Numbers
1-3 Assignment to Take a Census 4-16 Who Has to Help with the Census 17-46 The Census 47-53 The Levites 54 The Assignment Is Being Executed
Assignment to Take a Census

1Then the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, 2“Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head 3from twenty years old and upward, whoever [is able to] go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.

The book starts with counting and ordering. Counting is proof of ownership. The whole generation counted here perishes in the wilderness under the judgment of God – except Joshua and Caleb. This means that a new generation arrives in Canaan. Being counted for heaven, knowing that our names are recorded there, is something to be happy and grateful for. But we must not forget that God is interested in all our actions, the way we go, the trials and struggles we have. He counts that too.

Thirteen months have passed since the redemption from Egypt and one month has passed since the tabernacle was established (Exo 40:1717Now in the first month of the second year, on the first [day] of the month, the tabernacle was erected.). Applied to us, this means that there has been teaching about salvation, the church as the dwelling place of God and priestly service, as depicted in the tabernacle (Exodus) and the sacrificial service and priestly service (Leviticus). Now comes the order to Moses to count “all the church of the sons of Israel”. The people are seen in their entirety. The picture speaks of spiritual growth and spiritual strength.

The census should be done “by their families, by their fathers’ households, … every male”. Every member of the people must know his origin and where he belongs. Similarly, every believer must know his place in Christ; he must know that he is a child of God and what his spiritual family is, who his brothers and sisters are. “Every male” speaks of putting into practice what someone is in position.

It is about militant men, not children or the elderly. The age of twenty is in many countries the age of military service; the same was true in the Netherlands when military draft still existed. Once someone is in active service, he renounces personal interests and makes his time and strength available to the land. The effectiveness of the service depends on listening to the superiors. Whoever is in service is expected to follow orders without contradicting them (Lk 7:88For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”).

“Head by head” they are counted. In this way each individual is placed before God. Counting shows that the people are not a great mass for God. The individual is not absorbed in the mass. God knows every single one of them. Every person is important to Him. God cannot miss one.

It is great to know that we are counted for heaven, that our names are recorded there (Lk 10:20b20Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”). But that is not all. The Lord also wants to record our names for the battle on earth. We are counted head by head, which means that we will be aware of the personal connection with the Lord Jesus. To know this is important for every Christian.

In order to explain this personal relationship with God, in order to belong to the numbered ones, the Israelite must be twenty years old. Spiritually applied this means that it takes a certain spiritual maturity to be able to serve as a warrior in the army of God. An end age is not mentioned. A baby in faith is not expected to be a warrior. It is expected of a young man in faith (1Jn 2:13-1413I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.14I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.; cf. 2Tim 2:3-43Suffer hardship with [me], as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.4No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.).

Moses and Aaron count together. Together they are a picture of the Lord Jesus, who is called “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Heb 3:11Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession;). The Lord Jesus speaks on our behalf to God and represents us before God. We have to do with Him. We see in Him the King-Priest (Zec 6:13b13Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”‘). He knows His own. He knows who He can send out.

All who are counted here will never be able to begin the actual battle – that of the conquest of the land – because, except two, Joshua and Caleb, they will fall in the wilderness (Num 14:2929your corpses will fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men, according to your complete number from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against Me.). Those who are counted at the end of this book, in Numbers 26, form a new generation. But that is not what God is thinking about in this census. As has already been mentioned, the journey to the land should only take eleven days. The fact that it eventually became a journey of forty years has to do with the unfaithfulness of the people.

Yet God uses that time to show more of Himself than we would have known in case of a short journey. The robber on the cross who repents, has only a very small part of his wilderness journey to go. He has not come to know the faithfulness of God in all circumstances of life. He does not have so much to worship God for as someone who, throughout a lifetime, has come to know God’s faithfulness and care in the face of the unfaithfulness that has so often been proven on his part.


Who Has to Help with the Census

4With you, moreover, there shall be a man of each tribe, each one head of his father’s household. 5These then are the names of the men who shall stand with you: of Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur; 6of Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai; 7of Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab; 8of Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar; 9of Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon; 10of the sons of Joseph: of Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud; of Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur; 11of Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni; 12of Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai; 13of Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran; 14of Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel; 15of Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan. 16These are they who were called of the congregation, the leaders of their fathers’ tribes; they were the heads of divisions of Israel.”

Not only the Lord Jesus sees who can serve as a warrior in His army, but also the heads of the tribes are involved. This can be applied to the responsible or leading brothers in a local church. They see which young people are spiritually twenty years and older. They participate in counting by watching the spiritual development of young people. Timothy is one of those ‘numbered’ by older brothers. He has “he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:22and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium.).

Names have their meaning in the Bible. We see in Hebrews 7 that we can learn spiritual lessons from this (Heb 7:1-31For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him,2to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all [the spoils], was first of all, by the translation [of his name], king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.3Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually.). It is important, however, to remain vigilant that we do not fall into fantasy. Some names have multiple meanings. To be able to determine with a certain degree of certainty the meaning of a name, it is advisable to consult several biblical name books. If several name books give the same meaning, it is likely that this is the correct meaning.

The names of the heads are also found in the Numbers 2, Numbers 7 and Numbers 10. In most of these names the Name of God resounds: ‘El’ means ‘God’. This shows that the Israelites did not forget their God during their stay in Egypt. In the names they gave their children, they have kept the memory of God.

In order to give a meaning to the names that I think is plausible, I pass on the meaning that Grant gives of those names in his ‘Numerical Bible’. It is up to the reader to think about this further.

1. Head of Reuben is Elizur, ‘my God is a rock’, the son of Shedeur, ‘the Almighty is a flame’.
2. Head of the family of Simeon is Shelumiel, ‘in peace with God’, the son of Zurishaddai, ‘my rock is the Almighty’.
3. Head of Judah is Nahshon, ‘prophet’, the son of Amminadab, ‘people of the willing Giver’.
4. Head of Issachar is Nethanel, ‘gift of God’, the son of Zuar, ‘small’.
5. Head of Zebulun is Eliab ‘my God is Father’, the son of Helon (too uncertain meaning).
6. Head of Ephraim is Elishama, ‘my God has heard’, the son of Ammihud, ‘the people of Majesty’.
7. Head of Manasseh is Gamaliel, ‘God is a rewarder’, the son of Pedahzur, ‘the rock that redeems’.
8. Head of Benjamin is Abidan, ‘my Father is Judge’, the son of Gideoni, ‘cutter down’.
9. Head of Dan is Ahiezer, ‘brother of help’, the son of Ammishaddai, ‘the people of the Almighty’.
10. Head of Asher is Pagiel, ‘God has met me’, the son of Ochran, ‘tormented’.
11. Head of Gad is Eliasaph, ‘God has added’, the son of Deuel, ‘known by God’.
12. Head of Naphtali is Ahira, ‘brother of evil’, the son of Enan, ‘seeing’.


The Census

17So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, 18and they assembled all the congregation together on the first of the second month. Then they registered by ancestry in their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, head by head, 19just as the LORD had commanded Moses. So he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai. 20Now the sons of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 21their numbered men of the tribe of Reuben [were] 46,500. 22Of the sons of Simeon, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, their numbered men, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 23their numbered men of the tribe of Simeon [were] 59,300. 24Of the sons of Gad, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 25their numbered men of the tribe of Gad [were] 45,650. 26Of the sons of Judah, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 27their numbered men of the tribe of Judah [were] 74,600. 28Of the sons of Issachar, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 29their numbered men of the tribe of Issachar [were] 54,400. 30Of the sons of Zebulun, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 31their numbered men of the tribe of Zebulun [were] 57,400. 32Of the sons of Joseph, [namely], of the sons of Ephraim, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 33their numbered men of the tribe of Ephraim [were] 40,500. 34Of the sons of Manasseh, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 35their numbered men of the tribe of Manasseh [were] 32,200. 36Of the sons of Benjamin, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 37their numbered men of the tribe of Benjamin [were] 35,400. 38Of the sons of Dan, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 39their numbered men of the tribe of Dan [were] 62,700. 40Of the sons of Asher, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 41their numbered men of the tribe of Asher [were] 41,500. 42Of the sons of Naphtali, their genealogical registration by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war, 43their numbered men of the tribe of Naphtali [were] 53,400. 44These are the ones who were numbered, whom Moses and Aaron numbered, with the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each of whom was of his father’s household. 45So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever [was able to] go out to war in Israel, 46even all the numbered men were 603,550.

Whoever wants to belong to the numbered must declare his origin, as the Darby translation translates, “and they declared their pedigrees”. Declaring goes beyond an inner conviction. Someone who is taken by the Lord into His army must testify for others of his faith and not be ashamed of it or uncertain about it (2Tim 1:8,128Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with [me] in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God,12For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.). Those who are in uncertainty about their salvation struggle with themselves and are not able to struggle with others. This is not a struggle or battle God is calling for. Believing God on His word puts an end to that struggle.

This declaration of their origin is necessary because of “a mixed multitude” (Exo 12:3838A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.; Num 11:44The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat?) who are among them. People who are not Israelites went with them from Egypt. This can be applied to people who have joined the company of Christians but do not have life from God. They are not able to declare before God that they belong to Him, nor can they fight for Him. They don’t want that either.

If we make the numbers more readable, the table looks like this:
1 Rueben 46,500
2 Simeon 59,300
3 Gad 45,650
4 Judah 74,600
5 Issachar 54,400
6 Zebulun 57,400
7 Ephraim 40,500
8 Manasseh 32,200
9 Benjamin 35,400
10 Dan 62,700
11 Asher 41,500
12 Naphtali 53,400
Total 603,550

This number corresponds to a previous count, about nine months earlier (Exo 38:25-2625The silver of those of the congregation who were numbered was 100 talents and 1,775 shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary;26a beka a head ([that is], half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary), for each one who passed over to those who were numbered, from twenty years old and upward, for 603,550 men.). In that count, each counted person had to pay half a shekel of silver as ransom. By the silver the Israelite was redeemed. Therefore, silver is a picture of the price of redemption.


The Levites

47The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their fathers’ tribe. 48For the LORD had spoken to Moses, saying, 49“Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel. 50But you shall 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 take care of it; they shall also camp around the tabernacle. 51So when the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle encamps, the Levites shall set it up. But the layman who comes near shall be put to death. 52The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies. 53But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.”

The Levites are not among the warriors. They take care of the tabernacle and set up their camp right around it. The tabernacle is here called “the tabernacle of the testimony”. It is about the aspect of external testimony. This is also an aspect of the church, which is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1Tim 3:1515but in case I am delayed, [I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.). The church has to uphold the testimony of truth in the world. That creates resistance and requires struggle, defense.

The believers are priests; they are also Levites as well as warriors. Depending on his activity, the believer is a priest, a Levite or a warrior. He is busy as a priest when he is in the sanctuary to praise God. He is a Levite when he serves the church. He is a warrior when he stands up for the truth when it is attacked.


The Assignment Is Being Executed

54Thus the sons of Israel did; according to all which the LORD had commanded Moses, so they did.

The people do what the LORD has commanded Moses. They are characterized by obedience.


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