The Book of Numbers takes its name from the two
numberings of the men of war in chapters 1–4 and 26,27.
The first was made the second year after the nation had
left Egypt, and the second was made 38 years later, when
the new generation was about to enter Canaan. These
numberings were not of the entire nation, but only of
the men able to fight. The first census revealed there
were 603,550 available men; the second, 601,730.
Numbers is the wilderness book of the Old
Testament. It describes the failure of the nation at
Kadesh-Barnea, and their wanderings in the wilderness
until the unbelieving old generation had died. Israel’s
wilderness wanderings have been described as “the
longest funeral march in history.” Only Caleb and Joshua
of the older generation were permitted to enter Canaan,
because they had trusted God and opposed the decision of
the nation to turn back at Kadesh-Barnea. Even Moses was
forbidden to go into the Promised Land because of his
sin when he smote the rock instead of speaking to it.
Genesis is the Book of Beginnings, Exodus the
Book of Redemption, and Leviticus the Book of Atonement
and Worship. Numbers, on the other hand, is the Book of
Testing. The author of this wilderness book was Moses.
In chapter 1:1-46 we have the actual account of the
numbering of the people. The command to number (verses
1-4) was given one month after the erection of the
Tabernacle (see Exodus 40:17). Notice in verses 47-54
that the Levites were excluded in the numbering and
separated to Tabernacle service.
The tribes are arranged in chapter 2. The camp
of God’s people was divinely arranged and ordered, with
the Tabernacle in the center (showing that God’s worship
and service were to be central). The entire arrangement
of each tribe is given in verses 3-34.
In chapters 3 and 4 the Levites were assigned to
their work. The job of the Levitical Priests was
sacrifice and intercession as representatives of the
nation of Israel. Divine sovereign grace was exemplified
in the choice of the Levites for holy Tabernacle
ministry (Genesis 34:25-31; 49:5-7). In general, the
work of the Levitical Priests was the care and
transportation of the Tabernacle. Notice that the
Levites were numbered at birth, rather than at twenty
years of age, because they were set forth for specific
duties as described in chapters 3 and 4. The other
eleven tribes were numbered for the purpose of knowing
the men available for war.