Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness [Preaching the Word Series]

Duguid, Iain M. Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2006. 399 pp. $34.99.


The Old Testament book of Numbers chronicles the wandering of the Jewish people in the wilderness. While Genesis, “begins in the Garden of Eden and ends with a coffin in Egypt,” Numbers “starts out in the wilderness and ends up in the wilderness” (17). This lack of movement has frustrated many attempts at reading through the Bible and caused great trepidation among pastors who would preach such a book.

Iain Duguid’s contribution to the Preaching the Word Commentary series stands in the gap left by many, and provides a tremendous example of preaching that takes God’s Word – even the book of Numbers – as “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

“The story of the book of Numbers is written to a people whose lives are lived between the accomplishing of their redemption and its consummation, between the exodus and the Promised Land” (19).

Throughout the commentary, Duguid (professor of Old Testament at Grove City College and pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Grove City, Penn.) reveals the similarity of the plight of the Jewish people and believers today. Just as the Jewish people had been rescued from slavery, but had not yet received the inheritance of which they had been promised, believers today have experienced a liberation from the shackles of sin, but are still awaiting their promised inheritance. And like Israel, Christians often find themselves failing to follow God’s ways, and being enticed by distractions that lure them from the worship of their God. It turns out that the wilderness traveled by the Jewish people is common ground that all of God’s people have tread, and still do.

Duguid’s commitment to a Christ-centered interpretation is evident from the onset of the commentary. He writes in the Preface, “I believe that a Christ-centered approach to preaching, which seeks to explore the way in which Old Testament passages prepare for and foreshadow the gospel, makes its truths accessible again to God’s people. This approach feeds the hearts and souls of believers, as well as challenging unbelievers, with the result that even less familiar passages can speak powerfully to our congregations” (13). Duguid’s example serves as a helpful guide for pastors desiring to provide such a gift to their congregation.

And it must be noted that this is a sermonic commentary. This is a collection of expositional sermons through the book of Numbers. As such, it is not a technical commentary that extensively interacts with the text in its original language. Neither is it a pastoral commentary that provides helps for crafting sermons out of the text. That simply is not the intent of this series. That does not diminish the value of such a series, (in fact, I would like to view other volumes also) but those seeking a technical series will be disappointed.

In commentaries written in this manner, one may often find the footnotes (or, in this case, endnotes) to be as helpful as the sermon transcript itself. Many times, the author chooses to interact with the original languages and reveal his studies in this manner. While Duguid followed this method, the discerning reader is left longing for more – more interaction with the Hebrew, more discussion on contested doctrinal emphases, more sources to point someone desiring to study further.

Thus, while this volume provides a strong example to pastors who wrestle to understand what a sermon series through Numbers would (or could) look like, it presents little more than just that. It offers a jumping off point, but neglects to deepen the waters. For that, other resources will be necessary.

Iain M. Duguid, Numbers: God’s Presence in the Wilderness

I received this book free from the publisher through the Crossway book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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