Book of Numbers Chapter Twenty-Six Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
A New Census
Verses 1-4: "Then it came about after the plague, that the Lord spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying, 2 'Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ households, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel.' 3 So Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying, 4 'Take a census of the people from twenty years old and upward, as the Lord has commanded Moses.' Now the sons of Israel who came out of the land of Egypt were:"... Isn't it interesting that God ordered this census very soon after the "plague" of the preceding chapter, in which "24,000 died" (Numbers 25:9)? We would rather be seen in a good light, but God has an ineresting way of pointing out our defects so we will see our need and reach out to Him. The census reminded them of the 24,000 who died because of disobedience that led to idolatry—all the survivors would have felt both fear and shame and this census kept those feelings alive in their minds. And note as the results of this census unfold that those who came out of Egypt were now dead, with notable exceptions at the end of the chapter.
Verses 5-11: "Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, the sons of Reuben: of Hanoch, the family of the Hanochites; of Pallu, the family of the Palluites; 6 of Hezron, the family of the Hezronites; of Carmi, the family of the Carmites. 7 These are the families of the Reubenites, and those who were numbered of them were 43,730. 8 The son of Pallu: Eliab. 9 The sons of Eliab: Nemuel and Dathan and Abiram. These are the Dathan and Abiram who were called by the congregation, who contended against Moses and against Aaron in the company of Korah, when they contended against the Lord, 10 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up along with Korah, when that company died, when the fire devoured 250 men, so that they became a warning. 11 The sons of Korah, however, did not die." The sons of Jacob, also called Israel, had become progenitors of tribes that went by their names. Reuben was the oldest son, born to Leah, Jacob's first wife. The difficulties in Israel's desert wanderings appear to have taken a toll, for there were 46,500 of them in the census of Numbers 1:21, and here we find 43,730 survivors in this new generation. Verse 2 of this chapter specifies that "sons," that is—men—were to be counted, much like Numbers 1:2-3, indicating that men, fighting men, were to be numbered—a decline in population had occurred. The sad story of Dathan and Abiram, who were Reubenites, and Korah, a Levite, is seen in Numbers 16, a record of their revolt against the leadership of Moses and Aaron—men chosen by God. As recorded in Numbers 16:32, the earth literally "opened its mouth and swallowed them up." It is never good, and in fact it is very dangerous to struggle against the will of the Lord.
Verses 12-14: "The sons of Simeon according to their families: of Nemuel, the family of the Nemuelites; of Jamin, the family of the Jaminites; of Jachin, the family of the Jachinites; 13 of Zerah, the family of the Zerahites; of Shaul, the family of the Shaulites. 14 These are the families of the Simeonites, 22,200." Simeon and Levi were the second and third sons of Jacob, in that order, and both were sons of his first wife, Leah (Genesis 29:32-34). They killed all the males in a a township as an act of vengeance, a violent and shameful attempt to restore the honor of their sister, Dinah (Genesis 34). Jacob's prophetic prayer for these sons is seen in Genesis 49:5-7...the descendants of Simeon and Levi would not inherit land like the other tribes, but would essentially be like nomads in the nation Israel. The tribe of Simeon wandered, never finding a fixed place. Interestingly, the sons of Levi were sentenced to become the religious leaders of the nation. Simeon was numbered at 59,300 males in Numbers 1:22-23, a figure that had dwindled to 22,200, here in Numbers 26.
Verses 15-18: "The sons of Gad according to their families: of Zephon, the family of the Zephonites; of Haggi, the family of the Haggites; of Shuni, the family of the Shunites; 16 of Ozni, the family of the Oznites; of Eri, the family of the Erites; 17 of Arod, the family of the Arodites; of Areli, the family of the Arelites. 18 These are the families of the sons of Gad according to those who were numbered of them, 40,500." Gad was the seventh son of Jacob, born to Zilpah, Leah's maid, given to Jacob by Leah as a "wife," because a sad contest had arisen between the sisters, Leah and Rachel to be the most prolific (Genesis 30:9-11). Gad was numbered at 45,650 in Numbers 1:25, which lessened somewhat here to 40,500. It is assumed that the tribe of Gad has vanished from the earth, but apparently not in the sight of God, for the tribe appears as third in the list of tribes named in the yet future moment of Revelation 7:5. Better than any family record or DNA test, God knows your genetic structure, your origins, and your precise identity. He knows you, He loves you, and you have purpose in His sight.
Verses 19-22: "The sons of Judah were Er and Onan, but Er and Onan died in the land of Canaan. 20 The sons of Judah according to their families were: of Shelah, the family of the Shelanites; of Perez, the family of the Perezites; of Zerah, the family of the Zerahites. 21 The sons of Perez were: of Hezron, the family of the Hezronites; of Hamul, the family of the Hamulites. 22 These are the families of Judah according to those who were numbered of them, 76,500." As listed in Genesis 29:35, Judah was the fourth son of Jacob, a verse stating that with his birth, his mother Leah "stopped bearing." Joseph, Jacob's eleventh son, was hated by his brothers because they envied him, and when they tried to kill him, Reuben and Judah intervened and kept him alive (Genesis 37:17-28). Judah's part was to urge that Joseph be sold as a slave instead of being murdered. The tribe of Judah contained 74,600 men at arms in Numbers 1:27, increasing to 76,500 here. Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 50:10 included, "Judah is a lion's whelp...the scepter shall not depart from Judah...until Shiloh comes..." A form of the word "Shiloh" is used in Ezekiel 21:27 and translated, "Until He comes whose right it is," a reference to the Messiah. Jesus Christ is shown in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 as descended from Judah, and He is named in Revelation 5:5 as "the Lion of the tribe of Judah."
Verses 23-27: "The sons of Issachar according to their families: of Tola, the family of the Tolaites; of Puvah, the family of the Punites; 24 of Jashub, the family of the Jashubites; of Shimron, the family of the Shimronites. 25 These are the families of Issachar according to those who were numbered of them, 64,300. 26 The sons of Zebulun according to their families: of Sered, the family of the Seredites; of Elon, the family of the Elonites; of Jahleel, the family of the Jahleelites. 27 These are the families of the Zebulunites according to those who were numbered of them, 60,500." As recorded in Genesis 30:17-20, God "listened to Leah, who bore two more—Issachar and Zebulun, Jacob's ninth and tenth sons, seen here and also found in Revelation 7:7-8. A bonus for Leah in Genesis 30:21 was a daughter, Dinah, who was to become a problem for her older brothers, Simeon and Levi. Issachar's fighting men numbered 54,400 in Numbers 1:29, rising here to 64,300. There were 57,400 citizen-soldiers in Zebulun listed in Numbers 1:30-31, and 60,500 here.
Verses 28-37: "The sons of Joseph according to their families: Manasseh and Ephraim. 29 The sons of Manasseh: of Machir, the family of the Machirites; and Machir became the father of Gilead: of Gilead, the family of the Gileadites. 30 These are the sons of Gilead: of Iezer, the family of the Iezerites; of Helek, the family of the Helekites; 31 and of Asriel, the family of the Asrielites; and of Shechem, the family of the Shechemites; 32 and of Shemida, the family of the Shemidaites; and of Hepher, the family of the Hepherites. 33 Now Zelophehad the son of Hepher had no sons, but only daughters; and the names of the daughters of Zelophehad were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah. 34 These are the families of Manasseh; and those who were numbered of them were 52,700. 35 These are the sons of Ephraim according to their families: of Shuthelah, the family of the Shuthelahites; of Becher, the family of the Becherites; of Tahan, the family of the Tahanites. 36 These are the sons of Shuthelah: of Eran, the family of the Eranites. 37 These are the families of the sons of Ephraim according to those who were numbered of them, 32,500. These are the sons of Joseph according to their families." Jacob truly loved his son Joseph, born to him by Rachel, the love of his life, and Jacob deeply regretted the lost years when Joseph was enslaved in Egypt. Some time after the two were reunited, Jacob essentially adopted Joseph's two sons as his own, a mechanism which allowed a second tribal inheritance in Israel for Joseph (Genesis 48). Manasseh's men numbered 32,200 in Numbers 1:35 and 52,700 here. Ephraim numbered 40,500 in Numbers 1:32 and 32,500 here. These two brother tribes were to become bitter rivals, first with each other and then with Judah to the south, as seen in the prophecy of Isaiah 9:21—"Manasseh shall devour Ephraim and Ephraim Manasseh, and they together shall be against Judah." Manasseh is listed sixth among the tribes in Revelation 5:8, and Ephraim is eliminated altogether from that list, replaced by the "tribe of Joseph."
Verses 38-41: "The sons of Benjamin according to their families: of Bela, the family of the Belaites; of Ashbel, the family of the Ashbelites; of Ahiram, the family of the Ahiramites; 39 of Shephupham, the family of the Shuphamites; of Hupham, the family of the Huphamites. 40 The sons of Bela were Ard and Naaman: of Ard, the family of the Ardites; of Naaman, the family of the Naamites. 41 These are the sons of Benjamin according to their families; and those who were numbered of them were 45,600." Benjamin was Jacob's twelfth son, the second by Rachel, who died giving birth to him (Genesis 35:16-20). 35,400 Benjamite men at arms were listed in the census of Numbers 1:36-37, and they grew to 45,600 in this chapter. Saul, the first king of Israel, was of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:1), along with Saul of Tarsus who became the Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:5). After the then-future death of King Solomon, two of his sons contended for the throne. Rehoboam was king in Jerusalem, leading the new nation Judah—and Benjamin was included in that nation. Ten tribes to the north broke away, forming their own kingdom, which was called Israel.
Verses 42-43: "These are the sons of Dan according to their families: of Shuham, the family of the Shuhamites. These are the families of Dan according to their families. 43 All the families of the Shuhamites, according to those who were numbered of them, were 64,400." Dan apparently had just one son—Hushim, also known as Shuham (Genesis 46:23). Jacob's prophecy about Dan's legacy included: "Dan shall be...a viper by the path" (Genesis 49:16-18). Dan was Jacob's fifth son, the first by Bilhah, Rachel's maid (Genesis 30:1-5). Dan's men-at-arms in Numbers 1:38-39 were 62,700, increasing somewhat to 64,400 in this chapter. The tribe of Dan would become a center of idolatry (1 Kings 12:28-30), and the "the sons of Dan" disappear altogether by the time of Revelation 7:4-8.
Verses 44-47: "The sons of Asher according to their families: of Imnah, the family of the Imnites; of Ishvi, the family of the Ishvites; of Beriah, the family of the Beriites. 45 Of the sons of Beriah: of Heber, the family of the Heberites; of Malchiel, the family of the Malchielites. 46 The name of the daughter of Asher was Serah. 47 These are the families of the sons of Asher according to those who were numbered of them, 53,400." Asher was Jacob's eighth son, his second by Leah's maid, Zilpah, in the contest between Leah and her sister, Rachel. There were 41,500 able-bodied Asherite men in Numbers 1:41, and 53,400 of them here. Some have referred to Asher and most of the others as "lost tribes," but that can't be true because the elderly prophetess who would meet and gave thanks for the baby, Jesus the Christ, was "Anna...of the tribe of Asher" (Luke 2:36-38). When you have faith in the Lord as she did, you are never lost because the Lord loves you, knowing who, what and where you are. You're safe through faith in Him.
Verses 48-51: "The sons of Naphtali according to their families: of Jahzeel, the family of the Jahzeelites; of Guni, the family of the Gunites; 49 of Jezer, the family of the Jezerites; of Shillem, the family of the Shillemites. 50 These are the families of Naphtali according to their families; and those who were numbered of them were 45,400. 51 These are those who were numbered of the sons of Israel, 601,730." Napthali was Jacob's sixth son (listed fifth in Revelation 7:6), the second by Bilhah, Rachel's maid. Rachel gloated at his birth, "I have wrestled by my sister (Leah) and indeed I have prevailed" (Genesis 30:7-8). There were 53,400 fighting men of Napthali in Numbers 1:43, and 45,400 here.
The census was now complete and in Verses 52-56, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 53 'Among these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. 54 To the larger group you shall increase their inheritance, and to the smaller group you shall diminish their inheritance; each shall be given their inheritance according to those who were numbered of them. 55 But the land shall be divided by lot. They shall receive their inheritance according to the names of the tribes of their fathers. 56 According to the selection by lot, their inheritance shall be divided between the larger and the smaller groups.'" The nation Israel was created for God's purposes, as are all nations actually, but there was a unique "touch" to Israel. God's Law was introduced through that nation (Exodus 20, Deuteronomy 5), which shows us how much we need the Lord. And the Lord Himself was given through that nation. Isaiah prophesied of Him, "The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel," which translates "God is with us" (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah also prophesied, "He has borne our griefs... He was wounded for our transgressions... bruised for our iniquities... and by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5). Jesus, our Savior, who was wounded and died for you and me, was and is the Great Purpose of the nation Israel. Yes the Holy Land is God's gift to Israel, and the Messiah, who was born into and through that nation, is His Gift to us all. God has cast His lot for you.
Unlike Numbers 1:47 & forward, the Tribe of Levi was included in this census, in Verses 57-62: "These are those who were numbered of the Levites according to their families: of Gershon, the family of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the family of the Kohathites; of Merari, the family of the Merarites. 58 These are the families of Levi: the family of the Libnites, the family of the Hebronites, the family of the Mahlites, the family of the Mushites, the family of the Korahites. Kohath became the father of Amram. 59 The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam. 60 To Aaron were born Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 61 But Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange fire before the Lord. 62 Those who were numbered of them were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward, for they were not numbered among the sons of Israel since no inheritance was given to them among the sons of Israel." Included here is a brief sketch of the Levites, including a mention of the Aaronic priesthood. The numbering of Levi was expressly forbidden in Numbers 1, and Moses would not have included them here, except the Lord permitted it. "No inheritance" meant the Levites would not fight for and win tribal lands like the others. They would instead be scattered through the land of Israel as priests and their assistants, who would present the Lord to the people, and the people to the Lord.
Verses 63-65: "These are those who were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. 64 But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. 65 For the Lord had said of them, 'They shall surely die in the wilderness.' And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun." A generation was gone. Of the twelve spies that were sent into the Holy Land by Moses, only two got it that even though Israel was outnumbered, outmanned and many of their enemies lived in walled cities, faith in the Lord would prevail. They gave a "good report." The two faithful ones were the now much older Caleb and Joshua. Moses also survived. They each saw that the Lord can do what is impossible for us and they miraculously lived, while the other ten spies and a whole generation died. Faith in the Lord will make you spiritually alive, and you will be found in God's eternal census, joyfully crying out: "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:10).
Lord, I have been afraid when I should have trusted in You. Please forgive me and heal me. I trust in You, understanding that You can do the "impossible." Let my life be of "good report" in Your sight. I am Yours. In Jesus Name. Amen.