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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

Numbers - Introduction

The book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Old Testament, derives its name from the two census lists that number the people in each of the twelve tribes of Israel (chs. 1, 26 ). The Hebrew title for the book, “In the Wilderness,” comes from the first verse of the book and accurately describes its setting. Numbers is the story of the people of Israel in the wilderness as they travel from Egypt and the wilderness mountain of Sinai toward the promised land of Canaan. The most important transition in the story is the death of the old and rebellious generation of Israelites and the birth of a new generation of Israelites in the wilderness. This new generation of hope stands poised to enter the land of Canaan at the end of the book of Numbers.

An important feature of Numbers is its great variety of literary forms and topics. The reader will encounter a mixture of stories and laws, travel itineraries and census lists, lists of personal names and lists of instructions for worship, reports of military battles and accounts of legal disputes. Some of the material is earlier and some later in origin. However, this diverse collection of literature has been woven together into a coherent story of Israel's holy camp on the move through the wilderness.

The final form of the story of Numbers probably emerged in light of Israel's experience of exile * in Babylon (587 BCE) and shortly after its return to the homeland of Judah (539 BCE). The passage from an old and rebellious generation that had died in the wilderness and the birth of a generation of hope provided an enduring paradigm for new generations of Israelites who returned home from exile to the promised land of Judah. The struggles, conflicts, and rebellions of Israel in the wilderness provided a mirror for Israel's struggles in exile and in its return to rebuild the Jewish community in Judah.

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