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A Census of Israel's Warriors

1The 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, 2“Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. 3From twenty years old and upward, all in Israel who are able to go to war, you and Aaron shall list them, company by company. 4And there shall be with you a man from each tribe, each man being the head of the house of his fathers. 5And these are the names of the men who shall assist you. From Reuben, Elizur the son of Shedeur; 6from Simeon, Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai; 7from Judah, Nahshon the son of Amminadab; 8from Issachar, Nethanel the son of Zuar; 9from Zebulun, Eliab the son of Helon; 10from the sons of Joseph, from Ephraim, Elishama the son of Ammihud, and from Manasseh, Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur; 11from Benjamin, Abidan the son of Gideoni; 12from Dan, Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai; 13from Asher, Pagiel the son of Ochran; 14from Gad, Eliasaph the son of Deuel; 15from Naphtali, Ahira the son of Enan.” 16These were the ones chosen from the congregation, the chiefs of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the clans of Israel.

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

20The people of Reuben, Israel's firstborn, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 21those listed of the tribe of Reuben were 46,500.

22Of the people of Simeon, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, those of them who were listed, according to the number of names, head by head, every male from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 23those listed of the tribe of Simeon were 59,300.

24Of the people of Gad, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, all who were able to go to war: 25those listed of the tribe of Gad were 45,650.

26Of the people of Judah, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 27those listed of the tribe of Judah were 74,600.

28Of the people of Issachar, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 29those listed of the tribe of Issachar were 54,400.

30Of the people of Zebulun, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 31those listed of the tribe of Zebulun were 57,400.

32Of the people of Joseph, namely, of the people of Ephraim, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 33those listed of the tribe of Ephraim were 40,500.

34Of the people of Manasseh, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 35those listed of the tribe of Manasseh were 32,200.

36Of the people of Benjamin, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 37those listed of the tribe of Benjamin were 35,400.

38Of the people of Dan, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 39those listed of the tribe of Dan were 62,700.

40Of the people of Asher, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 41those listed of the tribe of Asher were 41,500.

42Of the people of Naphtali, their generations, by their clans, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war: 43those listed of the tribe of Naphtali were 53,400.

44These are those who were listed, whom Moses and Aaron listed with the help of the chiefs of Israel, twelve men, each representing his fathers' house. 45So all those listed of the people of Israel, by their fathers' houses, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war in Israel— 46all those listed were 603,550.

Levites Exempted

47But the Levites were not listed along with them by their ancestral tribe. 48For the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 49“Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel. 50But appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony, and over all its furnishings, and over all that belongs to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings, and they shall take care of 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 if any outsider comes near, he shall be put to death. 52The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, each man in his own camp and each man by his own standard. 53But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the people of Israel. And the Levites shall keep guard over the tabernacle of the testimony.” 54Thus did the people of Israel; they did according to all that 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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