1And Jehovah 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:2Take a head count of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male by head,3from twenty years old and above; all who are able to go to war in Israel. You and Aaron shall number them by their armies.4And with you there shall be a man from every tribe, each one the head of his father's house.5These are the names of the men who shall stand with you: from Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur;6from Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai;7from Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab;8from Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar;9from Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon;10from the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur;11from Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni;12from Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai;13from Asher, Pagiel the son of Ocran;14from Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel;15from Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan.16These were chosen from the congregation, leaders of their fathers' tribes, heads of thousands in Israel.17And Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name,18and they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month; and they declared their lineage by families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, each one by head.19As Jehovah commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.20And the sons of Reuben, Israel's firstborn, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, every male by head, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:21those who were numbered of the tribe of Reuben were forty-six thousand five hundred.22From the sons of Simeon, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, of those who were numbered, according to the number of names, every male by head, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:23those who were numbered of the tribe of Simeon were fifty-nine thousand three hundred.24From the sons of Gad, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:25those who were numbered of the tribe of Gad were forty-five thousand six hundred and fifty.26From the sons of Judah, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:27those who were numbered of the tribe of Judah were seventy-four thousand six hundred.28From the sons of Issachar, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:29those who were numbered of the tribe of Issachar were fifty-four thousand four hundred.30From the sons of Zebulun, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:31those who were numbered of the tribe of Zebulun were fifty-seven thousand four hundred.32From the sons of Joseph, the sons of Ephraim, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:33those who were numbered of the tribe of Ephraim were forty thousand five hundred.34From the sons of Manasseh, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:35those who were numbered of the tribe of Manasseh were thirty-two thousand two hundred.36From the sons of Benjamin, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:37those who were numbered of the tribe of Benjamin were thirty-five thousand four hundred.38From the sons of Dan, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:39those who were numbered of the tribe of Dan were sixty-two thousand seven hundred.40From the sons of Asher, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:41those who were numbered of the tribe of Asher were forty-one thousand five hundred.42From the sons of Naphtali, their genealogies by their families, by their fathers' house, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war:43those who were numbered of the tribe of Naphtali were fifty-three thousand four hundred.44These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each one representing his father's house.45So all who were numbered of the sons of Israel, by their fathers' houses, from twenty years old and above, all who were able to go to war in Israel;46all who were numbered were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty.47But the Levites were not numbered among them by their fathers' tribe;48for Jehovah had spoken to Moses, saying:49Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor take a head count of them among the sons of Israel;50but you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall serve for it and camp around the tabernacle.51And when the tabernacle sets out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. The stranger who comes near shall be put to death.52The children of Israel shall pitch their tents, everyone by his own camp, everyone by his own standard, according to their armies;53but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the children of Israel; and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony.54Thus the children of Israel did; according to all that Jehovah commanded Moses, thus they did.
Matthew Henry - Complete Commentary 1
I. We have here a commission issued out for the numbering of the people of Israel; and David, long after, paid dearly for doing it without a commission. Here is,
1. The date of this commission, Num 1:1
. (1.) The place: it is given at God's court in the wilderness of Sinai,
from his royal palace, the tabernacle of the congregation.
(2.) The time: In the second year
after they came up out of Egypt; we may call it the second year of that reign. The laws in Leviticus were given in the first month of that year; these orders were given in the beginning of the second month.
2. The directions given for the execution of it, Num 1:2
, Num 1:3
. (1.) None were to be numbered but the males, and those only such as were fit for war. None under twenty years old;
for, though some such might have bulk and strength enough for military service, yet, in compassion to their tender years, God would not have them put upon it to bear arms. (2.) Nor were any to be numbered who through age, or bodily infirmity, blindness, lameness, or chronical diseases, were unfit for war. The church being militant, those only are reputed the true members of it that have enlisted themselves soldiers of Jesus Christ; for our life, our Christian life, is a warfare. (3.) The account was to be taken according to their families,
that it might not only be known how many they were, and what were their names, but of what tribe and family, or clan, nay, of what particular house every person was; or, reckoning it the muster of an army, to what regiment every man belonged, that he might know his place himself and the government might know where to find him. They were numbered a little before this, when their poll-money was paid for the service of the tabernacle, Exod 38:25
, Exod 38:26
. But it should seem they were not then registered by the house of their fathers,
as now they were. Their number was the same then that it was now: 603,550 men; for as many as had died since then, and were lost in the account, so many had arrived to be twenty years old, and were added to the account. Note, As one generation passeth away another generation cometh.
As vacancies are daily made, so recruits are daily raised to fill up the vacancies, and Providence takes care that, one time or other, in one place or other, the births shall balance the burials, that the race of mankind and the holy seed may not be cut off and become extinct.
3. Commissioners are named for the doing of this work. Moses and Aaron were to preside (Num 1:3
), and one man of every tribe, that was renowned in his tribe, and was presumed to know it well, was to assist in it - the princes of the tribes, Num 1:16
. Note, Those that are honourable should study to be serviceable; he that is great, let him be your minister, and show, by his knowing the public, that he deserves to be publicly known. The charge of this muster was committed to him who was the lord-lieutenant of that tribe. Now,
II. Why was this account ordered to be taken and kept? For several reasons. 1. To prove the accomplishment of the promise made to Abraham, that God would multiply his seed exceedingly,
which promise was renewed to Jacob (Gen 28:14
), that his seed should be as the dust of the earth.
Now it appears that there did not fail one tittle of that good promise, which was an encouragement to them to hope that the other promise of the land of Canaan for an inheritance should also be fulfilled in its season. When the number of a body of men is only guessed at, upon the view, it is easy for one that is disposed to cavil to surmise that the conjecture is mistaken, and that, if they were to be counted, they would not be found half so many; therefore God would have Israel numbered, that it might be upon record how vastly they were increased in a little time, that the power of God's providence and the truth of his promise may be seen and acknowledged by all. It could not have been expected, in any ordinary course of nature, that seventy-five souls (which was the number of Jacob's family when he went down into Egypt) should in 215 years (and it was no longer) multiply into so many hundred thousands. It is therefore to be attributed to an extraordinary virtue in the divine promise and blessing. 2. It was to intimate the particular care which God himself would take of his Israel, and which Moses and the inferior rulers were expected to take of them. God is called the Shepherd of Israel, Pss 80:1
. Now the shepherds always kept count of their flocks, and delivered them by number to their under-shepherds, that they might know if any were missing; in like manner God numbers his flock, that of all which he took into his fold he might lose none but upon a valuable consideration, even those that were sacrificed to his justice. 3. It was to put a difference between the true born Israelites and the mixed multitude that were among them; none were numbered but Israelites: all the world is but lumber in comparison with those jewels. Little account is made of others, but the saints God has a particular property in and concern for. The Lord knows those that are his
), knows them by name, Phili 4:3
. The hairs of their head are numbered ; but he will say to others, I never knew you,
never made any account of you. 4. It was in order to their being marshalled into several districts, for the more easy administration of justice, and their more regular march through the wilderness. It is a rout and a rabble, not an army, that is not mustered and put in order. 17
We have here the speedy execution of the orders given for the numbering of the people. It was begun the same day that the orders were given, The first day of the second month;
compare Num 1:18
with Num 1:1
. Note, When any work is to be done for God it is good to set about it quickly, while the sense of duty is strong and pressing. And, for aught that appears, it was but one day's work, for many other things were done between this and the twentieth day of this month, when they removed their camp, Num 10:11
. Joab was almost ten months numbering the people in David's time (2Sam 24:8
); but then they were dispersed, now they lived closely together; then Satan proposed the doing of it, now God commanded it. It was the sooner and more easily done now because it had been done but a little while ago, and they needed but review the old books, with the alterations since made, which probably they had kept an account of as they occurred.
In the particulars here left upon record, we may observe, 1. That the numbers are registered in words at length (as I may say), and not in figures; to every one of the twelve tribes it is repeated, for the greater ceremony and solemnity of the account, that they were numbered by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names,
to show that every tribe took and gave in the account by the same rule and in the same method, though so many hands were employed in it, setting down the genealogy first, to show that their family descended from Israel, then the families themselves in their order, then dividing each family into the houses, or subordinate families, that branched from it, and under these the names of the particular persons, according to the rules of heraldry. Thus every man might know who were his relations or next of kin, on which some laws we have already met with did depend: besides that the nearer any are to us in relation the more ready we should be to do them good. 2. That they all end with hundreds, only Gad with fifty (Num 1:25
), but none of the numbers descend to units or tens. Some think it was a special providence that ordered all the tribes just at this time to be even numbers, and no odd or broken numbers among them, to show them that there was something more than ordinary designed in their increase, there being this uncommon in the circumstance of it. It is rather probable that Moses having some time before appointed rulers of hundreds, and rulers of fifties (Exod 18:25
), they numbered the people by their respective rulers, which would bring the numbers to even hundreds or fifties. 3. That Judah is the must numerous of them all, more than double to Benjamin and Manasseh, and almost 12,000 more than any other tribe, v. 27. It was Judah whom his brethren must praise
because from him Messiah the Prince was to descend; but, because that was a thing at a distance, God did in many ways honour that tribe in the mean time, particularly by the great increase of it, for his sake who was to spring out of Judah (Hebre 7:14
) in the fulness of time. Judah was to lead the van through the wilderness, and therefore was furnished accordingly with greater strength than any other tribe. 4. Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, are numbered as distinct tribes, and both together made up almost as many as Judah; this was in pursuance of Jacob's adoption of them, by which they were equalled with their uncles Reuben and Simeon, Gen 48:5
. It was also the effect of the blessing of Joseph, who was to be a fruitful bough, Gen 49:22
. And Ephraim the younger is put first, and is more numerous than Manasseh, for Jacob had crossed hands, and foreseen ten thousands of Ephraim and thousands of Manasseh. The fulfilling of this confirms our faith in the spirit of prophecy with which the patriarchs were endued. 5. When they came down into Egypt Dan had but one son (Gen 46:23
), and so his tribe was but one family, Num 26:42
. Benjamin had then ten sons (Gen 46:21
), yet now the tribe of Dan is almost double in number to that of Benjamin. Note, The increasing and diminishing of families do not always go by probabilities. Some are multiplied greatly, and again are diminished, while others that were poor have families made them like a flock, Pss 107:38
, Pss 107:39
, Pss 107:41
; and see Job 12:23
. 6. It is said of each of the tribes that those were numbered who were able to go forth to war, to remind them that they had wars before them, though now they were in peace and met with no opposition. Let not him that girdeth on the harness boast as though he had put it off. 44
We have here the sum total at the foot of the account; they were in all 600,000 fighting men, and 3550 over. Some think that when this was their number some months before (Exod 38:26
) the Levites were reckoned with them, but now that tribe was separated for the service of God, yet so many more had by this time attained to the age of twenty years as that still they were the same number, to show that whatever we part with for the honour and service of God it shall certainly be made up to us one way of other. Now we see what a vast body of men they were. Let us consider, 1. How much went to maintain all these (besides twice as many more, no question, of women and children, sick and aged, and the mixed multitude) for forty years together in the wilderness; and they were all at God's finding every day, having their food from the dew of heaven, and not from the fatness of the earth. O what a great and good housekeeper is our God, that has such numbers depending on him and receiving from him every day! 2. What work sin makes with a people; within forty years most of them would indeed have died of course for the common sin of mankind; for, when sin entered into the world, death came with it, and how great are the desolations which it makes in the earth! But, for the particular sin of unbelief and murmuring, all those that were now numbered, except two, laid their bones under their iniquity, and perished in the wilderness. 3. What a great multitude God's spiritual Israel will amount to at last; though at one time, and in one place, they seem to be but a little flock, yet when they come all together they shall be a great multitude, innumerable, Revel 7:9
. And, though the church's beginning be small, its latter end shall greatly increase. A little one shall become a thousand. 47
Care is here taken to distinguish from the rest of the tribes the tribe of Levi, which, in the matter of the golden calf, had distinguished itself, Exod 32:26
. Note, Singular services shall be recompensed with singular honours. Now,
I. It was the honour of the Levites that they were made guardians of the spiritualities; to them was committed the care of the tabernacle and the treasures thereof, both in their camps and in their marches. 1. When they moved the Levites were to take down the tabernacle, to carry it and all that belonged to it, and then to set it up again in the place appointed, Num 1:50
, Num 1:51
. It was for the honour of the holy things that none should be permitted to see them, or touch them, but those only who were called of God to the service. Thus we all are unfit and unworthy to have fellowship with God until we are first called by his grace into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
and so, being the spiritual seed of that great high priest, are made priests to our God;
and it is promised that God would take Levites to himself, even from the Gentiles, Isa 66:21
. 2. When they rested the Levites were to encamp round about the tabernacle
, Num 1:53
), that they might be near their work, and resident upon their charge, always ready to attend, and that they might be a guard upon the tabernacle, to preserve it from being either plundered or profaned. They must pitch round about the tabernacle, that there be no wrath upon the congregation,
as there would be if the tabernacle and the charge of it were neglected, or those crowded upon it that were not allowed to come near. Note, Great care must be taken to prevent sin, because the preventing of sin is the preventing of wrath.
II. It was their further honour that as Israel, being a holy people, was not reckoned among the nations,
so they, being a holy tribe, were not reckoned among other Israelites, but numbered afterwards by themselves, Num 1:49
. The service which the Levites were to do about the sanctuary is called (as we render it in the margin) a warfare, Num 4:23
. And, being engaged in that warfare, they were discharged from military services, and therefore not numbered with those that were to go out to war.
Note, Those that minister about holy things should neither entangle themselves, nor be entangled, in secular affairs. The ministry is itself work enough for a whole man, and all little enough to be employed in it. It is an admonition to ministers to distinguish themselves by their exemplary conversation from common Israelites, not affecting to seem greater, but aiming to be really better, every way better than others.