Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Numbers 26

Numbers 26: The Second Census


In this chapter, the Israelites take another census. They took one at the beginning of the book (Numbers 1 and Numbers 3), which was basically at the beginning of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. Now they’re taking another, when they’re almost done their wandering in the desert. The outline of this census is somewhat similar to that of Numbers 1; in verses 4–51 the heads of each clan are listed, and then the number of people in that clan is given. The results are as follows; from the descendants of:
  • Reuben: 43,730
  • Simeon: 22,200
  • Gad: 40,500
  • Judah: 76,500
  • Issachar: 64,300
  • Zebulun: 60,500
  • Joseph:
    • Manasseh: 52,700
    • Ephraim: 32,500
  • Benjamin: 45,600
  • Dan: 64,400
  • Asher: 53,400
  • Naphtali: 45,400
For a total of 610,730. Which is about the same number of Israelites as were recorded in the first census.

There are some differences between the two censuses, though; this one gives some extra detail, about some of the people listed:
  • Verses 8–11: Some of the members of Korah’s rebellion are pointed out
  • Verse 33 points out that one of the clan leaders, Zelophehad, had no sons, only daughters. We’ll see why this is important in a later chapter.
The LORD then gives instructions about how the Promised Land is to be divided up among the Israelites:
The LORD said to Moses, “The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed. Be sure that the land is distributed by lot. What each group inherits will be according to the names for its ancestral tribe. Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups.” (verses 52–56)
Following this, in verses 57–62, the Levites are counted. They’re counted separately, because they receive no inheritance with the other Israelites. There are 23,000 Levites.

Finally, verses 63–65 make explicit that the group of Israelites counted in this census is a completely different set of Israelites from the ones counted in the first one, since the first set all died off in the desert, because of their sin. (Except for Caleb and Joshua.)


The two censuses recorded in Numbers seem to be almost bookends, around the wanderings in the desert. The first one counts all of the Israelites who sinned, and were punished, and then the second one counts the next generation of Israelites, who will go into the Promised Land. The numbers recorded in this census will determine who get the largest pieces of land, when it’s divided up.

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