Numbers 26
Pulpit Commentary
And it came to pass after the plague, that the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying,
Verse 1. - It came to pass after the plague. This plague was the last event which seriously diminished the numbers of the Israelites; perhaps it was the last event which diminished them at all, for it seems to be throughout implied that none died except through their own fault. It is often supposed that this plague carried off the last survivors of the generation condemned at Kadesh (see verse 64); but this is opposed to the statement in Deuteronomy 2:14, 15, and is essentially improbable. The victims of the plague would surely be those who had joined themselves to Baal-Peor; and these again would surely be the younger, not the older, men in Israel. It is part of the moral of the story that these offenders deprived themselves, not merely of a few remaining days, but of many years of happy rest which might have been theirs.
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.
Verse 2. - Take the sum of all the congregation. This was certainly not commanded with a view to the war against Midian, which was of no military importance, and was actually prosecuted with no more than 12,000 men (Numbers 31:5). A general command to "vex the Midianites" had indeed been given (Numbers 25:17) on the principle of just retribution (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6), but no attempt seems to have been made to act upon it until a more specific order was issued (Numbers 31:2). In any case the present mustering has to do with something far more important, viz., with the approaching settlement of the people in its own territory. This is clear from the instructions given in verses 52-56, and from the distribution of the tribes into families. From twenty years. See on chapter Numbers 1:3.
And Moses and Eleazar the priest spake with them in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying,
Verse 3. - Spake with them, i.e., no doubt with the responsible chiefs, who must have assisted in this census, as in the previous one (chapter Numbers 1:4), although the fact is not mentioned.
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.
Verse 4. - Take the sum of the people. These words are not in the text, but axe borrowed from verse 2. Nothing is set down in the original but the brief instruction given to the census-takers - "from twenty years old and upward, as on the former occasion." And the children of Israel which went forth out of the land of Egypt. This is the punctuation of the Targums and most of the versions. The Septuagint, however, detaches these words from the previous sentence and makes them a general heading for the catalogue which follows. It may be objected to this that the people now numbered did not come out of Egypt, a full half having been born in the wilderness, but see on Numbers 23:22; 24:8.
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:
Verse 5. - The children of Reuben. The four names here registered as distinguishing families within the tribe of Reuben agree with the lists given in Genesis 46:9; Exodus 6:14; 1 Chronicles 5:3.
Of Hezron, the family of the Hezronites: of Carmi, the family of the Carmites.
These are the families of the Reubenites: and they that were numbered of them were forty and three thousand and seven hundred and thirty.
Verse 7. - These... the families of the Reubenites. The mustering according to families (מִשְׁפְחֹת - Septuagint, δῆμοι) was the distinguishing feature of this census, because it was preparatory to a territorial settlement in Canaan, in which the unity of the family should be preserved as well as the unity of the tribe.
And the sons of Pallu; Eliab.
Verse 8. - And the sons of Pallu. This particular genealogy is added because of the special interest which attached to the fate of certain members of the family. The plural "sons" is to be explained here not from the fact (which has nothing to do with it) that several grandsons are afterwards mentioned, but from the fact that וּבְנֵי ("and the sons") was the conventional heading of a family list, and was written doom by the transcriber before he noticed that only one name followed.
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:
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.
Verse 10. - Swallowed them up together with Korah. יַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם וְאֶתאּקֹרַח. Septuagint, κατέπειν αὐτοὺς καὶ Κορέ. This distinct statement, which is not modified in the Targums, seems decisive as to the fate of Korah. If indeed it were quite certain from the detailed narrative in chapter 16 that Korah perished with his own company, and not with the Reubenites, then it might be deemed necessary to force this statement into accordance with that certainty; but it is nowhere stated, or even clearly implied, that he perished by fire, and therefore there is no excuse for doing violence to the obvious meaning of this verse. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up, we are told, at the same time that Korah's company were consumed by fire; that is a clear statement, and cannot be set aside by any supposed necessity for avenging the sacri1egious ambition of Korah by the element of fire. And they became a sign. The Hebrew נֵםproperly means a banner or ensign, and is unusual in this sense. It exactly corresponds, however, to the Greek σήμειον, and has no doubt the same secondary signification - a something made conspicuous in order to attract attention and enforce a warning (cf. chapter Numbers 16:30, 38).
Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.
Verse 11. - The children of Korah died not. The confused nature of the narrative in chapter 16 is well exemplified by this statement; we should certainly have supposed from Numbers 16:32 that Korah's sons had perished with him, if we were not here told to the contrary. The sons of Korah are frequently mentioned among the Levites, and Samuel himself would seem to have been of them (see on 1 Chronicles 6:22, 28, 33-38, and titles to Psalm 42, 88, &c.); it is, however, slightly doubtful whether the Kohathite Korah of 1 Chronicles 6:22, the ancestor of Samuel, is the same as the Izharite Korah, the ancestor of Heman, in 1 Chronicles 6:38.
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:
Verse 12. - The sons of Simeon. As in Genesis 46:10; Exodus 6:15, with the omission of Ohad, who may not have founded any family. In such cases it is no doubt possible that there were children, but that for some reason they failed to hold together, and became attached to other families. In 1 Chronicles 4:24 the sons of Simeon appear as Nemuel, Jamin, Jarib, Zerah, and Shaul. In Genesis and Exodus the first appears as Jemuel. These minute variations are only important as showing that Divine inspiration did not preserve the sacred records from errors of transcription.
Of Zerah, the family of the Zarhites: of Shaul, the family of the Shaulites.
These are the families of the Simeonites, twenty and two thousand and two hundred.
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:
Verse 15. - The children of Gad. Cf. Genesis 46:16, the only other enumeration of the sons of Gad.
Of Ozni, the family of the Oznites: of Eri, the family of the Erites:
Of Arod, the family of the Arodites: of Areli, the family of the Arelites.
These are the families of the children of Gad according to those that were numbered of them, forty thousand and five hundred.
The sons of Judah were Er and Onan: and Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan.
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.
Verse 20. - The sons of Judah after their families. The Beni-Judah, or "men of Judah," according to their sub-tribal divisions, are clearly distinguished from the "sons of Judah" as individuals, two of whom are mentioned in the previous verse. Of the families of Judah, three were named after sons, two after grandsons. As the Pharzites remained a distinct family apart from the Hamulites and Hezronites, it may he supposed that Pharez had other sons not mentioned here, or in Genesis 46:12, or in 1 Chronicles 2:3, 4, 5.
And the sons of Pharez were; of Hezron, the family of the Hezronites: of Hamul, the family of the Hamulites.
These are the families of Judah according to those that were numbered of them, threescore and sixteen thousand and five hundred.
Of the sons of Issachar after their families: of Tola, the family of the Tolaites: of Pua, the family of the Punites:
Verse 23. - The sons of Issachar. As in Genesis 46:13; 1 Chronicles 7:1, except that in Genesis we have Job instead of Jashub; the two names, however, appear to have the same meaning.
Of Jashub, the family of the Jashubites: of Shimron, the family of the Shimronites.
These are the families of Issachar according to those that were numbered of them, threescore and four thousand and three hundred.
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.
Verse 26. - The sons of Zebulun. As in Genesis 46:14.
These are the families of the Zebulunites according to those that were numbered of them, threescore thousand and five hundred.
The sons of Joseph after their families were Manasseh and Ephraim.
Of the sons of Manasseh: of Machir, the family of the Machirites: and Machir begat Gilead: of Gilead come the family of the Gileadites.
Verse 29. - The sons of Manasseh. There is considerable difficulty about the families of this tribe, because they are not recorded in Genesis, while the details preserved in 1 Chronicles 7:14-17 are so obscure and fragmentary as to be extremely perplexing. According to the present enumeration there were eight families in Manasseh, one named after his son Machir, one after his grandson Gilead, and the rest after his great-grandsons. The list given in Joshua 17:1, 2 agrees with this, except that the Machirites and the Gileadites are apparently identified. It appears from the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 7 that the mother of Machir was a stranger from Aram, the country of Laban. This may perhaps account for the fact that Machir's son received the name of Gilead, for Gilead was the border land between Aram and Canaan; it more probably explains the subsequent allotment of territory in that direction to the Machirites (Numbers 32:40). Gilead appears again as a proper name in Judges 11:2.
These are the sons of Gilead: of Jeezer, the family of the Jeezerites: of Helek, the family of the Helekites:
And of Asriel, the family of the Asrielites: and of Shechem, the family of the Shechemites:
And of Shemida, the family of the Shemidaites: and of Hepher, the family of the Hepherites.
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.
Verse 33. - Zelophehad... had no sons, but daughters. This is mentioned here because the case was to come prominently before the lawgiver and the nation (cf. Numbers 27:1; Numbers 36:1; 1 Chronicles 7:15).
These are the families of Manasseh, and those that were numbered of them, fifty and two thousand and seven hundred.
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.
Verse 35. - The sons of Ephraim. These formed but four families, three named after sons, one after a grandson. In 1 Chronicles 7:21 two other sons of Ephraim are mentioned who were killed in their father's lifetime, and a third, Beriah, who was the ancestor of Joshua. He does not seem to have founded a separate family, possibly because he was so very much younger than his brothers.
And these are the sons of Shuthelah: of Eran, the family of the Eranites.
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.
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:
Verse 38. - The sons of Benjamin. These formed seven families, five named after sons, two after grandsons. The list in Genesis 46:21 contains three names here omitted, and the rest are much changed in form. Them is still more divergence between these and the longer genealogies found in 1 Chronicles 7:6-12; 1 Chronicles 8:1-5 sq. It is possible that the family of Becher (Genesis), who had nine sons (1 Chronicles), went under another name, because there was a family of Becherites in Ephraim (verse 35); and similarly the family of the Ephraimite Beriah (1 Chronicles) may have ceded its name in favour of the Asherite family of Beriites (verse 44). But it must be acknowledged that the various genealogies of Benjamin cannot be reconciled as they stand.
Of Shupham, the family of the Shuphamites: of Hupham, the family of the Huphamites.
And the sons of Bela were Ard and Naaman: of Ard, the family of the Ardites: and of Naaman, the family of the Naamites.
These are the sons of Benjamin after their families: and they that were numbered of them were forty and five thousand and six hundred.
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.
Verse 42. - The sons of Dan. These all formed but one family, named alter Shuham (elsewhere Hushim), the only son of Dan that is mentioned. It is possible that Dan had other children, whose descendants were incorporated with the Shuhamites.
All the families of the Shuhamites, according to those that were numbered of them, were threescore and four thousand and four hundred.
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.
Verse 44. - The children of Asher. Of these three families were named after sons, two after grandsons. In Genesis 46:17; 1 Chronicles 7:30, 31 a sixth name occurs, Ishuah, or Isuah. It is possible that its similarity to the following name of Isui or Ishui led to its accidental omission; but if the family continued to exist in Israel, such an omission could scarcely be overlooked.
Of the sons of Beriah: of Heber, the family of the Heberites: of Malchiel, the family of the Malchielites.
And the name of the daughter of Asher was Sarah.
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.
Of the sons of Naphtali after their families: of Jahzeel, the family of the Jahzeelites: of Guni, the family of the Gunites:
Verse 48. - The sons of Naphtali. As in Genesis 46:24; 1 Chronicles 7:13.
Of Jezer, the family of the Jezerites: of Shillem, the family of the Shillemites.
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.
These were the numbered of the children of Israel, six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.
Verse 51. - These were the numbered of the children of Israel. The results of this census as compared with the former may be tabulated thus: -

Tribe. ? (No. of families.) ?[First Census.]

Reuben. ? (4) ? [46,500]

Simeon. ? (5) ? [59,300]

Gad. ? (7) ? [45,650]

Judah. ? (5) ? [74,600]

Issachar. ? (4) ? [54,400]

Zebulun. ? (3) ? [57,400]

Ephraim. ? (4) ? [40,500]

Manasseh. ? (8) ? [32,200]

Benjamin. ? (7) ? [35,400]

Dan. ? (1) ? [62,700]

Asher. ? (5) ? [41,500]

Naphtali. ? (4) ? [53,400]

Total ? ? [603,550]

Tribe. ? Second Census.
Reuben. ? 43,730 ? 6% Decrease
Simeon. ? 22,200 ? 63% Decrease
Gad. ? 40,500 ? 11% Decrease
Judah. ? 76,500 ? 2.5% Increase
Issachar. ? 64,300 ? 18% Increase
Zebulun. ? 60,500 ? 20 Decrease
Manasseh. ? 52,700 ? 63% Increase
Benjamin. ? 45,600 ? 29% Increase
Dan. ? 64,400 ? 2.5% Increase
Asher. ? 53,400 ? 28% Increase
Naphtali. ?45,400 ? 15% Decrease
Total ? 601,730 It is evident that the numbers were taken by centuries, as before, although an odd thirty appears now in the return for Reuben, as an odd fifty appeared then in the return for Gad. It has been proposed to explain this on the ground of their both being pastoral tribes; but if the members of these tribes were more scattered than the rest, it would be just in their case that we should expect to find round numbers. The one fact which these figures establish in a startling way is, that while the nation as a whole remained heady stationary in point of numbers, the various tribes show a most unexpected variation. Manasseh, e.g., has increased his population 63 per cent. in spite of the fact that there is not one man left of sixty years of age, while Simeon has decreased in the same proportion. There is indeed little difficulty in accounting for diminishing numbers amidst so many hardships, and after so many plagues. The fact that Zimri belonged to the tribe of Simeon, and that this tribe was omitted soon after from the blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33), may easily lead to the conclusion that Simeon was more than any other tribe involved in the sin of Baal-Peor and the punishment which followed. But when we compare, e. g., the twin tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, concerning whom nothing distinctive is either stated or hinted, whether bad or good; and when we find that the one has decreased 20 percent and the other increased 63 percent during the same interval, and under the same general circumstances, we cannot even guess at the causes which must have been at work to produce so striking a difference. It is evident that each tribe had its own history apart from the general history of the nation - a history which had the most important results for its own members, but of which we know almost nothing. It is observable, however, that all the tribes under the leadership of Judah increased, whilst all those in the camp of Reuben decreased.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names.
Verse 53. - According to the number of the names. The intention clearly was that the extent of the territory assigned to each tribe, and called by its name (verse 55, b), should be regulated according to its numbers at the discretion of the rulers.
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 him.
Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot: according to the names of the tribes of their fathers they shall inherit.
Verse 55. - Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot. This can only be reconciled with the preceding order by assuming that the lot was to determine the situation of the territory, the actual boundaries being left to the discretion of the rulers. Recourse was had as far as possible to the lot in order to refer the matter directly to God, of whose will and gift they held the land (cf. Proverbs 16:33; Acts 1:26). The lot would also remove any suspicion that the more numerous tribes, such as Judah or Dan, were unfairly favoured (verse 56).
According to the lot shall the possession thereof be divided between many and few.
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 the Merarites.
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.
Verse 58. - These are the families of the Levites. The three Levitical sub-tribes have been named in the preceding verse, and the present enumeration of families is an independent one. The Libnites were Gershonites (Numbers 3:21), the Hebronites and Korathites (or Korahites) were Kohathites (Numbers 3:19; Numbers 16:1), the Mahlites and Mushites were Merarites (Numbers 3:33). Two other families, the Shimites (Numbers 3:21) and the Uzzielites (Numbers 3:27; 1 Chronicles 26:23, and cf. Exodus 6:22; 1 Chronicles 24:24, 25), are omitted here, perhaps because the list is imperfect (see, however, the note on verse 62).
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.
Verse 59. - Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, whom her mother bare to Levi in Egypt. Rather, "whom she (אֹתָהּ) bare." The missing subject is usually supplied, as in the A.V., and there certainly seems no more difficulty in doing so here than in 1 Kings 1:6. Some critics take "Atha" as a proper name - "whom Atha bare;" others render "who was born;" this, however, like the Septuagint, η{ ἔτεκε τούτους τῷ Λευὶ, requires a change of reading. Perhaps the text is imperfect. The statement here made, whatever difficulties it creates, is in entire agreement with Exodus 6:20; 1 Chronicles 23:6, 12, 13, and other passages. If two Amrams, the later of whom lived some 200 years after the earlier, have been confused (as we seem driven to believe), the confusion is consistently maintained through all the extant records (see the note on chapter Numbers 3:28).
And unto Aaron was born Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
And Nadab and Abihu died, when they offered strange fire before the LORD.
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.
Verse 62. - Those that were numbered of them. We have here again a round number (23,000), showing an increase of 1000 since the former census. It is evident that the males of Levi were not counted by anything less than hundreds, and probable that they were counted by thousands (see note on chapter Numbers 3:29). The smallness of the increase in a tribe which was excepted from the general doom at Kadesh, and which in other ways was so favourably situated, seems to point to some considerable losses. It is possible that portions of the tribe suffered severely for their share in the rebellion of Korah; if so, the families of the Shimites and of the Uzzielites may have been so much reduced as to be merged in the remaining families.
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.
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.
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.
Verse 65. - There was not left a man of them. This had been known to be practically the case before they left the wilderness, properly so called (Deuteronomy 2:14, 15), but it was now ascertained for certain. For the necessary exceptions to the statement see note on chapter Numbers 14:24.

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