The Israelites are counted

Num 1:1-54    The Book of Numbers’ includes the first census of the Israelites taken at Mt.Sinai thirteen months after leaving Egypt.

Greek Orthodox Chapel on top of Mt Sinai

Greek Orthodox Chapel at the top of Mt Sinai  (Mcstafford)


The First Census

In the first census taken at Mt. Sinai in c.1446BC, the total number of adult Israelite men is recorded as 603,550 (which implies that there were about 2 million Israelite men, women and children). As only seventy members of Jacob’s family had accompanied him to Egypt in c.1662BC, this figure confirms that the number of Israelites had multiplied by a factor of over eight thousand in under two hundred years – an average threefold increase over some eight or nine generations. (This suggests that there were eight or nine generations during the Israelites’ time in Egypt when, on average, at least six offspring survived into adulthood from each set of two parents).

A second census taken in Moab is recorded in Numbers 26:3. The total number of adult Israelite men recorded in this second census about forty years later is 601,730 (again representing about 2 million Israelite men, women and children). As families at this time were generally very large, and the Israelite population had increased by up to threefold in each generation while in Egypt, this slight reduction in population suggests a very high death rate amongst the Israelites during their forty years in the desert. Some of these deaths would have been due to illnesses and diseases common at that time - a plague that killed 14,700 people is mentioned around the time of Korah’s rebellion (see Numbers 16:49). But many of the deaths may have been the result of drought and famine within a community not used to living as desert nomads and therefore exceeding the carrying capacity of the arid land and its ability to provide sufficient food.


Num 2-4    Details of the twelve tribes of Israel are given, together with various branches of the Levites and their roles in maintaining - and moving - the Tent of Meeting.

Num 5-6    Moses is given more laws and guidance on religious purity, restitution for wrongdoings, and vows.

Num 7:1-89    The 'Tabernacle' – housing the 'Ark of the Covenant' - is dedicated and, for twelve days, offerings are brought in thankfulness.

Num 8:1-26    The Levites are set apart to work at the Tent of Meeting.

Num 9:1-14    The Passover is celebrated in the Desert of Sinai twelve months after the Israelites left Egypt.

The Sinai Desert from the summit of Mt Sinai

The Sinai Desert from the summit of Mt Sinai  (Ian Sewell)


Num 9:15-23    The Israelites are instructed to continue their journey when the cloud lifts from above the Tent of Meeting. “The cloud might stay over the Tent for two days, a month or a year. As long as it stayed, the people camped, but when it lifted, they moved” (Numbers 9:22).

Num 10:1-10  Two silver trumpets are commissioned to be blown by the priests when calling the elders together and to summon God’s blessing when going into battle. The trumpets are also to be sounded on the first day of each new lunar month (see Psalm 81:3) and at the Festival of Trumpets (Rosh Hashanah) in mid-September marking the end of the agricultural year and the beginning of the Jewish New Year.

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