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Num 1:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying,-
The Hebrew word translated as "thousand" can mean a family, or some other administrative division. Many of the 'number problems' in the Hebrew Bible are only really resoluble using this approach. And that may be in view in the census of Israel taken in Num. 1, and in the statement that six hundred 'thousands' of footmen left Egypt (Ex. 12:37). The census of Num. 1 gives figures such as those in Num. 1:21 for Reuben, which could be rendered: "forty six families ['thousands'] and five hundred (men)". Although a "hundred" might also refer to an administrative division. The total in Num. 1 would then be 598 families with a total of 5550 men. The sum given in the second census in Num. 26 comes out as roughly the same, with 596 families amounting to 5730 men. On this basis, the total population (including women and children) would be anything between 20,000 to 40,000. This would enable us to make better sense of the statements that Israel were the smallest numerically of all the surrounding peoples (Dt. 7:1,7; 11:23; 20:1). If we insist upon taking "thousand" literally in Ex. 12:37, then 600,000 male foot soldiers would imply a total population of between two and six million. The population density would have been intense, and far greater than that of many modern nations. Estimates of global population at the time suggest it was only about 40 million, and the population of Egypt was a maximum of three million (probably far less). If the Israelites were smaller than the other nations, and they numbered say 5 million, then the total population of the seven peoples of Canaan would have been at least 40 million. The territory of Canaan could not have supported such numbers. Only 70 Israelites came into Egypt with Jacob. Expansion over 430 years to several million is not realistic. This approach helps us better understand how all the men of war marched around Jericho (Josh. 6:3). If there were literally 600,000 men then the city would have had to be many kilometers in circumference for them all to march around it seven times in one day. Archeaological evidence from Jericho simply doesn't support the idea of such a vast city. If Israel numbered say 5 million people, and recall there was also a "mixed multitude" with them, then if they marched 10 abreast this would require a column stretching around 1000 kilometers. Their promises to Edom and the Amorites to march only along a highway and not spill over it (Num. 20:17; 21:22) is unrealistic if they had such huge numbers. A figure of 600 family units leaving Egypt is more realistic; otherwise we start to wonder how ever all the Israelites, millions of them, came to be in one place at one time on Passover night. This would then make better sense of Ex. 23:30 GNB: "I will drive them out little by little, until there are enough of you to take possession of the land". This indeed sounds as if Israel were the smallest of the nations, and not a huge nation comprising several million people.

Num 1:2 Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, every male, one by one-
“One by one” reflects the value and meaning attached to the human person by God.


Num 1:3 from twenty years old and upward, all who are able to go out to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their divisions.
Num 1:4 With you there shall be a man of every tribe; each one the head of his fathers’ house.
Num 1:5 These are the names of the men who shall stand with you: Of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur;
Num 1:6 of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai;
Num 1:7 of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab;
Num 1:8 of Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar;
Num 1:9 of Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon;
Num 1:10 of the children of Joseph, of Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud, of Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur;
Num 1:11 of Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni;
Num 1:12 of Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai;
Num 1:13 of Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran;
Num 1:14 of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel;
Num 1:15 of Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan.
Num 1:16 These are those who were called of the congregation, the princes of the tribes of their fathers; they were the heads of the thousands of Israel.
Num 1:17 Moses and Aaron took these men who are mentioned by name.
Num 1:18 They assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month; and they declared their ancestry by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, one by one-
The implication is that every single Israelite was part of a family. In such a large community there inevitably would have been some who had no family. In commenting upon the Exodus, Ps. 68:6 observes that God set the lonely in families. This may have happened at this point. Those who had no family were arranged into one, so that God’s people moved through the wilderness in family units. In this we see how God is a family God; the family is His desired way of human organization, and we should seek to preserve it.


Num 1:19 As Yahweh commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.

Num 1:20 The children of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, one by one, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war-
“The number of the names” implies there was a written list. Moses had been educated in Egypt and therefore would’ve been able to write (Acts 7:22). We should use what worldly wisdom we have in the service of God’s people.


Num 1:21 those who were numbered of them of the tribe of Reuben, were forty-six thousand five hundred.
Num 1:22 Of the children of Simeon, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, those who were numbered of it, according to the number of the names, one by one, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war;
Num 1:23 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Simeon, were fifty-nine thousand three hundred.
Num 1:24 Of the children of Gad, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war;
Num 1:25 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Gad, were forty-five thousand six hundred and fifty.
Num 1:26 Of the children of Judah, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war;
Num 1:27 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Judah, were sixty-four thousand six hundred.
Num 1:28 Of the children of Issachar, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war;
Num 1:29 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Issachar, were fifty-four thousand four hundred.
Num 1:30 Of the children of Zebulun, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war;
Num 1:31 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Zebulun, were fifty-seven thousand four hundred.
Num 1:32 Of the children of Joseph, of the children of Ephraim, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war;
Num 1:33 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Ephraim, were forty thousand five hundred.
Num 1:34 Of the children of Manasseh, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war;
Num 1:35 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Manasseh, were thirty-two thousand two hundred.
Num 1:36 Of the children of Benjamin, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war;
Num 1:37 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Benjamin, were thirty-five thousand four hundred.
Num 1:38 Of the children of Dan, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go forth to war;
Num 1:39 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Dan, were sixty-two thousand seven hundred.
Num 1:40 Of the children of Asher, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go forth to war;
Num 1:41 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Asher, were forty-one thousand five hundred.
Num 1:42 Of the children of Naphtali, their generations, by their families, by their fathers’ families, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go forth to war;
Num 1:43 those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Naphtali, were fifty-three thousand four hundred.
Num 1:44 These are those who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, and the princes of Israel, being twelve men: they were each one for his fathers’ house.
Num 1:45 So all those who were numbered of the children of Israel by their fathers’ families, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go out to war in Israel;
Num 1:46 even all those who were numbered were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty-
Over a period of 430 years (Gen. 15:13; or perhaps 215 years, see on Ex. 12:40), the Israelites grew from 70 people (Gen. 46:27; Dt. 10:22) to a great number. This was a primary fulfilment of the promise to Abraham, that his descendants would greatly multiply (Gen. 22:17; Heb. 11:12). We who are in the same covenant relationship with God will experience some element of blessing and fulfilment of the covenant promises in this life too. The large numbers may also have been due to the Egyptians joining the people of Israel.



Num 1:47 But the Levites after the tribe of their fathers were not numbered among them.
Num 1:48 For Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,
Num 1:49 Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, neither shall you take a census of them among the children of Israel;
Num 1:50 but appoint the Levites over the Tabernacle of the Testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They shall carry the tabernacle, and all its furnishings; and they shall serve it, and shall encamp around it-
We are a new priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5). The spirit of the Levites should be ours. As they encamped around the tabernacle, having it as the centre of their lives, so the things of God’s ecclesia, His church, should be central to our lives and have far more importance to us than our careers and associations in this world.


Num 1:51 When the tabernacle is to move, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall set it up. The stranger who comes near shall be put to death.
Num 1:52 The children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, according to their divisions.
Num 1:53 But the Levites shall encamp around the Tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the children of Israel; and the Levites shall be responsible for the Tabernacle of the Testimony-
Wrath would come upon all Israel if the Levites weren’t encamped around the tabernacle. In this we see the power of human behaviour- we can really affect others. The wellbeing of others is dependent upon our efforts. If we don’t do our part for them, we cannot assume that God will raise up someone else. There really can be Divine wrath on others because of our lack of attention to them.


Num 1:54 Thus the children of Israel did. According to all that Yahweh commanded Moses, so they did.