When people begin to read the book of Numbers, they tend to skip all of the information regarding the numbering of the people. Like genealogies, most tend to think numbering people is boring. We need to put that mentality on hold for a bit and pay attention. In addition, we should understand there were different reasons for each census mentioned in the beginning of Numbers and not forget that the Lord gave Moses a very important rule regarding a census.
Exodus 30:11-15 explains, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 12 “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them. 13 This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the Lord. 14 Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the Lord.”
If you recall, King David commanded a census to be taken in 2 Samuel 24. Note in this situation that 2 Samuel indicates it was the Lord who moved David to count Israel because He was angry with Israel. At the same time, 1 Chronicles 21 says the Adversary (Satan) stood up against Israel and moved David to take this census. I believe both are accurate because the Lord can accomplish whatever He desires through any instrument including Satan.
When Joab completed taking this particular census, he reported to David that there were 800,000 people in Israel and 500,000 in Judah. That was a total of 1,300,000 swordsmen. Most would wonder why it was wrong for David to take this census. It was most likely that David sinned not only by following Satan’s lead to take a census but mainly by not collecting any ransom money along with the census. This is assumed since there is no mention of its collection taking place.
David was given a choice between 3 punishments and chose the one that would show the Lord’s mercy — a 3 day plague. Shortly after the judgment of the Lord began, David asked the Lord to let his sin be against him and his father’s house and to spare the remaining people because at that point, 70,000 people had died as a result of the terrible plague. David went to Araunah and paid him 50 shekels of silver for his threshing floor and oxen and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord so the plague would be withdrawn from the people.
Now let’s get back to the first census in the book of Numbers. It was taken of the entire assembly for military service and included those who were 20 years old. It did not include the Levites who were over the tabernacle of testimony, its equipment and everything else connected with it. The total for this census was 603,550. What happened to the money collected for this census?
Exodus 38:25-28 says, “And the silver from those who were numbered of the congregation was one hundred talents and one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary: 26 a bekah for each man (that is, half a shekel, according to the shekel of the sanctuary), for everyone included in the numbering from twenty years old and above, for six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty men. 27 And from the hundred talents of silver were cast the sockets of the sanctuary and the bases of the veil: one hundred sockets from the hundred talents, one talent for each socket. 28 Then from the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, overlaid their capitals, and made bands for them.” It is clear from these verses that the money was used to make parts of the tabernacle.
The next census involved the firstborn males. The Levites were taken in place of the firstborn males from the other tribes. Originally, the Lord claimed these firstborn males for Himself when He killed the firstborn male Egyptian men and animals. The Lord later chose the Levites to replace them since they rallied around Moses and killed those who were involved in the sin of the golden calf (Exodus 32:26-29).
First, a census was taken of all males in the tribe of Levi by clans and families. There were 7,500 from the family of Gershom, 8,600 from the family of Kohath (a footnote from the NKJV says some manuscripts of the Septuagint read 8,300), and 6,200 from the family of Merari– a total of 22,000 who were one month old and over (Num. 3:39). Actually, there had to be 8,300 from Kohath since adding the family totals would equal 22,300 if the number 8,600 was used.
Second, a census was taken of all the firstborn males in the remainder of the multitude (non-Levites) who were a month old and over. These totaled 22,273. Since there was a shortage of 273 Levites for every firstborn male who was one month old and over in the rest of the tribes, redemption money had to be collected from the firstborn of the people of Israel. Five shekels were collected from 273 firstborn males –a total of 1,365 shekels to redeem those firstborn who had not been redeemed by the number of Levites. In addition, all of the firstborn of the Levites’ livestock were taken in place of those of the rest of the tribes.
Third, a census was taken of all males between the ages of 30-50 years old in the tribes of Levi by clans and families (the sons of Kohath, Gershon, and Merari). These people would be involved in the service or ministry of the tabernacle. Each of these 3 groups had certain duties they were responsible for. There were 2,750 from the sons of Kohath, 2,630 from the sons of Gershon, and 3,200 from the sons of Merari—a total of 8,580.
After the plague at Baal of Peor (Acacia Grove), a census was taken of everyone 20 years old and older (Num.20). This was before the people entered the Promised Land. There were 43,730 from the tribe of Reuben. There were 22,200 Simeonites. There were 40,500 from the tribe of Gad. There were 76,500 from the tribe of Judah. There were 64,300 from the tribe of Issachar. There were 60,500 Zebulunites. There were 52,700 from the families of Manasseh and 32,500 from the sons of Ephraim. There were 45,600 from the tribe of Benjamin. The Danites totaled 64,400 and there were 53,400 from the tribe of Asher. The sons of Naphtali totaled 45,400. All of the children of Israel were 601,730. Once these people entered the Promised Land, the land was divided by lot among the tribes of Israel. Following this, each tribe divided their inheritance of land in proportion to the number of people in each tribe.
All of these numbers might not seem very important to us but they are to the Lord. You see, every shepherd knows how many sheep he has. If one ends up missing, he searches for it until he finds it (Matt. 18:12). Numbers were important to the tribes as well. Whenever a battle took place, the leaders of Israel could check their numbers and names afterward to see if anyone was unaccounted for.
During the final 7 years before Christ returns, the Lord will know how many people on earth are His. The Lord will use Israel’s enemies (locusts, grasshoppers, shearer-worms, and cutter-worms) to destroy the land, to cause His people to repent, and return to Him before the Day of the Lord.
God’s intention is the eventual restoration of the land of Israel (Joel 2:25, Rev. 9:3). The land will be eventually be divided according to the borders defined in Ezekiel 48. Before that takes place, it will be Satan’s desire to possess the Antichrist and receive the worship that only God deserves while destroying God’s people at the same time. Notice that even though it doesn’t seem like it, the Lord allows Satan to think he is in control when it is really the Lord who is omnipotent and accomplishing His purposes.
During the final tribulation, there will be 144,000 servants of God who will be sealed—that’s 12,000 each from the tribes of Judah, Reuben, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Manasseh, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph, and Benjamin. Some believe the tribe of Dan won’t be among them because it will side with the Antichrist and Ephraim may be part of Joseph’s or among the numerous Gentiles that will stand before the throne shouting “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:4-10)
I’m sure the Lord will be pleased with each member of this multitude who He knows by name because He redeemed every single one of them. In fact, all of their sins were placed against Jesus and He covered them with His precious blood.
God’s people must come out of Babylon the Great so the final 7 plagues will not fall on them but only on those who practice lawlessness! (Rev. 18:4) Remember, if you want to avoid the plagues, you need to be redeemed! This is the pattern that was laid out in Exodus 30.
Finally, don’t forget that just as the redemption money collected with the census was used in the building of the tabernacle, those who are redeemed by the Bride price are living stones because 1 Peter 2:4-5 tells us: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
May the Name of the Lord be praised!!