The book of Numbers is the book of Sanctions. God brought Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness. The Israelites, except for Joshua and Caleb, were afraid to invade the land of Canaan. God let them wander in the wilderness for 40 years as a negative sanction against them.
Then the next generation invaded Canaan, bringing God’s negative sanctions against the Canaanites.
Numbers is the story of inheritance delayed. The fourth generation after Israel’s descent into Egypt would defeat the Canaanites and inherit the Promised Land (Gen. 15:16). That was Joshua’s generation. This meant that the third generation — the generation of the exodus — could not inherit. They didn’t.
Sanctions are an aspect of the biblical covenant model: point four in the list of five. Numbers is the fourth book in the Pentateuch. Commentators who have not seen that the Pentateuch is structured in terms of the five points have not been able to discover the unifying theme of Numbers. The theme is sanctions: God’s sanctions on Israel up to and including Numbers 14, and then, in the final chapters of the book, on the cities that lay just outside the land of Canaan.
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