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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 26

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-65

“And it came to pass after the plague, that Jehovah spake unto Moses and unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying, Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ houses, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel. And Moses and Eleazar the priest spake with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, Take the sum of the people, from twenty years old and upward; as Jehovah commanded Moses and the children of Israel, that came forth out of the land of Egypt. “Reuben, the first-born of Israel; the sons of Reuben: of Hanoch, the family of the Hanochites; of Pallu, the family of the Palluites; of Hezron, the family of the Hezronites: of Carmi, the family of the Carmites. These are the families of the Reubenites; and they that were numbered of them were forty and three thousand and seven hundred and thirty. And the sons of Pallu: Eliab. And the sons of Eliah: Nemuel, and Dathan, and Abiram. These are that Dathan and Abiram, who were called of the congregation, who strove against Moses and against Aaron in the company of Korah, when they strove against Jehovah, and the earth opened its mouth, and swallowed them up together with Korah, when that company died; what time the fire devoured two hundred and fifty men, and they became a sign. Notwithstanding, the sons of Korah died not. “The sons of Simeon after their families: of Nemuel, the family of the Nemuelites; of Jamin, the family of the Jaminites; of Jachin, the family of the Jachinites; of Zerah, the family of the Zerahites; of Shaul, the family of the Shaulites. These are the families of the Simeonites, twenty and two thousand and two hundred. “The sons of Gad after their families: of Zephon, the family of the Zephonites; of Haggi, the family of the Haggites, of Shuni, the family of the Shunites; of Ozni, the family of the Oznites; of Eri, the family of the Erites; of Arod, the family of the Arodites; of Areli, the family of the Arelites. These are the families of the sons of Gad according to those that were numbered of them, forty thousand and five hundred. “The sons of Judah, Er and Onan; and Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. And the sons of Judah after their families were: of Shelab, the family of the Shelanites; of Perez, the family of the Perezites; of Zerah, the family of the Zerahites. And the sons of Perez were: of Hezron, the family of the Hezronites; of Hamul, the family of the Hamulites. These are the families of Judah according to those that were numbered of them, threescore and sixteen thousand and five hundred. “The sons of Issachar after their families: of Tola, the family of the Tolaites; of Puvah, the family of the Punites; of Jashub, the family of the Jashubites; of Shimron, the family of the Shimronites. These are the families of Issachar according to those that were numbered of them, threescore and four thousand and three hundred. “The sons of Zebulun after their families: of Sered, the family of the Seredites; of Elon, the family of the Elonites; of Jahleel, the family of the Jahleelites. These are the families of the Zebulunites according to those that were numbered of them, threescore thousand and five hundred. “The sons of Joseph after their families: Manasseh and Ephraim. The sons of Manasseh: of Machir, the family of the Machirites; and Machir begat Gilead: of Gilead, the family of the Gileadites. These are the sons of Gilead: of Iezer, the family of the Iezerites; of Helek, the family of the Helekites; and of Asriel, the family of the Asrielites; and of Shechem, the family of the Shechemites; and Shemida, the family of the Shemidaites; and of Hepher, the family of the Hepherites. And Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters: and the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, and Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. These are the families of Manasseh; and they that were numbered of them were fifty and two thousand and seven hundred. “These are the sons of Ephraim after their families: of Shutheleah, the family of the Shuthelahites; of Becher, the family of the Becherites; of Tahan, the family of the Tahanites. And these are the sons of Shuthelah: of Eran, the family of the Eranites. These are the families of the sons of Ephraim according to those that were numbered of them, thirty and two thousand and five hundred. These are the sons of Joseph after their families. “The sons of Benjamin after their families: of Bela, the family of the Belaites; of Ashbel, the family of the Ashbelites; of Ahiram, the family of the Ahiramites; of Shephupham, the family of the Shephuphamites; of Hupham, the family of the Huphamites. And the sons of Bela were Ard and Naaman: of Ard, the family of the Ardites; of Naaman, the family of the Naamites. These are the sons of Benjamin after their families; and they that were numbered of them were forty and five thousand and six hundred. “These are the sons of Dan after their families: of Shuham, the family of the Shuhamites. These are the families of Dan after their families. All the families of the Shuhamites, according to those that were numbered of them, were threescore and four thousand and four hundred. “The sons of Asher after their families: of Imnah, the family of the Imnites; of Ishvi, the family of the Ishvites; of Beriah, the family of the Beriites. Of the sons of Beirah: of Heber, the family of the Heberites; of Malchiel, the family of the Malchielites. And the name of the daughter of Asher was Serah. These are the families of the sons of Asher according to those that were numbered of them, fifty and three thousand and four hundred. “The sons of Naphtali after their families: of Jahzeel, the family of the Jahzeelites; of Guni, the family of the Gunires; of Jezer, the family of the Jezerites; of Shillem, the family of the Shillemites. These are the sons of Naphtali according to their families; and they that were numbered of them were forty and five thousand and four hundred. “These are they that were numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty. “And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. To the more thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to the fewer thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one according to those that were numbered of him shall his inheritance be given. Not-withstanding, the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit. According to the lot shall their inheritance be divided between the more and the fewer. “And these are they that were numbered of the Levites after their families: of Gershon, the family of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the family of the Kohathites; of Merari, the family of the Merarites. These are the families of Levi: the family of the Libnites, the family of the Hebronites, the family of the Mahlites, the family of the Mushites, the family of the Korahites. And Kohath begat Amram. And the name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt: and she bare unto Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister. And unto Aaron, were born Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And Nadab and Abihu died, when they offered strange fire before Jehovah. And they that were numbered of them were twenty and three thousand, every male from a month old and upward: for they were not numbered among the children of Israel, because there was no inheritance given them among the children of Israel. “These are they that were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among those there was not a man of them that were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For Jehovah had said to them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.”

Here is a graphic summary of this census and that of the first chapter, showing the changes during the intervening 38 years.


JUDAH574,60076,5001,9002 1/2%
ZEBULUN357,40060,5003,1005 1/2%
DAN162,70064,4001,7002 1/2%
Totals 603,550 601,730

Evidently, these figures were all rounded off at the nearest one hundred, but the reason for the exception for Gad in the first census, and for Reuben in the second census is not known. In those cases, we have a stray fifty and a stray thirty.

It is foolish indeed to question the authenticity of these figures. As Noth said:

“The suggestion that these numbers are a pure invention or that they are reckoned on the basis of some numerical speculation is just as improbable in the case of Numbers 26 as it was in the case of Numbers 1.”(F1)

More and more scholars are receiving such conclusions as this one; but some are still following the pattern of blatant denials so characteristic of the first half of this century. Marsh, for example, declared, “The numbers are artificial.”(F2) His denial is typical in that he offered no proof and gave no intelligent reason whatever why his flat denial of God’s Word should be taken seriously.

That some scholars do not believe these figures is of no consequence at all. Satan has always denied God’s Word.

“From here to the end of Numbers we have preparations for entering the land of Canaan.”(F3) There were several reasons for this census.

(1) It was a necessary prelude to a fair division of the Promised Land among the Israelites.

(2) In the light of certain warfare upon their entering Canaan, it was most important for the leaders to know the relative strength of the tribes as well as the total strength of the nation.

(3) It was needed to demonstrate the truth of God’s promise that the Sinai rebels should not enter Canaan.

There are many similarities in the two censuses, but there are also many differences. Some of the tribes lost very heavily, and others gained, and, surprisingly, the grand totals are in a practical sense almost identical! One difference is the emphasis on families in the second census. Smick thought this came about because the census was taken with the tribes’ “inheritance in view.”(F4)

The final clause of Numbers 26:4 does not indicate that the people in this census came out of Egypt. It indicates that this census is to be taken in the manner of the first.

The shocking decline of the size of the tribe of Simeon is easily understood in the light of the Simeon rebellion under Zimri in Numbers 25. A major share of those slain by the plague were evidently Simeonites.

The mention of Serah “the daughter of Asher” in Numbers 26:46 is not easily explained. Of course, the critical scholars cut the Gordian knot by making the clause “dittographic.”(F5) However, in our view such allegations are not a legitimate way of explaining our ignorance! We simply do not know why the name of Asher’s daughter is found here, and, although it looks out of place, it is possible that there were very good reasons for its presence here, if we only knew them. Certainly, there are excellent reasons why the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 26:33) are included in the family of Joseph, and, likewise, there might very well have been some excellent reason for the appearance of the name of Serah in this passage, a reason now lost, of course.

“Notwithstanding, the sons of Korah died not” (Numbers 26:11). As should have been expected, this declaration is greeted with screams of “contradiction.” See Plaut and others.(F6) In such instances, it is usually most helpful to read the comments of great scholars who lived prior to the current times of unbelief, and it is no surprise to find the perfect answer to such charges as follows:

“It is difficult to reconcile this place with Numbers 16:27; Numbers 16:31-33, where it seems to be intimated that not only the men, but the wives, and the sons, and the little ones of Korah, Dathan and Abiram, were swallowed up in the earthquake. See especially Numbers 26:27, collated with Num. 26:31-22, but the text here expressly says, “The children of Korah died not”; and on a close inspection of Numbers 16:27, we find that the sons and little ones of Dathan and Abiram alone are mentioned: “So they went up from the tabernacle of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, on every side: And Dathan and Abiram came out - and their wives and their sons, and their little ones.”
Here is no mention of the children of Korah; they therefore escaped.”(F7)

Notice once more the phenomenon that continually appears in the Bible. Mistaken and false interpretations usually result, not from ignorance of Greek or Hebrew, but from a simple failure to respect the grammar. If the critics had only paused to consider that the antecedent of the pronoun “their” in Numbers 16:27 was Dathan and Abiram and did NOT include Korah (necessarily), they would not have been betrayed into the error of alleging a contradiction in the Bible.

In Numbers 26:52-56, we have instructions for dividing the land of Canaan among the Israelites. It was to be done by “lot,” that is, by casting lots; and yet it was also to be carried out in a manner proportionately to the numerical size of the various tribes, the larger ones getting more, and the smaller ones getting less. Noth declared that these divine commands were “incompatible,”(F8) and contradictory, but the Israelites found no difficulty in carrying out God’s instructions. They evidently cast lots for the general sectors of the Promised land in which the tribes would be settled, and then, the actual amount of land that went to each was apportioned on the basis of the numbers of the people.(F9)

The real wonder of the dividing of the land lies not in how it was done, but in the fact that God divided it to Israel BEFORE they ever entered it! What God promises is already AS GOOD AS DONE!

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 26". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/numbers-26.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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