The book of Numbers is hard to read and to summarize. Mostly because when you’re reading it without paying attention to the overall picture, all the numbers and census and people can be overwhelming.
I’ve read it quite a few times these past few weeks (“read” as in had the audio Bible on!), and until I read a few series/ devotionals on Numbers, it did not make sense to me. One of the Devotionals I read from YouVersion is Book of Numbers: A journey towards human freedom under God’s authority by The Garden City Project.
I loved a post so much that I couldn’t wait to incorporate it into a blog post and I just had to publish it. It’s Rhythms in (the book of) Numbers and in our lives. If you subscribe to YouVersion, I’d highly recommend going through the devotional. It’s a beautifully written picture of how our lives are created to revolve around a Maker and to make worship of Him a priority.
There are 2 census(es?) recorded in the whole book. One at the very beginning when the Israelites have just left Egypt. And the one recorded at the end is the census of their children, after the Israelites had wandered in the desert for 40 years, as a punishment for their sin of disobedience against the Lord.
An overview of the census. At the beginning there are 603,550 men 20 years and older. The Levites ( all of them, men included), women and children under 20 were NOT counted so the number of people present (and that God fed) were at least three times more than this. At the end of the 40 year exile, there were 601,730 men.
I’ve written the numbers of each tribe from both census here. The numbers in brackets are from the second census. I’ll write more about each tribe later on.
- REUBEN 46,500 (43,730)
- SIMEON 59,300 (22,200)
- GAD 45,650 (40,500)
- JUDAH 74,600 (76,500)
- ISSACHAR 54, 400 (64,300)
- ZEBULON 57,400 (60,500)
- Joseph is not a tribe because his two sons became fathers of two different tribes and so were counted separately.
- EPHRAIM 40,500 (32,500)
- MANASSEH 32,200 (52,700)
- BENJAMIN 35,400 (45,600)
- DAN 62,700 (64,400)
- ASHER 41,500 (53,400)
- NAPHTALI 53,400 (45,400)
The men of the tribe of Levi weren’t counted in either of these because this was a list of men available to fight. Levi was tasked with the care and protection of the Tabernacle and they weren’t to go fight for the people.
On the other hand, every Levi male a month old and older were counted. They were to redeem every firstborn son in Israel. They would take their place. They would be counted as the Lord’s. There were 22,000 Levite males and the firstborn sons of all the tribes numbered 22,273. The 273 firstborn who exceeded the Levites were to be redeemed by paying 5 shekels for each man to Aaron and his sons. This money would go towards the care and upkeep of the Tabernacle. During the second census the number of Levite males a month old and older were 23,000.
Look at the numbers of the Israelites again. Go to Genesis 49 with me and read the blessings (and curses) that Jacob/Israel pronounced over his children and we’ll see how so much of that is coming true her awhile the Israelites are in the desert.
REUBEN is cursed (and the number of people in the tribe of Reuben decrease). SIMEON and LEVI are cursed to be dispersed in Israel. Simeon’s tribe is very much reduced. They end up staying within the boundaries of Judah because they are so few. Levi is dispersed too. The tribe of Levi is NOT given any inheritance because the Lord is their inheritance. They are given few cities from each tribe for their families. Levi was chosen as the priesthood to serve God because in Exodus, they chose to stand with Moses and the Lord when the others worshipped the idol. Levi’s numbers on the other hand increase.
GAD is cursed to be attacked (but will attack them in turn) and we see their numbers reduced. JUDAH is blessed to receive the praises from his brothers. Jacob prophesies over him, that through his line will come kings and ultimately THE KING OF KINGS. We see Judah’s numbers have increased.
ISSACHAR is supposed to be lazy and is cursed to become forced labour. It’s interesting to note though, that the tribe’s numbers increase! ZEBULON is blessed with increasing borders and being a haven for ships. We see his numbers increase.
JOSEPH is the given the double portion that is generally reserved for the firstborn. He gets double the blessing too. His children are counted as individual tribes, the only son who get this privilege. While we look at Ephraim and Manasseh and see the numbers decreasing for Ephraim, if we count the total for both tribes together, there is an increase ! (from 727,00 to 852,00).
BENJAMIN has a really weird blessing. He is supposed to be a ravenous wolf who devours prey and increases plunder! I have no idea what this means, if you have insight about it, please leave a comment below. Anyway we see his numbers increase. We know in the later days of the Israelites when they were divided into two kingdoms, that Judah and Benjamin were the Southern Kingdom, ruled over (with only one exception) by the line of David.
DAN is blessed with providing justice for his people ( but he’s also a viper along the road!). Anyway we see his numbers increase. ASHER is blessed with rich food and that he will supply kings. We see the tribe increase by the second census. NAPHTALI is blessed with beautiful children!!!! It’s also interesting to note that his numbers are reduced.
I’ve recently become fascinated by the tribes’ lives. Their sorrows and struggles and obstacles they’ve overcome. My Pastor from the church in India that I attended wrote an incredible book Receiving the 12 blessings of Israel: How God’s promises to His people apply to your life today which made me really interested. In this book, my pastor shows us how the blessings/curses that Jacob prophesied over his sons come true by the time of Moses and how some sons change their curses into blessings.
(Disclaimer: I do NOT receive any money from the sale of this book. I have not been asked to publicize it, but I did so here , because it was a great resource to me in understanding Numbers. You are not obliged/obligated to buy this book, but if you choose to do so, you will enjoy the book as much as I have! 🙂 )
I have been planning this post for a long time in my head, but I did NOT expect the wealth of material present here. I’m going to write the rest in the next post.