Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
This fourth Book of Moses is called Numbers, because it begins with the numbering of the people. The Hebrews, from its first words, call it Vaydedabber. It contains the transactions of the Israelites, from the second month of the second year after their going out of Egypt, until the beginning of the eleventh month of the 40th year; that is, a history almost of thirty-nine years. (Challoner) --- In the nine first chapters various orders of people are described, and several laws are given or repeated. From the 10th to the 33d, the marches and history of God's people are related; (Haydock) from the 20th of the second month, in the second year after their departure out of Egypt, till the eleventh month of the 40th year, and the last of Moses: so that this Book contains the transactions of almost thirty-nine years; (Tirinus) whereas, the Book of Leviticus specified only some of the laws and occurrences of one month. Here we behold what opposition Moses experienced from Aaron and his sister, from Core, and from all the people; and yet God protected him, in the midst of all dangers, and confounded, not only their attempts, but those also of Balaam, and of all his external foes. (Haydock) --- Moses conquers the Madianites, and divides the conquered country between the tribes of Ruben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasses. In the three last chapters, he describes the land of Chanaan, orders all the inhabitants to be exterminated, assigns cities for the Levites, and for refuge; and forbids such marriages, as might cause any confusion in the distribution of the lands belonging to each tribe. Moses composed this part of the Pentateuch, as well as that of Deuteronomy, a little while before his death, out of the memoirs which he had carefully preserved. (Calmet) --- According to Usher, the people were numbered this second time, in the year of the world 2514, chap. i.; after which they leave the desert of Sinai, (chap. x. 11.) go to Cades-barne, and return thither again 2552. Soon after this, Mary and Aaron die; Moses lifts up the brazen serpent; and the Hebrews take possession of part of the promised land (2553) on the eastern banks of the Jordan. That on the western side, flowing with milk and honey, was conquered by Josue in the following years. (Haydock)
First day of the second month, called after the captivity, Jiar, which party corresponds with our April. These injunctions were given from the tabernacle, (Calmet) in the desert, the 12th station, (Haydock) at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Houses. The families consisted of the immediate descendants of the 12 patriarchs; the houses were from the subdivisions of these. The same plan of numbering the people was adopted on other occasions, Josue viii. 16., and 1 Kings x. 20. --- Sex, between 20 and 60 years of age. All the subjects of the Eastern kings may be called upon, if they be able to bear arms; and hence we find such immense armies in the Scripture, and in profane history. Moses numbered the people once before, (Exodus xxx. 2,) and found exactly the same number of warriors, the dead being replaced by others, during the space of seven months. Perhaps the odd numbers might not be specified, as all the totals consist of so many exact hundreds, except that of the tribe of Gad, ver. 25. On the former occasion, the people were not perhaps ranged according to their tribes, which was now deemed necessary, as they army was going to begin its march under its respective leaders. (Calmet)
Arms, (fortium). "Strong or brave." The psalmist (civ. 37,) says, there was not one feeble. (Menochius) --- Troops. Hebrew, "army." Septuagint, "force." Their officers shall be at their head, and shall assist you in the work. Some might command 1000, others 100, and some only 50. See Exodus xiii. 18., and xviii. 21. --- [Ver. 4.] Princes; the first-born, or most ancient, (Lyranus,) the lineal descendants of the patriarchs; (Jansen) or, in fine, such as were chosen for their merit, as all were equally noble; and hence Nahasson, prince of Juda, is mentioned, though he was not a descendant of the eldest son of Juda, but of Phares; and those who were at the head of those who were numbered a little before the death of Moses, were not the descendants of these, chap. xxvi. 64. In effect, we find that Moses chose for his council, able men out of all Israel, Exodus xviii. 25. (Bonfrere) (Calmet)
Duel. Hebrew Dehuel. But (chap. ii. 14,) we find the word begins R, as the Septuagint have read, Ragouel. (Haydock)
Army. Hebrew, "of a thousand." The Vulgate commonly styles them tribunes. They were "people of name in the assembly," as the Hebrew indicates. (Calmet)
Juda. This tribe was the most numerous. But it is not here placed first, because the order of birth in Lia's children is observed. Then come those of Rachel; and last of all, the children of the two handmaids, Bala and Zelpha. (Haydock)
Levites. As they attended the tabernacle, like God's peculiar servants, and were not obliged to go forth to battle, it was not necessary to number them with the rest. (Calmet) --- They might, however, fight if they thought proper, as the Machabees did. See Josephus, Antiquities iii. 11., and iv. 4. (Tirinus)
Stranger, even of any other tribe. (St. Augustine, q. 3.) (Worthington)
Army. Hebrew, "they shall have their respective camp, and follow their own standards, with their army." They were drawn up in four large bodies, chap. ii. 2, &c. (Calmet) --- The first contained 151,450, the second 186,400, the third 108,100, and the fourth 157,600, under Reuben, Juda, Ephraim, and Dan.
Watch. Lest any thing should offer any indecency to the tabernacle, and thus provoke God's indignation. (Haydock)