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THE BOOK OF NUMBERS.
THE Israelites, at the date of the opening of this book, had remained about a year in the vicinity of Mount Sinai, whither they had arrived within little more than a month after their departure from Egypt. During this time of nearly thirteen months they had erected and furnished the Tabernacle, and had received the various laws and institutions recorded in the preceding books, and had been undergoing a certain preliminary discipline or training in the matters of divine worship, which infinite wisdom saw to be of the utmost importance for them in the circumstances in which they were placed. They had but recently been delivered from a state of degrading bondage, and had come forth from under the hand of their oppressors as a somewhat rude and uncultivated horde, requiring to be put through a kind of educational process before they would be fit to answer, in all respects, the ends of their marvellous selection and segregation as a peculiar people. These ends were in a great measure typical and representative. A "church in the wilderness" was to be formed that should, in its distinguishing economy of rites and ceremonies, laws and judgments, fitly foreshadow that future Christian and spiritual Church, in which it was ordained that all those shadows should be turned into substance. It was indeed a burdensome yoke that was to be imposed upon them, and it is not difficult to perceive that their shoulders must be grad
ually inured to the load which they were called, for so many ages, to bear. Hence their protracted stay at Sinai, which would naturally tend to break them in to the service allotted them in their typical capacity-a capacity in which it appears from the whole drift of the Epistle to the Hebrews they were mainly called to act. For this end it was necessary, moreover, that a certain external order and organization should be adopted, whereby the analogous arrangements of the ulterior spiritual body, of long subsequent development, should be suitably set forth. Hence it was that a special mustering and enumeration of the people, together with a prescribed form of encampment, was ordered at the time of the commencement of the present history, for which we may in addition suggest a number of collateral ends to be answered; as, (1.) That the people might have palpable evidence how fully the Lord had made good his promise to Abraham of multiplying his seed. (2.) That every Israelite might know for himself and be able to declare to his posterity, from what tribe he descended and to what family he belonged, and this more especially with a view that the genealogy of the future Messiah might be clearly ascertained. (3.) That in case of an attack from their enemies, they might know their strength as a military body; in which character however they are to be looked upon as pre-eminently typical of a church militant, for nothing can be conceived more abhorrent to the
CHAPTER I. ND the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of
divine love and wisdom than wars and conquests viewed in any other light. They may be permitted, but never approved. (4.) That a more orderly method of march in their journey to Canaan might be secured. "It is a rout and a rabble," says Henry, "not an army, that is not mustered and put in order." With these prefatory remarks we enter upon the critical exposition of the text.
Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day
a Ex. 19, 1. Num. 10, 12.
The Mustering of the Tribes. V. 1. And the Lord spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai. The true rendering of this clause depends upon the determination of the question, whether the census here ordered to be taken is the same with that previously mentioned, Ex. 30:12. 38: 26, or an entirely different one-a point about which commentators greatly differ. In the one case, the present would be the correct rendering; in the other it would be, "The Lord had said." The identity of the two enumerations is favored by the identity of the sum total of each, viz. 603,550, and by the difficulty of conceiving why a second numbering should be ordered within so short a time-not more than a few monthsafter the first. But on the other hand, it is disfavored by the express specification of dates. The census mentioned Ex. 30:12 and 38:26 was evidently ordered in reference to the poll-tax of half a shekel which was to accompany it, and from which a portion of the revenue necessary for the work of the Tabernacle was to be derived. Indeed, it is expressly stated Ex. 38: 25-27, that the silver sockets of the Tabernacle were made out of the half shekels conAributed on this occasion. The cen
sus, therefore, which yielded this fund must have been taken previous to the erection of the sacred edifice, and this, we learn, was finished and set up on the first day of the first month of the second year of the sojourn in the wilderness. But in the passage before us the command to number the people was given on the first day of the second month of the same year, or precisely one month after the erection of the sanctuary. Were it not for this very explicit mention of dates we should be inclined to Mr. Kitto's opinion, who remarks of the present census, that "we may doubt whether the enumeration in Ex. 38:26 is the result of a different one. A census must always occupy some time in making, and yet we find an interval of only a few months between the two periods; and if we suppose them different it is impossible to conceive why a second enumeration should so immediately follow the first. Besides, the amount stated in both instances is the same, namely, 603,550— an identity of numbers scarcely possible even in the interval of a few months, had the enumerations been different. We therefore think that the census is the same: it was completed doubtless in time to make the poll-tax available for the works of the Tabernacle, and the result is stated incidentally in Ex. 38: 26, in connection with the amount; while here we have a more particular account of the same enumeration in order to show the relative strength of the different tribe." This would be a very probable view of the matter but for the difficulty stated above. If the census was made in time to be available for the work of the Tabernacle, it must have been made prior to the first day of
of the second month, in the sec- | out of the land of Egypt, sayond year after they were come
the first month of the second year; but that brings it in conflict with the present, which was not ordered till the first day of the second month. In this emergency Rosenmuller adopts the suggestion of Vater, that the text has been tampered with by some one who, supposing that a new census is here spoken of, took the liberty to affix a false notation of the time. But as we are opposed from principle to all such gratuitous expedients in the way of solving difficulties, it remains, if possible, to find some solution which shall not impeach the integrity of the sacred text, and we have satisfied our own mind that in the command here given as to numbering the congregation, the previous one was to be assumed as a basis. As far as the bare numbers were concerned, the tables or register already made out would answer; and this accounts for the fact that the sum total is the same in both cases. Prof. Palfrey here remarks, with great probability, that "the second was not so much a distinct counting, as a more formal verification of the first." "When Eleazar and Ithamar," he adds, "had already so recently made out their enumeration of the people for one purpose, it is altogether unlikely that their lists would be disregarded, and a work so onerous be gone through a second time de integro. It is safely to be presumed, that the list first made would be put into the hands of the officers who were to superintend the new enrolment; and that as the number, supposing it to have been accurately stated in the first instance, could not have become materially different in so short a space of time, the main purpose would be to authenticate it, without disturbing it any further than to count, instead of each individual in any com
pany who had died in the interval, the name of some one who had grown up to full age." (Lect. on Jewish Ant. vol. I. p. 313.) Thus too Dr. Chalmers (Script. Readings in loc.) :—“ Henry speaks of their being numbered before from Ex. 38:25, 26, and remarks on the perfect coincidence of the two censuses. But may it not have been one census, even the present one? We have only to suppose that the levy, though begun and proceeded with, was not completed till after the enumeration was finished." The object of the measure in the present case was not therefore precisely the same that it was before. Then it was to obtain a revenue per capita for the service of the sanctuary. Now it was with a view to order and arrangement among the different tribes, as well as to ascertain, perhaps, their relative strength. But this design will disclose itself more fully as we unfold the import of terms in what follows. We simply remark at present that the difference between this and the former numbering we regard as the difference between a census and a muster. What that is the reader will soon be able to apprehend.
-T In the tabernacle of the congregation. Heb. beohel moëd, in the tabernacle of appointment, or of stated meeting. Gr. "Tent or tabernacle of witness," doubtless from its containing the book of the law, which is frequently spoken of as the witness of the covenant established between the Lord and his people. See Note on Ex. 27:21. Tabernacle of witness.'-Coverdale. Tent of the congregation.'Ainsworth. 'Tabernacle of the covenant.'-Douay. 'Public tent.'—Purver. There were three places in which the Lord gave audience to Moses, and from which he spake to him. One was at
2 Take'ye the sum of all the | congregation of the children of
Ex. 30. 12. c. 26. 2. 63. 2 Sam. 24. 2. 1 Chr. 21. 2.
the door of the Tabernacle, near which stood the Altar of Burnt-Offerings. Ex. 29:42. "This shall be a continual burnt-offering throughout your generations at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD: where I will meet you, to speak there unto you." Another was out of the cloudy pillar. Ps. 99, "He spake to them in the cloudy pillar." Comp. Ex. 33:9. Num 12:5. This, however, concurred for the most part with the other, inasmuch as the pillar of cloud usually stood at the door of the Tabernacle when the Lord spake thence to Moses, ch. 11:17. The third was the Mercy-seat, the principal seat of the oracle, Num. 7: 89. It was hence that the Most High now addressed the command to Moses.- In the first day of the second month of the second year. Heb. "In the one (day) to the second month." Gr. ev μia, "In the one." The same phraseology occurs several 2. Take ye the sum of all the congretimes in the Greek of the New Testa-gation of the children of Israel. Heb. ment. Thus Matt. 28: 1, "Toward the N N N seoo eth rōsh, lit. take up, first day (Gr. one day) of the week." | lift up, elevate the head. The expresComp. Mark 16:2. John 20:1. Acts 20: sion would not seem to be in itself the 7. Titus 3:10, "After the first (Gr. one) most natural for conveying the idea of and second admonition." Comparing census-taking. We should be inclined,
erection of the Tabernacle, which was accomplished in the first day of the second year, and in the subsequent days of the first month the various laws regarding the sacrifices, the distinction of clean and unclean animals, together with all the details of the ritual that form the contents of the after part of the book of Exodus and of the whole of Leviticus, were delivered. But for this comparison of dates we should scarcely be aware of the vast amount of action condensed into so brief a space. It is clear that the sojourn at the foot of the sacred mount was no idle vacation to the chosen people. The intimation is palpable, that in all matters pertaining to divine worship a listless and languid deportment is sadly out of place, and that the utmost activity of mind and heart is called for. "Diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord," is the true motto.
this with Ex. 19:1. 40:2. Num. 22: 11, it appears that the Israelites abode in the desert of Sinai very nearly a whole year; for they came into it on the first day of the third month of the first year, and continued there to the twentieth day of the second month of the second year. This second month is called in the Hebrew calendar Zif, and answers to a part of our April. It is so called from the brightness and beauty of the flowers which then make their appearance, as this is the import of Zif. Within this period God published the Law from Mount Sinai, commanded the
from the force of the words, to render the clause, "elevate the headship," that is, taking "head" as an abstract equivalent to chief, principal, we would understand it as implying that a special prominence and distinction was to be given to what might be deemed the headship of the congregation composed of the males of above twenty years of age, but excluding females, children, and the infirm and aged. These were to be enumerated and registered, which was a kind of elevation predicated of this portion of the people, in contradistinction from the others. This construction
Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with
is favored by the Gr. λαβετε αρχην, take the principality of all the congregation, by which we suppose to be meant the principal or most distinguishing part. But however probable this interpretation, it is certain that the majority of the versions agree with the rendering of the English. Thus, Chal. "Take the sum, or computation, of the congregation of the sons of Israel." Syr. "Take the sum of the number of the heads of the whole assembly." Sam. "Take the sum of the congregation," etc. Arab. "Take the sum of the sons of Israel." In this rendering we, on the whole, concur, though with some degree of doubt, and take the leading idea to be that of capitation. "Taking the head" is ascertaining the sum total, and it is obvious that the summation of a series of numbers is the bringing them, as it were, into a head. Thus we speak of heading up a row or a column of figures. As in the human body all the different parts are developed from the head, and exist in it in potency, so the sum total in any numerical count is in like manner a head to all the different parts of which it is composed, and into which it may be resolved. So the word capital, from caput, head, is familiar with us to denote the amount of wealth belonging to an individual or a company. The parallel usage of the Scriptures in regard to this word is worthy of note, Ps. 139:17,
How precious are thy thoughts unto me, O God, how great is the sum of them (Heb. roshëhem, their head)." Ps. 119: 160, "Thy word is true from the beginning;" rather, "The sum total (Heb. rōsh, head) of thy word is truth." From this general order it is evident from what follows that the Levites
the number of their names, every male by their polls;
were to be exempted, v. 47.- -¶ After their families, by the house of their fa thers. Heb. lemishpehothâm, according to their families; Gr. κατα συγγένειας αυτων, according to their kindreds, Luke 1:61. The precise distinction here designed to be understood between "their families" and "the houses of their fathers," is not entirely obvious. In the summoning together of the congregation under Joshua, ch. 7:14, for the search which resulted in the detection of Achan, they came by tribes, by families, and by houses, which would seem to imply that families denoted a wider range of kindred than houses. But we find ourselves forced to the conclusion that the phrase "house of their fathers" is merely exegetical of "families; that is to say, that the way in which the different families in any tribe were distinguished, was by denominating them respectively from that individual who could properly be termed its father, founder, or head. Otherwise we are at a loss to conceive how the families could be distinguished. Thus in the account of the numbering recorded ch. 26:5-7, we seem to be furnished with a clew to the diction before us; "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. 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 : 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