The Book of Numbers
The Book of Numbers begins and ends with a census of all Hebrew males aged 20 and over. The first was taken when Israel left Sinai one month after the tabernacle was constructed. The total number of men counted was 603,550. The second was taken when they arrived at Moab prior to entering into the land of Canaan 40 years later. The number of people had dropped by 1,820 to 601,730 – not a very great difference, click here for details. These male censuses were used primarily for military conscription.
Numbers is a mixture of legislation and narrative. The author of the laws is not Moses but God. On 80 occasions in this book it is revealed that ‘God said to Moses …’ God gave to Moses the general laws and legislation, as well as regulations governing rituals and religious ceremonies.
As for the narrative sections, it is shown that Moses kept a journal of their travels at God’s command. He also kept another record called ‘the book of the wars of the Lord’, in which details of the various battles were kept. Moses wrote the book from these records, yet he is only ever mentioned in the third person.
The mixture of narrative and legislation makes numbers seem like Exodus, but whereas in Exodus the first half is narrative and the second half law, in Numbers they are mixed in together. Therefore, it is much harder to find the connecting thread. The pattern emerges more easily when the narrative and legislation are considered in context. The structure of the book is chronological rather than topical.
For more information refer to the Introduction to the Pentateuch.