NUMBERS INTERPRETATION by DENNIS T. OLSON

**** (of 5)

The bottom line: A carefully planned and methodical analysis that masterfully demonstrates how relevant the wilderness journey of ancient Israel is to modern society.

 

In Numbers Interpretation, Olson debunks the idea that the book of Numbers is a biblical dumping ground where a collection of narratives, stories and laws that were “left over” were haphazardly inserted into the Pentateuch’s fourth volume. Instead, Olsen reveals how the expedition of ancient Israel from Sinai to the promised land of Canaan speaks to the modern believer and is as applicable now as it was then. In a symbolic sense, the temptations, mentalities, interpersonal conflicts, and sources of spiritual pride in the narrative still exist in the 21st century. The author is careful to point out Number’s relevance by citing the spiritual leaders (e.g. Christ) who derived some of their teachings from the book.

Olsen divides the book into the story of the “Old Generation” of the wilderness (Numbers chapters 1-25) and the “New Generation” of the promised land (chapters 26-36). Each cohort is characterized by a certain set of thoughts and actions, and subsequently each group marches toward a particular earned fate.

I found the author’s discussion on tribal equality in the wilderness and how this concept was later challenged and re-molded after the end of the Babylonian exile particularly interesting (pgs. 12, 46, 164-5). The discussion will help any scholar to understand how the severe strife later developed between the Israelites and the Samaritans. The creational themes detailed in the spatial ordering of the Israelite camp and the calendar organization in anticipation of cultivating the land are also very insightful.

As with all the other Interpretation volumes, this book is not intended for the casual reader or the layperson. I assume only those in pastoral education, graduate theological programs or highly curious minds would be the ideal audience. The hardcover is very short (190 pages) and is a fairly easy read.

 

Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal

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