Exodus 30:12
When you take the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul to the LORD, when you number them; that there be no plague among them, when you number them.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
THE RANSOM OF SOULS.

(12) When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel.—A formal enrolment and registration seems to be intended. Hitherto, nothing but a rough estimate of the number had been attempted (Exodus 12:37); now that a covenant had been made with God, an exact account of those who were within the covenant was needed. Moses, apparently, was contemplating such an exact enumeration when the command contained in this text was given him. It would be natural for one trained in Egyptian habits to desire such exact statistical knowledge. (For the minuteness and fulness of the Egyptian statistics of the time, see Records of the Past, vol. ii., pp. 19-28; vol. iv. pp. 46, 47; vol. vi. pp. 35-69, &c.)

Then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul.—On being formally enrolled among the people of God, it would be brought home to every man how unworthy he was of such favour, how necessary it was that atonement should in some way or other be made for him. God therefore appointed a way—the same way for all—in order to teach strongly that all souls were of equal value in His sight, and that unworthiness, whatever its degree, required the same expiation.

That there be no plague among them.—If a man did not feel his need of “ransom,” and gladly pay the small sum at which the ransom was fixed, he would show himself so proud and presumptuous that he might well provoke a Divine “plague,” or punishment.

Exodus

RANSOM FOR SOULS-I.

Exodus 30:12
.

This remarkable provision had a religious intention. Connect it with the tax-money which Peter found in the fish’s mouth.

I. Its meaning. Try to realise an Israelite’s thoughts at the census. ‘I am enrolled among the people and army of God: am I worthy? What am I, to serve so holy a God?’ The payment was meant-

{a} To excite the sense of sin. This should be present in all approach to God, in all service; accompanying the recognition of our Christian standing. Our sense of sin is far too slight and weak; this defect is at the root of much feebleness in popular religion. The sense of sin must embrace not outward acts only, but inner spirit also.

{b} To suggest the possibility of expiation. It was ‘ransom’ i.e. ‘covering,’ something paid that guilt might be taken away and sin regarded as non-existent. This is, of course, obviously, only a symbol. No tax could satisfy God for sin. The very smallness of the amount shows that it is symbolical only. ‘Not with corruptible things as silver’ is man redeemed.

II. Its identity for all. Rich or poor, high or low, all men are equal in sin. There are surface differences and degrees, but a deep identity beneath. So on the same principle all souls are of the same value. Here is the true democracy of Christianity. So there is one ransom for all, for the need of all is identical.

III. Its use. It was melted down for use in the sanctuary, so as to be a ‘memorial’ permanently present to God when His people met with Him. The greater portion was made into bases for the boards of the sanctuary. That is, God’s dwelling with men and our communion with Him all rest on the basis of ransom. We are ‘brought nigh by the blood of Christ.’Exodus 30:12. Every man a ransom for his soul — Some think this refers only to the first numbering of them, when the tabernacle was set up, and that this tax was to make up what was wanting in the voluntary contributions.

Others think it was to be always when the people were numbered; and that David offended in not demanding it when he numbered the people. But many of the Jewish writers are of opinion it was to be an annual tribute; only it was begun when Moses first numbered the people. This was that tribute-money which Christ paid, lest he should offend his adversaries. The tribute to be paid was half a shekel, about fifteen pence of our money. In other offerings men were to give according to their ability; but this, which was the ransom of the soul, must be alike for all; for the rich have as much need of Christ as the poor, and the poor are as welcome to him as the rich. And this was to be paid a ransom of the soul, that there might be no plague among them — Hereby they acknowledged that they received their lives from God, that they had forfeited their lives to him, and that they depended upon his power and patience for the continuance of them; and thus they did homage to the God of their lives, and deprecated those plagues which their sins had deserved. This money was employed in the service of the tabernacle; with it they bought sacrifices, flour, incense, wine, oil, fuel, salt, priests’ garments, and all other things which the whole congregation was interested in.30:11-16 The tribute was half a shekel, about fifteen pence of our money. The rich were not to give more, nor the poor less; the souls of the rich and poor are alike precious, and God is no respecter of persons, Ac 10:34; Job 34:19. In other offerings men were to give according to their wordly ability; but this, which was the ransom of the soul, must be alike for all. The souls of all are of equal value, equally in danger, and all equally need a ransom. The money raised was to be used in the service of the tabernacle. Those who have the benefit, must not grudge the necessary charges of God's public worship. Money cannot make atonement for the soul, but it may be used for the honour of Him who has made the atonement, and for the maintenance of the gospel by which the atonement is applied.The Ransom of Souls. - Exodus 38:25-28. On comparing these words with those of Numbers 1:1-3, we may perhaps infer that the first passage relates to a mere counting of the adult Israelites at the time when the money was taken from each, and that what the latter passage enjoins was a formal enrolment of them according to their genealogies and their order of military service.

A ransom for his soul - What the sincere worshipper thus paid was at once the fruit and the sign of his faith in the goodness of Yahweh, who had redeemed him and brought him into the covenant. Hence, the payment is rightly called a ransom inasmuch as it involved a personal appropriation of the fact of his redemption. On the word soul, see Leviticus 17:11.

That there be no plague - i. e. that they might not incur punishment for the neglect and contempt of spiritual privileges. Compare Exodus 28:35; 1 Corinthians 11:27-30; and the exhortation in our communion Service.

11-16. When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, &c.—Moses did so twice, and doubtless observed the law here prescribed. The tax was not levied from women, minors, old men (Nu 1:42, 45), and the Levites (Nu 1:47), they being not numbered. Assuming the shekel of the sanctuary to be about half an ounce troy, though nothing certain is known about it, the sum payable by each individual was two and four pence. This was not a voluntary contribution, but a ransom for the soul or lives of the people. It was required from all classes alike, and a refusal to pay implied a wilful exclusion from the privileges of the sanctuary, as well as exposure to divine judgments. It was probably the same impost that was exacted from our Lord (Mt 17:24-27), and it was usually devoted to repairs and other purposes connected with the services of the sanctuary. A ransom for his soul; a certain price for the redemption of their lives; whereby they acknowledge the right and power which God had over their lives, and that they had forfeited them by their sins, and that it was God’s mercy to continue their lives to them.

When thou numberest them, to wit, upon any just occasion, either now in the wilderness, or afterwards. It may seem that this payment was neither to be made at this time only, as some would have it; nor yet every year, as Josephus and others affirm, because it is not said to be a perpetual statute, as other things of constant observance are, but upon any eminent occasions, when the service of the tabernacle (which is the end and use of this collection) or temple required it, as may he gathered from 2 Kings 12:4, compared with 2 Chronicles 24:6. Compare Nehemiah 10:32 Matthew 17:24. And as now it was employed in the building of the tabernacle, so afterwards it might be laid out upon the repairs or other services of it. When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, after their number,.... An account of them, how many they are; which was sometimes done, and was proper to be done, especially in time of war; though the present case seems to be for the sake of raising money for the tabernacle and the service of it:

then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them; which was not done yearly, nor was it perpetual; we have but two instances of it after this until the times of David, Numbers 1:2 yet it seems to have been a yearly tax or tribute, in the times of Christ; see Gill on Matthew 17:24, Matthew 21:12; and in the Misnah is a whole treatise called "Shekalim", in which an account is given of the time and manner of collecting this ransom money, and for what uses, and who were obliged to pay it, and who not; on the first of Adar (or February) they proclaimed concerning the payment of it, on the fifteenth the tables were set for that purpose, and on the twenty fifth the proper persons sat in the sanctuary to receive it (w): this was typical of the ransom of souls by Christ, who are not all the world, for they are ransomed out of it, but Israelites, the whole mystical Israel of God, and are a numbered people; their names are written in the book of life, they are told into the hands of Christ, are exactly known by God and Christ; and these are many and even numberless to men:

that there be no plague amongst them when thou numberest them; as there was when David numbered them; which some have thought was owing to the non-payment of the ransom money after mentioned; the Septuagint version is, "no fall", the ransom of souls by Christ preserves them from a total and final fall by sin into everlasting ruin and destruction; or, "no death" as the Targum of Onkelos, for redemption by Christ secures from the second death, and even from a corporeal death as a penal evil.

(w) Misn. Shekalim, c. 1. sect. 1, 3.

When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man {g} a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.

(g) By which he testified that he redeemed his life which he had forfeit, as is declared by David, 2Sa 24:1.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
12. takest the sum] so Numbers 1:2; Numbers 1:49.

numberednumberest] The verb means lit. to visit (viz. to see how many they are), i.e. to review, muster, inspect. So vv. 13, 14, Numbers 1:3; Numbers 1:19, and often in Nu. 1.–4, 26; 2 Samuel 18:1; 2 Samuel 24:2.

a ransom for his soul] i.e. for his life (‘soul’ as the seat of life, as Exodus 21:23; Exodus 21:30, and constantly): ‘ransom’ (kôpher), in the sense of price for a life, as Exodus 21:30, where see the note.

that there be no plague (Exodus 12:13) &c.] cf. Numbers 8:19.Verse 12. - When thou takest the sum. The sum had been taken roughly at the time of the exodus (Exodus 12:37). Moses was now, it would seem, about to take it again, more accurately. No command had ever been given that the people should not be numbered; and the Egyptian habit of compiling exact statistics naturally clung to one who had had an Egyptian training. (See the "Statistical Tables of Karnak," in the "Records of the Past," vol. 2. pp. 19-28.) A ransom. Rather "an expiation," "an atonement" - (as in Exodus 29:33, 36) - something to show that he was conscious of sin, and of his not deserving to be numbered among God's people. That there was no plague. "That they be not punished for undue pride and presumption. There is no thought of such a plague as was provoked by David's numbering (2 Samuel 24:15). The Altar of Incense and Incense-Offering bring the directions concerning the sanctuary to a close. What follows, from Exodus 30:11-31:17, is shown to be merely supplementary to the larger whole by the formula "and Jehovah spake unto Moses," with which every separate command is introduced (cf. Exodus 30:11, Exodus 30:17, Exodus 30:22, Exodus 30:24, Exodus 31:1, Exodus 31:12).

Exodus 30:1-6

(cf. Exodus 37:25-28). Moses was directed to make an altar of burning of incense (lit., incensing of incense), of acacia-wood, one cubit long and one broad, four-cornered, two cubits high, furnished with horns like the altar of burnt-offering (Exodus 27:1-2), and to plate it with pure gold, the roof (גּג) thereof (i.e., its upper side or surface, which was also made of wood), and its walls round about, and its horns; so that it was covered with gold quite down to the ground upon which it stood, and for this reason is often called the golden altar (Exodus 39:38; Exodus 40:5, Exodus 40:26; Numbers 4:11). Moreover it was to be ornamented with a golden wreath, and furnished with golden rings at the corners for the carrying-poles, as the ark of the covenant and the table of shew-bread were (Exodus 25:11., Exodus 25:25.); and its place was to be in front of the curtain, which concealed the ark of the covenant (Exodus 26:31), "before the capporeth" (Exodus 40:5), so that, although it really stood in the holy place between the candlestick on the south side and the table on the north (Exodus 26:35; Exodus 40:22, Exodus 40:24), it was placed in the closest relation to the capporeth, and for this reason is not only connected with the most holy place in 1 Kings 6:22, but is reckoned in Hebrews 9:4 as part of the furniture of the most holy place (see Delitzsch on Hebrews 9:4).

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