The book of Numbers had caused a vexing problem related to its literary structure to Old Testament scholarship. In 1985, D. T. Olson's book, The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New: The Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch, opened a new era to the field of the study on Numbers' macro-literary structure. Olson divided the book of Numbers into two parts, chaps. 1-25 (the death of the old generation) and 26-36 (the birth of the new generation). Since then, his book has taken a place among the scholars who study the book of Numbers should consider. But this paper intends to argue against Olson's view and to present a more reliable macrostructure of the book. I contend that chaps. 1-20 deal with the death of the old generation and chap. 21 shows the hopeful start of the new generation.
In finding its integral literary structure, B. S. Childs' canonical approach is employed because this method sees the book of Numbers as a unified whole. To present a more persuasive structure, this paper tries to find the macrostructure, firstly, in the book of Numbers, secondly, in the literary structure of the Pentateuch, and, thirdly, in the literary structure of the Hexateuch.
Firstly, in the book, Numbers 11:1-3 functions to outline what is to come to the old generation and Numbers 21:1-3 functions to sum up what is to come to the new. Numbers 11:1-3 tells that the fire of Yahweh consumed some outlying parts of the camp. This is only the beginning of the demise of the old generation. The camp of Israel consists of three parts, the outer (the twelve tribes), the inner (the Levites), and the center (Moses, Aaron, Aaron's sons). This three part camp collapses one after another, first, the twelve tribes (11:4-14:45), second, the Levites (16:1-17:13), and third, Moses and Aaron(20:1-29). Finally, after all these failures, Numbers 21:1-3 presents the victory of the new generation as a turning point.
Secondly, the comparison between Numbers and Deuteronomy reveals the clear demarcation of the old generation and the new. Deuteronomy tells that the entire old generation had perished until they crossed the Wadi Zered (Deut 2:13-15). In Numbers, the event of the old generation crossing Wadi Zered is reported in Numbers 21:12. Then the comparison of the two books clearly proves that the turning point from the old generation to the new is at Numbers 21.
Thirdly, in the Hexateuch, the old generation and the new have the same stages of faith journey. The Pharaoh of Egypt fears the old generation because of their numbers and strength, worries and orders to kill them (Exod 1). Balak, king of Moab, fears the new generation because of their numbers and strength, worries and orders to curse them (Num 22). The two kings' behavior to remove the Israelites is the same and the result is also the same (Exod 1-2; Num 23-24). Then the old generation are saved by God and make a covenant with God at Sinai (Exod 19-24), and the new are also saved by God and make a covenant with God at the plains of Moab (Deut 1-34). Finally, the old generation break the covenant and perish in the wilderness (Num 11-20), but the new keep the covenant and conquer the Promised Land (Josh 1-24).
These comparisons between the old generation and the new clearly demonstrates that the shift in generation does not occur between Numbers 25 and 26, but between Numbers 20 and 21. Therefore, this study provides the obvious ideas for the macrostructure of the book of Numbers.