Second census of Israel for men of 20 years and older.

Day 66 (March 7): Israelite men defile themselves with Moabite women, God’s fury sends plague killing 24,000, second census of troops

Credit: Wong Chim Yuen

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

 Today’s Reading
Numbers 25-26
(1407 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 25:1-18): In 25:5, Moses ordered Israel’s judges to kill those who had defiled themselves.  It sounds like to me that this order was not carried out except for Phinehas killing Zimri who had taken a Midianite woman into his tent.  That is why 24,000 died?

A. I would assume that the story recorded of the Midianite woman is a representative example of the callousness that these men showed for God in this instance.  The man in question brought a foreigner into the presence of Moses and the leaders — not to mention God’s presence — at the Tabernacle: this is a huge violation of the Law and a major affront to God’s holiness, which I suspect is what prompted the violent reaction.  The man appeared to be flaunting his defiance of the leadership!  I think we can safely assume that other “ringleaders,” as the text called them, were executed, but not before many thousands of people had died in a plague that spread among the people.

Q. (26:5-50): The tribes’ census doesn’t mean anything to me, given my knowledge.  Is there anything that we should pay special attention to?

A. As we will discuss below, while the book of Numbers is not carefully dated, nearly 40 years have passed since the original census has been taken at the beginning of the text.  These two censuses are a big part of the reason this book gets its name: the Israelites are numbered twice, at the beginning of their wandering, and again at the end.  Regarding the importance of THIS census, if you compare the numbers at the beginning and end of the text, you see that there are roughly the same number of Israelites ready to serve in the army (around 600,000), but the tribes from which they come has changed a bit: Simeon’s tribe is the biggest loser of people — nearly 60K in the first, only 22K in the second.  This leads some scholars to speculate that the 24,000 who were killed were from Simeon’s tribe — at least partly because the flagrant offender from the previous question was from Simeon’s tribe.  The big “winners” in the second census are Benjamin — 35,000 to 45,000 — and Joseph’s son Manasseh — 32,000 to 52,000 — but the reasons for this are not given.

Q. (26:51-56): I assume God is telling him to divide up the land of Canaan, right?  But, they are not even there yet.

A. Moses is getting the instructions of how the land of promise is going to be divided up: larger tribes get more than smaller ones, and also individual plots of land were to be given by lot, essentially allowing God Himself to divide up the land as He saw fit.  I’m sure we will revisit this in Joshua when it actually happens, and we can talk about how the process was actually carried out.

Q. (26:64): Has it already been 40 years?  I thought the Israelites had quite a ways to go yet before they were permitted to go to Canaan.  There are songs and sayings that talk about “The Lord’s Army.”  Is this what the census has comprised?  God made a new census because so many had died and they didn’t have a right to be in His army anyway?  God wanted to start with a clean slate?

A. Other than a handful of people, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, etc., the vast majority of the people counted in the previous census, who were more than 20 years old 40 years ago, remember, are dead.  God is indeed starting fresh, with a new army that is made up of a new generation of Israelites, and they will be getting their new leader soon in Joshua.  The invasion of the Promised Land is coming as soon as we get the farewell sermon of Moses.

For further reading: Are numbers in the Bible accurate? https://www.gotquestions.org/numbers-Bible-accurate.html

Shop: Just like God wanted to grow the Israelites, Jesus came to earth to spread the message of love.  He is an example of showing love and He taught others to follow in his footsteps.  Follow the teacher: https://livinlight.org/product/teacher-t-shirt/

Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 27-29

Israel gets organized. NLT Bible open to the introduction of Numbers. Tribes assigned place in camp, Levites to serve priests, Levites register, Firstborn sons redeemed through Levites

Day 58 (Feb. 27): Tribes assigned place in camp, Levites serve as priests, Levites register, Firstborn sons redeemed through Levites

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Numbers 2-3
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Numbers 2-3): Why is the number of people and the number of eligible warriors important to Bible readers?

A. Honestly, there’s not a great answer to that question for us today.  To the original readers (ancient Jews), this section would have been important as it relates to their own genealogy, something we have established is an important purpose of the OT.  This section — I’ll count chapters 1-3 — provides information on the current tribal leaders in the wilderness (1:5-15), the marching order for the army (note who’s out in front, Judah’s tribe, not Reuben’s), the arrangement of the camp, and a section for the genealogy of the Levites.  These are important considerations for this early post-Exodus nation.  Jews to this day use the Exodus as a marker or divider of time and history, the way Christians do with the Incarnation in the move between BC and AD.  So to them, this is a very crucial period between their ancestor’s freedom and the establishment of their own kingdom.

Q. (3:14): Can you tell us why the Levites were chosen for holy work?

A. No, I can’t tell you, because I don’t know.  God does not ever fully reveal the reason He selected the Levites for this task, only that He has chosen them.  It might be because Moses and Aaron were of that tribe, but ultimately, it is an issue of God’s sovereign choice.

But this passage (v. 11-13) does provide some interesting insight into the mindset that God is using: the Levities are designated to be the “first born” of the tribe, which from the Passover God tells us that the “first borns” belong to Him.  They were to be a people set apart, as a representation of the entire nation, in the same way that the entire nation was to be set apart from the world around them.  So you could say the Levites were “chosen” by God in the same representative manner that the entire nation was “chosen”  Why them?  Only God knows!

Q. (3:43): The number of firstborns in this verse (22,273) seems much too small for a population of that many people.  What gives?

A. Actually, you’ve hit on one of the major problems of this text: what to do with the large numbers the text presents.  If added together (I looked it up, I didn’t calculate this number myself), you get a population of somewhere around 2 million people, which seems a bit too large for this period.  There are a few ways of looking at how the number is reached, but ultimately there is no definitive answer.  One way, for example, is that the Hebrew word for “thousand” is not actually what the word means here.  I wouldn’t get too hung up on the numbers: the most important thing that we can discern from this census is that the population had grown substantially in Egypt from the 12 sons of Jacob, and they will use this growth and mustered army to become a powerful nation, with God’s help, in the book of Joshua.

For further study: God choosing Levites rooted in loyalty: https://www.dubiousdisciple.com/2012/10/numbers-310-12-why-were-the-levites-selected-for-the-priesthood.html 

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Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 4-5

 

Israel first census On the fifteenth day of April in the second year after the Israelis left Egypt, the Lord issued the following instructions to Moses … ‘Take a census of all the men twenty years old and older who are able to go to war, indicating their tribe and family.’

Day 57 (Feb. 26): Dedications to God, Israel’s first census, tribes and leaders, Levites guardians of Tabernacle

Wong Chim Yuen

Welcome to Livin’ Light’s Bible-In-A-Year challenge of discovering God’s love for us and His purpose for our lives. Here is the format for this great adventure: The daily reading assignment is posted at 5 a.m. After each day’s reading, Leigh An Coplin, the blog host, shares observations and poses questions about difficult passages to Rob Fields, who studied Christian Education at Asbury Seminary and currently teaches Biology in the Orlando area. To start from the beginning, click on 365 Bible Readings and scroll down to Day 1. The reading schedule is taken from The One Year Chronological Bible NLT. 

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 27
Numbers 1
(1445 BC) Click here for a timeline of the whole Bible.

Questions & Observations

Q. (Leviticus 27:1-8): What does it mean to dedicate someone to the Lord?

A. This chapter appears to be about dedicating people and things like animals and property to the Lord.  This could be related to vows the people had made to God in exchange for His blessing (i.e. a cattle herder swearing, “if my herds give birth to 10 calves by your blessing, Lord, then I swear that I will dedicate one of them to You”, that type of thing).  But the system also appears to have a “cash conversion” system built into it for convenience.  So then rather the simply leaving the animal or house or child with the priest, the person who made the vow could “buy it out” and keep the object or person that the vow was made about.

Q. (27:10): What?  In 27:10, it says that animals offered may not be exchanged and then says, but if you do, they will both be considered holy.  Why the conflict?  Why would anyone want to exchange an animal?  I realize this is not an important question.  I am just puzzled by the subject and the conflicting statements.

A. There’s some nuance to the text that I don’t think comes across in the NLT, but this is a tricky verse I don’t fully understand either.  One thing that is clear: the exchange is related to the animals that a person promised to the Lord.  You could not go back on your vow related to the particular animal that you were offering: if it was a choice animal that you promised to dedicate, you couldn’t cheat and exchange it for a blemished animal.  We will see this in Malachi 1 — the people promise good animals, but actually bring injured or blemished animals, which was a great insult to God.  I think the end of the verse — both animals being holy — refers to the fact that in the event of a legitimate exchange — good animal for good animal — both animals, or the money they were sold for, could be used for holy purposes such as provisions for priests or refurbishing the tabernacle materials.

Q. (27:14-15): So, a house dedication is giving it to God.  I don’t understand what that does.  Do they still live in it?  Why can he/she buy it back?

A. This is the same situation as the animal exchange above: if a person made a vow that if they were able to build a house or dwelling with resources God provided, they would dedicate the house to the Lord.  If unredeemed (not bought back), it could become the home for a priest or other Levite, who didn’t have land of their own.  But the priesthood would be better able to use a “liquid” asset, and would therefore accept the exchange and give the property back to the owner.  The buyback option is provided for convenience.

Q. (27:22-24): How are they dedicating fields when they are in the desert?

A. This doesn’t refer to their land now, but this section, along with everything discussed with the Year of Jubilee, relates to the land that the Israelites will divide up among the tribes when the take over the Promised Land in Joshua/Judges.  The various tribes and then families would divide up the land into smaller and smaller lots, and these lots became the permanent inheritance of the family; they saw it as being given the land by God Himself.  This land could be sold, but only until the next Jubilee, when the Law required it be returned the original family.  We shall see how this plays out when the people enter the Promised Land in a bit.

Q. (27:29): I don’t understand this verse.  Is it important?

A. It’s not really important.  The verse is playing off of the intent of verse 28, which talks about redeeming things devoted to God.  This verse is saying that there are other people, specifically the tribes occupying the Promised Land, who rather than being devoted to God, are devoted to themselves, and destruction or war.  They cannot be redeemed from this devotion, which will come into play when God instructs the people about how to deal with these tribes.

Q. To whom do the Israelites pay this money to for dedication or buyback?

A. The money would be provided to a priestly treasury which provided for the needs of the Levites as well as providing resources for the Tabernacle, and later Temple, upkeep.

Q. (Numbers 1:10): Why isn’t Joseph listed as a tribe?

A. Jacob, Joseph’s father, was so pleased by his son saving the entire family, that he adopts two of Joseph’s sons: Ephraim and Manasseh (1:32-35) as his own.  Thus, Joseph’s line got TWICE the inheritance of any other tribe: in all of these counts, Joseph’s family line gets counted twice.

Q. (1:53): This is an interesting verse.  Rob, can you comment on it?

A. In addition to the duties at the Tabernacle, it appears that this verse is telling us that the tents of the Levites formed a protective “hedge” around the Tabernacle, in order to prevent the people from improperly entering the Tabernacle courts and being subject to the wrath of God for their lack of respect.

Q. Why was the census taken?  Is this for an army?

A. Yes, the primary reason for the census was to determine the size of the force of arms that could be mustered.  The army will be needed to liberate control of the Promised Land.  In addition to the information in verse 1:3, which tells us this is an army tally, the exclusion of the Levites is a telltale sign.  The Levites did not serve in the army (though they will play an important role in some of the military campaigns – notably the conquest of Jericho), so they would have been excluded from this count.

For further study: Levites aka warrior priests: https://knowingscripture.com/articles/levites-class-of-warrior-priests

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Tomorrow’s reading: Numbers 2-3