The book of Numbers continues to establish the law in tedium and subsequently offers a case study of application to the law regarding God’s boundaries and expectations, the consequences of breaking said boundaries and exacting God’s justice, and the bestowing of God’s loving mercy when the people repent. The prescription of the law to the people continues from Leviticus to Numbers. God’s laws are set forth in intricate detail in order to offer a demarkation of God’s mercy: within the boundaries Israel may enjoy God’s love and support to its fullest. Though the people may be frustrated or even disheartened, God will hear them and respond. Such example is given when the people cry out for meat, and God responds that He will provide meat every day for a month (Numbers 11:18b-23).
God’s forgiveness is sure and yet it is also with consequence. For example Moses sends those into Canaan to spy, and when they return and report their findings, the people cry out against their situations and wish they had died in Egypt. God responds with both mercy and consequence: “I do forgive, just as you have asked; nevertheless—as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord—none of the people who have seen my glory and the signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have tested me these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their ancestors; none of those who despised me shall see it” (14:20-23). We also have the punishment of Korah for failure to obey God’s law (16:31-35). Even God’s chosen in Moses and Aaron are not without consequence when they fail to trust God’s protection (20:9-13).
While Numbers illustrates the demarkation of God’s mercy within the limits of His decrees, it also illustrates God’s wrath when those boundaries are crossed. His justice is swift and precise. His patience is tested time and time again. Yet, He continues to uphold His covenant with His people in spite of their repeated abandonment of their portion. His laws are clear and specific; it is the people who fail and need atonement.
As a result of God’s clearly defined laws and justice, the failures of Israel are addressed, corrected, and atoned for.