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Bible Commentaries

Smith's Bible Commentary

Numbers 1

Verses 1-54

This time lets turn to the book of Numbers, so called because twice in the book the children of Israel were numbered. Once at the beginning of their forty years of wandering in the wilderness and then at their coming of the place of entering into the Promise Land. So in the two numberings of the children of Israel this book got its name. And we're not going to belabor ourselves with all of the families and the numbers on an individual basis, but we'll be making some interesting comparisons showing you that the wilderness experience was tough, that not as many came out of the end of the forty years as went into it. There was a population depletion during this period of time.

It's like my little grandson awhile back was saying, "Grandpa, I want to stay at your house a long time. I don't wanna go home. I want to stay at your house, grandpa." And I said, "Well, I'd like to have you stay for a long time, William. Grandpa would love to have you just move in with him and just stay with him." And he said, "Great, grandpa, because I'd like to do that because I don't wanna go home." And I said, "But why don't ya wanna go home?" He said, "It's tough living at home, grandpa." And compare the way grandpa treats him and all I imagine it would be tough living at home, but it was tough living in the wilderness. And the children of Israel suffered from the ravages of the wilderness. And we'll be making a quick comparison as we look at the numbers who went in and how many fewer came out of the end of that forty years of wandering than went into it.

So, as we get into the book of Numbers, as I say the name of the book implies the two census that were taken and beginning with verse one,

The LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, of the second year ( Numbers 1:1 )

Now the tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month of the second year so this is one month after the tabernacle had been established.

And the Lord told him to take the sum of all of the congregation of the children of Israel, and their families, and they were to number the men who were above twenty years of age, those that would be able to go to battle in case of warfare ( Numbers 1:2-3 ).

So not the children or not the women were counted in this census but only those men who were above the age of twenty.

Now, of the various tribes there were chief men in each of these tribes and in verse seventeen,

And Moses and Aaron took these men which were expressed by their names: And assembled all the congregation together ( Numbers 1:17-18 )

So these names of these men are expressive of the men. Notice, "which are expressed by their names." Now all of the names actually had meanings in those days. They say that names today have meanings, and though you wanna, you know, you find out that your wife is pregnant and you wanna name the child and so you go to a dictionary or something and you start looking at all the names and look at the meaning of the names. And there are some names, though they have beautiful meanings, for certain reasons have never been used for children to any great extent. I think of the name Lucifer, son of the morning, really is a beautiful name and yet it isn't a desirable name because of someone else who is already born that name. But with these men their names were expressions. They were expressed by their names.

So let's take a look at the names of these men. In verse five Elizur is the first one and Elizur means, "my God is a rock." In verse six, Shelumiel; his name means "at peace with God." In verse seven, Nahshon means "a diviner." In verse eight, Nathaneel means "the gift of God." In verse nine, Eliab means, "my God is Father." In verse ten, Elishama means, "my God has heard" and then also in verse ten, Gamaliel means, "my God is a rewarder." And in verse eleven, Abidan means, "my Father is judge." In verse twelve, Ahiezer means "brother of health." In verse thirteen, Pagiel means "event of God." Verse fourteen, Eliasaph means "God addeth" and then the last guy, Ahira doesn't have too good a name. It is "brother, his brother is evil." So, he probably had an older brother that wasn't of too good a reputation so he picked up the name "his brother is evil."

So these are the twelve men who are to be, more or less, the captains or the leaders, the princes over the various tribes. And so, the tribes are listed with their names and you can go back and look over, if you are so inclined, the tribes that each of these men represented and were princes over these particular tribes.

So, now we begin the numbering of the tribes.

And of the tribe of Reuben [in verse twenty-one, of these adult males over twenty years of age there were], forty-six thousand five hundred ( Numbers 1:21 ).

In the second numbering, after the end of the forty years there were only forty-three thousand seven hundred and thirty. And so there was a diminishing of almost three thousand men of the tribe.

Of the tribe of Simeon, [verse twenty-two, of the number of Simeon, verse twenty-three,] were fifty-nine thousand three hundred ( Numbers 1:23 ).

At the end of the forty years there were only twenty-two thousand, two hundred of the tribe of Simeon. It was more than halved. Of the tribe of Gad, forty-five thousand, six hundred and fifty. At the end of the forty years only forty thousand five hundred, a loss of five thousand, a hundred and fifty. Of the tribe of Judah, verse twenty-seven, there were seventy-four thousand six hundred. The tribe of Judah increased in the wilderness wanderings to seventy-six thousand five hundred. So it's one of the few that had an increase. In verse twenty-nine, Issacar, fifty-four thousand four hundred. There was an increase of Issacar of almost ten thousand. At the end of the wandering there were sixty-four thousand three hundred. Of the tribe of Zebulun, fifty-seven thousand four hundred. It increased to sixty thousand five hundred.

Of the tribe of Ephraim, [verse thirty-three] forty thousand five hundred ( Numbers 1:33 ).

It was cut down to thirty-two thousand five hundred and so a loss of eight thousand in the tribe of Ephraim. Of the tribe of Manasseh, thirty-two thousand and two hundred and it increased to fifty-two thousand seven hundred. Of the tribe of Benjamin, thirty-five thousand four hundred which increased to forty-five thousand six hundred. Verse thirty-nine of the tribe of Dan, there were sixty-two thousand seven hundred. They increased to sixty-four thousand four hundred. Of the tribe of Asher, forty-one thousand five hundred increased to fifty-three thousand four hundred.

And so the total number of the men that they numbered [verse forty-six] were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty ( Numbers 1:46 ).

And so those are the men above twenty years of age, those that were able to bare a sphere and go on to war, who entered into the forty years of wandering in the wilderness and that whole generation died. Only two of those men were left to go into the Promise Land. The two were Joshua and Caleb, of which we will get next week, the faithful spies bringing the good report.

Now, the Levites and the tribe of the Levites were not numbered because they were not to go to battle. They were to not be counted with the number of the men of Israel but they were to be appointed over the tabernacle to take care of the tabernacle, and the vessels and they shall bare the tabernacle and the vessels, and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp around about the tabernacle. And when the tabernacle goes forward, the Levites shall take it down: when it is to be pitched, they're to set it up ( Numbers 1:47-51 ):

The tribe of Levi had as its responsibility the taking care of the tabernacle, the moving of it, the setting up of it and of course through Aaron and the priests, the services within the tabernacle.

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Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Numbers 1". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/numbers-1.html. 2014.