Numbers 1:45 "So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel" (Sabine Kulau from Pixabay)

Numbers
Typography
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Numbers is the fourth book in our Bible. It was written in the Canaanite form of Semitic language that we now refer to as ‘Hebrew’. In this setting ‘Numbers’ literally means ‘numbers in the desert’. The book is so called because it deals with two censuses numbering the Israelites during their travel to Canaan. But, it is far more than that – it was an epic exercise in categorising people into visible units, a gargantuan national management activity undertaken in very quick time.

The Book was written by Moses after the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. The people were counted and each tribe rehearsed its legitimate descendancy. Numbers continues as the history of the freed Hebrews until they entered Canaan. The book collects together strands in Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus, so we can expect an overlap. Sadly, those who doubted and murmured against God did not share the prize of Canaan. The book shows the difference between the general disobedience of the people (who died as a result and did not see Canaan), and the obedience of the new generation that obeyed, typified by the mighty general, Joshua, and great victories.

Verses 1-3

  1. “And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
  2. Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls;
  3. From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.”

Moses was in the Tabernacle two years after the Hebrews left Egypt. It was the first day of the second month*. The Lord (Jehovah) spoke with Moses. This term frightens some Christians who claim without warrant that God no longer speaks to His people in actual words. Yes, He did then, and He continues to do so today, though, it seems, rarely. We see that even at this time the ‘sacred tent of Jehovah’, the Tabernacle, was in use; in this instance, set up in the desert, surrounded by the various family tents organised in tribal groups. The Leviticus laws were instituted in the first month after leaving Egypt. And so, the text in Numbers began very soon afterwards. God Himself commanded that Moses must count the number of eligible males. (Note that David at a much later time, took a census of his own accord, bringing anger upon him from God. Counting the people had to be prompted by God alone. At the time men could only count what belonged to them personally. The Jews did not belong to David, hence God’s anger. Satan asked permission of God – as he did with Job – to tempt David to count the people. See 1 Chronicles 21:1). Not long before, God ordered a count, so that an amount was paid by everyone for the upkeep of the Tabernacle and priests.

(*The Hebrew months were either 12 or 13 in total per year, calculated by the sun calendar. Each month is either 29 or 30 days, and the start and end of each month is known as Rosh Chodesh. The second month was Iyar, which had 29 days in our western period of April-May. The numbering of the people took place immediately after the giving of the law in the first month, known as Nissan. Only four months are named in scripture [1st, 2nd, 7th and 8th], the rest being listed by numbers. Usually, Jews used numbers rather than names, even for the four given. Thus, numbers were used until names came into general use after the return from Babylon, about 350 BC. Numerical descriptions were used to remember how many days the Hebrews had come out of Egypt and captivity).

The count was to be done by family and tribe. Males were eligible if they were over age 20 and under elderly-age (but not mentioned in this verse); males who were infirm or disabled were not counted. In total, there were 603,550 men, fit and in their prime. An important stipulation was that they were ‘fighting men’ who formed a standing army. Moses and Aaron were to oversee the numbering. In this activity we see an almost automatic separation of men into easily-discerned regiments and platoons, identified by their families and tribes and led by their own commanders. An incredible census.

There is a parallel in this activity, for modern Christians are counted to be soldiers in spiritual warfare, all fighting for the same Lord and ‘tribe’ of believers. Few today see themselves in this manner, but believers are all part of the ‘standing army’ of God’s people, whose enemies attack constantly and viciously. Therefore, we are all bound to honour our Lord by fighting evil, with no exceptions. Sadly, many try to avoid this relationship so they can have a quiet life free of attack or defence. They make many excuses to this effect and never soil their hands or receive wounds in the battle they pretend does not exist.

Verses 4-16

  1. “And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers.
  2. And these are the names of the men that shall stand with you: of the tribe of Reuben; Elizur the son of Shedeur.
  3. Of Simeon; Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai.
  4. Of Judah; Nahshon the son of Amminadab.
  5. Of Issachar; Nethaneel the son of Zuar.
  6. Of Zebulun; Eliab the son of Helon.
  7. Of the children of Joseph: of Ephraim; Elishama the son of Ammihud: of Manasseh; Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur.
  8. Of Benjamin; Abidan the son of Gideoni.
  9. Of Dan; Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.
  10. Of Asher; Pagiel the son of Ocran.
  11. Of Gad; Eliasaph the son of Deuel.
  12. Of Naphtali; Ahira the son of Enan.
  13. These were the renowned of the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands in Israel.”

The count was to be precise and listed by father, family, clan and tribe. Everyone thus knew who the soldiers were by name, military rank and tribe. When each fit male reached age 20 he was automatically ‘enlisted’ in the army (the reason for the count). Moses and Aaron ruled over the count (as they did over all the people). They were joined by the best-known leader of each tribe – princes or dukes – who became overall leaders and generals. They were leaders in acknowledging that the huge numbers of people were promised to Abraham by God centuries beforehand. Note that only Israelites were counted, and not non-Jews or strangers amongst them. Thus, the final number was but a fraction of the males in total, yet, Moses could discover the men in each rank and family easily.

Once the order was given and Moses gathered the leaders of each tribe to give them instructions, the count began immediately. And its divisions were kept intact throughout the following 38 years and into Canaan. Every new Christian should know that he has enlisted automatically in the Lord’s army, and must not run away when problems come or when he is afraid. It is his duty and a command of God, and becomes his love.

The count was completed well before the people uprooted their tents and the Tabernacle on the 20th day. Of course, the count was not simply for military purposes. It was also made so that laws and demands could be passed down through generals and officers of each tribe, to every member, quickly and efficiently. This count followed on from a previous one, which gave the names of men giving to the upkeep of the Tabernacle. Matthew Henry suggests that all the leaders had to do was adjust this earlier count. A reasonable assumption. Ever since that time Jews have maintained lists of their genealogy, in order of family and tribe. How many of us can name our ancestors through 2000-5000 years? Genealogy was important in terms of law and legal rights. God gave a list of the named leaders to Moses who called for them by name. Each was renowned within his tribe, and so each leader was accepted and not foisted on the tribes. (The leaders are named separately after this study).

Verses 17-19

  1. “And Moses and Aaron took these men which are expressed by their names:
  2. And they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month, and they declared their pedigrees after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, by their polls.
  3. As the LORD commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.”

The elected leaders gathered, stating their ancestry and the final numbers (at that time… some were later included because they reached the desired age, and some who became ill or otherwise not eligible left the list. So, the list was constantly amended, simply adding or removing numbers to the original census). As with every command of God, it was obeyed instantly. This should always be our own attitude towards His commands and demands on us personally. When we hesitate, we lose momentum and desire to be faithful.

Verses 20&21

  1. “And the children of Reuben, Israel's eldest son, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, by their polls, every male from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Reuben, were forty and six thousand and five hundred.”

Reuben’s tribe listed 46,500 men of fighting age.

Verses 22&23

  1. “Of the children of Simeon, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, those that were numbered of them, according to the number of the names, by their polls, every male from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Simeon, were fifty and nine thousand and three hundred.”

Simeon’s tribe listed 59,300 fighting men.

Verses 24&25

  1. “Of the children of Gad, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Gad, were forty and five thousand six hundred and fifty.”

Gad listed 45,650 fighting men.

Verses 26&27

  1. “Of the children of Judah, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Judah, were threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred.”

Judah had 74,600 fighting men.

Verses 28&29

  1. “Of the children of Issachar, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Issachar, were fifty and four thousand and four hundred.”

The tribe of Issachar had 54,400 fighting-age men.

Verses 30&31

  1. “Of the children of Zebulun, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Zebulun, were fifty and seven thousand and four hundred.”

Zebulun had 57,400 men.

Verses 32&33

  1. “Of the children of Joseph, namely, of the children of Ephraim, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Ephraim, were forty thousand and five hundred.”

Joseph’s family produced 40,500 fighting men.

Verses 34&35

  1. “Of the children of Manasseh, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Manasseh, were thirty and two thousand and two hundred.”

Manasseh had 32,200 men.

Verses 36&37

  1. “Of the children of Benjamin, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Benjamin, were thirty and five thousand and four hundred.”

Of the tribe of Benjamin came 35,400 men.

Verses 38&39

  1. “Of the children of Dan, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Dan, were threescore and two thousand and seven hundred.”

Of the tribe of Dan, there were 62,700 fighting men.

Verses 40&41

  1. “Of the children of Asher, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Asher, were forty and one thousand and five hundred.”

Asher produced 41,500 men.

Verses 42&43

  1. “Of the children of Naphtali, throughout their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war;
  2. Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Naphtali, were fifty and three thousand and four hundred.”

Naphtali produced 53,400 fighting men.

Verses 44&45

  1. “These are those that were numbered, which Moses and Aaron numbered, and the princes of Israel, being twelve men: each one was for the house of his fathers.
  2. So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel;
  3. Even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.”

The total number of fighting-age men in all of new Israel was 603,550. In terms of today, Israel had about four times the number of Israelites in its armed force, than found in the UK! However, that number was even greater for the Hebrews, when we consider that ALL of its army was comprised of hand-to-hand fighters, whereas of the number in the UK, relatively few are fighters – many are personnel in non-combative roles and never experience war first-hand. Thus, the number of Hebrews who were of fighting age was phenomenal. In David’s day there were 1.3 million fighting men!

Verses 47-54

  1. “But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them.
  2.  For the LORD had spoken unto Moses, saying,
  3.  Only thou shalt not number the tribe of Levi, neither take the sum of them among the children of Israel:
  4. But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof; and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle.
  5. And when the tabernacle setteth forward, the Levites shall take it down: and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.
  6. And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts.
  7. But the Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle of testimony, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel: and the Levites shall keep the charge of the tabernacle of testimony.
  8. And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did they.”

One tribe, that of Levi (Levites), was exempt from this standing army. Jehovah spoke to Moses about this, specifically saying that he was not to count the number of Levites, nor the number of men of fighting age in the tribe. It was not of human desire, but of God’s command. The Levites would have a permanent role, as direct servants of God, serving the Tabernacle and everything to do with it, including every pot, pan and object, and supporting the priests, whose warfare was spiritual. They did not have their own land, but lived mainly in cities, protecting the inhabitants until needed at the Tabernacle. Only Aaron and his descendants were priests. Levite males served the Tabernacle until they reached age 50.

This choice by God shows that the Levites were special; they even had to place their tribal tents around the Tabernacle. (See designated tent pitches in next chapter). Thus, they were always available, and their physical position showed the importance of the Tabernacle. All other tribes were to place their tents around the tents of the Levites, who were positioned at the centre of the massive camp site.

As the keepers of the Tabernacle, when the tribes moved on, the Levites alone had the task of taking it down and erecting it again, making sure it was done precisely according to God’s command. Anyone who should not be in the vicinity would be put to death. In this context ‘stranger’, zûr, includes an enemy, prostitutes, the profane, or simply anyone who should not be there… anyone who was not a Levite Such was the holiness of the Tabernacle, and the special place given to Levites.

Each tribe had its own area in which to set up family tents, so it was easy for Moses to find each one. And, no tribe should become angry with this arrangement. Also, the area containing a particular tribe had its own banner or flag. When the tribes obeyed this arrangement, God looked kindly upon them. And so, the building of a new nation was given logical and orderly beginnings.

It has been estimated that the total land occupied by all the tribal tents was about 12 miles by 12 miles. Note that after sacrifices anything unclean was taken outside the camp for disposal… thus, servants who took the unclean materials away had to travel about 13 miles to get there and the same number of miles back.

---oOo---

Published on www.christiandoctrine.com

Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
Wales
United Kingdom

BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS