers 22:2-24:25)

King Balak of Moab, wary of Israel's size and strength, summons Balaam, a diviner known for his ability to bless and curse, to curse Israel. God, however, intervenes, using even a talking donkey to make Balaam see things in a different way. The curse desired by Balak becomes a blessing instead.


B. The Consequences of Foreign Entanglements (Numbers 25:1-18)
At Shittim, Israel succumbs to the temptation to engage in sexual relations with the women of Moab and to worship the local deity, the Baal of Peor. Phinehas slays an Israelite man along with his Midianite partner, which is seen to turn away God's wrath.


C. A New Census (Numbers 26:1-65)
The plagues and deaths of the wilderness have done their work. The old generation is gone, and it is time for a new census in preparation for entry into the land.


D. Land, Offerings, and Vows (Numbers 27:1-30:16)

Laws are made to allow women's inheritance, Joshua is appointed to succeed Moses, and various offerings and vows are described.


E. War against Midian and the Settlement of Transjordan (Numbers 31:1-32:42)
Israel defeats Midian in a battle described in the language of holy war. This opens the eastern side of the Jordan for settlement.


F. The States of Israel's Journey from Egypt (Numbers 33:1-49)
These verses present a recapitulation of the several stages of Israel's wilderness journeying.


G. Occupying the Land (Numbers 33:50-36:13)
In preparation for entering the land of Canaan, Israel receives instructions about the conquest, information about the boundaries, and various laws that will apply.

AUTHOR: Fred Gaiser, Professor of Old Testament, David Stewart, Director of Library Services

The book of Numbers occupies an important "bridge" or transitional position in the story of the people of Israel. It begins as a report of those who were delivered from Egypt, following them through their early stages of faithfulness and on into their lapse into rebellion (chapters 11-14). Even as this first generation fades away in tragedy and waste, a newer generation, with new opportunities, steps forward to prepare to enter the land that was promised.


The book is put together over a long period of time using a variety of sources. After the long interlude of legal material in Leviticus, Numbers continues the narrative reports of Israel's journeys that began in Exodus; it contains priestly laws regarding purity, the priests, and worship; it includes the Balaam saga, census lists, ordeals, vows, descriptions of holy war, songs and prayers, poems and blessings. Attempts to define and date these sources have argued that they stretch from Israel's earliest historical or epic accounts similar to the narrative material found elsewhere in the Pentateuch (sometimes called the J and E sources, based on the names they employ for God--Yahweh [Jahweh] or Elohim), to the redefinitions and priestly writings of the exile (sometimes called the P source). All of this material is now put together in an organized form. It begins, for example, with the Lord speaking to Moses at Sinai (1:1) and ends with the report of God's commandments to Moses in the plains of Moab (36:13). The old and new generations are defined by the two censuses (chapters 1 and 26). There are three clear geographical divisions: in the Sinai wilderness (1:1-10:10); the journey from Sinai to Moab (10:11-22:1); and on the plains of Moab (22:2-36:13).

AUTHOR: Fred Gaiser, Professor of Old Testament, David Stewart, Director of Library Services

Aaronide and Levitical priests. According to Numbers 3:5-10, the Levites are "given" to Aaron and his descendants to assist them in their priestly duties. Aaron had the authority that came with being Moses' brother, and he had served Moses in priestly fashion as mediator and interpreter. He and his descendants were consecrated as priests of God in Exodus 28-29. The sons of Levi "ordained themselves" for the service of the Lord by their faithfulness and zeal during the golden calf incident (Exodus 32). Thus, in Numbers they were not enrolled with the other tribes in the census, but were appointed to serve and care for the tabernacle (Numbers 1:48-54). According to 3:11-13, the Levites serve as substitutes for the firstborn of Israel. All the firstborn properly belong to God, because God spared Israel's firstborn during the exodus (Exodus 11:4-13:16); but now the Levites are consecrated to God's service in place of all the firstborn.


The bronze serpent. Snakes were ambiguous figures in the ancient world. They could bring death, as in Numbers 21 and Genesis 3, or serve as a sign of life and healing, as in the case of the Greek god Asclepius. (Even modern medicine continues to use either the staff of Asclepius, wrapped by a single snake, or the caduceus of the god Hermes [two snakes entwined on a staff] as a symbol of the healing professions.) Snakes were associated both with ancient Near Eastern fertility deities (for example, Anath or Astarte) and with the fearsome sea serpent, Leviathan, the dragon of chaos. Archaeologists have found bronze serpents at several Palestinian sites. In biblical tradition, the bronze serpent of the wilderness, later placed in the temple of Jerusalem because of its historical and theological significance, eventually became treated as an idol and had to be discarded as part of Hezekiah's reform (2 Kings 18:1-4). Biblical theology made clear that the power of the serpent was not in the thing itself, nor in any magical rite associated with the serpent, but solely in God, who had given the serpent as an act of healing and grace.


Caleb and Joshua. According to Numbers, only Caleb and Joshua will be permitted to survive the forty years in the wilderness and enter the promised land (Numbers 14:24, 30, 38; 26:65; 32:12). They were of "a different spirit" (14:24) and "unreservedly followed the LORD" (32:12). The theme of saving righteous individuals from communal disaster brought about by rebellion against God is not unlike the rescue of Noah and his family during the flood (Genesis 6:8-9). Joshua was appointed Moses' successor (Numbers 27:15-23) and went on to lead the conquest of the land in the biblical book named for him, where he continued to be assisted by Caleb.


Census. The purpose of the two censuses in Numbers, according to the text, is to enroll "everyone in Israel able to go to war" (1:3; 26:2). The census would, apparently, count and verify Israel's strength, encouraging the people as they prepare for the encounter with Canaan. Curiously, David's census--apparently for the same military purpose--is condemned, so much so that the Chronicler terms it an act incited by Satan (1 Chronicles 21:1-17; compare 2 Samuel 24:1). David's census results in the kind of plague that had to be warded off as a potential effect of the census in Exodus 30:11-12. Although in Numbers the censuses are approved, elsewhere they are understood as dangerous exercises, perhaps because they assume Israel's strength to lie in its armies rather than in its reliance upon God.


The forty years. According to Numbers 14:32-34 (see also 32:13), the Israelites, because of their rebellion against Moses and Aaron and their fear of going forward on God's journey (14:1-4), were compelled to wander in the wilderness for forty years until the entire rebellious generation had died out. Forty years in the Bible is generally regarded as the span of a complete generation. The harsh penalty derives from the understanding that the rebellion against the leaders is ultimately a rebellion against God (14:11). God will begin the new nation with a new, cleansed people. According to the priestly writers, the forty years ended with the death of Aaron (33:38; see 20:22-29).


Midian and holy war. Although earlier on, Midian had provided for Moses both a place of refuge and a wife (Exodus 2:15b-4:31; 18:1-27), now in Numbers Midian has become Israel's foe, enticing them to idolatry and apostasy (Numbers 25:1-18). The result will be a battle to "avenge the Israelites on the Midianites" (31:2) that is described in part at least in holy war terms (31:1-12). (Another holy war against Midian will follow in Judges 6:1-8:21, after which Midian becomes a paradigmatic emblem of those who oppose Israel and God [Psalm 83:9; Isaiah 9:4; 10:26]; though even Midian will come to worship God in the return of the nations envisioned in Isaiah 60:6.) In true holy war (Deuteronomy 20:1-20), the victory was seen to be God's alone, not due to Israel's strength, and the spoils of war were dedicated to God (that is, Israel could not profit from the war). There is no historical evidence that such holy wars of complete annihilation were ever fought by Israel. The language is more symbolic, announcing that finally nothing will be allowed to stand in the way of God's liberation of God's people and blessing of the world.


The murmuring stories. The book of Numbers continues the murmuring stories that began immediately after the crossing of the sea in Exodus. In the early stories, God responds positively to Israel's complaints. God sweetens the water at Marah (Exodus 15:22-25), rains bread or "manna" from heaven (Exodus 16:2-12), provides quail for meat (Exodus 16:13) and water from the rock (Exodus 17:1-7). With the growing sense that Israel's complaint is finally "against the LORD" (Exodus 16:8), it is seen as the equivalent of unbelief (Numbers 14:11). In the final story of the series, the account of the bronze serpent, the narrator says directly that Israel spoke not only against Moses but also "against God" (Numbers 21:5). The result is death. This is not just a threat from a capricious God; it is a theological fact. God is the source of life, so rebellion against God is rebellion against life itself; death will naturally ensue.


The Nazirite vow. Numbers 6:1-21 defines the Nazirite vow, by which a man or woman became especially dedicated to God for a temporary period (in Hebrew, nazir means "consecrated" or "separated"). Nazirites were required to abstain from wine, strong drink, and grape products; not to cut their hair; and not to go near a corpse. Samson was to be a lifelong Nazirite, set apart to deliver Israel from the Philistines (Judges 13:4-7); Samuel, too, was set apart as a lifelong Nazirite, given by his mother Hannah to serve God in the sanctuary at Shiloh (1 Samuel 1:11, 22). Although the term is not used, some interpret the asceticism of John the Baptist as a form of Nazirite vow (Luke 1:15). Others see a connection between Jesus as a "Nazarene" or "Nazorean" (Matthew 2:23) and the Nazirite vow, indicating Jesus as one consecrated or set apart for God's work.


The Nephilim. According to the spies who returned from the land of Canaan, they had seen there Nephilim (or Anakites), who made them seem "like grasshoppers" (Numbers 13:33). The presence of these very large people in Canaan becomes one reason for the spies' fear and their false unfavorable report about the land. This produced the people's rebellion in Numbers 14. The Nephilim appear in Genesis 6:4, perhaps as synonymous with the "sons of God" (angels?) who took wives for themselves from the human women; the women bore children who were "the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown." In the King James Version, the Nephilim were the "giants in the earth," perhaps seen as gigantic because of the spies' report in Numbers 13. The spies' identification of some of the Canaanites with these mythic figures of the Genesis prehistory may simply reflect their fear or may suggest that there were, in fact, some very large (to the Hebrews) men among the Canaanite population.


Numbers. The book of Numbers gets its English name by way of the Septuagint, which used the term because of the census that begins the book and the second one in chapter 26. The totals given for the men of fighting age (1:46; 26:51) are difficult to imagine, seeming to require an aggregate head count of more than two million people. Some suggest that the seemingly impossible numbers have been corrupted, but it seems better to assume that they are in some way symbolic, perhaps representing how the community grew and prospered over time to fulfill the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3. Interpreters have sought other ways, as well, to explain the symbolic value of these numbers. The numbers from the census in 2 Samuel 24:9 are similarly thought to be historically impossible. The numbers in the second census (Numbers 26:51) are all the more surprising since, according to the text, they do not include any of those counted in Numbers 1:46, all of whom died in the wilderness (26:63-65).


The Phinehas tradition. According to Numbers, Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron, "turned back" God's wrath through the zeal for God shown by his killing of an Israelite man engaged in intercourse with a Midianite woman. For this, Phinehas and his descendants were granted a "perpetual priesthood" (Numbers 25:6-13). Phinehas's act lived on in Israelite tradition; it was recited as part of the salvation history in Psalm 106:28-31 and became a model for the zeal of the Maccabees in the second century B.C.E., who, like Phinehas, turned away God's wrath by executing apostate Israelites (1 Maccabees 1:64; 2:26, 54; 3:8). The significance of Phinehas and of atoning God's wrath through sacrifice grew in postexilic Israel until, by the time of Sirach (second century B.C.E.), Phinehas was regarded as "third in glory" (after Moses and Aaron) among the "famous men" of Israel (Sirach 44:1; 45:23-25).


Priestly law. The cultural and spiritual relevance of many cultic practices described in Numbers are assumed, rather than explained. This means that the contemporary reader is truly entering a world that is foreign and distant. Viewing this world from the perspective of anthropology can help us understand and appreciate that such rituals reflect the deepest values of a culture, shaping its views on many of life's important events and transitions. Among other things, priestly law sought to appreciate and maintain the order with which God had created the world. Chaos always remained a threat, especially in an early world of danger and vulnerability, so dietary and purity laws, along with careful observance of calendars and rituals, were ways to participate in God's order and to ensure a safe and secure world.


Priestly religion. For the world of Numbers, God is holy and can only be approached soberly, carefully, and through the mediation of the priest. Concerns for an intimate and individual relation to God, common in contemporary religion and spirituality, are largely unknown in that early culture. God is dangerous--not because God is angry or essentially a God of wrath, but simply because God is God. Rites of purity and sacrificial rituals are ways by which God graciously allows people access to God without the risks that come with approach to the holy.


The tabernacle. The care and detail laid down earlier in the Pentateuch for building the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31) remind us that it was a place like no other, the very place where God deigns to descend and to dwell among God's people, the place where heaven and earth are linked. The tabernacle or tent of meeting served during the wilderness period as a kind of movable temple and shared many characteristics of what would become the temple in Jerusalem. As biblical theology makes clear, God is not bound to the temple or tabernacle, but God does promise to be present there.

AUTHOR: Fred Gaiser, Professor of Old Testament, David Stewart, Director of Library Services

Death and restoration. Because of Israel's rebellion, the exodus generation must die, according to Numbers 14:20-23. God's purpose, however, is not annihilation, but a necessary cleansing in order to begin anew (14:11-12). This theme of death and resurrection will mark biblical theology throughout both the Old and New Testaments.


Defilement by a corpse. According to the purity laws of ancient Israel, contact with a corpse made a person unclean (see Numbers 5:2-3; 9:6-14; 19:1-22). Such defilement could even be transmitted from a living person (who had touched a corpse) to other things touched by that person (Haggai 2:13). Defilement by a corpse was especially serious for one who had taken a Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:6-21). This defilement or uncleanness is not a moral defect, nor is it sin; it simply recognizes the power and significance of death through appropriate ritual. As Israel understands, God is the God of the living and the source of life (Isaiah 38:18-19; see Luke 20:38). Death, though natural, separates from God and must be ritually observed--quite elaborately, in fact (especially in Numbers 19:1-22).


God as sovereign and faithful. No matter how wild and forbidding the wilderness, no matter how feckless and faithless God's chosen people show themselves to be, the ark (10:33-36) and God's glory (14:10b, 21-22; 16:19, 42; 20:6) provide unfailing signs of God's continued presence and faithfulness. Even when God chastises the people, there is forgiveness and a future.


The glory of the Lord. God's glory frequently "appears" in Numbers. It can be seen by the people and is said to fill the earth (14:10b, 21-22; 16:19, 42; 20:6). Some see a connection between this "visible" glory and the cloud and fire that symbolize God's presence in 9:15-23 and in earlier accounts of the exodus. The Hebrew term for "glory" (kabod) means "weight" or "importance," indicating the "weight" and significance of God's presence, so evident that it can be felt and seen. Describing God's presence among God's people and later in the temple as the presence of the divine glory is a way to speak of God's real indwelling without giving the impression that God is physically confined to a particular spot. Just as God's glory might appear, it can also depart (Ezekiel 10).


Land. No matter how discouraging and exhausting the wanderings in the wilderness, the reality of the land provides a constant reminder that the journey is purposeful. The provision of a particular territory for God's people is a constant theme throughout the story, from the gathering of the people at Sinai, through the intense and varied stages of conflict in the middle of the book, to the battles with the Midianites and the preparations for entry into Canaan.


Law and love. The story in Numbers is closely linked with the giving and hearing of laws, laws that address not only worship and ethics, but the full range of life. Taken together, they reflect the will of God and God's loving attention to the health and prosperity of the people.


Moses' mediation. When God proposes to "disinherit" a rebellious Israel, Moses intercedes, pleading for forgiveness (Numbers 14:13-19). Moses appeals first to God's reputation among the nations, but then, more important, to God's own character and God's own promise ("The LORD is slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love"; 14:18). The appeal is heard and God agrees to forgive (14:20). Moses' mediation, similar to that of Abraham on behalf of Sodom (Genesis 18:16-33), indicates both God's propensity to forgive and God's willingness to respond to human intercession. Though God remains holy in Numbers, God is not distant; God is always in personal relationship with God's people.


The need for leadership. Numbers conveys an unusual interest in the organization of God's people (as a defense against the disorientation presented by the wilderness?), keeping track of tribal groups, encampments, worship, inheritances, and land distribution. Throughout the phases of their attention and inattention to the will of God, the need for trustworthy leadership is a constant theme.


Redemption of the firstborn. Because God spared the firstborn of Israel during the final plague leading up to the exodus, all firstborn belong to God (Numbers 3:11-13). In Exodus 13:11-16, firstborn animals are given to God, but firstborn humans are "redeemed." Numbers 18:15-16 sets the redemption price at five shekels of silver. In Numbers 3, the Levites are accepted as "substitutes" for Israel's firstborn. The point everywhere is that sacrifice of firstborn humans, though they belong to God, is disallowed.


The sin of Moses and Aaron. Numbers reports that Moses and Aaron are refused entry into Canaan because of their sin in the wilderness of Zin (20:1-13). The sin is described as lack of trust (v. 12), but its precise character is unclear. Is it because Moses struck the rock (as he is commanded to do in what appears to be another version of this story in Exodus 17:1-7) rather than merely "commanding" it, as he is told to do here (Numbers 20:8)? Is it in Moses' anger with the people? The text does not say, but the theological point seems to be that Moses and Aaron are not excluded from the land capriciously or even merely because of the corporate sin of the people. They bear their own individual responsibility--which may be an indication of a later exilic origin of this text (see Ezekiel 18:1-32).


Unintentional and intentional sin. According to Numbers 15:22-31, only those sins against God's commandments that are "unintentional" can be forgiven by the atonement provided through priests and rites of sacrifice. Breaking the divine order is serious, even if unintended. Such errors must be attended to with somber ritual. Intentional sin, however--sin that is premeditated or "high handed" (the Hebrew term)--cannot be satisfied through sacrifice. Such a sinner "shall be utterly cut off and bear the guilt" (15:31). Later, the "high-handed" sin of David is similarly seen to be not amenable to forgiveness through sacrifice. Only repentance and God's own cleansing and re-creation will suffice (Psalm 51:10-17).


The wilderness.The story takes place in "the wilderness," which can represent the space between the point where God gathers the people and their final destination and place of rest. It is also a place to be traversed, not a place for settlement. The promise remains out of reach as long as the people are in the wilderness. In the same vein, the wilderness represents a place of testing, of homelessness, of what is primitive and savage and chaotic, all in sharp contrast to the land that is promised.


The wrath of God and atonement. The wrath of God in Numbers is not a personal emotion of anger or hatred, but the weighty consequence of disobedience and rebellion. Defying God brings the divine wrath, that is, the disastrous results of turning away from God and God's good purposes. Through the priesthood and sacrificial rites, God makes provision to avert this wrath, so the deadly consequences of sin do not prevail (Numbers 16:46). In the drastic act of killing the perpetrator of apostasy, Phinehas is said to have averted God's wrath and made atonement for the people (25:11-13).

AUTHOR: Fred Gaiser, Professor of Old Testament, David Stewart, Director of Library Services