This is part of the Classic Bible: Favorite Stories & Passages series. Read more from the series!
I’ve been reading a lot recently from the Old Testament, and most recently in the book of Numbers.
There are a lot of great stories from the book of Numbers. Much more than most people realize. Working with teens, I hear variations of “those books in the OT are boring…”, usually in reference to Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
True, Numbers contains all the details of not one, but two censuses of the nation of Israel, in all its tedious glory. Each tribe, clan and family seems to be listed, with the number of fighting men available, and so many details that it gets somewhat difficult to read.
But, mixed into all of this, and hidden in plain sight, are several great stories. Stories that drop my jaw in wonder, and answer a lot of questions.
Here are a few of my favorites.
The Provision Of Quail
Numbers 11 contains the story of God’s provision of food for the Israelites, in spite of their constant complaining and grumbling. They had already been given the incredible food called manna, which literally means “what is it?” in Hebrew. But the people wanted more, and grumbled against Moses and Aaron. To Moses’ credit, he defends the people before God. The result is that God sent a wind from the sea, and with it enough quail for the entire nation. Of course, he also allowed a plague to occur to punish the people, but that just goes along with the territory in the Old Testament.
The 10 And 2 Spies
In Numbers 13 and 14, the Israelites reach the borders of the Promised Land. Moses sends twelve spies in to explore the land. They do so, and in the process, ten of them become fearful and report back that taking the land is impossible. The remaining two, Joshua and Caleb disagreed. Because of the people’s lack of trust, the entire nation wandered in the wilderness for forty years, waiting for that unbelieving generation to die off before the Israelites could attempt to take the land. Joshua and Caleb were the only two to see the land conquered. One very cool side note, the clothes and shoes of the people did not wear out during the forty years of wandering (Deuteronomy 8:4 and 29:5).
Rebellion seems to be a recurring theme for the nation of Israel. In Numbers 16, a man named Korah led a rebellion against Moses’ leadership. Moses took the issue before the Lord, and God opened up the earth to swallow Korah, his followers, and their families.
Aaron’s Rod Buds
Numbers 17 tells the account of Aaron’s staff budding. It seems that there was some question about Aaron’s position of leadership, and the people were complaining about him as much as they were about Moses. God decided to demonstrate his choice with a bit of finality. Moses had the leader of each of the tribes of Israel bring him their staff. He placed them in the Tent of Meeting, with the understanding that the staff of God’s chosen person would sprout. The next morning when they came to check on the staffs, Aaron’s had sprouted, budded, blossomed and produced almonds! Talk about a decisive sign of God’s favor!
Water From The Rock
Numbers 20 gives us a glimpse of Moses’ human side. God’s leader? Yes. A man of great faith? Yes. A sinner? Yes. Earlier in the Israelite’s trek from Egypt, God instructed Moses to strike a rock with his staff and water would gush forth. But this time, God told Moses to speak to the rock. Moses struck it. Water still came forth, but because of his disobedience, he wasn’t allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land.
The Bronze Serpent
Perhaps the best-known story is in Numbers 21, due to it’s connection with John 3:16. The people were grumbling and complaining, again, against God and Moses. This time, God sent venomous snakes among the people. They bit the people and many were dying. After Moses prayed for deliverance, God instructed him to fashion a bronze snake, fasten it upon a pole, and lift it up. Anyone who had been bitten could look to the bronze serpent and live. Read John 3 to see how Jesus connected this story to himself for Nicodemus.
The Story of Balaam
In Numbers 22, we read the story of Balaam. There is a lot of story here, so for more details, check it out for yourself. Here’s a brief summary: Balak, who was king of Moab, summoned Balaam to place a curse on the Israelites so they wouldn’t be effective against Moab. As Balaam was coming, God sent an angel to stop him. The angel blocked the path, causing the donkey Balaam was riding to turn into a field. So he beat her. Later, the angel blocked the path again, resulting in the donkey crushing Balaam’s foot against a rock wall. Balaam beat her again. A third time, the angel blocked the path, and the donkey laid down under Balaam. He beat her yet again. At that point, the donkey turned her had around and asked Balaam why he had beaten her three times. That’s right, she spoke. The crazy thing here is that Balaam answered her, like nothing was out of the normal. And at that point, God opened Balaam’s eyes so he could see the angel that was sent to kill him. This is a great story, with a lot more facets. Read the entire account in chapters 22-24.
Joshua Succeeds Moses As The Leader Of Israel
The last story that I’ll mention here is the transition of leadership. Numbers 20 gave us the reason that Moses wouldn’t continue as the leader of the Israelites. In Numbers 27, God calls Moses up onto a mountain. There, he instructed him to pass the leadership reigns on to Joshua, who would lead the conquest into Canaan.
These are just a few of the great stories hidden in the book of Numbers. I could list a dozen more, but it would be more effective for you to go read the book for yourself. Go ahead. And enjoy!
What are your favorite stories from Numbers? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.