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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 26

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


The second enumeration of Israel is herein detailed, and the statute relating to dividing inheritances is published, also the families and number of the Levites are noted, together with the fact that Caleb and Joshua are the only survivors of the Sinaitic census. One of the chief purposes of the enumeration was probably to prove this fact. See Numbers 14:23, note.


(1.) The genealogy of this chapter is harmonized with that in Genesis xlvi by the consideration of the fact that there is here an enumeration of those only who established families, all who did not succeed in founding families being omitted. The difference in the names in Genesis and in this chapter is caused chiefly by different vowels attached to the same consonants, as in modern times Jane becomes Jennie.

(2.) A fair analysis of this census makes the total number of the nine and a half tribes who passed over the Jordan under Joshua to have been about two millions. There may have been even more. These must find their homes west of the Jordan, and this, it is argued, was impossible in a country so small as Palestine proper. Here again the main facts cannot be denied. Palestine is a small country the average breadth not over 50 and the length 150 miles. This gives 7,500 square miles, 500 of which must be deducted for those parts of the seacoast held by Philistines, Phoenicians, and other nations. It must further be admitted that much of the country on the south and west side of the Dead Sea must always have been comparatively sterile. Could 7,000 square miles of such a country sustain 2,000,000 of people? Yes, for it would require only 285 to a square mile, a density of population which has been far exceeded in modern times. Belgium has about 330, North Holland 455, and South Holland 465. It must also be remembered that the mode of living in ancient times was much more simple than now.

Verse 1

THE SECOND CENSUS, Numbers 26:1-51.

1. After the plague This had swept away the last of the generation doomed to death before entering Canaan. Comp. Numbers 26:64-65, and Numbers 14:32-34.

Moses… Eleazar Moses and Aaron were in superintendence of the first census board. Numbers 1:3, note. In this census there was probably a board of assistant enumerators as in the first, (Numbers 1:4-15,) but they are not mentioned.

Verse 2

2. Take the sum of all the congregation This census subserved several purposes. (1.) It showed that the entire generation of those who rejected Jehovah at Kadesh-barnea had perished according to the divine threatening. (2.) Their number having diminished instead of having doubled in nearly four decades, as the population of a young and prosperous nation should have done, shows the severity of Israel’s lot while under the ban of Jehovah. (3.) The exact number of each tribe, of its divisions and subdivisions down to the families, was necessary for a just allotment of the land. (1.) The genealogical tables, which may have been lost during the wanderings and mishaps in the wilderness, were now restored.

Twenty years old Numbers 1:3, note.

Fathers’ house Numbers 1:2, note.

Verse 3

3. Plains of Moab Numbers 22:1, note.

Jordan Joshua 1:2, note and cut.

Jericho Joshua 2:1, note.

Verse 4

4. As the Lord commanded Numbers 1:1-2; 2 Samuel 24:0, notes.

Verses 5-9

5-9. Reuben, the eldest son By Leah. Genesis 29:32. The enumeration of the grandsons of Jacob in this chapter is important, since these are the basis of the tribal divisions, just as the tribes sprang from his sons. Hanoch, dedicated, is, in Hebrew, the same as Enoch, a name belonging to two other persons. There is no good reason for this twofold orthography. Nothing more is known of this Enoch. Pallu, eminent, spelled Phallu in Genesis 46:9, is identified by Josephus with Peleth in Numbers 16:1. See note. Of Hezron and Carmi nothing is known.

The families of the Reubenites tally with Genesis 46:9; Exodus 6:14, and 1 Chronicles 5:3. In Numbers 26:8 the word “sons” occurs where only one is mentioned, because the writer had in mind the grandsons named in Numbers 26:9.

Nemuel Day of God The record is interrupted expressly to admit a statement respecting his younger brothers,

Dathan and Abiram See Numbers 16:1-33, notes.

Verse 10

10. Together with Korah The Samaritan text does not intimate that Korah was swallowed up, but that he was burned. See Numbers 16:25, note; Psalms 106:17. This view is sustained by Graves, Boothroyd, Bush, Geddes, Hervey, and Josephus. But Ewald, Keil, Kurtz, and Knobel, think that Korah was engulfed. They argue that he left the two hundred and fifty burning incense at the tabernacle and followed Moses, with the purpose of strengthening Dathan and Abiram in their contumacy; and, standing with them by their tents, was swallowed up. It is clear that he was not in his own tent, which must have been at some little distance, and seems not to have been destroyed.

Became a sign A warning.

Verse 11

11. The children… died not Numbers 16:27, note.

Verse 12

12. Nemuel is called Jemuel in Genesis 46:10, which Gesenius decides to be the correct form, of which Nemuel is a corruption.

Verse 13

13. Zerah is the same as Zohar. Genesis 46:10.

Verse 14

14. Twenty and two thousand A decrease of thirty-seven thousand one hundred must be ascribed to some remarkable cause. Probably the bad example of Prince Zimri (Numbers 25:6; Numbers 25:14) had led many Simeonites into that licentiousness which was punished by the plague and by the slow wasting of venereal diseases.

Verse 15

15. Zephon Ziphion, in Genesis 46:16.

Verse 16

16. Ozni is evidently a corruption of Ezbon (Genesis 46:16) by the accidental omission of beth in the first place, and the subsequent addition of a vowel at the end of the word.

Verse 17

17. Arod Arodi, in Genesis 46:16; Genesis 46:19-22.

The sons of Judah and their families agree with Genesis 46:12; Genesis 38:6-30, and 1 Chronicles 2:3-5.

Verse 23

23. Pua, in 1 Chronicles 7:1 is Puah, and in Genesis 46:13 it is Phuvah. The Hebrew consonants are the same but differently vocalized.

Verse 24

24. Jashub is written Job in Genesis 46:13, which is the Arabic of Jashub, both signifying, to return.

Verse 28

28. The sons of Joseph Manasseh and Ephraim, because of their adoption by Jacob as his own sons, (Genesis 48:0,) were raised to the dignity of tribe founders. Numbers 1:10, note.

Verse 29

29. The sons of Manasseh This genealogy harmonizes fully with Numbers 27:1; Numbers 36:1, and Joshua 17:1-6, except that the contracted form of Jeezer (Numbers 26:30) is fully written Abiezer by Joshua.

Verse 33

33. The names of the daughters of Zelophehad, who had no sons, are recorded preparatory to the new legislation respecting the inheritance of brotherless daughters. Chaps. 27 and 36.

Verse 35

35. The sons of Ephraim founded three families, and a grandson founded one.

Verse 38

38. The sons of Benjamin established five families, and the grandsons established two. Ahiram is abbreviated to Ehi in Genesis 46:21.

Verse 39

39. Shupham is Muppim and Hupham is Huphim in Genesis 46:21, see note.

Verse 42

42. Shuham is Hushim in Genesis 46:23.

Verses 44-47

44-47. The children of Asher This passage agrees with Genesis 46:17 and 1 Chronicles 7:30, except that Ishua, not being a founder, is dropped.

Verses 48-50

48-50. The sons of Naphtali This record corresponds with Genesis and 1 Chronicles.

Verse 51

51. These were the numbered The results of the two enumerations are tabulated by tribes and in their totals in chap. Numbers 1:21, note. The decrease was caused in part by the judgments of Jehovah sweeping off thousands at a stroke, (Numbers 11:1-3; Numbers 11:33-35; Numbers 16:31-35; Numbers 16:49; Numbers 25:9,) and partly by hardships endured while under the sentence of exclusion from Canaan. Numbers 14:32-33.

Reuben 2,770 decrease. Simeon 37,100 decrease. Gad 5,150 decrease. Judah 1,900 increase. Issachar 9,900 increase. Zebulun 3,100 increase. Manasseh 20,500 increase. Ephraim 8,000 decrease. Benjamin 10,200 increase. Dan 1,700 increase. Asher 11,900 increase. Naphtali 8,000 decrease. Total decrease 61,020 Total increase 59,200 Decrease on the whole 1,820

Verses 53-54


53, 54. According to the number of names The first principle upon which the tribal allotment must proceed is, that the portion of the tribes must accord with the census returns, the larger tribes receiving the larger shares and the smaller tribes the smaller portions.

Verses 55-56

55, 56. The land shall be divided by lot The principle laid down by Jehovah is, that the location of each tribe must be determined by lot. Since there was a difference in the quality of the land, some being richer and some poorer, to avoid all occasion for complaint in this matter the lot was resorted to as the fairest method of procedure. For the manner of the lot, see Joshua 13:6, note. The result of the lot was regarded, not only by the Hebrews, (Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 18:18,) but also by nearly all other nations, as an indication of the divine will. The Greeks and Romans resorted to the lot in the division of conquered lands. Lands are still occasionally divided in this manner.

Verse 57

57. The Levites For their character, see Numbers 1:49, note. For their service, see Numbers 3:14-39; Numbers 7:3-9, notes.

The Gershonites Numbers 4:21-28, note.

The Kohathites Numbers 4:4-20, notes.

The Merarites Numbers 3:35-37; Numbers 4:29-33, notes.

Verses 57-62

CENSUS OF THE LEVITES, Numbers 26:57-62.

As in the Sinaitic enumeration, the census of the Levites was taken separately, thereby showing their non-military, non-secular, and semi-priestly character; The enumeration of the three families of the Levites proceeds regularly till Numbers 26:58, where the writer turns aside to trace the descent of Moses and Aaron, and to name the sons of the latter and the judicial death of two of them. Instead of the completion of the census of the Levite families their sum total is given.

Verse 59

59. Jochebed Fully discussed in Exodus 6:20, note.

Whom… bare to Levi There is an omission of the subject in the Hebrew. The implication is, that Levi’s lawful wife was not the mother of Jochebed. “It cannot be Levi’s wife, as Jarshi, Aben Ezra, and others suppose; for Jochebed, the mother of Moses, was not a daughter of Levi in the strict sense of the word, but only a descendant who lived about three hundred years after Levi; just as Amram, her husband, was not actually the son of the Amram mentioned Exodus 6:18, but a later descendant.” Keil.

Miriam Probably the sister who watched the ark of bulrushes amid the flags of the Nile. Exodus 2:4.

Verse 61

61. Strange fire Leviticus 10:1, note.

Verse 62

62. Twenty and three thousand A gain of only seven hundred and twenty-seven since the Sinaitic census. The tribe of Levi was not numbered among the children of Israel, or enrolled in the general census, for two reasons it was made on a different basis, from a month old and upward, and it had no reference to the conquest and division of Canaan, in which Levi had no tribal allotment.

Verses 63-65


64, 65. There was not a man… whom Moses… numbered That only two out of 603,550 should be alive at the end of only thirty-nine years is unnatural, and that these should be the very two expressly designated beforehand is plainly supernatural. Chap. xiv, notes. No nation was ever better prepared for aggression and conquest. All imbecility and senility had been sifted out; only vigour and enthusiasm was left in the nation, which had but two men above sixty years and an army of 601,730 soldiers between twenty and sixty.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 26". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-26.html. 1874-1909.
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