Numbers. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Numbers gets its name from the census of the Israelites that is described in its first chapter. This census counted men 20 years and over who were able to go to war. That is 603,550 potential soldiers. It’s not a stretch to image the total population exceeded 2 million.
In addition to censuses, Numbers covers history and law. The history is largely the time the Israelites spent in the wilderness before entering Canaan, the land God promised to their ancestors.
When God first lead Israel to the borders of Canaan, the Israelites sent spies in to check out the land. The spies reported that the land was rich in all the ways God promised. Ten of the twelve spies also reported that the inhabitants were powerful and couldn’t be overcome, so the people refused enter the land. God let there own words stand against them as a judgment; everyone of the Israelites age 20 and greater died as nomads over the next 40 years except the two spies who called for the people to conquer the land at the first instance. These two men, Caleb and Joshua, would be the only ones in their generation to enter Canaan.
An interesting thing about the book is that God continued to protect Israel in this period. The established kingdoms in the area became nervous about 2 million people wondering around looking for a place to settle. However, except when Israel entered unauthorized war, God never allowed a foreign power to harm them.
The Israelites had as much trouble within as without. One of these was an uprising to overthrow Moses, which God intervened to end. It should not be surprising that there was much contention amongst people who were depicted as inveterate complainers.
During this time, several laws were given and reiterated. Many of these dealt with the roles of priest and Levites. The later chapters cover laws related to inheritance and the apportionment of land to the tribes and families, which was an important matter for the soon to be conquerors.
Another issue of importance to conquerors is the size of the army they can raise. Toward the end of the book, the leaders conduct a second census. By this time, Moses, Joshua and Caleb were the only people over sixty who had been present for the first census. Of the surviving generation, there were 601,730 fighting men, so the population of Israel changed little from the beginning to the end of its time in the wilderness.
As the rebellious generation passed away, so did the great leaders of the nation: Moses and Aaron. New men were appointed to the civil and priestly leadership of Israel.
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