Num’bers, the fourth book of the law or Pentateuch. It takes its name in the LXX and Vulgate (whence our “Numbers”) from the double numbering or census of the people; the first of which is given in chs. 1–4, and the second in ch. 26. Contents.—The book may be said to contain generally the history of the Israelites from the time of their leaving Sinai, in the second year after the exodus, till their arrival at the borders of the promised land, in the fortieth year of their journeyings. It consists of the following principal divisions:
1. The preparations for the departure from Sinai. Num. 1:1–10:10. 2. The journey from Sinai to the borders of Canaan. ch. 10:11–14:45. 3. A brief notice of laws given and events which transpired during the thirty-seven years wandering in the wilderness. ch. 15:1–19:22. 4. The history of the last year, from the second arrival of the Israelites in Kadesh till they reached “the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho.” ch. 20:1–36:13. Integrity.—This, like the other books of the Pentateuch, is supposed by many critics to consist of a compilation from two or three or more earlier documents; but the grounds on which this distinction of documents rests are in every respect most unsatisfactory, and it may, in common with the preceding books and Deuteronomy, be regarded as the work of Moses. The book of Numbers is rich in fragments of ancient poetry, some of them of great beauty and all throwing an interesting light on the character of the times in which they were composed. Such, for instance, is the blessing of the high priest. ch. 6:24-26. Such, too, are chants which were the signal for the ark to move when the people journeyed, and for it to rest when they were about to encamp. In ch. 21 we have a passage cited from a book called the “Book of the Wars of Jehovah.” This was probably a collection of ballads and songs composed on different occasions by the watch-fires of the camp, and for the most part, though not perhaps exclusively, in commemoration of the victories of the Israelites over their enemies.