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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Numbers 1

Verses 1-3

Assignment to Take a Census


The book starts with counting and ordering. Counting is proof of ownership. The whole generation counted here perishes in the wilderness under the judgment of God – except Joshua and Caleb. This means that a new generation arrives in Canaan. Being counted for heaven, knowing that our names are recorded there, is something to be happy and grateful for. But we must not forget that God is interested in all our actions, the way we go, the trials and struggles we have. He counts that too.

Thirteen months have passed since the redemption from Egypt and one month has passed since the tabernacle was established (Exo 40:17). Applied to us, this means that there has been teaching about salvation, the church as the dwelling place of God and priestly service, as depicted in the tabernacle (Exodus) and the sacrificial service and priestly service (Leviticus). Now comes the order to Moses to count “all the church of the sons of Israel”. The people are seen in their entirety. The picture speaks of spiritual growth and spiritual strength.

The census should be done “by their families, by their fathers’ households, … every male”. Every member of the people must know his origin and where he belongs. Similarly, every believer must know his place in Christ; he must know that he is a child of God and what his spiritual family is, who his brothers and sisters are. “Every male” speaks of putting into practice what someone is in position.

It is about militant men, not children or the elderly. The age of twenty is in many countries the age of military service; the same was true in the Netherlands when military draft still existed. Once someone is in active service, he renounces personal interests and makes his time and strength available to the land. The effectiveness of the service depends on listening to the superiors. Whoever is in service is expected to follow orders without contradicting them (Lk 7:8).

“Head by head” they are counted. In this way each individual is placed before God. Counting shows that the people are not a great mass for God. The individual is not absorbed in the mass. God knows every single one of them. Every person is important to Him. God cannot miss one.

It is great to know that we are counted for heaven, that our names are recorded there (Lk 10:20b). But that is not all. The Lord also wants to record our names for the battle on earth. We are counted head by head, which means that we will be aware of the personal connection with the Lord Jesus. To know this is important for every Christian.

In order to explain this personal relationship with God, in order to belong to the numbered ones, the Israelite must be twenty years old. Spiritually applied this means that it takes a certain spiritual maturity to be able to serve as a warrior in the army of God. An end age is not mentioned. A baby in faith is not expected to be a warrior. It is expected of a young man in faith (1Jn 2:13-14; cf. 2Tim 2:3-4).

Moses and Aaron count together. Together they are a picture of the Lord Jesus, who is called “the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1). The Lord Jesus speaks on our behalf to God and represents us before God. We have to do with Him. We see in Him the King-Priest (Zec 6:13b). He knows His own. He knows who He can send out.

All who are counted here will never be able to begin the actual battle – that of the conquest of the land – because, except two, Joshua and Caleb, they will fall in the wilderness (Num 14:29). Those who are counted at the end of this book, in Numbers 26, form a new generation. But that is not what God is thinking about in this census. As has already been mentioned, the journey to the land should only take eleven days. The fact that it eventually became a journey of forty years has to do with the unfaithfulness of the people.

Yet God uses that time to show more of Himself than we would have known in case of a short journey. The robber on the cross who repents, has only a very small part of his wilderness journey to go. He has not come to know the faithfulness of God in all circumstances of life. He does not have so much to worship God for as someone who, throughout a lifetime, has come to know God’s faithfulness and care in the face of the unfaithfulness that has so often been proven on his part.

Verses 4-16

Who Has to Help with the Census


Not only the Lord Jesus sees who can serve as a warrior in His army, but also the heads of the tribes are involved. This can be applied to the responsible or leading brothers in a local church. They see which young people are spiritually twenty years and older. They participate in counting by watching the spiritual development of young people. Timothy is one of those ‘numbered’ by older brothers. He has “he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:2).

Names have their meaning in the Bible. We see in Hebrews 7 that we can learn spiritual lessons from this (Heb 7:1-3). It is important, however, to remain vigilant that we do not fall into fantasy. Some names have multiple meanings. To be able to determine with a certain degree of certainty the meaning of a name, it is advisable to consult several biblical name books. If several name books give the same meaning, it is likely that this is the correct meaning.

The names of the heads are also found in the Numbers 2, Numbers 7 and Numbers 10. In most of these names the Name of God resounds: ‘El’ means ‘God’. This shows that the Israelites did not forget their God during their stay in Egypt. In the names they gave their children, they have kept the memory of God.

In order to give a meaning to the names that I think is plausible, I pass on the meaning that Grant gives of those names in his ‘Numerical Bible’. It is up to the reader to think about this further.

1. Head of Reuben is Elizur, ‘my God is a rock’, the son of Shedeur, ‘the Almighty is a flame’.
2. Head of the family of Simeon is Shelumiel, ‘in peace with God’, the son of Zurishaddai, ‘my rock is the Almighty’.
3. Head of Judah is Nahshon, ‘prophet’, the son of Amminadab, ‘people of the willing Giver’.
4. Head of Issachar is Nethanel, ‘gift of God’, the son of Zuar, ‘small’.
5. Head of Zebulun is Eliab ‘my God is Father’, the son of Helon (too uncertain meaning).
6. Head of Ephraim is Elishama, ‘my God has heard’, the son of Ammihud, ‘the people of Majesty’.
7. Head of Manasseh is Gamaliel, ‘God is a rewarder’, the son of Pedahzur, ‘the rock that redeems’.
8. Head of Benjamin is Abidan, ‘my Father is Judge’, the son of Gideoni, ‘cutter down’.
9. Head of Dan is Ahiezer, ‘brother of help’, the son of Ammishaddai, ‘the people of the Almighty’.
10. Head of Asher is Pagiel, ‘God has met me’, the son of Ochran, ‘tormented’.
11. Head of Gad is Eliasaph, ‘God has added’, the son of Deuel, ‘known by God’.
12. Head of Naphtali is Ahira, ‘brother of evil’, the son of Enan, ‘seeing’.

Verses 17-46

The Census


Whoever wants to belong to the numbered must declare his origin, as the Darby translation translates, “and they declared their pedigrees”. Declaring goes beyond an inner conviction. Someone who is taken by the Lord into His army must testify for others of his faith and not be ashamed of it or uncertain about it (2Tim 1:8; 12). Those who are in uncertainty about their salvation struggle with themselves and are not able to struggle with others. This is not a struggle or battle God is calling for. Believing God on His word puts an end to that struggle.

This declaration of their origin is necessary because of “a mixed multitude” (Exo 12:38; Num 11:4) who are among them. People who are not Israelites went with them from Egypt. This can be applied to people who have joined the company of Christians but do not have life from God. They are not able to declare before God that they belong to Him, nor can they fight for Him. They don’t want that either.

If we make the numbers more readable, the table looks like this:
1 Rueben 46,500
2 Simeon 59,300
3 Gad 45,650
4 Judah 74,600
5 Issachar 54,400
6 Zebulun 57,400
7 Ephraim 40,500
8 Manasseh 32,200
9 Benjamin 35,400
10 Dan 62,700
11 Asher 41,500
12 Naphtali 53,400
Total 603,550

This number corresponds to a previous count, about nine months earlier (Exo 38:25-26). In that count, each counted person had to pay half a shekel of silver as ransom. By the silver the Israelite was redeemed. Therefore, silver is a picture of the price of redemption.

Verses 47-53

The Levites


The Levites are not among the warriors. They take care of the tabernacle and set up their camp right around it. The tabernacle is here called “the tabernacle of the testimony”. It is about the aspect of external testimony. This is also an aspect of the church, which is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1Tim 3:15). The church has to uphold the testimony of truth in the world. That creates resistance and requires struggle, defense.

The believers are priests; they are also Levites as well as warriors. Depending on his activity, the believer is a priest, a Levite or a warrior. He is busy as a priest when he is in the sanctuary to praise God. He is a Levite when he serves the church. He is a warrior when he stands up for the truth when it is attacked.

Verse 54

The Assignment Is Being Executed


The people do what the LORD has commanded Moses. They are characterized by obedience.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Numbers 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/numbers-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.