The Book of Numbers derives its name from the account of the two censuses of the Hebrew people taken, one near the beginning and the other toward the end of the journey in the desert (chapters 1 and 26). It continues the story of that journey, begun in Exodus, and describes briefly the experiences of the Israelites for a period of thirty-eight years, from the end of their encampment at Sinai to their arrival at the border of the Promised Land. Numerous legal ordinances are interspersed in the account, making the book a combination of law and history.

The various events described clearly indicate the action of God, who punishes the murmuring of the people by prolonging their stay in the desert, at the same time preparing them by this discipline to be his witnesses among the nations.

In the New Testament Christ and the Apostles derive useful lessons from such events in the Book of Numbers as the brazen serpent (John 3:14, 15), the sedition of Korah and its consequences (1 Cor 10:10), the prophecies of Balaam (2 Peter 2:15, 16), and the water gushing from the rock (1 Cor 10:4).

The chief divisions of the Book of Numbers are as follows:

I. Preparation for the Departure from Sinai (Numbers 1:1-10:10)
  II. From Sinai to the Plains of Moab (Numbers 10:11-22:1)
  III. On the Plains of Moab (Numbers 22:2-36:13)