Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And it came to pass after the plague, that the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying,XXVI.
(1) And it came to pass after the plague . . . —The plague probably destroyed the remnant of the generation which had come out of Egypt, and which had been numbered in the wilderness of Sinai.
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.(2) Take the sum . . . —The same command had been given to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 1:2-3). In that case a man taken out of every tribe, the head of his father’s house, was appointed to assist Moses and Aaron in taking the census. It is probable that the same arrangement was made in the present instance, though it is not recorded.
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.(4, 5) Take the sum of the people . . . —The verses may be rendered thus: 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 were these: Reuben, the eldest son of Israel, &c. The expression “as the Lord commanded Moses” is one of very frequent occurrence in this book. The command was given to Moses, not to the children of Israel generally. The form of enumeration is concise. The omissions may be supplied thus:—Reuben—he was the eldest son of Israel. The sons of Reuben were—Hanoch—of him, the family of the Hanochites, &c. (Comp. Genesis 46:9; Exodus 6:14; 1Chronicles 5:3.)
These are the families of the Reubenites: and they that were numbered of them were forty and three thousand and seven hundred and thirty.(7) Forty and three thousand and seven hundred and thirty.—As compared with the former census, the tribe of Reuben had decreased by 2,770. (See Numbers 1:21.) Dathan and Abiram had probably enlisted many of the tribe to which they belonged in their rebellion against Moses and Aaron. (See Numbers 26:9-10 of this chapter, and Numbers 16:1, and Note.)
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.(10) And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up together with Korah . . . —Hebrew, and Korah. It would appear from this verse that Korah perished in the earthquake with Dathan and Abiram. The Samaritan Pentateuch, however, has a different reading here. It transposes the words “and Korah,” and combines them with the words”and the two hundred and fifty men”: thus—“when the fire devoured Korah and the two hundred and fifty men.” (See Notes on Numbers 16:32; Numbers 16:35.) It is possible that there may have been an omission here of the words which are found in Numbers 16:32, “all the men that appertained unto,” or of words denoting “all the goods belonging to.”
Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.(11) Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.—See Notes on Numbers 16:27; Numbers 16:32.
These are the families of the Simeonites, twenty and two thousand and two hundred.(14) Twenty and two thousand and two hundred.—This shows a decrease of 37,100 in the tribe of Simeon. Zimri, the chief offender in the matter of Baal-peor, belonged to this tribe, and, as in the case of the Reubenites, it is probable that he had led astray many of his tribe with him. It is remarkable that this is the only tribe on which, according to the present Hebrew text, no blessing was pronounced by Moses (Deuteronomy 33), and that in the allotment of the land of Canaan the inheritance of Simeon was only the remnant of that which was assigned to Judah (Joshua 19:9).
 The “Codex Alexandrinus” inserts a clause: “Let Simeon be many in number.” (
(18) Forty thousand and five hundred.—This shows a decrease of 5,150. Reuben, Simeon, and Gad encamped together on the south of the Tabernacle (Numbers 2:10), and had probably been mutually contaminated by each other’s evil example.
The sons of Judah were Er and Onan: and Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan.(19) Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan.—See Genesis 38:6-10, and Note.
And the sons of Pharez were; of Hezron, the family of the Hezronites: of Hamul, the family of the Hamulites.(21) Of Hezron . . . —Judah had five sons, but inasmuch as Er and Onan died childless, Hezron and Hamul were substituted in their place. (Comp. Genesis 46:12.)
Of the sons of Manasseh: of Machir, the family of the Machirites: and Machir begat Gilead: of Gilead come the family of the Gileadites.(29) Machir begat Gilead.—It is stated in 1Chronicles 7:14, and in the LXX. of Genesis 46:20, that Machir’s mother was an Aramitess. This may account for the name which was given to his son, Gilead, the border land between Syria and Canaan, and that in which Laban overtook Jacob (Genesis 31:25).
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 families.(37) Thirty and two thousand and five hundred.—This shows a decrease of 8,000. Jacob foretold that Ephraim should be greater than Manasseh (Genesis 48:19); and at the former census the number of the Ephraimites was considerably greater than that of the Manassites (Numbers 1:33; Numbers 1:35), and Ephraim was made a standard-bearer (Numbers 2:18). At the present census, however, the number of the Manassites exceeded that of the Ephraimites by 20,200; and yet, in the face of the great increase of Manasseh and the diminution of Ephraim, Moses renewed and confirmed the prediction of Jacob as to the ultimate superiority of Ephraim, and whilst ascribing only “thousands” to Manasseh, he speaks of the “ten thousands of Ephraim” (Deuteronomy 33:17).
These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.(51) Six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.—The sum total exhibits a decrease of 1,820, as compared with the census taken at Sinai thirty-eight years previously. On this decrease Bishop Wordsworth observes as follows:—“When the Israelites were suffering persecution in Egypt they ‘multiplied exceedingly’ (Exodus 1:7; Exodus 1:20); but after their deliverance from Egypt they rebelled against God, and ‘He consumed their days in vanity, and their years in trouble’ (Psalm 78:33). . . . Here there is comfort and warning to the Church and every soul in it—comfort in time of affliction, and warning in days of prosperity.”
Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names.(53-56) Unto these the land shall be divided . . . —The general apportionment of the land, as regarded the relative position of each tribe, was to be decided by lot, which was commonly looked upon as the determination of God Himself, and in this instance was undoubtedly so. The extent of territory was to be determined by the number of names—i.e., of persons—in each tribe, and each inheritance was to bear the name of the ancestor of the tribe. Rashi says that the names of the twelve tribes were written on twelve scrolls of parchment, and twelve borders, or limits of land, on twelve others, and that they were mixed together in an urn.
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.(59) Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, whom her mother bare to Levi . . . —Or, who was born to Levi, &c. There is a similar omission of the subject of the verb in 1Kings 1:6. Some writers have supposed that Jochebed was the granddaughter, or possibly even some more remote descendant of Levi, and that Amram, the father of Moses, was not the same as Amram, the son of Kohath. (See Keil, “On the Pentateuch,” i. 469-471; but for a defence of the view which has been more commonly adopted, see Birks’ “Exodus of Israel,” pp. 153-199.)
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.(62) Twenty and three thousand.—At the former census the number was 22,000 or 22,300 (See Numbers 3:39, and Note.)
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.(64) But among these . . . —Thus the prediction contained in Numbers 14:29-32 was fulfilled. The fact that the fulfilment of this prediction is stated after Numbers 26:62, which contains the result of the census as regards the Levites, viewed in connection with the statement contained in Numbers 26:65, might seem to favour the inference that the sentence of exclusion was applicable to the tribe of Levi as well as to the other tribes. On the other hand, the second clause of Numbers 26:62 may be alleged in support of the opposite view. (See Numbers 14:29, and Note.)
When they numbered . . . —Or, who numbered, as in Numbers 26:63.