The Book of Numbers
"Reading a census is like going
to the dentist, but reading two is getting a root canal!"
by Daniel J. Dyke
DATE: There are two ways of dating a book--the dramatic date
and the date of composition.
The dramatic date is the historical setting of the stories. In
the case of Numbers the stories cover the forty years Israel wandered in
the wilderness after the Exodus and before the Conquest under Joshua.
If one holds to the early dates for the Exodus and Conquest this would
be between 1446 B.C. and 1406 B.C. The pharaohs at this time were
probably Amenhotep II, Thutmosis IV, and Amenhotep III. If the late
date is accepted then the period would be from about 1260 B.C. to 1220
B.C. and the Pharaohs would be Rameses II and Merneptah.
AUTHORSHIP: Moses or ?
The date of composition is the date when the writer actually wrote the
text. Logically a book, unless it is prophecy, has to be written
after the last recorded event in the book. The great question here
is that of authorship. If Moses wrote the book it was penned late
in his life because the book brings the reader to the place and time where
Moses was to die.
OUTLINE: The outline of the book is chiastic. In
chiasm the first and last point are the same. As the writer adds
a point in the first half of the book a similar point is made in the second
half of the book. The book works toward a central point (the apogee),
which is usually the main point of the work. The book must then be
reread with the apogee governing the interpretation of the rest of the
C -- THE CENTRAL POINT: The forgivable (through sacrifice) and unforgivable
sins. If there are these two categories of sin then it is imperative
to accurately define each type and discover the topics bearing on the rest
of the book.
B'-- Traveling to the Land of Promise and Committing Sins
A'-- Census and Legal Matters
Bishgagah: This word is often and unfortunately
translated "unintentional." The implication that many people make
is that the person who sins intentionally can never be forgiven. but that
is not true! Bishgagah is best understood as the sins that
arise out of the weakness of one's humanity--very much like Romans 7.
B/B' -- Stories about Traveling to the Land of Promise and Committing
Sins: The stories of travel deal with an eleven day journey of
praise to the land of promise that turned into a nightmare lasting for
forty years. The sins of the people in each section are worth examining.
Beyad Ramah: This phrase is either translated literally
(sinning with a high hand) or paraphrased (defiantly). Notice that
the translations do not render this "intentionally." This sin is
the rebellion of heart very much like that of Satan.
The Problem: What is at stake here is the pastoral concern
of assuring the repentant and weak that God will forgive. The related
theological problem is to define when a person has committed this type
of sin. Systematic theology runs into the problem of definition.
Story is sometimes a better vehicle of defining a topic than the
theological pronouncements of theologians.
C/C' -- Census and Legal Matters