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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 1

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-4

Note: Commentary on Pentateuch, including Numbers, was written by Dr. G.F. Crumley. (verse by verse commentary follows this chart and introduction to the Book of Numbers)



Book of Census - Place for Every Person

I. Israel’s Preparation at Sinai, Nu 1:1 to 10:10.

1. First census of the people, Nu 1:1 to 4:49.

2. Sanctification of the people, Nu 5:1 to 10:10.

II. Israel’s March to Kadesh - Barnea, Nu 10:11 to


1. Beginning of the March, Nu 10:11-36.

2. Beginning of their Murmurings, Nu 11:1 to


III. Israel Encamped at Kadesh - Barnea, Nu 13:1 to


1. Their Defiance of God - unbelief, Nu 13:1 to


2. Their Discipline from God, Nu 15:1 to 20:13.

IV. Israel’s March to Moab, Nu 20:14 to 21:35

1. Defiance of Edom, Nu 20:14-22.

2. Death of Aaron, Nu 20:23-29.

3. Death of Arod, Nu 21:1-3.

4. Discipline of Israel over the Brass Serpent, Nu


5. Defeat of Sihom and Og, Nu 21:10-35.

V. Israel on the Plains of Moab, Numbers 22:1 to Numbers 36:13.

1. Balak and Balaams Collusions Regarding Israel,

Nu 22:1 to 24:25.

2. Israel’s Worship of Baal at Peor, Nu 25:1-18.

3. New Generation Numbered and Instructed,

Nu 26:1 to 30:16.

4. Israel Defeats the Midianites, Nu 31:1-54.

5. Eastern Jordan Settled by Two and a Half Tribes,

Nu 32:1-42.

6. Journey From Egypt to Moab Reviewed, Nu


7. Instructions for Possession and Division of the

Land, Nu 33:50-Nu 36-13.


AUTHOR: Among conservative scholars there is general agreement that Moses wrote the Book of Numbers.

NAME: The Hebrew title is, "In the Wilderness," from the first significant word in the Book. This is an appropriate title, as a summary of important events during Israel’s trek from Egypt to Canaan.

The English title, "Numbers," is suggested from the "numbering" or census of Israel at Sinai, as recorded in chapter 1. This English title may be misleading, in that it suggests a compilation of dry statistical tables. But this is not the purpose or intent of the Book.

Moses took a census of Israel on three occasions:

1. First: the first year, third month following the Exodus, for the purpose of levying a poll tax, Ex 30:11; 37:25, 26.

2. Second: the second year, second month of Israel’s trek, for purpose of military conscription, Nu 1:3.

3. Third: in the fortieth year, in the plains of Moab, for the purpose of the division of the Land among the tribes, Nu 26:4.

SYNOPSIS: The Book of Numbers may be divided into nine sections:

Section 1: Preparation for the journey, chapters 1-4.

Section 2: Levitical legislation, chapters 5, 6.

Section 3: From the erection of the Tabernacle to Kadesh­Barnea, chapters 7-14.

Section 4: Levitical laws, chapter 15.

Section 5: Revolt of Korah, chapters 16, 17.

Section 6: Laws of cleansing, chapters 18, 19.

Section 7: Last leg of the journey, chapters 20, 21.

Section 8: In the Plains of Moab, chapters 22:1-33:49.

Section 9: Final instructions, for observance in Canaan, chapters 33:50-36:13.


Verses 1-4

Jehovah spoke to Moses "face to face," Ex 33:11; 19:1; 18:21-25.

The time: the first day of the month lyyar (Zif), the first month of the religious year. This corresponds to the latter part of April and the first part of May. This was a year and two weeks since the Exodus, ten and a half months after Israel’s arrival in Sinai, and about a month following the set-up of the Tabernacle.

The command: take a census of Israel. This was the second census, the first being for the half-shekel levy of the poll tax, Ex 30:11-16.

The primary purpose of this second census was to provide a roll for military service. Every able-bodied male from twenty years old and upward was liable to serve.

A secondary purpose for this census was to provide a family registration roll. The social and political structure of Israel was according to tribe and family associations, traditions, and loyalties. This promoted unity in diversity.

The first census was taken by the Levites only, because it was for religious purposes. The second was taken by representatives from the various tribes.

Verses 5-16

Verses 5-16:

The tribes are listed in this text according to the order of their assigned areas in camp, with the exception of Gad, who is listed with the other children of the handmaids.

The first listed are the tribes descended from the children born to Leah: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. Levi is omitted because of his choice as the priestly tribe, and the Levites were exempt from military service. Nashon is the representative of Judah. He was the brother-in-law of Aaron (Ex 6:23), and one of the ancestors of Jesus (Mt 1:4).

Next listed are the children of Rachel: Joseph, represented by his two sons Ephraim and Manasseh, and Benjamin. Elishama, son of Ephraim, was the grandfather of Joshua (1Ch 7:26).

Next listed are the children of the handmaids of Leah and Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah: Dan (Bilhah), Asher and Gad (Zilpah), and Naphtali (Bilhah).

None of these "princes" is listed elsewhere in Scripture, except Nashon and Elishama. However, they were men who had earned a good reputation among their respective tribes, and had been elevated to positions of responsibility.

"Heads of thousands" chiliarchs (LXX). The term soon came to denote families, Jg 6:15.

Verses 17-21

Verses 17-21:

"These men," those listed in verses 5-16.

The language implies that the census was completed in one day. This meant that the necessary family lists were prepared in advance, likely the same list used in the poll tax, Ex 30:11; 37:25, 26.

"Pedigree," yalad (hiph), "to one’s birth or pedigree," from a verb meaning "to give birth."

This census included males, twenty years old and upward.

Reuben was first to be counted, a total of 46,500 men.

Reuben was Jacob’s eldest son, the first child born to Leah. He was denied the traditional rights of the frist-born, because of the sin of incest, Ge 35:22; 49:3, 4.

Verses 22-23

Next listed in the enrollment was Simeon, Jacob’s second son by Leah. Jacob denied him the traditional rights of the firstborn because of his involvement in the slaughter of the Shechemites, Ge 29:33, 34; 49:5.

Those of military age in Simeon numbered 59,300.

Levi was the third of Jacob’s sons by Leah, but he is not listed in this portion of the census. The Levites were charged with the religious duties of Israel, and were exempt from this enrollment.

Verses 24-25

Verses 24, 25:

Listed third was Gad, the eldest son of Jacob by Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid. He is listed with Reuben and Simeon, perhaps because he was placed with them in Israel’s camp (see chart). The males of Gad numbered 45,650.

Verses 26-27

Verses 26, 27:

Listed fourth is Judah, the fourth son of Leah. His is the largest of all the tribes. Jacob prophetically designated Judah as the tribe of Israel’s kings, Ge 49:8-12.

74,600 men of military age were counted in Judah.

Verses 28-29

Verses 28, 29:

Listed fifth is Issachar, the fifth son of Leah. This was the fifth largest tribe in Israel, with 54,400 men listed in the census.

Jacob prophesied of Issachar a largely pastoral inheritance, one not heavily involved in military operations, Ge 49:14, 15.

Verses 30-31

Verses 30, 31:

Listed sixth is Zebulun, the sixth and last of Leah’s sons. 57,400

men were counted in this tribe.

Jacob prophesied of Zebulun’s role as a maritime people, Ge 49:13.

Verses 32-33

Verses 32, 33:

Joseph is divided into two tribes, in recognition of the customary firstborn rights. Jacob designated him as the heir to the firstborn position, Ge 37:3, 4; 49:22-26.

Of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim is listed first, not as the eldest, but according to Jacob’s prophecy, Ge 48:5, 12-14.

The census of Ephraim showed 40,500 men.

Verse 34

Verses 34, 35:

In this census, the tribe of Manasseh was the smallest in number. Only 32,200 men are listed. However, this was to change by the time of the final count in the plains of Moab, see Nu 26:34.

Verses 36-37

Verses 36, 37:

Benjamin was the youngest son of Jacob, and was born to Rachel. This tribe lists two important men in Scripture: Saul, Israel’s first king (1Sa 10); and Saul of Tarsus who became the Apostle Paul (Php 3:5).

Benjamin listed 35,400 men in this census.

Verses 38-39

Verses 38, 39:

Dan was the eldest son of Jacob by Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaid. This is the second largest of Israel’s tribes, as listed in this census. The number of men: 62,700.

The size of this tribe is remarkable, considering that Dan had but one son, Hushim (Shuham), Ge 46:23; Nu 26:42. However, it is not unreasonable, in light of the large number of children common among Israeli families. For example: if Hushim had three sons within twenty-five years of entering Egypt with his father and grandfather, and if his descendants doubled every twenty-five years, by the time of the Exodus he could have had over 200,000 descendants.

Verses 40-41

Verses 40, 41:

Asher was the second son of Jacob by Zilpah, Leah’s handmaid. Jacob’s prophecy concerning Asher was for financial prosperity. Ge 49:20.

41,500 men were enumerated of Asher’s tribe in this census.

Verses 42-43

Verses 42, 43:

Naphtali was Jacob’s younger son by Bilhah. Jacob’s prophecy concerning him speaks of the eloquence in song that would come from his territory (Ge 49:21; Jg 4:6-9; 5:1-31).

53,400 men were counted in the census from this tribe.

Verses 44-46

Verses 44-46:

The total number counted in Israel’s tribes was 603,550, excluding the Levites. This indicates a large population. Those counted were males, able to go to war, v. 1-4, twenty years of age and upward. Allowing one wife and one child for each male, the total population of Israel could easily have been 1,810,650 - or more.

Verses 47-54

Verses 47-54:

The Levites were counted later, chapter 3, but on a different basis than the rest of Israel. God’s choice of Levi is based upon the incident of the golden calf, and the role the Levites played in this matter, Ex 32:26-29.

God designated the Levites as the ministers for the Tabernacle service. This included the sacrifices, offerings, and worship order, as well as the care of the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Only the Levites were allowed to take down the Tabernacle and transport it, and then to set it up on the new site. The families of the tribe of Levi were assigned specific duties in this service. A "stranger," one not a Levite, who intruded into this service was to be put to death. A dramatic example of this occured during David’s reign, 1Ch 13:10.

(Here in the hardbound commentary is a chart of the tribes)

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 1". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/numbers-1.html. 1985.
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