This book is called Numbers, from the numberings of the children of
Israel, of which it gives an account. Once they were numbered at Mount
Sinai, in the first year after they came out of Egypt, which we had an
And now a second time they were numbered in the plains of Moab, just
before they entered Canaan, and of this we have an account in this
chapter. We have,
I. Orders given for the doing of it,
II. A register of the families and numbers of each tribe
and the sum total,
III. Direction given to divide the land among them,
IV. The families and numbers of the Levites by themselves,
V. Notice taken of the fulfilling of the threatening in the death of
all those that were first numbered,
and to this there seems to have been a special regard in the taking and
keeping of this account.
|The Numbering of the People.
||B. C. 1452.|
1 And it came to pass after the plague, that the LORD spake
unto Moses and unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying,
2 Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of
Israel, from twenty years old and upward, throughout their
fathers' house, all that are able to go to war in Israel.
3 And Moses and Eleazar the priest spake with them in the
plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,
4 Take the sum of the people, from twenty years old and
upward; as the LORD commanded Moses and the children of Israel,
which went forth out of the land of Egypt.
1. That Moses did not number the people but when God commanded him.
David in his time did it without a command, and paid dearly for it. God
was Israel's king, and he would not have this act of authority done but
by his express orders. Moses, perhaps, by this time, had heard of the
blessing with which Balaam was constrained, sorely against his will, to
bless Israel, and particularly the notice he took of their numbers; and
he was sufficiently pleased with that general testimony borne to this
instance of their strength and honour by an adversary, though he knew
not their numbers exactly, till God now appointed him to take the sum
2. Eleazar was joined in commission with him, as Aaron had been before,
by which God honoured Eleazar before the elders of his people, and
confirmed his succession.
3. It was presently after the plague that this account was ordered to
be taken, to show that though God had in justice contended with them by
that sweeping pestilence, yet he had not made a full end, nor would he
utterly cast them off. God's Israel shall not be ruined, though it be
4. They were now to go by the same rule that they had gone by in the
former numbering, counting those only that were able to go forth to
war, for this was the service now before them.
5 Reuben, the eldest son of Israel: the children of Reuben;
Hanoch, of whom cometh the family of the Hanochites: of Pallu,
the family of the Palluites:
6 Of Hezron, the family of the Hezronites: of Carmi, the family
of the Carmites.
7 These are the families of the Reubenites: and they that
were numbered of them were forty and three thousand and seven
hundred and thirty.
8 And the sons of Pallu; Eliab.
9 And the sons of Eliab; Nemuel, and Dathan, and Abiram. This
is that Dathan and Abiram, which were famous in the
congregation, who strove against Moses and against Aaron in the
company of Korah, when they strove against the LORD:
10 And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up
together with Korah, when that company died, what time the fire
devoured two hundred and fifty men: and they became a sign.
11 Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.
12 The sons of Simeon after their families: of Nemuel, the
family of the Nemuelites: of Jamin, the family of the Jaminites:
of Jachin, the family of the Jachinites:
13 Of Zerah, the family of the Zarhites: of Shaul, the family
of the Shaulites.
14 These are the families of the Simeonites, twenty and two
thousand and two hundred.
15 The children of Gad after their families: of Zephon, the
family of the Zephonites: of Haggi, the family of the Haggites:
of Shuni, the family of the Shunites:
16 Of Ozni, the family of the Oznites: of Eri, the family of
17 Of Arod, the family of the Arodites: of Areli, the family of
18 These are the families of the children of Gad according to
those that were numbered of them, forty thousand and five
19 The sons of Judah were Er and Onan: and Er and Onan died
in the land of Canaan.
20 And the sons of Judah after their families were; of Shelah,
the family of the Shelanites: of Pharez, the family of the
Pharzites: of Zerah, the family of the Zarhites.
21 And the sons of Pharez were; of Hezron, the family of the
Hezronites: of Hamul, the family of the Hamulites.
22 These are the families of Judah according to those that
were numbered of them, threescore and sixteen thousand and five
23 Of the sons of Issachar after their families: of Tola,
the family of the Tolaites: of Pua, the family of the Punites:
24 Of Jashub, the family of the Jashubites: of Shimron, the
family of the Shimronites.
25 These are the families of Issachar according to those that
were numbered of them, threescore and four thousand and three
26 Of the sons of Zebulun after their families: of Sered, the
family of the Sardites: of Elon, the family of the Elonites: of
Jahleel, the family of the Jahleelites.
27 These are the families of the Zebulunites according to
those that were numbered of them, threescore thousand and five
28 The sons of Joseph after their families were Manasseh and
29 Of the sons of Manasseh: of Machir, the family of the
Machirites: and Machir begat Gilead: of Gilead come the family
of the Gileadites.
30 These are the sons of Gilead: of Jeezer, the family of
the Jeezerites: of Helek, the family of the Helekites:
31 And of Asriel, the family of the Asrielites: and of
Shechem, the family of the Shechemites:
32 And of Shemida, the family of the Shemidaites: and of
Hepher, the family of the Hepherites.
33 And Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but daughters:
and the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, and
Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.
34 These are the families of Manasseh, and those that were
numbered of them, fifty and two thousand and seven hundred.
35 These are the sons of Ephraim after their families: of
Shuthelah, the family of the Shuthalhites: of Becher, the family
of the Bachrites: of Tahan, the family of the Tahanites.
36 And these are the sons of Shuthelah: of Eran, the family
of the Eranites.
37 These are the families of the sons of Ephraim according to
those that were numbered of them, thirty and two thousand and
five hundred. These are the sons of Joseph after their
38 The sons of Benjamin after their families: of Bela, the
family of the Belaites: of Ashbel, the family of the Ashbelites:
of Ahiram, the family of the Ahiramites:
39 Of Shupham, the family of the Shuphamites: of Hupham, the
family of the Huphamites.
40 And the sons of Bela were Ard and Naaman: of Ard, the
family of the Ardites: and of Naaman, the family of the
41 These are the sons of Benjamin after their families: and
they that were numbered of them were forty and five thousand
and six hundred.
42 These are the sons of Dan after their families: of Shuham,
the family of the Shuhamites. These are the families of Dan
after their families.
43 All the families of the Shuhamites, according to those that
were numbered of them, were threescore and four thousand and
44 Of the children of Asher after their families: of Jimna,
the family of the Jimnites: of Jesui, the family of the Jesuites:
of Beriah, the family of the Beriites.
45 Of the sons of Beriah: of Heber, the family of the
Heberites: of Malchiel, the family of the Malchielites.
46 And the name of the daughter of Asher was Sarah.
47 These are the families of the sons of Asher according to
those that were numbered of them; who were fifty and three
thousand and four hundred.
48 Of the sons of Naphtali after their families: of Jahzeel,
the family of the Jahzeelites: of Guni, the family of the
49 Of Jezer, the family of the Jezerites: of Shillem, the
family of the Shillemites.
50 These are the families of Naphtali according to their
families: and they that were numbered of them were forty and
five thousand and four hundred.
51 These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six
hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.
This is the register of the tribes as they were now enrolled, in the
same order that they were numbered in
I. The account that is here kept of the families of each tribe, which
must not be understood of such as we call families, those that live in
a house together, but such as were the descendants of the several sons
of the patriarchs, by whose names, in honour of them, their posterity
distinguished themselves and one another. The families of the twelve
tribes are thus numbered:--Of Dan but one, for Dan had but one son, and
yet that tribe was the most numerous of all except Judah,
Its beginning was small, but its latter end greatly increased. Zebulun
was divided into three families, Ephraim into four, Issachar into four,
Naphtali into four, and Reuben into four; Judah, Simeon, and Asher, had
five families apiece, Gad and Benjamin seven apiece, and Manasseh
eight. Benjamin brought ten sons into Egypt
but three of them, it seems either died childless or their families
were extinct, for here we find seven only of those names preserved, and
that whole tribe none of the most numerous; for Providence, in the
building up of families and nations, does not tie itself to
probabilities. The barren hath borne seven, and she that hath many
children has waxed feeble,
1 Samuel 2:5.
II. The numbers of each tribe. And here our best entertainment will be
to compare these numbers with those when they were numbered at Mount
Sinai. The sum total was nearly the same; they were now 1820 fewer than
they were then; yet seven of the tribes had increased in number. Judah
had increased 1900, Issachar 9900, Zebulun 3100, Manasseh 20, 500,
Benjamin 10,200, Dan 1700, and Asher 11,900. But the other five had
decreased more than to balance that increase. Reuben had decreased
2770, Simeon 37,100, Gad 5150, Ephraim 8000, and Naphtali 8000. In this
account we may observe,
1. That all the three tribes that were encamped under the standard of
Judah, who was the ancestor of Christ, had increased, for his church
shall be edified and multiplied.
2. That none of the tribes had increased so much as that of Manasseh,
which in the former account was the smallest of all the tribes, only
32,200, while here it is one of the most considerable; and that of his
brother Ephraim, which there was numerous, is here one of the least.
Jacob had crossed hands upon their heads, and had preferred Ephraim
before Manasseh, which perhaps the Ephraimites had prided themselves
too much in, and had trampled upon their brethren the Manassites; but,
when the Lord saw that Manasseh was despised, he thus multiplied him
exceedingly, for it is his glory to help the weakest, and raise up
those that are cast down.
3. That none of the tribes decreased so much as Simeon did; from
59,300, it such to 22,200, little more than a third part of what it
was. One whole family of that tribe (namely Ohad, mentioned
was extinct in the wilderness. Hence Simeon is not mentioned in Moses's
and the lot of that tribe in Canaan was inconsiderable, only a canton
out of Judah's lot,
Some conjecture that most of those 24,000 who were cut off by the
plague for the iniquity of Peor were of that tribe; for Zimri, who was
a ringleader in that iniquity, was a prince of that tribe, many of whom
therefore were influenced by his example to follow his pernicious
III. In the account of the tribe of Reuben mention is made of the
rebellion of Dathan and Abiram, who were of that tribe, in confederacy
with Korah a Levite,
Though the story had been largely related but a few chapters before,
yet here it comes in again, as fit to be had in remembrance and thought
of by posterity, whenever they looked into their pedigree and pleased
themselves with the antiquity of their families and the glory of their
ancestors, that they might call themselves a seed of evil doers. Two
things are here said of them:--
1. That they had been famous in the congregation,
Probably they were remarkable for their ingenuity, activity, and
fitness for business:--That Dathan and Abiram that might have
been advanced in due time under God and Moses; but their ambitious
spirits put them upon striving against God and Moses, and when they
quarrelled with the one they quarrelled with the other. And what was
2. Those that might have been famous were made infamous: they became
They were made monuments of divine justice; God, in their ruin, showed
himself glorious in holiness, and so they were set up for a warning to
all others, in all ages, to take heed of treading in the steps of their
pride and rebellion. Notice is here taken of the preservation of the
children of Korah
they died not, as the children of Dathan and Abiram did,
doubtless because they kept themselves pure from the infection, and
would not join, no, not with their own father, in rebellion. If we
partake not of the sins of sinners, we shall not partake of their
plagues. These sons of Korah were afterwards, in their posterity,
eminently serviceable to the church, being employed by David as singers
in the house of the Lord; hence many psalms are said to be for the
sons of Korah: and perhaps they were made to bear his name so long
after, rather than the name of any other of their ancestors, for
warning to themselves, and as an instance of the power of God, which
brought those choice fruits even out of that bitter root. The children
of families that have been stigmatized should endeavour, by their
eminent virtues, to roll away the reproach of their fathers.
52 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
53 Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance
according to the number of names.
54 To many thou shalt give the more inheritance, and to few
thou shalt give the less inheritance: to every one shall his
inheritance be given according to those that were numbered of
55 Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according
to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.
56 According to the lot shall the possession thereof be divided
between many and few.
If any ask why such a particular account is kept of the tribes, and
families, and numbers, of the people of Israel, here is an answer for
them; as they were multiplied, so they were portioned, not by common
providence, but by promise; and, for the support of the honour of
divine revelation, God will have the fulfilling of the promise taken
notice of both in their increase and in their inheritance. When Moses
had numbered the people God did not say, By these shall the land be
conquered; but, taking that for granted, he tells him, Unto
these shall the land be divided. "These that are now registered as
the sons of Israel shall be admitted (as it were by copy of court-roll)
heirs of the land of Canaan." Now, in the distributing, or quartering,
of these tribes,
1. The general rule of equity is here prescribed to Moses, that to many
he should give more, and to few he should give less
yet, alas! he was so far from giving any to others that he must
not have any himself, but this direction given to him was intended for
Joshua his successor.
2. The application of this general rule was to be determined by
notwithstanding it seems thus to be left to the prudence of their
prince, yet the matter must be finally reserved to the providence of
their God, in which they must all acquiesce, how much soever it
contradicted their policies or inclination: According to the lot
shall the possession be divided. As the God of nations, so the God
of Israel in particular, reserves it to himself to appoint the
bounds of our habitation. And thus Christ, our Joshua, when he was
urged to appoint one of his disciples to his right hand, another
to his left in his kingdom, acknowledged the sovereignty of his
Father in the disposal: It is not mine to give. Joshua must not
dispose of inheritances in Canaan according to his own mind. But it
shall be given to those for whom it is prepared of my Father.
57 And these are they that were numbered of the Levites after
their families: of Gershon, the family of the Gershonites: of
Kohath, the family of the Kohathites: of Merari, the family of
58 These are the families of the Levites: the family of the
Libnites, the family of the Hebronites, the family of the
Mahlites, the family of the Mushites, the family of the
Korathites. And Kohath begat Amram.
59 And the name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, the daughter of
Levi, whom her mother bare to Levi in Egypt: and she bare unto
Amram Aaron and Moses, and Miriam their sister.
60 And unto Aaron was born Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and
61 And Nadab and Abihu died, when they offered strange fire
before the LORD.
62 And those that were numbered of them were twenty and three
thousand, all males from a month old and upward: for they were
not numbered among the children of Israel, because there was no
inheritance given them among the children of Israel.
Levi was God's tribe, a tribe that was to have no inheritance with the
rest in the land of Canaan, and therefore was not numbered with the
rest, but by itself; so it had been numbered in the beginning of this
book at Mount Sinai, and therefore came not under the sentence passed
upon all that were then numbered, that none of them should enter Canaan
but Caleb and Joshua; for of the Levites that were not numbered with
them, nor were to go forth to war, Eleazar and Ithamar, and perhaps
others who were above twenty years old then (as appears,
entered Canaan; and yet this tribe, now at its second numbering, had
increased but 1000, and was still one of the smallest tribes. Mention
is made here of the death of Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire,
as before of the sin and punishment of Korah, because these things
happened to them for ensamples.
63 These are they that were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the
priest, who numbered the children of Israel in the plains of Moab
by Jordan near Jericho.
64 But among these there was not a man of them whom Moses and
Aaron the priest numbered, when they numbered the children of
Israel in the wilderness of Sinai.
65 For the LORD had said of them, They shall surely die in the
wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the
son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.
That which is observable in this conclusion of the account is the
execution of the sentence passed upon the murmurers
that not one of those who were numbered from twenty years old and
upwards (and that the Levites were not, but either from a month old
or from thirty years old to fifty) should enter Canaan, except Caleb
and Joshua. In the muster now made particular directions, no doubt,
were given to those of each tribe that were employed in taking the
account, to compare these rolls with the former, and to observe whether
there were any now left of those that were numbered at Mount Sinai, and
it appeared that there was not one man numbered now that was numbered
then except Caleb and Joshua,
1. The righteousness of God, and his faithfulness to his threatenings,
when once the decree has gone forth. He swore in his
wrath, and what he had sworn he performed. Better all those
carcasses, had they been ten times as many, should fall to the ground,
than the word of God. Though the rising generation was mixed with the,
and many of the guilty and condemned criminals long survived the
sentence, even to the last year of the forty, yet they were cut off by
some means or other before this muster was made. Those whom God has
condemned cannot escape either by losing themselves in a crowd or by
the delay of execution.
2. The goodness of God to this people, notwithstanding their
provocations. Though that murmuring race was cut off, yet God raised up
another generation, which was as numerous as they, that, though they
perished, yet the name of Israel might not be cut off, lest the
inheritance of the promise should be lost for want of heirs. And,
though the number fell a little short what it was at Mount Sinai, yet
those now numbered had this advantage, that they were all middle-aged
men, between twenty and sixty, in the prime of their time for service;
and during the thirty-eight years of their wandering and wasting in the
wilderness they had an opportunity of acquainting themselves with the
laws and ordinances of God, having no business, civil or military, to
divert them from those sacred studies, and having Moses and Aaron to
instruct them, and God's good Spirit,
3. The truth of God, in performing his promise made to Caleb and
Joshua. They were to be preserved from falling in this common ruin,
and they were so. The arrows of death, though they fly in the dark, do
not fly at random, even when they fly thickest, but are directed to the
mark intended, and no other. All that are written among the living
shall have their lives given them for a prey, in the most dangerous
times. Thousands may fall on their right hand, and ten thousands on
their left, but they shall escape.