Iain M. Duguid
Reviewed by: Jonathan Stark
Date posted: 02/17/2008
Numbers: Gods Presence in the Wilderness, by lain M. Duguid. Published by Crossway Books, 2006. Hardcover, 400 pages, list price $27.99. Reviewed by OP elder Jonathan Stark.
Numbers, a book about Israel's wilderness wanderings, can be a kind of wilderness itself, as many have noted. Here and there you may find an oasis like the oracles of Balaam, but much of Numbers can seem arid.
The long-suffering adult Sunday school class at my home church spent several quarters with me while I tried to guide them through Numbers. I could have used a book like this one in preparing my lessons. It is not a verse-by-verse commentary, but more of a road map to Numbers and its central teachings. As part of the Preaching the Word series, it has pastors primarily in view, but its usefulness is not limited to them. If commentaries spend a good bit of time looking at the rocks in the wilderness of Numbers, Duguid puts these rocks in the larger context of the desert landscape. And it doesn't seem so dry after all!
He does deal with difficulties in the course of his discussion, but he never lets that discussion get too technical. There are chapter notes in the back of the book for those who wish to look into these matters further, but that is not where his interest lies. Rather, he is concerned that the reader see in the text the full revelation of God, including the revelation of himself in his Son. The author helps the reader see the person and work of Christ in the pages of Numbers. He also helps the reader—pastor or layperson—see himself in the text as a member of the body of Christ.
Numbers 7 is a good example. It lists the "housewarming gifts" that the twelve tribes brought for the tabernacle. It narrates, tribe by tribe, how each tribe gave exactly the same gifts in the same order. It would be easy to pass lightly over this episode and move on to more interesting things. But Duguid discerns that this chapter is essentially about what the people gave and how they gave it. This does not become a mere moralizing message about our tithes and offerings. We are instead directed, firmly but gently, to look to Christ—to what he gave (everything) and how he gave it (freely and lovingly). Christ's giving, then, becomes the model for our own giving.
It is this Christ- and church-centeredness, together with his clear, warm, and sometimes amusing writing style, that helps the author to alleviate the supposed dryness of Numbers. Numbers is about our Savior, and it is about our redemption and new life in him. The dry book of Numbers is actually a deep well of living water that springs from the infinite groundwater of Christ. Duguid helps us to see that, and the church owes him a debt of gratitude for showing us how the desert blossoms.