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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Numbers 26

Verses 1-51

The writer recorded the numbers of each tribe in these verses. He also included historical notes recalling the sins of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 26:9-11) as well as those of Er and Onan (Numbers 26:19). Perhaps he included these to remind the Israelites of these sins so they would not repeat them in the future.

A comparison of the censuses demonstrates that God could still fulfill His promises to the patriarchs even though the Israelites’ failures had postponed their fulfillment. This is one of the most important revelations of the Book of Numbers.

"It is utterly remarkable that the total number has remained nearly unchanged even though the people have lived under the most trying conditions for a period of thirty-eight years. . . . God’s faithfulness to his people is grandly celebrated with this triumphant chapter of census!" [Note: Allen, "Numbers," p. 938.]

Verses 1-65

II. PROSPECTS OF THE YOUNGER GENERATION IN THE LAND CHS. 26-36

The focus of Numbers now changes from the older unbelieving generation of Israelites doomed to die in the wilderness to the younger generation that would enter the Promised Land.

"The parallels and contrasts between this narrative and the book of Ruth suggest that both texts are dealing with similar ideas. In fact, the picture of Ruth provides an excellent counterexample to that of the men of Israel in this episode. Ruth the Moabitess married an Israelite man and forsook her nation’s gods to follow the Lord. For this she was given an inheritance in Israel. In this respect she is also like the daughters of Zelophehad in the next chapters of Numbers who also gained an inheritance among the men of Israel (Numbers 27:1-11)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 410.]

A. Preparations for entering the Promised Land from the east chs. 26-32

The first section of this second part of the book records God’s gracious preparation of the younger generation for their entrance into their inheritance.

1. The second census ch. 26

Before going into battle against the Midianites as God commanded (Numbers 25:18), the Lord directed Moses to take another census of the Israelites. Evidently the 24,000 who died in the recent plague (Numbers 25:9) were the last of the generation who had refused to enter the land 38 years earlier. Only Caleb, Joshua, and Moses remained from the older generation (Numbers 26:64-65). Leon Wood calculated that if 1,200,000 of the older generation died in 38 years, there would have been an average of 85 funerals per day in the wilderness. [Note: Leon Wood, Distressing Days of the Judges, p. 119.] Of course, on some occasions many more died at once due to divine judgments such as the one described in Numbers 25:9.

Moses again counted the men 20 years of age and older in all the tribes except Levi as in the census taken just before Israel departed from Sinai (chs. 1-4). The primary purpose of this census was military, namely, to organize the nation for its battles with the Canaanites as well as with the Midianites. However a second important purpose was to discover the size of each tribe so Moses could allocate territory in the Promised Land proportionately (Numbers 26:53-54). This list also had historical value for later generations enabling them to trace their genealogies. Notice that this is a list of families or clans, not individuals. The preservation of the nation is a monument to God’s faithfulness to His promises concerning Israel.

". . . His covenanted promises to the patriarchs might be delayed by human sin, but they could not be ultimately frustrated." [Note: Philip, p. 275.]

A table of the size of the 12 tribes when Moses took the two censuses follows.

TribeFirst CensusSecond CensusDifference
Reuben46,50043,730-2,770
Simeon59,30022,200-37,100
Gad46,65040,500-5,150
Judah74,60076,500+1,900
Issachar54,40064,300+9,900
Zebulun57,40060,500+3,100
Ephraim40,50032,500-8,000
Manasseh32,20052,700+20,900
Benjamin35,40045,600+10,200
Dan62,70064,400+1,700
Asher41,50053,400+11,900
Naphtali53,40045,400-8,000
Totals603,550601,730-1,820

Zimri was a Simeonite (Numbers 25:14). Perhaps the large number of Simeonites who died resulted from his kinsmen joining him in his apostasy in chapter 25.

Moses also counted the Levite males from one month old and older (Numbers 26:57-62).

Levi22,00023,000+1,000

Probably there were about 13,000 males 20 years of age or older in Levi. This would have made this tribe the smallest by far.

Verses 52-56

Moses apportioned the land to each tribe according to its population. The casting of lots determined the location of each tribal inheritance in Canaan later (Numbers 26:54; Joshua 13:7-33).

Verses 57-62

Here Moses recorded the census of the Levites. Moses and Aaron were Kohathites (Exodus 6:18-20). Their parents’ names were Amram and Jochebed (Numbers 26:59).

Verses 63-65

The chapter closes with a testimony to the faithfulness of God. All but Caleb and Joshua had died in the wilderness, as He had promised. God had preserved the nation and would bring her into the land as He had guaranteed the patriarchs. Nevertheless He had judged the unbelieving generation.

This chapter looks backward over the past 38 years and forward to entrance into Canaan.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 26". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/numbers-26.html. 2012.