Numbers is an interesting combination of more ordinances and a return to a more narrative-based text. In many instances, ordinances are introduced with a story explaining the incident that occasioned the revision or addition to the previously revealed law.

One of the purposes of Numbers appears to be to acknowledge the need for a continuous revelation (whether this extends beyond the time of the prophets is up for theological debate, I suppose). It assumes that either society/circumstances change, or original cases might arise, that require modification and addition to the law – something that may make a lot of the so-called bible bashers today very uncomfortable.

The role of women is disappointing in this book. Miriam – who I conjectured might be a remnant of a goddess, archetype, or folk heroine – is punished while Aaron is not. Later, we learn that a woman’s vow is subject to the whims of that woman’s father or husband. Our one small concession is in Numbers 27, where women are able to inherit property (though only if they have no brothers). Even this is rather hollow, since it becomes clear in Numbers 36 that the women never actually get ownership over the land, as it is merely transferred from her deceased father to her living husband. In no way is it ever hers.

Rebellions abound in Numbers. Over and over again, the people turn on Moses (and Aaron, when he’s not the one doing the complaining), and over and over again they are dealt with harshly. God viciously defends both his plan for the Israelites, and the leadership of Moses.

I imagine that that’s the underlying purpose of the book – to show that people seem given to disobedience, that God will punish that disobedience, but that God will ultimately remain with the Israelites.