The book of Numbers records the census of the children of Israel (Numbers 1:2). It provides the details of Israel in the wilderness. The Hebrews had been given the law and commandments at Sinai (Numbers 1:1). At the giving of the law and after the Exodus there were 603,550 males who were 20 and above, having the ability to go to war (Numbers 1:44-46). If you take into consideration women, children, and perhaps the aged who were unable to fight (blindness, for example), or those with some infirmity that would prevent them from being able to go to war (lame or blind), and the tribe of Levi were exempt from the census, the number of Israel that was counted is a fraction (based upon conservative estimations, a high fraction of 30%) of the multitude of Israel. This numbering was not a counting of the entire population, which most likely was above 2 million people (a conservative number), but of all the men that might be able to lead Israel into battle to conquer the land of Canaan which God has promised them.
However, this generation of Israel was faithless and unbelieving. They complained about their food (Numbers 11). Miriam and Aaron complained against Moses (Numbers 12). Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan to spy out the land and prepare for war. Ten spies came back saying the task was too enormous. Joshua and Caleb said it could be done because the Lord was with them. The peopled complained against God (Numbers 13-14), not believing God would give them the promised land, saying they would be unable to stand against the giants of the land. So God declared Israel would wander in the wilderness for 40 years (Numbers 14:34). Then the record of the book of Numbers explains how that faithless and unbelieving generation died off in the wilderness. They left Egypt, but they would not see the land of Canaan. We read of Korah and his rebellion and God’s judgment against them. Miriam died. Aaron died. Moses sinned and would not be allowed to enter the promised land (Numbers 20:9-13). It is a depressing book.
A new generation was counted and numbered to be 601,730 men of war, age 20 and above (Numbers 26:51). Only Joshua and Caleb were left from the previous generation and allowed to enter the promised land (Numbers 26:65). Much of the end of Numbers gives details to the new generation as to how they should divide the land and dwell in the land that God would give them.
What can we learn from all of this? Trust God and be faithful to Him! Israel was faithless and prevented from entering the promised land. If we are unbelieving and unfaithful we will not be able to enter into heaven (Hebrews 3:7-12; 4:1-3). Do not complain and murmur. Our complaints reveal the condition of our hearts to be evil and opposed to trusting in God and His plans. Children of God are expected to do all things without complaining and grumbling (Philippians 2:14-15). The book of Numbers begins with optimism and the hope of entering the promised land, but shows how people may quickly turn away from God.
by Sean P. Cavender