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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 26

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Verses 1-4

Assignment to Take a Census

Moses counts the people by command of the LORD. It is as it is in Numbers 1. It is a sin to count the people without explicit command of God. In this sin David is caught (1 Chronicles 21:1-Judges :). He wanted to know the power of his people, as if God is not his power.

The command to count is given “after the plague”. The plague of the previous chapter is the last great plague that struck the people as ‘wilderness people’. The wilderness journey is over. They are about to enter the land. The unfaithfulness of the previous chapter has shown that all wilderness experiences have not changed the heart of man. Nor has God’s righteousness changed, as He has shown through the plague.

Yet He has not destroyed all of them, but in grace has kept them alive. They can be counted. But a new generation is counted. At the same time, however, the new generation is linked to the generation that “came out of the land of Egypt”. Other persons make up the people, but they remain the same people.

The expression “after the plague” marks a turning point in the history of the book of Numbers. A new generation is counted. The great question that arises from this is: Will this new people serve God more faithfully than the people who died in the wilderness?

At the beginning of the journey the people are counted (Numbers 1:1-Deuteronomy :). It is a great encouragement to know that, before we begin our ‘wilderness journey’, God counted us head by head. God knows every member of His people by name. In the wilderness each member has his own exercises, but each member may know that God will take care during the whole journey. The census here is the census at the end of the journey. None of those counted in Numbers 1 is alive here, except Caleb and Joshua (Numbers 26:65). This means that a totally different people are counted than in Numbers 1.

They are numbered because the land will be given to them (Numbers 26:53). The big difference between the two censuses is that the census of Numbers 1 is done in view of the upcoming wilderness journey, while the census here is done in view of the upcoming entry into the promised land to take possession of the heritage. Because there will be a battle to take possession of the inheritance, again “whoever is able to go out to war in Israel” is counted.

In both cases, the census is a great encouragement. During the census, he or she personally stands before God. This gives each member the impression that God has personal attention for him. This awareness gives strength to the task ahead, both for the wilderness and for the land.

The census does not only take place for all those who are able to go out to war, but also “by their fathers’ households”, the latter being the most important one because this is mentioned first. In the wilderness, battle is necessary to survive. In the land, battle is needed to conquer the inheritance. Once that inheritance has been taken, God’s intention is that every family should enjoy the inheritance. The blessings of the land are particularly enjoyed as a family of God, that is, together with our brothers and sisters, on occasions that are given for it. God’s family consists of little children, young men and fathers (1 John 2:12-Job :).

We can enjoy it when we do personal Bible study, we can also enjoy it as elderly or young people among each other. But according to God’s intention, the most is enjoyed when the whole family comes together. The fact that the emphasis in the census is more on the families than on the militant men is also evident, for example, from Numbers 26:33, which also mentions women.

Verses 5-11

Reuben counted

The census begins with Reuben, emphatically named “Israel’s firstborn”. The census comprises four generations (Genesis 46:9). Among them Pallu is named in particular because from his family Dathan and Abiram originated. These names recall the terrible revolt of Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:1-Habakkuk :). We are once again told what the sin of the rebels was and the special judgment that struck them from God. It is stated that they “became a warning” (Numbers 26:10). They are a sign that warns against any form of pride and rebellion.

But here we also read that the “sons of Korah, however, did not die” (Numbers 26:11). The reason is not that they have shown a special faithfulness to the LORD. They belong to a doomy family. They were saved because God wanted to save them because they have not shown the spirit of their father. There is no other motive to discover than the grace of God. The sons of Korah have remained conscious of this grace also in next generations. We find its manifestations in several psalms (Psalms 42-49; 84; 85; 87; 88).

Verses 12-14

Simeon Counted

Simeon is the tribe with the greatest loss. This large loss may also have been caused by the plague of the previous chapter, in which Simeon is also heavily to blame (Numbers 25:14). His count concerns five generations: “The sons of Simeon: Jemuel and Jamin and Ohad and Jachin and Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman” (Genesis 46:10).

Verses 15-18

Gad Counted

The census of Gad concerns seven generations: “The sons of Gad: Ziphion and Haggi, Shuni and Ezbon, Eri and Arodi and Areli” (Genesis 46:16).

Verses 19-22

Judah Counted

In Judah’s census, as in Reuben’s census, a dark event in the past is recalled: the death of Er and Onan (Genesis 38:6-2 Samuel :). They died without descendants.

The census of Judah includes five generations: “The sons of Judah: Er and Onan and Shelah and Perez and Zerah (but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan)” (Genesis 46:12).

Verses 23-25

Issachar Counted

The census of Issachar concerns four generations: “The sons of Issachar: Tola and Puvvah and Iob and Shimron” (Genesis 46:13).

Verses 26-27

Zebulun Counted

The census of Zebulun concerns three generations: “The sons of Zebulun: Sered and Elon and Jahleel” (Genesis 46:14).

Verses 28-34

Manasseh Counted

The census of Joseph’s tribe is done by the counting of his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. The census of Manasseh, Joseph’s firstborn son (Genesis 41:51), includes eight generations. Manasseh has increased in number. That has to do with the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-1 Kings :). They have a special interest in the inheritance. They are not among the numbered in Numbers 1. But here, in view of the land, they show their interest in the land. God appreciates this and counts it. In Numbers 27 we see what inspires them.

Verses 35-37

Ephraim Counted

The census of Ephraim, Joseph’s second son (Genesis 41:52), includes four generations.

Verses 38-41

Benjamin Counted

The census of Benjamin includes seven generations.

Verses 42-43

Dan Counted

The census of Dan concerns one generation.

Verses 44-47

Asher Counted

The census of Asher includes five generations. A daughter is also mentioned.

Verses 48-50

Naphtali Counted

The census of Naphtali includes four generations.

Verse 51

All Counted Israelites

In the wilderness more than 600,000 members of God’s people have perished. But the people still have more than 600,000 members, although a little less over them – see the table at Numbers 26:1-:. It is a great miracle of God and a proof of His grace, that despite all the plagues the people are hardly decreased in number.

Verses 52-56

The Size of the Inheritance

The size of the inheritance depends on the size of the family. Where because of unfaithfulness, as with Simeon, the family has become smaller, that also means a smaller inheritance, so less pleasure.

The family of God’s children is large. Yet the enjoyment of the inheritance is only experienced by those who are faithful in their lives with the Lord. The more there are, the more the inheritance is enjoyed.

Enjoying the inheritance is done in a tribal context. Each family stays within the borders that the LORD has determined for each tribe. One application may be that at the place where we meet as a local church, we enjoy the heavenly blessings together.

A practical application is that we should not go to another local church because we like it more there. Such behavior indicates that we are not content with our own “inheritance” which has been given to us, the place where the Lord has placed us. It may also have to do with running away from certain responsibilities.

Verses 57-62

Levi Counted

The census of the privileged tribe of Levi also reminds us of the dark event in the beginning of their history as priests. The unfaithfulness of Nadab and Abihu is not concealed (Numbers 26:61; Leviticus 10:1-Exodus :).

Verses 63-65

Reminder of the First Census

Here the census in the wilderness of Sinai is recalled. None of that first census could be included in this new census, except Joshua and Caleb. God has fulfilled His word of judgment, just as He fulfils His word of blessing. God always performs what He has said.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Numbers 26". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/numbers-26.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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