Book Review – The Message of Numbers (Raymond Brown)

This recent addition of Numbers to the BST series comes almost 10 years after the author’s contribution on Deuteronomy. Brown has obviously spent a lot of time studying the Pentateuch, and the fruit of this is another volume that will help Christians to draw out theological and practical lessons from what can be a daunting book to study. He argues in the introduction for the relevance of this book – though we live in a completely different time and culture, our basic needs are the same as those who we read about in Numbers.

Numbers contains a great diversity of material, but characteristically of the BST series, Brown does not go into detail discussing how the book came to be in its form, or arguing over issues of historicity (e.g. how did the number of Israelites grow so fast?). Rather he views it as a part of Christian scripture, and from a firmly evangelical viewpoint harmonises with the whole message of the Bible. There is rougly one chapter of commentary per chapter of Numbers, obviously with some important sections given more attention, and some of the more repetitive parts moved over more quickly.

The book of Numbers contains quite a few passages that attract criticism – laws that seem sexist, punishments that seem cruel, and even a command to wipe out a nation. Brown does not spend as much time dealing with these issues as he does in his Deuteronomy commentary, but over the course of the book he does provide some balanced guidelines for understanding and applying these passages.

I particularly appreciated the sections on the Aaronic blessing, the principles of giving (Numbers 7 and 18), the Levites as paradigms of modern Christians, and Moses’ strengths and failures as a leader. The story of the Bronze serpent is looked at in the light of John 3 and is used as the basis for a gospel exposition. The difficult chapter 31 is understood in the light of a long section on Balaam earlier in the book.

This book will not answer every question you have about Numbers, but will bring you a long way to appreciating its worth and contribution to Scripture. Rather than there being one key theme running through the book, this commentary on Numbers is a rich source of practical application in the personal, corporate and even political realms. Sin, holiness, worship, community, humility, unity, gospel, marriage, giving, forgiving, leadership – pretty much every aspect of Christian life is addressed in some way by this book.

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  1. Pingback: Commentary Series Review – Bible Speaks Today « wordandspirit

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