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…
The word which is here rendered "ransom" is afterwards rendered "atonement." The atonement covered or removed what displeased God, and thus sanctified for His service. Our notion of atonement under the law should ordinarily be limited to the removal of the temporal consequences of moral or ceremonial defilement. The sum of half a shekel was the tax that every man had to pay as his ransom, and as this is the single instance in the Jewish law in which an offering of money is commanded, it seems highly probable that it was not a ransom for the soul so much as a ransom for the life which the Israelite made when he paid his half-shekel. On all occasions in which the soul, the immortal principle, is undeniably concerned, the appointed offerings are strictly sacrificial. Consider:
I. THE RANSOM FOR THE LIFE. Our human lives are forfeited to God; we have not accomplished the great end of our being, and therefore we deserve every moment to die. The Israelites paid their tax as a confession that life had been forfeited, and as an acknowledgment that its continuance depended wholly on God. We cannot give the half-shekel payment, but we should have before us the practical remembrance that in God's hand is the soul of every living thing.
II. THE RICH AND THE POOR WERE TO PAY JUST THE SAME SUM. This was a clear and unqualified declaration that in the sight of God the distinctions of rank and estate are altogether as nothing; that, whilst He gathers the whole human race under His guardianship, there is no difference in the watchfulness which extends itself to the several individuals.
III. If we understand the word "soul" in the ordinary sense, the text is a clear indication THAT GOD VALUES AT THE SAME RATE THE SOULS OF ALL HUMAN BEINGS. Every soul has been redeemed at the price of the blood of God's Son. Rich and poor must offer the same atonement for the soul.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.
WEB: "When you take a census of the children of Israel, according to those who are numbered among them, then each man shall give a ransom for his soul to Yahweh, when you number them; that there be no plague among them when you number them.