A Census of the People

Numbers 1:1-46

Bamidbar picks up on the first day of the second month of the second year since the Children of Israel left Egypt. God now instructs Moses to take Aaron and a leader from each tribe and count the people. The census is to account for every male of military age, according to their households. Since God commanded earlier (back in the book of Exodus) never to count the people directly, the tribal leaders drew up lists of names and the names of those over twenty years of age were counted, though medieval commentator Rashi suggests the leaders again collected half-shekels from each qualifying individual and counted those.


The results, in the order they appear in the text, are as follows:


Reuben — 46,500

Simeon — 59,300

Gad — 55,650

Judah — 74,600

Issachar — 54,400

Zebulun — 57,400

Ephraim — 40,500

Manasseh — 32,200

Benjamin — 35,400

Dan — 62,700

Asher — 41,500

Naphtali — 53,400

Grand total: 603,550 men of military age.


The Levites were not included in the census, as God has other plans for them.


This is the first of several censuses which will be taken in the book of Numbers. In fact, the Israel Bible points out, these are what give the book its English name (its Hebrew name, like that of the portion — Bamidbar — means “in the desert”, also an apt description). While the census is taken ostensibly for war, as the Israelites should be entering the Promised Land imminently, the Sages point out that the numerous times God counts the people is also an indication of His love for them. Each individual is so precious to God that He takes the time to count them over and over.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Seven months earlier, in Exodus 38:26, the Children of Israel number an identical 603,550. Yet we know the Levites were included in the first count and not in the second, and surely people died or turned twenty in the interim! How might you explain the static number? What do you think is the significance of this census result?


Comments ( 16 )

The comments below do not necessarily reflect the beliefs and opinions of The Israel Bibleā„¢.

  • Nelson

    thank you have learned alot

  • Joel lingan

    what is the significance of the census in the israel

  • I think that the reason the number of Israelites didn't change was first of all an encouragement for the Israelites themselves.
    Their number for fighting the enemy had not decreased, now that the Levites had been taken out of military service. HaShem provided a steadfast number.
    The result of this counting might have been a more selfconscious attitude of the former slaves, but now free !!!!!!!!

  • Sheila

    Thank you Diana for explaining this as it was beyond my understanding.

  • Ken

    Perhaps the answer is found earlier in the book of Exodus (Shemot) and clarified later in this weeks portion.
    Exodus 13:1-2 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.

    • Diana Brown

      Perhaps. It seems to me that HaShem is all about numbers. Since He is our Rock, the numbers of souls He calls (like in the story of Gideon) amounts to a remnant. He does the saving each and every time so the Nations will know He is the Lord. If the numbers of Israel were ever as great as the numbers of Israel’s enemies, the HaShem’s Name would not be revered when the victory of good over evil comes.

      • Danielle Reisman

        Wow Diana! That is very deep! I really like that answer! Maybe the counting is to show the world how powerful and miraculous HaShem really is!

        • Diana Brown

          Also I watched this video about the difference counting HaShem called for…http://www.aish.com/tp/i/10minuteparsha/Why-We-Count.html

    • Ken

      In the first reckoning the first born were not included in the count but the Levites were included. In the second reckoning, the first born are now counted but the Levites are not counted in the census. For the Lord has substituted (switched, taken) the Levites in the place of the first born.

      • Diana Brown

        Okay, I asked my Jewish friend and she said the census had the same number because the counting in Exodus and also in Numbers was for military service. So the inclusion of exclusion of the Levites were a non-issue. Is that true Danielle?

        • Diana Brown

          She also told me to go to this site….http://biblehub.com/interlinear/
          and research the word “wilderness” from the verses in the Tanach. The King of Glory calls to His Bride from the wilderness. Torah is the “apple” of His Eye and by it we are to live. That is for the spiritual part.
          The second part is the military and the counting. (This was the second counting of the Omer for Bnei Yisrael at this parsha.) We are counting the omer now. We anticipate new revelation on how to “stand fast” and hold the Land for the Lord. He placed His Name there and the Land is His.
          War is coming and we are to defend HaShem’s claim to the Land, not like in the days of western colonialism, Greek aggression, Roman occupation.
          We keep His Name and the Land together and in our hearts. When the King of Glory appears to rule and reign in Zion, His Word will go out to all the Nations and war will be no more. We are His Watchmen waiting for His Messiah. It will be good for the whole earth when He comes. HaShem loves all people and we need to keep getting this word out. Love is more powerful than hate.
          (I liked using the Strong’s, Englishmen’s and Brown-Driver-Briggs commentaries. You hit on the number above the Hebrew word and it takes you to places where you can get more Biblical references on the word you selected. Try it, you will like it. I liked what I found out from the word “wilderness”.

        • Danielle Reisman

          Correct. If you look at my response to Orli’s comment you can see that the counting is for Military purpose and the Levites do not participate in the military.

      • Thank you all, but I think Ken's answer is the most accurate; in the first counting, the first born were not included, but in the second they were included while the Levites were not. Which means the number of the first born is exactly the same as that of the Levites.

      • Barbara Knowles

        RICH!!!!! A BLESSING YOUR REPLY………………………..

  • Orli

    I looked up both Exodus 38:26 and Numbers 1:46 to see if context would give a clue. I failed to find in Exodus that the census included the Levites. Please guide me to where this is stated. It says in verse 25 “The silver of the census of the community…” Does the word “community” always include the Levites or only the common people? As to why the numbers match in both books, seven month apart, perhaps Moses (or a later editor of his writings) was simply using the census number from the census taken later in the book of Numbers as a reference from a future event to help readers understand who was included in paying for the tabernacle.

    • Danielle Reisman

      Orli in Chapter 3 of Numbers there is a separate census of Leviim from one month and upwards. This way they are still counted but separately from the community. Because the counting was for an military purpose, which the Levites do not participate in rather they work in the Tabernacle, therefore they had a separate counting.

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