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Bible Commentaries

Arno Gaebelein's Annotated Bible

Numbers 1

Verses 1-54

Analysis and Annotations

I. THE PREPARATION FOR THE JOURNEY

1. The People Numbered

CHAPTER 1

1. The command to number (Numbers 1:1-4)

2. The appointed helpers for the work (Numbers 1:5-16)

3. The congregation assembled (Numbers 1:17-19)

4. The twelve tribes numbered (Numbers 1:20-46)

5. The Levites separated unto the tabernacle service (Numbers 1:47-54)

It was exactly one month after the erection of the tabernacle that the Lord gave the commandment to Moses to number the people. This is seen by comparing the first verse of Numbers with Exodus 40:17. It must not be overlooked that there was a previous numbering of the people in connection with the atonement money. Then all who were twenty years and above, the same as in this census, were numbered. This took place nine months before, and the number of men twenty years and over was 603,550. The same number is given in this first chapter. See Exodus 38:25-26 and Numbers 1:46.

The numbering was “after their families by the house of their fathers.” And those to be numbered were “all from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel.” They had to declare their pedigrees after their families, and only those who could do that had a place in this mustering and could be warriors. This showing of their pedigree was necessary on account of the mixed multitude which had joined themselves to the people of God. “And a mixed multitude went up also with them” (Exodus 12:38). This mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting (Numbers 11:4). Therefore only those who could show by their pedigree their rightful place among the people of God were mustered and could go to war. Our pedigree, which gives us a place among the people of God, is the new birth, by which we become children of God. And our calling is to a spiritual warfare, not with flesh and blood, but against the devil and his wiles and the wicked spirits (Ephesians 6:11-12).

The significance of the statement “all that are able to go forth to war in Israel” must not be overlooked. God wanted His people to go forward and reach in a few days the land of promise, enter in and conquer that land. How this plan was frustrated by their unbelief, and the men of twenty years and over died in the wilderness, without seeing the land is the sad history of this book.

Moses and Aaron were called to be the leaders in numbering the people by their armies. As we saw in Exodus, both Moses and Aaron are typical of Christ. He knoweth His people and His watchful eye rests upon each. With Moses and Aaron were associated the princes of the tribes mentioned in verses 5-16. The names of these princes are of deep interest when we translate them into English. The prince of Reuben is Elizur, “My God is a rock.” The Prince of Simeon, Shelumiel, “At peace with God.” The Prince of Judah, Nahshon, “A diviner.” Then comes Nathaniel, “The gift of God.” The Prince of issachar, Zebulun, is represented by Eliab, “My God is father.” Joseph has his double portion and Ephraim has Elishama, “My God hath heart.” Manasseh’s Prince is Gamaliel, “My God is a rewarder.” Benjamin has Abidan, “My father is judge.” The Prince of Dan is Ahiezer, “Brother of help.” Asher has Pagiel, “Event of God.” Gad’s Prince is Eliasaph, “God addeth,” and Naphtali is represented by Ahira, “Brother is evil.” Nearly all these names are an encouragement to faith. These helpers in forming the mighty army speak by their names of the victory and blessing in store for His people if they go forward in faith. (The deeper lessons connected with it are pointed out in an excellent manner in the Numerical Bible.)

The different tribes, except Levi, were then numbered. We give a table which gives the result of this numbering and also the second numbering thirty-eight years later. The comparison is interesting:

The tribe of Levi is not included. The end of this chapter gives the reason. They were not to be among the warriors, but appointed over the tabernacle of testimony, over all the vessels, and what belonged to it. They were to bear it and their place was round about the tabernacle. Their service, divinely appointed and the beautiful lessons connected with it, we shall follow more fully in our annotations of the third and fourth chapters.

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Bibliographical Information
Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. "Commentary on Numbers 1". "Gaebelein's Annotated Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/gab/numbers-1.html. 1913-1922.