According to Hebraic tradition, the chronological period in the book consists of the second month of the second year (measured from Exodus) to the beginning of the eleventh month of the fortieth year -- in all, roughly 39 years 9 months of wandering, with, of course, fewer in number at the end of the journey than at the beginning. Again, according to tradition, Moses was the author of all five books of the Torah, but stylistically, at least in both Hebrew and then Aramaic, the prose in Numbers is far dryer and more scholarly, leading most to believe that this particular section was derived from several priestly sources tentatively dated at 4th-6th century BC (Harris, 1985).
Since Numbers is divided into three parts, it is useful to provide an overview of the literative focus and consequences of each section:
Number's the People of the Lord -- God ordered Moses to count those able to bear arms (men over 20) in order to organize and assign the tribes to the particular Tabernacle; an organization based on clan and kinship, with each flying a different banner. Moses is then ordered to consecrate a section of those numbered, the Levites, for the service of the Tabernacle in the place of the first-born sons; the Levites are further divided into three families. Preparations are then made for resuming the march to the Promised Land, and various ordinance and laws are decreed that, presumably, will allow a large group of people to exist in a hostile environment for several years (Hasel, 1991).
Recommencement of the journey -- Moses is ordered to make two silver trumpets for bringing the tribes together and announcing a recommencement of the journey. Initial dissatisfaction is punished by fire, and as Moses complains of the stubbornness of the Israelites is ordered to choose seventy elders to assist him in governing. When individuals insult Moses, they are punished by God, but to help quell the frustration, Moses sends spies into the lands to find out how fertile the fields, how fortified the cities, and how strong the people. God is angry that the spies return with conflicting stories, and threatens to kill all the people. But for Moses' pleading, the journey would be over. Instead, the people continue grumbling all are left in turmoil, and again their faith is tested (Ibid).
Preparations for crossing the River Jordan -- Moses disobeys God and is punished, as are the tribes for speaking against God and Moses, and a new census is taken to be used to organize the tribal units into their new home. The Israelites conquer the Midian population, and the land of the Jordan is divided among the tribes.
Numbers ends with a summary technique, common in ancient Middle Eastern writings, called a colophon. Their usage as both a literary and historical tool was not understood until recently, and their form is more of an oral legal tradition, designed to state the place and circumstance of each composition, thus also organizing the story for posterity (Friedman, 2005).
Part II -- Analysis of the text -- the story of Numbers is actually rather simplistic -- it is a recounting of transition, and, like Job, a psychological organization of the manner in which God, through Moses, tested the Israelites to see if they were worth of having their own land. There are repeated trials and tribulations suffered by the people if they either do not obey God or Moses, or simply move apart and try to accomplish their own sense of organizing the world (Spence and Excell, 2009).. The message is quite clear: "Obey God and you will be rewarded, it may take some time, but eventually it will happen. Doubt God, and you will be punished." Structurally, it is more chronological than thematic, symbols are used within the original language of place names, events, and even phrases "the land of milk and honey," likely meaning, for instance, fertile land that will support