Scriptures

Numbers 1

Introduction

The five books of Moses were collectively called the Pentateuch, a word of Greek origin meaning ‘the five-fold book.’ The Jews called them the Torah, i.e., ‘the law.’ It’s probable that the division of the Torah into five books proceeded from the Greek translators of the Old Testament.

The names by which these several books are generally known are Greek. Genesis through to Deuteronomy is known as the Torah which means Law. In Greek the word Pentateuch is ‘Pente’ which means five and ‘uch’ which means Law.

All the events recorded in the Book of Numbers took place around eleven months after the Israelites arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai. The book itself is appropriately named Numbers because within it there is a lot of counting.

There are three census’ recorded in the Pentateuch, the first one is recorded when Israel was at Mount Sinai, and a census was taken to organise the Israelite families in order establish a regular support for the Levitical priesthood, Exodus 30:11-16.

The second census was taken before departing from Mount Sinai in order to count the military men of the nation, Numbers 1-4. And finally, the third census was taken just before Israel entered Canaan, Numbers 26.

Author

It is generally accepted that Moses is the author of the book, and when we read through the book, we find the words, ‘the Lord spoke to Moses’ no less than 80 times.

Throughout the book we find Moses taking on several roles within Israel, he is the lawgiver, the counsellor, the provider, the intercessor, the peacemaker, the religious and civil leader, and the servant of God on behalf of Israel.

Date

We know the book covers around a period of around 39 years, which started with Israel leaving Mount Sinai, to the time they were getting ready to enter Canaan. If the book was written shortly before Israel entered Canaan, and if we accept the date of the exodus from Egypt to be around 1445 B.C., then Numbers was probably written sometime around 1,400 B.C.

Outline

Israel gets ready for the journey to Canaan. Numbers 1:1-10:10.

The Israelites start complaining about everything, Miriam and Aaron dispute with Moses, and Israel refuse to listen to Joshua and Caleb and refuse to enter Promised Land. Numbers 10:11-14:45.

Israel wander in the desert for 40 years as a punishment for not trusting God. Numbers 15:1-21:35.

As Israel approach Canaan again, a king tries to hire Balaam to put a curse on Israel. Balaam is able only to bless the Israelites, not curse them. Numbers 22:1-26:1.

Moses takes another census of the people, Moses commissions Joshua to succeed him and God gives instructions on offerings and feasts. Numbers 26:1-30:16.

The Israelites take vengeance on the Midianites. Numbers 31:1-36:13.

The Text

‘The LORD spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt. He said: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You and Aaron are to count according to their divisions all the men in Israel who are twenty years old or more and able to serve in the army.’ Numbers 1:1-3

The Census

The text begins with the words, ‘the LORD spoke to Moses’, which occurs around 80 through the book. He spoke to Moses at the tent of meeting, that is, the tabernacle and tells him to take a census of every male, that is, men who were able to fight in the army.

Notice that these men had to be twenty years of age or older, this could be significant, because no one over this age actually entered the Promised Land, because if we remember, they refused to enter Canaan when God commanded them too, except Joshua and Caleb, Numbers 14:29-30 / Numbers 32:11.

‘One man from each tribe, each of them the head of his family, is to help you. These are the names of the men who are to assist you: from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur; from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai; from Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab; from Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar; from Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon; from the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur; from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni; from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai; from Asher, Pagiel son of Okran; from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan.” These were the men appointed from the community, the leaders of their ancestral tribes. They were the heads of the clans of Israel. Moses and Aaron took these men whose names had been specified, and they called the whole community together on the first day of the second month. The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as the LORD commanded Moses. And so he counted them in the Desert of Sinai.’ Numbers 1:4-19

The counting was done according to the heads of each tribe, family and household of Israel. The reason for counting the families was probably for the benefit of future generations.

The heads of each tribe would stand with Moses and represent their own tribe. We’re not told how they went about choosing a head for each tribe, bit it’s certainly possible they chose the individual from among themselves.

‘From the descendants of Reuben the firstborn son of Israel: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Reuben was 46,500. From the descendants of Simeon: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were counted and listed by name, one by one, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Simeon was 59,300. From the descendants of Gad: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Gad was 45,650. From the descendants of Judah: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Judah was 74,600. From the descendants of Issachar: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Issachar was 54,400. From the descendants of Zebulun: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Zebulun was 57,400. From the sons of Joseph: From the descendants of Ephraim: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Ephraim was 40,500. From the descendants of Manasseh: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Manasseh was 32,200. From the descendants of Benjamin: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Benjamin was 35,400. From the descendants of Dan: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Dan was 62,700. From the descendants of Asher: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Asher was 41,500. From the descendants of Naphtali: All the men twenty years old or more who were able to serve in the army were listed by name, according to the records of their clans and families. The number from the tribe of Naphtali was 53,400. These were the men counted by Moses and Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel, each one representing his family. All the Israelites twenty years old or more who were able to serve in Israel’s army were counted according to their families. The total number was 603,550.’ Numbers 1:20-46

Here we read that only those who were 20 years old and older were to be chosen. Those who are good at maths will notice that there were 603,550 men of war chosen. However, when there is a later census taken, Numbers 26, this number falls to 601,730.

Some have noted that there are twelve tribes mentioned, but not Levi, however, when we count Jacob’s son Joseph as two, that is, Ephraim and Manasseh, Joshua 14:4, then we have twelve. Nahshon son of Amminadab, was the head of Judah, Matthew 1:4.

‘The ancestral tribe of the Levites, however, was not counted along with the others. The LORD had said to Moses: “You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the covenant law—over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp around it. Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who approaches it is to be put to death. The Israelites are to set up their tents by divisions, each of them in their own camp under their standard. The Levites, however, are to set up their tents around the tabernacle of the covenant law so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelite community. The Levites are to be responsible for the care of the tabernacle of the covenant law.” The Israelites did all this just as the LORD commanded Moses.’ Numbers 1:47-54

Earlier, we noted that Levi wasn’t counted among the twelve tribes, but here they are mentioned but weren’t to be counted among the fighting men.

This is because they were to be totally dedicated to service within the tabernacle and they were to offer the services on behalf of the people. God Himself would be their inheritance and they wouldn’t inherit land in Canaan, Numbers 3:1-4:49.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following concerning the census.

‘As already noted, another census of Israel was taken after about forty years, Numbers 26, and this is a convenient place to present the information gathered from that numbering along with this.

Counting Manasseh and Ephraim together as the posterity of Joseph, it is evident that the families of these two patriarchs predominate in the makeup of Israel.

Also, the surprising losses of Simeon during the wilderness journeys are compensated by substantial increases in the tribes of Manasseh, Issachar, Benjamin and Asher.

Go To Numbers 2

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men."

Colossians 3:23

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