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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Numbers 1

Verses 1-4

A month had passed away since the setting up of the tabernacle Exodus 40:2, Exodus 40:17 : and the Sinaitic legislation was now complete (compare Leviticus 27:34).

A census (“sum”) was commanded, to be based not upon any fresh registration of individuals, but upon that which had accompanied the previous collection of the offerings. Compare Exodus 30:11, etc.; Exodus 38:25-28. The offerings had been probably tendered by the people in groups, and if certificates of registration were furnished to such groups, the new census might be easily carried out by means of these documents, and got through Numbers 1:18 in a single day. The present registration enrolled persons “after their families, by the house of their fathers;” and was superintended not by the Levites (see Exodus 38:21 and note), but by Numbers 1:4 an assessor for each tribe to act in the business with Moses and Aaron. The purpose now in view was not religious only. The census now taken would serve as a basis for various civil and military arrangements.

Verses 5-16

The princes of the tribes, selected Numbers 1:4 under divine direction, were for the most part the same persons as those chosen a few months previously at the counsel of Jethro Exodus 18:21-26. Nahshon, prince of Judah, is mentioned in Exodus 6:23, and Elishama, in 1 Chronicles 7:26-27. The peers of men like these were no doubt entitled, among their fellows, to the epithet “renowned,” Numbers 1:16.

Verses 20-46

The enrollment, being taken principally for military purposes (compare Numbers 1:3, Numbers 1:20), would naturally be arranged by hundreds, fifties, etc. (cf. 2Ki 1:9, 2 Kings 1:11, 2 Kings 1:13). In eleven tribes the number enrolled consists of complete hundreds. The difference, in this respect, observable in the case of the tribe of Gad here Numbers 1:25, and of the tribe of Reuben at the later census Numbers 26:7, is probably to be accounted for by the pastoral, and consequently nomadic, habits of these tribes, which rendered it difficult to bring all their members together at once for a census. Judah already takes precedence of his brethren in point of numbers (compare Genesis 49:8 note), and Ephraim of Manasseh (compare Genesis 48:19-20).

Verses 47-54

When a census of the tribe of Levi takes place. Numbers 3:15; Numbers 26:62, “all” the males are counted from a month old and upward, and not, as in the other tribes, those only who were of age for service in the field.

Numbers 1:48

had spoken - Render spake. The formal appointment is only now made, in reward for their zeal Exodus 32:26-29, though reference to their future office appears previously in Leviticus 25:32 ff, and they had already acted as assistants to the priests (compare Exodus 38:21).

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Numbers 1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/numbers-1.html. 1870.