A Handbook on Numbers is part of the UBS Handbook Series. This is a series of “Helps for Translators” that present each book of the Bible from the unique perspective of Bible translators. This Handbook provides information about the book of Numbers that is especially important in helping translators and students of the Bible understand this book as it has come to us.
The authors of this Handbook provide a brief background to the book of Numbers and the world that it represents. They also offer a detailed outline of the book. The authors discuss the features of the book that the translator needs to be aware of in approaching the task of translation. Textual, exegetical, cultural and linguistic information is provided, and suggestions are made for choices that translators will need to make.
While the authors have not attempted to provide another exegetical commentary in addition to the many fine works that have already been written on the book of Numbers, they have tried to provide a thorough analysis of the book through the eyes of the Bible translator. Thus, it is our hope that anyone who reads the Bible in a translated version, church leaders and interested Bible readers alike, will find this Handbook to be as useful and informative as earlier volumes in the series before it have proven to be.
The book of Numbers is the most diverse of the Pentateuch (Genesis – Deuteronomy). It features many different literary genres, including narratives and collections of poetry as well as legal, cultic, and ritual texts. Frequently, these different types of writing come together in one passage, where it is then important to distinguish them clearly when translating, not only with respect to form but also with regard to communicative function.
The overriding concern throughout the book is how God can be present among his chosen people. This is only possible if the Israelites respect God’s holiness and moral purity by rigorously separating what is holy, sacred and ritually clean from that which is profane and ritually unclean. (Uncleanness, as defined in the Pentateuch, is caused by death, sins, and certain bodily conditions that can be classed as abnormal.) The Israelites have to organize their way of life in the camp in certain ways and follow a system of rituals, so as to keep the camp holy and keep out what is considered unclean. This also applies to their personal lives. Sacrifices and purification are the remedy for uncleanness.
The book of Numbers describes the journey of the Israelites through the desert, a place for profound spiritual experiences and moral purification. The people of God in the book are on a journey: they have to make choices between good and evil, between pure and impure, between obedience and disobedience to God. Readers of the book are asked to do the same. They must also realize that God is serious about his holiness and corresponding desire for a holy, obedient people. Any form of disobedience destroys the fellowship between God and his people. All those who refuse to obey will indeed be severely punished; Israel had to learn that lesson again and again the hard way. On the other hand, repeatedly throughout the book of Numbers God demonstrates his mercy and willingness to forgive the penitent and restore them to fellowship with him (for example, Num. 21.4-9). Numbers leaves an inheritance of hope for all future generations who read this narrative of Israel’s journey in the wilderness and who find themselves captured and shaped by this story of repeated human failures overcome by God’s constant faithfulness.
Pages 852 Published 2016