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Numbers 26-27: The Second Census

Original Publication Date
May 1, 2016
Updated
Jan 10, 2023 1:38 AM
Tags
NumbersChapter StudyMosesJoshua (person)Leadership
Bible References
Numbers 26-27
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Done
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Table of Contents
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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on May 1, 2016 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.

Introduction

There are many reasons to keep track of population sizes; so, it isn't surprising that Moses shares the census results. Not only do these numbers show us how the journey effected individual tribes, but it shows us the decrease in Israel's numbers due their overall lack of faith, just as God warned. (It is also possible that this decrease of men in the new generation is not that men died before producing sons, but that men had daughters instead of sons). As we learn about the size of each tribe, we are also given specifics on inheritance and who will take over when Moses dies.

Taking Another Census

πŸ«‚Β Tribe
1️⃣ 1st Census
2️⃣ 2nd Census
βž–Β Change
Asher
41,500
53,400
11,900
Benjamin
35,400
45,600
10,200
Dan
62,700
64,400
1,700
Ephraim
40,500
32,500
-8,000
Gad
45,650
40,500
-5,150
Issachar
54,400
64,300
9,900
Judah
74,600
76,500
1,900
Manasseh
32,200
52,700
20,500
Naphtali
53,400
45,400
-8,000
Reuben
46,500
43,730
-2,770
Simeon
59,300
22,200
-37,100
Zebulun
57,400
60,500
3,100
Total
603,550
601,730
-1,820
Levi
22,000
23,000
1,000

The instructions for the second census are the same as for the first (for a refresher, see the post

). This time, we are given a deeper look at lineage, beginning with the first generation born to Jacob (the 12 sons) down to the families entering The Promised Land. The census totals are shown to the above and compared to those of the first census.

From this comparison, we learn that the tribe of Simeon (the tribe of the man Phineas killed for idolatry in the previous chapter) lost the most people. This tribe shrinks by 37,100 men, which means if these deaths were spread out evenly over the 40 years, on average 2-3 men died each day. However, we know that large groups of men probably died all at once during plagues or other punishments from God.

In contrast, the tribe with the most growth is the tribe of Manasseh with 20,500 men joining their ranks.

Since everyone from the original group of Israelites dies before they enter the promised land, the men in this census must be the sons (or grandsons) of those in the first census. The censuses occur approximately 38 years apart, so the youngest men in the first census might have had sons not old enough for the second census, considering during that time period it wasn't unlikely for men to start having children after 40 (like Moses). This might also explain decreases in population. However, most sons of the men from the first census should have been old enough to be included.

An interesting study of the increase and decrease amongst tribes can be found in Jonathan Rosenberg's article "The Numbers inΒ Numbers."

Inheritance

Before rushing into the promised land, the Israelites needed to determine who would get what land. Naturally, this is done by tribe and then, families within a tribe. One of Manasseh's descendantsβ€”Zelophehadβ€”only has daughters, thus stood to inherit nothing. His daughters request to to receive his share of the tribe's inheritance to avoid having his name erased in the future. Moses takes up this matter with God, who agrees with the women. Thus, they are granted Zelophehad's inheritance. God further elaborates as to how land should be passed on. A man with no sons or daughters would pass land to his brothers. If there were no brothers, the land went to his father's brothers (his uncles), and if he had no uncles, the land would go to his kinsmen. The process allowed land to stay within a tribe and within a family for as long as possible. Later during the journey, the men of Manasseh will realize that if the daughters married outside of the tribe, they would lose land and the law is amended to specify that women who inherit land must marry within the tribe. (See

)

A New Leader

At this point, Moses was probably the only person left from the initial group of Israelites that had left Egypt, and he knew that he would die soon. Now was the time for God to appoint a new leader. Before doing so, God allows Moses to view the land from Mount Abarim. Joshua, son of Nun and servant of Moses, is chosen by God to succeed Moses. God tells Moses to take Joshua before Eleazar and declare him leader. Moses was also asked to pass some of his honor to Joshua. After Moses died, Joshua would become the new leader and the person people went to for counsel.

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