Numbers 3:43
And all the firstborn males by the number of names, from a month old and upward, of those that were numbered of them, were twenty and two thousand two hundred and three score and thirteen.
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(43) Twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen.—The extremely small number of the firstborn in proportion to a male population of 600,000 of twenty years of age and upwards—i.e., to a population of about 1,000,000 males—has been a fruitful source of difficulty, and, in some cases, a ground for the rejection of the historical truth of the narrative, which involves, it has been alleged, the incredible conclusion that there was only one firstborn to forty-four males. It might suffice, in answer to those who urge this difficulty as a ground for rejecting the truth of the narrative, to reply that it is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive that a writer who has recorded, or, according to the theory in question, invented so many complicated calculations, should have inserted amongst them one which is fraught with so much apparent improbability. Many solutions of the problem have been proposed which relieve the apparent disproportion of the number of the firstborn not only of its alleged impossibility, but even of improbability. Some have urged that we are constrained by every principle of analogy to restrict the firstborn sons to those who were under twenty years of age, and who had not been included in the census which had been already taken. The destruction of the firstborn of the Egyptians was clearly subject to a somewhat similar limitation. Pharaoh himself was, in all probability, a firstborn son; and in regard to the Egyptians generally there does not appear to have been above one death in each house (Exodus 12:30), although there must have been very many houses in which the father (and it may be the grandfather) as well as the son was a firstborn child. Another opinion is that by the firstborn in every family we are to understand the firstborn in every household, including the children of concubines and slaves. When due allowance has been made, on either of these hypotheses, for the average proportion of the sexes, the average number of early deaths, and also for the limitation of the term firstborn to those who were the firstborn on the side of the father as well as of the mother, it has been contended that the number of the firstborn is consistent with the supposition that each family of the Israelites consisted of about eight or nine children—a supposition which, considering how prolific the Hebrew women are said to have been, cannot be regarded as deserving of rejection on the ground of its incredibility. The most probable solution of the difficulty, however, appears to be that which is given in the Introduction.

3:40-51 The number of the first-born, and that of the Levites, came near to each other. Known unto God are all his works beforehand; there is an exact proportion between them, and so it will appear, when they are compared together. The small number of first-born, over and above the number of the Levites, were to be redeemed, and the redemption-money given to Aaron. The church is called the church of the first-born, which is redeemed, not as they were, with silver and gold; but, being devoted by sin to the justice of God, is ransomed with the precious blood of the Son of God. All men are the Lord's by creation, and all true christians are his by redemption. Each should know his own post and duty; nor can any service required by such a Master be rightly accounted mean or hard.This result, when compared with the number of male adults (603,550, compare Numbers 2:32), is small, the usual proportion of first-born sons to a total male population being about one in four: and the explanation offered is that the law of Exodus 13:1-2, prescribed a dedication of those only who should be firstborn "thenceforward".

On the other hand, the number is very large to be born among two millions of persons in a single year; and it must be admitted, that some unusual causes must have been concerned. Such, not to mention the divine blessing, may be found in the sudden development of national energies which would immediately ensue on the Exodus. Before that event, the miserable estate of the people, and especially the inhuman order for the destruction of their first-born, would check very seriously the ratio of marriages and births; and this ratio would naturally, when the check was removed, exhibit a sudden and striking increase.

41. the cattle of the Levites—These, which they kept to graze on the glebes and meadows in the suburbs of their cities, to supply their families with dairy produce and animal food, were also taken as an equivalent for all the firstlings of the cattle which the Israelites at that time possessed. In consequence of this exchange the firstlings were not brought then, as afterwards, to the altar and the priests. No text from Poole on this verse. And all the firstborn males,.... For such only were ordered to be numbered, and not firstborn females:

by the number of names; which were particularly taken:

from a month old and upward; for before that time they were not sanctified to the Lord, nor subject to the redemption price:

of those that were numbered of them were twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen; 22,273 men; so that there were two hundred seventy three more than the Levites, Numbers 3:39.

And all the firstborn males by the number of names, from a month old and upward, of those that were numbered of them, were twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen.
Verse 43. - Twenty and two thousand two hundred and threescore and thirteen. These were the first-born of the twelve tribes; but who were included under the designation "first-born" is a matter of grave dispute. The smallness of their number (not much above one per cent. of the whole population) has given rise to several conflicting theories, all of which seem to be artificial, arbitrary, and therefore unsatisfactory. It is urged by some that the expression "every male that openeth the womb" must be strictly pressed, and that there would be no "first-born" in those families (which form a considerable majority) in which either a girl was born first, or the eldest, being a boy, had died. It is further urged that only those first-horn would be counted who were not themselves fathers of families. These considerations will indeed reduce the probable numbers very largely, but not to the required amount. Others, again, give an entirely different turn to the difficulty by urging that as the command in Exodus 13. I was prospective only, so at this time only the first-born since the exodus were counted. This makes it necessary to assume an altogether unprecedented birth-rate during that short period. One other explanation strives to satisfy the arithmetical conditions of the problem by assuming that the whole of the Divine legislation in this matter was in reality directed against the worship of Moloch, and was designed to prevent the offering of first-born to him by redeeming them unto himself. As the rites of Moloch only demanded young children of tender age, only such were counted in this census. It may, indeed, be very probably concluded that their heavenly Father did claim these first-born, partly in order to save them from Moloch, because the people would thereafter be exposed to the fascination of that horrid superstition; but there is no proof whatever that they were acquainted with it at this time. These cruel rites, together with many other heathen abominations, are forbidden in Leviticus 18:21 and Deuteronomy 18:10, in view of the entry into Canaan, where they were practiced. The prophet Amos, when he reproaches them with having "carried the tabernacle of" their "Moloch" even in the wilderness (Amos 5:26), absolves them by implication from any darker superstition; and the highly rhetorical passage Ezekiel 20:26 seems to refer to the consequences of disobedience at a later date, and can hardly be pressed against the entire silence of the Pentateuch. Anyhow it does not seem possible, on the strength of a supposed intention on the part of God of which no trace appears in the text, to impose a narrow and arbitrary limit upon the plain command to number "all the first-born, from a month old and upward." If we turn from these speculations to the reason and ground of the matter as stated by God himself, it will appear much more simple. It was distinctly on the ground of their preservation from the destroying angel in Egypt that the first-born of Israel were claimed as God's peculium now (see verse 13). The command in Exodus 13:1 was no doubt prospective, but the sanctification of the first-born was based upon the deliverance itself; and this command was intended not to limit that sanctification for the present, but to continue it for the future. Now if we turn to Exodus 12:29, 30, and ask who the first-born were whom the destroying angel cut off, we see plainly enough that they included the eldest son, being a child, in every house; that every family lost one, and only one. On the one hand, Pharaoh himself was in all probability a first-born, but he was not in any personal danger, because he ranked and suffered as a father, not as a son. On the other hand, the majority of families in which the first-born was a daughter, or had died, did not therefore escape: "there was not a house where there was not one dead." Taking this as the only sure ground to go upon, we may conclude with some confidence that the first-born now claimed by God in-eluded all the eldest sons in the families of Israel who were not themselves the heads of houses. These were the destroyed in Egypt - these the redeemed in Israel. How they came to be so few in proportion is a matter in itself of extremely slight importance, and dependant, perhaps, upon causes of which no record was left. The Merarites, who formed two families, comprising 6200 males, were to encamp on the north side of the tabernacle, under their prince Zuriel, and to observe the boards, bolts, pillars, and sockets of the dwelling-place (Exodus 26:15, Exodus 26:26, Exodus 26:32, Exodus 26:37), together with all the vessels thereof (the plugs and tools), and all that had to be done in connection therewith, also the pillars of the court with their sockets, the plugs and the cords (Exodus 27:10, Exodus 27:19; Exodus 35:18); that is to say, they were to take charge of these when the tabernacle was taken down, to carry them on the march, and to fix them when the tabernacle was set up again (Numbers 4:31-32).
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