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The First Census of Israel

 1

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: 2Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; 3from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company. 4A man from each tribe shall be with you, each man the head of his ancestral house. 5These are the names of the men who shall assist you:

From Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur.

6

From Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai.

7

From Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab.

8

From Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar.

9

From Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon.

10

From the sons of Joseph:

from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud;

from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur.

11

From Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni.

12

From Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai.

13

From Asher, Pagiel son of Ochran.

14

From Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel.

15

From Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan.

16 These were the ones chosen from the congregation, the leaders of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the divisions of Israel.

17 Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, 18and on the first day of the second month they assembled the whole congregation together. They registered themselves in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, individually, 19as the Lord commanded Moses. So he enrolled them in the wilderness of Sinai.

20 The descendants of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, individually, every male from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 21those enrolled of the tribe of Reuben were forty-six thousand five hundred.

22 The descendants of Simeon, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, those of them that were numbered, according to the number of names, individually, every male from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 23those enrolled of the tribe of Simeon were fifty-nine thousand three hundred.

24 The descendants of Gad, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 25those enrolled of the tribe of Gad were forty-five thousand six hundred fifty.

26 The descendants of Judah, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 27those enrolled of the tribe of Judah were seventy-four thousand six hundred.

28 The descendants of Issachar, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 29those enrolled of the tribe of Issachar were fifty-four thousand four hundred.

30 The descendants of Zebulun, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 31those enrolled of the tribe of Zebulun were fifty-seven thousand four hundred.

32 The descendants of Joseph, namely, the descendants of Ephraim, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 33those enrolled of the tribe of Ephraim were forty thousand five hundred.

34 The descendants of Manasseh, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 35those enrolled of the tribe of Manasseh were thirty-two thousand two hundred.

36 The descendants of Benjamin, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 37those enrolled of the tribe of Benjamin were thirty-five thousand four hundred.

38 The descendants of Dan, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 39those enrolled of the tribe of Dan were sixty-two thousand seven hundred.

40 The descendants of Asher, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 41those enrolled of the tribe of Asher were forty-one thousand five hundred.

42 The descendants of Naphtali, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: 43those enrolled of the tribe of Naphtali were fifty-three thousand four hundred.

44 These are those who were enrolled, whom Moses and Aaron enrolled with the help of the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each representing his ancestral house. 45So the whole number of the Israelites, by their ancestral houses, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war in Israel— 46their whole number was six hundred three thousand five hundred fifty. 47The Levites, however, were not numbered by their ancestral tribe along with them.

48 The Lord had said to Moses: 49Only the tribe of Levi you shall not enroll, and you shall not take a census of them with the other Israelites. 50Rather you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the covenant, and over all its equipment, and over all that belongs to it; they are to carry the tabernacle and all its equipment, and they shall tend it, and shall camp around the tabernacle. 51When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And any outsider who comes near shall be put to death. 52The other Israelites shall camp in their respective regimental camps, by companies; 53but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the covenant, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the Israelites; and the Levites shall perform the guard duty of the tabernacle of the covenant. 54The Israelites did so; they did just as the Lord commanded Moses.


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1. And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai Although this is the first numbering of the people, of which we have an account, still, inasmuch as God had already imposed a tax upon every person, the amount of which has been recorded, we infer that it was in fact the second. But the reason for thus numbering the people a second time was, because they were very soon about to remove their camp from the wilderness of Sinai to take posession of the promised land. Since, however, their impiety withheld thmn from doing so, there was a third census taken just before their actual entrance into the land, and with this object, that it might be obvious, on comparison, how marvellously the people had been preserved by the springing up of a new generation, in spite of so many plagues and so much slaughter; for although a great proportion of them had been cut off, almost as many persons were found as before.

Further, it must be observed, that the people were not numbered except at God’s command, in order that He might thus assert His supreme dominion over them; and also, that the mode of taking the census was so arranged, that there should be no confusion of ranks either through fraud or irregularity; for this was the reason why each tribe had its superintendents, lest any one should slip into a tribe to which he did not belong; and this is expressly mentioned by way of assurance, since otherwise many might suspect that so great a multitude could hardly be distinguished into classes with certainty, so that the whole sum should be calculated without mistake.

20. And the children of Reuben, Israel’s eldest son If any disputatious person should contend that one family could not increase in 250 years to so great an amount, and thus should reject as nebulous what surpasses the ordinary rule of nature, we must bear in mind what I have already stated, that, inasmuch as this increase depended on the power of God, nothing is more absurd than to measure it by ordinary rules. For the intention of the Spirit is to represent to our eyes the incredible power of God in a conspicuous and signal miracle. Meanwhile, if you compared the tribe of Reuben with some of the others, it presents in its numbers some marks of the curse, so that we may gather that Reuben was degraded from the honors of his primogeniture; for the tribes of Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali were more numerous, whilst from Joseph alone, who was one of the youngest, a posterity descended which almost doubled it in numbers. God’s blessing, however, is most conspicuous in the tribe of Judah, in correspondence with the prophecy of Jacob; for by this prerogative, as it were, it was already called to the right of primogeniture and to supremacy, inasmuch as it surpassed all the principal ones.

47. But the Levites, after the tribe of their fathers We shall indeed hereafter see that they also were numbered, but Moses means that they were not included in the general census of the people, because God had chosen them to be His own property, and thus had severed them from the rest of the people. He writes, therefore, that they “were not numbered in the midst of the others,” 419419     Among them. — A. V. i.e., so as promiscuously to form a part of the multitude. Now, lest any one should object that Moses acted ambitiously in thus bestowing on his own tribe extraordinary distinction, he declares that he did not do this spontaneously, but that it was at God’s bidding that the Levites had a separate class assigned to them; for translators render this passage amiss, “And God said to Moses,” 420420     So the Vulgate, v. 48. as if he stated that the tribe of Levi was then first set apart when the sum of the people was taken, since it would have been absurd to omit a part, unless God’s will had been already declared. Moses, therefore, shews why he passed over his own tribe, via, because God had consecrated the Levites for the keeping and service of the tabernacle. Now, if it was not lawful for the tabernacle to be carried or set up by all persons indiscriminately, its sanctity was enforced by this symbol; for religion would not have been held in so much reverence, if it had been allowable for all without distinction to meddle with the sacred things. Meanwhile, the Israelites were reminded that all without, exception were unworthy to present themselves before God, when they were forbidden from access to the sanctuary; whereas the dignity which was conferred upon a single tribe was no ground for boasting, since it depended merely on the good pleasure of God. God, then, gave the Levites access to His tabernacle, not because they had deserved that honor by any virtue of their own, but in order to afford a testimony of His gratuitous favor. At the same time, under this image He represented the future priesthood of Christ, in order that believers might be assured that the Mediator, by whom others might have access to God, was to be of the human race; and therefore God declares by Isaiah that He would take the Levites under the kingdom of Christ from the general and dispersed body of the people. (Isaiah 66:21.) As to what relates to their office, let it be sought in its proper place.




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