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Thursday, September 6, 2012

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Now that the 40 years of exile in the desert had ended, and no one over 20 years of age remained of those who had participated in the rebellion—except Caleb and Joshua—God again commanded that a census be taken of the men of Israel. Aaron was now dead and his son Eleazar shared with Moses the responsibilities of leadership. The children of Israel were still in the plains of Moab, and the census was to be the basis for dividing up the Promised Land (v. 53). The detailing of the census count may seem tedious to most of us, but it’s of extreme interest to historians. It’s not only an important record of Jewish heritage, but a record of human history, and places biblical narrative in context by showing family relationships and proving the reliability of the Bible. But most importantly, it’s like a gold thread through history, tracing the lineage to the birth of Christ. Here are just a few of the facts we learn from this census:


  1. The children of Reuben were nearly 3,000 less than 38 years previous. This may have been due in part to the rebellion of Dathan and Abiram, who were Reubenites.
  2. Korah’s line did not die out, as apparently part of his family did not participate in the rebellion. The children of Korah continued to have a good name even in David’s time (Ps. 42, 44-49).
  3. The tribe of Manasseh registered an increase of 20,000, fulfilling the prophecy of Jacob concerning the fruitfulness of the children of Joseph (Gen. 49:22).
  4. The census of the Levites was taken separately, as at the first census, because they received no inheritance and were distributed among the cities.


The extent of the territory received depended on the number of persons in each tribe, and the land was divided by lot. It was the belief that the lot was guided by divine intervention (Prov. 16:33); the same method was used by the early church (Acts 1:23-26). The chapter ends by reminding us that the Lord fulfilled His promise and spared Joshua and Caleb, allowing them entrance into the Promised Land because of their courageous report.


The Lord knows those who are His. He is counting His people and keeps a faithful record of the spiritual lineage of Israel in the book of life. If we are faithful, He will not forget His promise to grant us an inheritance in the Promised Land.


Nancy Costa

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