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The Oxford Study Bible Study Bible supplemented with commentary from scholars of various religions.

Numbers - Introduction

This segment of Israel's early story is known in the Hebrew Bible as “In the wilderness” (a phrase occurring in the initial verse), a title more characteristic of the whole book than is “Numbers.” The latter, found in the Greek and Latin translations, is derived from the various censuses and general arithmetical precision which characterize the work.

The book may be topically divided as follows: (1) preparation for departure from the sacred mountain, Sinai ( 1.1–10.10 ); (2) the journey to the oasis at Kadesh where, according to the priestly chronology, most of the “forty years” ( 33.38 ) in the wilderness were spent ( 10.11–12.16 ; compare 13.26 ); (3) the stay at Kadesh ( 13.1–20.21 ); (4) an abortive attempt to enter Canaan from the south ( 14.39–45; 21.1–3 ); (5) the detour around Edom through Transjordan to the eastern border of Canaan ( 20.22–36.13 ). With the departure from Sinai, the place of divine revelation shifts from the mountain to the movable Tent of Meeting.

The theme is repeated that the community was willing to shun its destiny through exchanging the perils of the wilderness journey for a return to the supposed safety of Egypt. Yet Israel was preserved by the grace of God in order that the ancient promise to the ancestors (see Introduction to the Pentateuch ) would be realized.

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