In this first lesson Mike will introduce the fourth and fifth books of the Pentateuch and examine their main characteristics as well as their similarities and differences.
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This will not be a line-by-line study of these two books, but rather a summary of their content and lessons that we can learn from these two Old Testament books. As we have done in the past, I will assign you chapters to read in advance so we can review the meaning and context of the material in class. In this way we will be able to complete our study of both books in the twelve class sessions listed in our outline of the course.

I. Background, Authorship, Historical Context of Numbers

A. Background

The Book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, chronicles the Israelites' wanderings in the wilderness on their journey from Mount Sinai to the Promised Land of Canaan. Its name originates from the two censuses of the Israelites recorded in the text, but its Hebrew title, "In the Wilderness," more accurately captures its content. The book details the laws, rituals, and experiences of the Israelites, including their trials, rebellions, and God's provision and guidance.

B. Authorship

Jewish and Christian attribute the authorship of Numbers to Moses. This is based on passages within the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) that suggest Moses wrote down the laws and events described (Exodus 17:14, 24:4; Numbers 33:2).

C. Historical Context

Numbers is seen as a historical document that provides a detailed account of the Israelites' experiences in the wilderness, including their travels, battles, rebellions, and the miraculous provisions of God. It also includes censuses, laws, and instructions for worship and community life, reflecting God's covenantal relationship with Israel and His requirements for them as His chosen people.

The events in the Book of Numbers are believed to have occurred in the late Bronze Age, roughly around the 13th century BC. This period is seen as the time when the Israelites, having been freed from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before entering the Promised Land of Canaan.

II. Background, Authorship, Historical Context of Deuteronomy

A. Background

Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book of the Pentateuch, serves as a series of farewell speeches delivered by Moses to the Israelites on the plains of Moab, just before they enter the Promised Land.

It revisits the laws given to the Israelites, emphasizing fidelity to God and the covenant, and includes Moses' blessings to the tribes, warnings about disobedience, and predictions of Israel's future. The book is characterized by its exhortatory style, urging the Israelites to choose life and blessing by adhering to God's commandments.

B. Authorship

Traditionally, Moses is credited with the authorship of Deuteronomy. This view is supported by numerous passages within the text where Moses is said to speak to the people.

The name "Deuteronomy" comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Septuagint.

The term itself derives from the Greek words "deuteros," meaning "second," and "nomos," meaning "law." Thus, Deuteronomy can be understood to mean "Second Law" or "Repetition of the Law." This title reflects the book's content, which includes a restatement and explication of the laws given to the Israelites in earlier books of the Pentateuch, particularly as the Israelites are preparing to enter the Promised Land.

The Hebrew title for the fifth book of the Pentateuch is "Devarim," which translates to "Words" or "Things" in English. This title is derived from the opening phrase of the book in Hebrew, "Eleh ha-devarim" (אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים), meaning "These are the words." It refers to the speeches or words that Moses spoke to the Israelites in the plains of Moab before they entered the Promised Land.

C. Historical Setting

The setting for the speeches in Deuteronomy is the end of the Israelites' 40-year journey through the wilderness, as they stand ready to cross the Jordan river into the land of Canaan.

III. Similarities and Differences Between Numbers and Deuteronomy

A. Similarities

1. Law and Covenant

Both books place a strong emphasis on the laws given by God and the covenant between God and the Israelites. Numbers continues the legal exposition from Exodus and Leviticus, including instructions on ritual purity, the priesthood, and community regulations, while Deuteronomy reiterates and expands upon these laws, emphasizing their observance as the basis for Israel's relationship with God.

In both books, adherence to the law is portrayed as essential for blessing and success in the land that God is giving to Israel.

2. The Wilderness Experience

Numbers and Deuteronomy share a narrative setting centered around Israel's experiences in the wilderness. Numbers details the journey and challenges faced by the Israelites as they travel from Mount Sinai towards the Promised Land, including their complaints, rebellions, and God's punishments and provisions.

Deuteronomy, while primarily a series of speeches by Moses, reflects on these wilderness experiences, using them as a backdrop for urging obedience to God's laws. Both books underscore the formative nature of the wilderness period for shaping Israel's identity and faith.

B. Differences

1. Narrative Focus and Structure

Numbers presents a mix of narrative history, law, and census lists, chronicling the Israelites' journey through the wilderness in a relatively chronological manner. It includes various accounts of rebellion, divine punishment, and the logistics of travel and camp arrangements.

Deuteronomy, on the other hand, is structured around Moses' speeches and focuses more on legal exhortation and theological discourse. While it revisits historical events narrated in Numbers and other Pentateuchal books, its primary aim is to exhort and prepare the new generation of Israelites for life in the Promised Land.

2. Perspective on Authority and Historical Context

Numbers is written from a perspective that combines immediate narrative with retrospective law-giving, often switching between third-person accounts of historical events and direct legal instruction. Its composition reflects various layers of tradition and editing. Deuteronomy is presented from Moses' point of view, giving it a more unified voice, and it addresses an audience standing on the brink of entering Canaan.

In the end, both books are written by Moses and addressed to the Jews while they are in the wilderness. The main difference is that Numbers continues to list the Laws and commands of God, the list of people who made the journey and the list of things the Jews did on their journey, both good and bad. Deuteronomy, on the other hand refers to these topics but as speeches by Moses as he prepares the people to enter the promised land.

IV. Overview of the Wilderness Journey

The journey of the Israelites through the wilderness, as detailed in the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, represents a pivotal era in the history of the Jewish nation. This period encompasses the transition from the miraculous exodus from Egypt to the brink of entering the Promised Land of Canaan. Over approximately 40 years, this journey shaped the identity and faith of the Israelite nation through trials, Divine interventions, and the giving and reinforcing of the Law. The following is a brief overview combining elements from both books:

A. Departure from Sinai

After receiving the Law, including the Ten Commandments, at Mount Sinai, the Israelites prepared to journey towards Canaan. Numbers begins with a census of the people and details regarding the organization of the tribes around the Tabernacle, their central place of worship. The cloud of the Lord guided their movements, signaling when to set out and where to encamp.

B. Rebellion and Punishment

The journey was marked by repeated instances of rebellion and lack of faith among the Israelites, including complaints about hardships, longing for Egypt, challenges to Moses' leadership, and the refusal to enter Canaan after the negative report of the spies. These acts of disobedience led to divine punishments, including the decree that the adult generation who left Egypt would not enter the Promised Land, destined instead to wander until they died while still in the wilderness.

C. Journeying and Encounters

Throughout their wanderings, the Israelites encountered various peoples and territories. Some of these encounters included conflicts, such as with the king of Arad, and the Moabite king Balak's attempt to curse the Israelites through Balaam. Despite the adversities, they also experienced Divine provisions, such as water from the rock and the miraculous defeat of their enemies.

D. Laws and Covenant Renewal

In addition to the narrative of travel and conflict, Numbers and Deuteronomy contain significant legal and material concerning God's covenant with them. Numbers deals with laws concerning purity, Levitical duties, and offerings, among others.

Deuteronomy, largely composed of Moses' farewell speeches, reiterates and expands upon the Law. It emphasizes the importance of obedience to God's commandments as the condition for blessing in the land of Canaan.

E. Preparation to Enter the Land

Deuteronomy focuses on the preparation of the new generation of Israelites to enter the Promised Land. Moses, not permitted to enter himself, reaffirms the covenant, reviews the laws, and encourages the people to remain faithful to God. He appoints Joshua as his successor and delivers blessings to the tribes.

F. The Covenant Renewed

Moses' speeches in Deuteronomy emphasize the renewal of the covenant between God and Israel. He recalls the journey from Egypt, the giving of the Law, and the lessons learned during the wanderings. The people are urged to choose life and blessing by loving the Lord, obeying His commandments, and teaching them to their children.

Conclusion of the Wilderness Journey

The wilderness period ends with the Israelites camped on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan River from Jericho. Moses' death is recorded in the final chapter of Deuteronomy, marking the end of an era. The Israelites stand ready to enter the Promised Land, carrying the laws and covenantal promises given to them in the wilderness.

This journey, with its trials, revelations, and teachings, was foundational for the Israelite identity, emphasizing faith in God, obedience to His commandments, and the centrality of the covenant in their relationship with Him.

V. Key Themes in the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy

The books of Numbers and Deuteronomy are rich with themes that are central not only to these texts but to the entire narrative arc of the Bible. Four key themes that emerge prominently within both books are obedience, faith, leadership, and covenant. Here's a brief summary of each:

1. Obedience

Obedience is a central theme in both Numbers and Deuteronomy, often portrayed as a fundamental requirement for the Israelites to maintain their relationship with God and to ensure their survival and success.

In Numbers, the consequences of disobedience are vividly illustrated through various rebellions against God and Moses, resulting in severe punishments, including the wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. Deuteronomy reiterates the importance of obedience, with Moses urging the Israelites to adhere faithfully to God's commandments as they prepare to enter the Promised Land. Obedience is linked to blessings, while disobedience leads to curses and adversity.

2. Faith

Faith, or the lack thereof, is a recurring theme that underpins the Israelites' experiences in the wilderness. In Numbers, the lack of faith is starkly demonstrated in the incident of the spies, where the Israelites' fear and refusal to trust in God's promise led to their prolonged wandering.

Conversely, instances of faith, such as Caleb and Joshua's trust in God's protection, are highlighted as commendable. Deuteronomy often reflects on these experiences to reinforce the necessity of faith in God, emphasizing trust and reliance on Him as key to overcoming obstacles and inheriting the Promised Land.

3. Leadership

Leadership is explored through the figures of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and others, providing insights into the challenges and responsibilities of leading a nation under God's guidance. Numbers presents Moses and Aaron's leadership amidst rebellion, intercession for the people, and personal failures.

The transition of leadership from Moses to Joshua in Deuteronomy underscores the importance of godly leadership and the continuity of God's promises and plans for Israel. Both books highlight the role of leaders in guiding, teaching, and interceding for God's people according to His will.

4. Covenant

The covenant between God and the Israelites is a foundational theme that binds the narrative and laws together in both books. Numbers demonstrates the covenant in action, detailing how adherence to the covenant laws affects the Israelites' journey and relationship with God.

Deuteronomy, often referred to as the book of the covenant, places significant emphasis on renewing, remembering, and adhering to the covenant. Moses' speeches remind the Israelites of their covenant obligations and the blessings of faithfulness, setting the stage for their life in the Promised Land under the covenant's terms.

Together, these themes of obedience, faith, leadership, and covenant weave a complex narrative that reflects the Israelites' relationship with God, their struggles and successes, and the foundational principles that would guide them into the future.

VI. Lessons for Today

The key themes of obedience, faith, leadership, and covenant in the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy provide timeless lessons that remain relevant for today's believers. Here are three lessons that can be drawn from these themes:

1. The Importance of Trust and Obedience in our Relationship with God

The narratives and laws in Numbers and Deuteronomy underscore the crucial role of obedience to God's commands as an expression of trust and faith in Him. For today's believers, this emphasizes the importance of living in accordance with God's will as revealed in Scripture.

It's a reminder that obedience is not merely about following rules but is rooted in a trusting relationship with God, recognizing His wisdom, sovereignty, and love. This obedience, born out of faith, is fundamental to experiencing God's guidance and blessings in one's life.

2. The Value of Godly Leadership and Fellowship

The stories of Moses, Joshua, Caleb, and others highlight the significance of godly leadership and the impact it has on the body's direction and faithfulness. For believers today, this underscores the need to both be and support leaders who are committed to following God's guidance, who intercede for the members of their congregation, and who encourage others in their faith journey.

Additionally, it speaks to the importance of being part of a congregation that nurtures growth, accountability, and mutual support in walking with God. We need good leadership in the church. As I've said before, a church cannot grow beyond the maturity of its leaders.

3. The Centrality of a Covenant Relationship with God

The covenant theme running through Numbers and Deuteronomy reminds us of the deep, binding relationship between God and His people, marked by promises, obligations, and mutual fidelity. For believers today, this reinforces the idea that faith is not just about individual belief but involves a covenant relationship with both God and His church/body.

It calls believers to remember God's faithfulness and promises, to live out the covenant in daily life through love, service, and obedience, and to pass on these covenantal truths to future generations. We pass on our relationship with God through the proclamation of the gospel, we are obligated to teach the future generation how to maintain their covenant with God through knowledge of His word and obedience.

These lessons from Numbers and Deuteronomy invite us to reflect on our relationship with God, the importance of the church and church leadership in our spiritual journey.

Each generation will have their own "wilderness journey" to undertake and we have to prepare them for that by teaching and modeling faithfulness, holiness and love of God, obedience to His word and how to love one another in the church since this is how all men will know that we are truly the disciples of Jesus Christ – (John 13:35).