16 Apr. Numbers 26:1-65

16 Apr. The Israelites hold a second census in Moab

“After the great sickness, the LORD said to Moses and Eleazer son of Aaron, the priest, ‘Count all the people of Israel by families. Count all the men who are 20 years old or older who will serve in the armies of Israel.’”

“Moses and Eleazer the priest spoke to the people on the plains of Moab near the Jordan River, across from Jericho. They said, ‘Count the men 20 years old or older, as the LORD commanded Moses.’”

“Here are the Israelites who came out of Egypt: The tribe of Reuben, the first son born to Israel [Jacob] was counted… and the total number of men was 43,730…”

“These were the family groups in the tribe of Simeon… and the total number of men was 22,200. These were the family groups in the tribe of Gad… and the total number of men was 40,500…”

“These were the family groups in the tribe of Naphtali… and the total number of men was 45,400. So the total number of the men of Israel was 601,730.”

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Divide the land among these people by the number of names. A large tribe will get more land, and a small tribe will get less land… Divide the land by drawing lots, and the land each tribe gets will be named after that tribe…”

“The tribe of Levi was also counted [although, as members of the priestly tribe, the Levites would not fight in the army of the Israelites]… The total number of male Levites one month old or older was 23,000. But these men were not counted with the other Israelites, because they were not given any of the land among the other Israelites.”

“Moses and Eleazer the priest counted all these people… Moses and Aaron had counted the Israelites [in the first census] in the Desert of Sinai, but no one Moses counted on the plains of Moab was in the first counting. The LORD had told the Israelites they would all die in the desert, and the only two left were Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun [who were the only two spies who had encouraged the Israelites to attack Canaan immediately].”

          (Numbers 26:1-65)



The second census of the Israelites – to count the number of adult fighting men available for the Israelite army - took place on the plains of Moab. The total number of adult Israelite men was recorded as 601,730.

The first census, taken at Mt Sinai almost forty years earlier (and recorded in Numbers 1:1-54), indicated that there were 603,550 adult Israelite men before the Israelites’ 40 years of ‘wandering’ between the desert oases of the Negev Desert.

The first census taken at Mt Sinai meant that there were about 2 million Israelite men, women and children in c.1446BC. The second census, about forty years later, indicated there were still 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, the 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), and the sexually transmitted disease caught from the Moabite women killed 24,000 men (see Numbers 25:1-9).

But many of the deaths must have been as a result of drought and famine within a community not used to living as desert nomads and therefore not able to produce sufficient food for their needs in a dry and barren land.

The tribe of Levi were not included in the head count of active soldiers because their religious duties prevented them from serving in the Israelite army. Neither were the Levites allocated a specific tract of land, because they were required to perform their religious duties among all the different tribes of Israel.

Instead, forty-eight cities (including 6 ‘cities of refuge’) within the other tribal areas (together with sufficient pasture land for their livestock) were assigned to the Levites (see Numbers 35:1-5).

The photo (by Jim Greenhill) shows the valley of the River Jabbok which forms the northern boundary of Moab and flows west into the River Jordan.

You can read more about the ‘cities of refuge’ @ https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney2/27-the-israelites-move-into-canaan/six-cities-of-refuge-are-set-up/

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