About the book of Numbers:
The English name of the book comes from the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT) and is based on the census lists found in chapters 1 and 26. The Hebrew title of the book (bemidbar, “in the desert”) is more descriptive of its contents. Numbers presents an account of the 38-year period of Israel’s wandering in the desert following the establishment of the covenant of Sinai.
–The NIV Study Bible notes
Origen, the early-third-century church father, wrote a series of sermons on the book of Numbers. Even then this fourth book of the Old Testament was neglected in relation to other biblical books, as Origen acknowledged:
When the Gospels or the Apostles or the Psalms are read, another person joyfully receives them and gladly embraces them . . . But if the book of Numbers is read to him, he will judge that there is nothing helpful, nothing as a remedy for his weakness or a benefit for the salvation of his soul. He will constantly spit them out as heavy and burdensome food.
In a long series of sermons on Numbers, Origen sought to show that this popular impression of Numbers was misguided and untrue. For Origen, the book of Numbers was filled with insight, wisdom, and spiritual sustenance for anyone with a hunger for God’s guidance through the wilderness journey of life.
–from Numbers, by Dennis T. Olson
The People of Israel Are Counted
1The people of Israel had left Egypt and were living in the Sinai Desert. Then on the first day of the second month of the second year, Moses was in the sacred tent when the LORD said: 2-3I want you and Aaron to find out how many people are in each of Israel’s clans and families. And make a list of all the men twenty years and older who are able to fight in battle. 4-15The following twelve family leaders, one from each tribe, will help you:
Elizur son of Shedeur from Reuben,
Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai from Simeon,
Nahshon son of Amminadab from Judah,
Nethanel son of Zuar from Issachar,
Eliab son of Helon from Zebulun,
Elishama son of Ammihud from Ephraim,
Gamaliel son of Pedahzur from Manasseh,
Abidan son of Gideoni from Benjamin,
Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai from Dan,
Pagiel son of Ochran from Asher,
Eliasaph son of Deuel from Gad,
and Ahira son of Enan from Naphtali.
16-17Moses and Aaron, together with these twelve tribal leaders, 18called together the people that same day. They were counted according to their clans and families. Then Moses and the others listed the names of the men twenty years and older, 19just as the LORD had commanded. 20-46The number of men from each tribe who were at least twenty years old and strong enough to fight in Israel’s army was as follows:
46,500 from Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob,
59,300 from Simeon,
45,650 from Gad,
74,600 from Judah,
54,400 from Issachar,
57,400 from Zebulun,
40,500 from Ephraim,
32,200 from Manasseh,
35,400 from Benjamin,
62,700 from Dan,
41,500 from Asher,
53,400 from Naphtali.
The total number of men registered by Moses, Aaron, and the twelve leaders was 603,550.
Genesis 15:2-5 (NIV)
But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Revelation 7:1-8 (NIV)
After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.
From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed,
from the tribe of Reuben 12,000,
from the tribe of Gad 12,000,
from the tribe of Asher 12,000,
from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000,
from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000,
from the tribe of Simeon 12,000,
from the tribe of Levi 12,000,
from the tribe of Issachar 12,000,
from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000,
from the tribe of Joseph 12,000,
from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.
For the census: a counting song! HERE the Barenaked Ladies sing “7 8 9” (read that, seven ate nine)! With thanks to Steve Meyer.
47But those from the Levi tribe were not included 48because the LORD had said to Moses:
49When you count the Israelites, do not include those from the Levi tribe. 50-51Instead, give them the job of caring for the sacred tent, its furnishings, and the objects used for worship. They will camp around the tent, and whenever you move, they will take it down, carry it to the new camp, and set it up again. Anyone else who tries to go near it must be put to death.
52The rest of the Israelites will camp in their own groups and under their own banners. 53But the Levites will camp around the sacred tent to make sure that no one goes near it and makes me furious with the Israelites.
54The people of Israel did everything the LORD had commanded.
If only they had continued in obedience, what a different story we would be reading in Numbers!