The fourth book of Moses received its English name from the fact that the first Chapter relates the numbering of the people, and that lists and enumerations are found in various parts of the book. It records the history of the chosen nation from the second year after its departure from Egypt to its arrival at the borders of Canaan in the fortieth year of the desert journey. God had intended to bring His people into the Promised Land shortly after the establishment of the covenant on Mount Sinai. The Book of Numbers shows us that the children of Israel who left Egypt in adult life failed to reach Canaan, and, in a few vivid sketches, indicates the reason for this failure. "What a picture this is of the life of many a child of God today! Redeemed out of the bondage of Satan, yet failing to enter into the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Do we not all know, either in the past or in the present, something of the wilderness life of failure and defeat? Yet even in their wanderings the Lord did not forsake His people; He had compassion on them. He let them enjoy His provision and protection and guidance day by day. "
The narrative of the book summarizes the experiences of the children of Israel in the wilderness during the thirty-nine years following their departure from Mount Sinai. It is merely a sketch, and therefore mentions those occurrences only that were of vital significance for the people. They had remained at the foot of Mount Sinai, at the southern extremity of the peninsula for an entire year. According to the conclusions of various independent investigators the amount of vegetation in that region at that time was fully able to sustain the cattle of the Israelites, and that there was usually no lack of rain appears from Psa_68:7-9; Psa_77:16-20. After leaving their camp at the foot of Mount Sinai, the children of Israel encamped for unknown periods at various places, the location of which is largely a matter of conjecture. In the second year of their wanderings they reached Kadeah-barnea, which must have been close to the boundary of Palestine; for from there the twelve spies were dispatched who were to report upon the character of the land and upon the appearance and prowess of its inhabitants. The tale with which they returned so terrified the Israelites as to cause them to rebel against the guidance of the Lord. As a consequence they were condemned to many years of wandering in the desert. When a portion of the people attempted to force an entrance into the Promised Land, they suffered a disastrous defeat at the hands of their enemies, and were obliged to bow to the Lord's decree. Turning away from the desired goal of their journey, they sadly entered upon the weary plodding of the following years. The Scriptures relate very little of their adventures during the remaining thirty-eight years; we know hardly more than the names of their chief camps, the location of which no research has ever been able exactly to determine. The book ends with the story of the arrival of the Israelites and the happenings in the Plains of Moab. Interspersed between the various parts of the narrative we find additional legislation, most of the ordinances referring to the civil life of the people, together with some further instructions concerning the religious ceremonial. Our interest centers chiefly in the Messianic prophecy of Balaam and in the Messianic type of the brazen serpent, both of which are expressly referred to in the New Testament.
The Book of Numbers is usually divided into four parts, namely, that referring to the preparations for the removal from Mount Sinai, that relating the chief events during the journey from Sinai to the fields of Moab, that containing the prophecies of Balaam and his death, and that containing regulations governing the conquest and the division of Canaan.