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Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Census


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Μiphqad , "numbering combined with lustration" or "purification." By the law (Exodus 30:12-13) half a shekel was to be paid by every man above 20 years as a ransom for his soul, that there should be no plague whenever a numbering of the people took place. The number at the census in the third or fourth month after the Exodus was 603,550 above 20 years (Exodus 38:26); in Exodus 12:37 the round number 600,000. There were besides 22,000 male Levites of a month old and upwards (Numbers 3:39). Adding the wives and children we should have about 2,000,000. Of the 70 that went down to Egypt, after deducting Jacob, his 12 sons, Dinah, Zerah (Asher's daughter), Levi's three sons, the four grandsons of Judah and Benjamin, and those grandsons of Jacob who died without posterity, there remain at least 41 grandsons of Jacob who founded families, besides the Levites.

Reckoning 40 years as a generation, there would be ten generations passed in the 400th year of the sojourn in Egypt. Compare 1 Chronicles 7:20-27, where ten or eleven generations elapse between Ephraim and Joshua. Assuming three sons and three daughters to each married couple of the first six generations, and two sons and two daughters in the last four, there would be 478,224 sons about the 400th year of the sojourn, besides 125,326 of the ninth generation, still living; in all 603,550 men coming out of Egypt upward of 20 years old. Besides, the Israelites were under a special dispensation of fruitfulness from God, and preservation from plague and from serious diminution even by Pharaoh's repressive measures. In Numbers 3:43 all the firstborn males for whom the Levites were accepted as a substitute are stated to be 22,273, which, if it were the suni of the firstborn sons in the entire nation, would require there to be 40 males begotten of each father in each family to make up 608,550 men of 20 years and upward, or a population of more than 1,000,000 males.

But Exodus 13:2; Exodus 13:11-12 shows that the law does not apply retrospectively, but only to the sanctification to God of all the firstborn of men and cattle that should be born from that time forward. It appears from Numbers 3:13; Numbers 8:17, God had actually sanctified already all the firstborn to Himself by having protected His people from the destroyer on the paschal night (Exodus 12:22-23; Exodus 4:22), and had adopted the whole nation in instituting the Passover. The presentation of their firstborn to the Lord thenceforth was to be the practical manifestation of their sonship. The number of Levites (Numbers 3:39; Numbers 3:51), Numbers 3:22; Numbers 3:000, does not agree with the numbers assigned to the three families 7,500 + 8,600 + 6,200 = 22,300. But the total is correct; for it is written, the number of the firstborn, 22,273, exceeded that of the Levites by 273.

Probably there is a copyist's error in the number of one of the Levitical families, perhaps in Numbers 3:28 read 8,300 for 8,600. For the surplus 278 each was to pay five shekels, 1,365 in all. The earlier numbering for collecting atonement money from every male of 20 or upward (Exodus 30:11-16; Exodus 38:25-26) gave the same number, 603,550, as that nine months later (Numbers 1:1-3-46; Exodus 40:17), in the second month of the second year, four weeks after the rearing of the tabernacle. The reason is, because the former census for gathering the atonement head money was taken as the basis for mustering all fit for war nine months later. This latter mustering merely consisted in registering those already numbered in the public records according to their families and fathers' houses; probably according to Jethro's suggestion of classification for administering justice, namely, in thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Exodus 18:25).

Each tribe was placed under a special leader; head of the tribe, as is usual among the Arabs to this day. The supernumerary units would be used to balance the changes that had taken place in the actual condition of the families and fathers' houses between the earlier provisional numbering and the subsequent preparation of the master rolls, so that the few changes that had taken place during the nine months' interval among those fit for war was made no account of, but the number was left the same. A new census was taken 38 years afterwards in the plains of Moab (Numbers 26) for the division of Canaan among the tribes according to their families (Numbers 33:54). The number then was 601,730, of 20 years and upward, of whom Joshua and Caleb alone were in the former census, the whole generation having died in the wilderness. The tribe of Simeon especially suffered a diminution of its numbers; probably owing to the plague which followed Zimri's sin with Cozbi the Midianite woman (Numbers 25:9-15; Numbers 26:51; Numbers 26:63-65; compare Numbers 11:21).

The history does not detail the events of the intervening 38 years, but only of the beginning and the close of the 40 years. The total of Israel, including the 23,000 Levite males from a month old upwards, would be thus about 2,000,000 (Numbers 26:62). The objection of rationalists that the peninsula of Sinai could not have sustained such a number is answered by the consideration (1) that Israel was sustained by a miracle, (2) the peninsula yielded much more anciently than at present. The destruction of the trees diminishes the rainfall; in the monumental period of ancient Egypt it is evident that the land was more cultivated; and the water in the wadies and the rain might, by artificial means, be made available to increase the fertility. The inscriptions of Sinai, Serbal, and the wady Mokatteb, and other valleys prove that formerly a numerous population lived there.

The next numbering was that by David, contrary to Joab's advice (2 Samuel 24:1-9; 1 Chronicles 21:1; 1 Chronicles 21:5; 1 Chronicles 27:24). "Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel." Pride is peculiarly of Satan (Isaiah 14:12), and proud presumption actuated David. It was not so much the act which was faultworthy (for indeed the taking of the census was recognized in the pentateuch: Exodus 30:12) as the motive, trust in the arm of flesh instead of in Jehovah (Jeremiah 17:5). Psalm 30 (see its authoritative heading, which ought to be read "A Psalm of David at the dedication of the house," namely, of God) commemorates "the dedication," or consecration, of the site whereon subsequently Solomon's temple was built. When David, after the plague sent for numbering the people, sacrificed upon an altar of burnt offering on the threshing floor of Araunah on mount Moriah, Jehovah by fire from heaven consecrated the place as "the house of God," even before the actual building of the temple (compare 1 Chronicles 22:1-2 with Genesis 28:17-19).

Pride through prosperity, and a sudden, severe, but temporary, reverse appear in the psalm as in the history. The deliverance was the answer to David's prayer, Jehovah at the same time interceding; for while we pray below our Intercessor is pleading above (compare Psalms 30:8-10 with 1 Chronicles 21:15-18). Apparently David had neglected to have the half shekel apiece payment made to God in recognition of His sovereignty (Exodus 30:12-13); in which respect the people shared the guilt and therefore the punishment. Probably he sought popularity by omitting it. The number in 1 Chronicles 21:5 is 1,100,000 of Israel and 470,000 of Judah. But in 2 Samuel 24:9 of Israel 800,000, of Judah 500,000. The census was not completed, through the reluctance of Joab to proceed, and through David's revoking the order before it was finished.

The number was never put "in the account of the chronicles of King David" (1 Chronicles 27:24). Levi was omitted, as it was for men fit for war that the census was taken. Benjamin, which came last in order on the return home to Jerusalem, had not been numbered when the census was interrupted (1 Chronicles 21:6). The 30,000 difference in the number of Judah, as given in Chronicles and according to Samuel, was perhaps due to Benjamin being given in Samuel but not in Chronicles. or, possibly, Chronicles omits the 30,000 army of observation stationed on the Philistine frontier (2 Samuel 6:1). The 300,000 more in Israel according to Chronicles probably included the standing army in 24, courses of 24,000 each, i.e. 288,000 in all (1 Chronicles 27), besides 12 captains with 1,000 each as the king's own guard, in all 300,000, not counted in 2 Samuel 24.

These were in actual service; the larger numbers in the census are those capable of service. At best, oral tradition was the basis of the numbers here, seeing that it was not recorded in the chronicles of David. The whole population would thus amount to about 5,000,000; a number not too large for the well attested fertility of the land then to sustain. Even profane writers noticed Palestine's fertility, of which its present neglected state affords no test. God had promised a populous race. In A.D. 66, just before the Roman siege of Jerusalem, a census taken by the priests at the Passover gave the approximate number 2,700,000, independently of foreigners and those ceremonially defiled. 1,100,000 perished in the siege; 97,000 were taken captives. These facts give us a glimpse of the populousness of the Holy Land. Solomon completed David's census by causing the resident foreigners to be numbered and employed on his great works, namely, 153,600 (2 Chronicles 2:17-18; compare Joshua 9:27).

Jehoshaphat's army was one of the largest, 1,160,000 (2 Chronicles 17:14-18); this probably included subject foreigners. The object of the census on the return from Babylon was to settle against the year of Jubilee the inheritances of the Holy Land (Leviticus 25:10), which had been disarranged by the captivity, and to ascertain the family genealogies and ensure purity of Jewish blood. This accounts for differences appearing between the total and the details (Ezra 2:59; Ezra 2:64) of the 42,360 who returned with Zerubbabel, 12,542 belonging to other tribes than Judah and Benjamin (Ezra 10:2; Ezra 10:8; Ezra 10:18; Ezra 10:44; Nehemiah 7:1-67). (See CAPTIVITY.) The second caravan (458 B.C.) numbered 1496, exclusive of women and children (Ezra 8:1-14). The genealogies (1 Chronicles 1-9) were compiled for a similar object.

The Septuagint and Josephus confirm in the main the correctness of the Scripture numbers. A "taxing" under Cyrenius, governor of Syria, is recorded Luke 2:1; a disturbance caused by one Judas of Galilee "in the days of the taxing" is referred to in Acts 5:37. God's providence overruled Augustus' order for the provincial enrollment of all persons and estates under Roman sway, to effect His foretold purpose that Bethlehem should be the scene of Jesus' nativity (Micah 5:2) Micah 5:4 B.C.; His parents going up there to be registered for the taxation, a plain proof that the foretold time for Shiloh's appearing was come, for "the scepter was departed from Judah" to Rome (Genesis 49:10). Quirinus did not, according to history, become president of Syria until 9 or 10 years afterward, A.D. 6. But Justin Martyr thrice (Apol., 1:34,46; Trypho, 78) asserts Quirinus was president when Luke says he was.

Zumpt moreover has recently brought to light the interesting fact that, owing to Cilicia when separated from Cyprus being joined to Syria Quirinus as governor of Cilicia was also governor of Syria; his subsequent special connection with Syria caused his earlier and briefer one to be thus specified. The word "first" too is to be noticed: "this taxing," ordered by Augustus just before Jesus' birth, was interrupted by the Jews' bitter opposition, and "was first carried into effect" when Cyrenius was governor of Syria; grammatically the Greek expresses, "this taxing took place as a first one while Cyrenius was governor of Syria" (Ellicott). The omission, however, of the Greek article in one oldest manuscript (Vatican) would thus modify the translation, "this first taxation was carried into effect when Cyrenius," etc.


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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Census'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/fbd/c/census.html. 1949.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, November 28th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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