Daily Archives: January 11, 2017

From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 1

About thirteen months after they left Egypt Israel was in the Wilderness of Sinai where they had been for two years and two months. A month after they had set up the tabernacle Moses was in the Tent of Meeting. Yahweh met him there and instructed him to take a census of the nation of Israel by clans and families. Moses was to write down the name of every male who was twenty years old and older who was able to fight in the army and Aaron was to help him. They were told to pick a man from each tribe – the head of the family – to help them. He made it easier by giving them the names of the heads of each tribe who was to help them by taking the census of his own tribe. Moses left a record of who they were.

Yahweh was teaching his people to trust and obey him. Yahweh always sends things that will prepare his people for the trails that they will face before they face them. Sometimes we accept his guidance – his will – in our lives, and sometimes we fight against it out of fear and an unbelieving heart. The census would mean a tax was to be paid[1] and would require the men to get ready for war, but there was also a superstitious attitude that knowing a person’s number was the same as knowing his essence and wasn’t something they were willing to have written down in any human record book.

Perhaps Israel imagined that freedom meant escape from rule but Yahweh taught them in the year they camped in the shadow of Mount Sinai that they had to submit to his law if they wanted perfect freedom. The census was the first step towards taking the Promised Land and recognizing it would be a battle. Every family would have known that preparation was being made for war. Israel would not be taking the land because of their superior forces or because their men were brave. The Promised Land would be theirs by the hand of Yahweh, but they still had to fight and know what was available to them for fighting the battle. The nation of Israel would learn that their greatest weapon was their relationship with their God, Yahweh.

Pastor Richmond Stoakes of the Grand River United Methodist Church said, in a New Year’s message to his congregation, “life’s journey involves seeking. We seek happiness, security, family, peace, and love. Our own life is but one strand that is woven into the far reaching tapestry of creation. As we yearn to seek truth and justice, wholeness and fulfillment, we do so in relationship with all the other lives interwoven with ours. … We would like God to make all of us happy and not let anything bad happen to us. We would like God to create the world without any wars, pestilence, disease, tragedies, and unexpected deaths. But, if such were so, then there would not be any call, any need for us to live out life’s journey with God at the center. There wouldn’t be any need to act on God’s behalf with others who travel with us on life’s journey. We would find that we no longer needed God, or each other, for that matter. There is a crucially important point here – God does not invest us with disasters. They are part of the randomness of the world and life. But God is there to inspire, strengthen, and empower us to deal with what befalls us. In Rabbi [2]Kushner’s words, ‘God does not bring us the problem; God brings us the solution,'”

Moses said that he and Aaron, along with the men who had been appointed to help them, gathered the whole congregation together on the first day of the second month and the men declared their pedigrees according to their families: They brought the records of their pedigrees and witnesses of their birth claims, so that each one should trace his genealogy to a tribe[3].

Moses recorded the numbers for each tribe and the total of 603, 550 men over twenty who were able to go into battle. The large numbers would provide innumerable difficulties for you and me reading them today if we didn’t remember that Yahweh was their support system and organizer. The total number of Israelites that included women, children, and old people – not to mention the tribe of Levi who weren’t counted – would have been far greater. We must remember; however, that the original Hebrew words may have been misunderstood. Whether the numbers are those recorded as we read them today, or somewhat smaller, it is hard for us to imagine how they could have been sustained in the desert for forty years – but it is also hard for us to imagine how men could have built the pyramids without the aid of the machinery that we use today. Wisdom directs us to realize that just because we can’t understand how something can be done doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Our purpose isn’t to decide whether or not the numbers of this book are accurate. Our purpose is to see our God, Yahweh, in the pages of this book and learn to reflect his glory to everyone around us.

Studylight[4] says that twelve[5] tribes are mentioned, but not the tribe of Levi. Yet the number twelve is maintained because from Jacob’s son Joseph, two tribes came (Ephraim and Manasseh). In this first census Manasseh is the smallest tribe and Judah is the largest. There are two tribes in the 30 thousands; three in the 40 thousands; four in the 50 thousands; one in the 60 thousands, and one in the 70 thousands. Yahweh counts things. He counts the stars and has a name for each one[6], he even counts and knows the number of hairs on your head[7].

According to Jamieson, Fausset – Brown Bible Commentary[8] the tribe of Judah seems the most numerous in this registration as predicted by Jacob It got priority in the camp. Of the two half-tribes of Joseph, who Jacob called “a fruitful bough”[9] Ephraim was the larger as he predicted. The relative increase of Israel was due to the special blessing of Yahweh as Jacob had prophesied before he died. The Levites were not numbered among them but were obliged to keep a register of their own. They were consecrated to the priestly office, which in all countries has been exempted customarily, and in Israel by the express authority of Yahweh, from military service. The custody of the things devoted to the divine service was assigned to them so exclusively, that “no stranger”—that is, no person, not even an Israelite of any other tribe, was allowed, under penalty of death, to approach them. Therefore, they camped around the tabernacle to guard the divine from the people and the people from erroring against the divine. Consequently the numbering of the people was subordinate to the separation of the Levites from those Israelites who were fit for military service, and to the practical institution of the law of the first-born. The tribe of Levi took[10] the place of the firstborn in service to Yahweh.[11]

All the People of Israel except the tribe of Levi were to set up their tents in companies, every man in his own camp, under its own flag. But the Levites were told to set up camp around The Dwelling of The Testimony so that wrath wouldn’t fall on the community of Israel. The Levites were responsible for the security of The Dwelling of The Testimony. The Dwelling of the Testimony represented the power and authority of Yahweh and was a picture of his desire to dwell among his people and fellowship with them. The tabernacle in the wilderness was a copy of the real one in Heaven[12].

Summary of chapter 1

On the first day of the second month of the second year after Israel came out of Egypt, Yahweh commanded Moses to number all the males of the people from twenty years and upward, who were effective men and able to go to war, except for the tribe of Levi, who had their calling. A chief of each tribe was called to assist Moses and Aaron with the census. Moses recorded their names for posterity. Moses assembled the people, who declared their pedigrees according to their families. The descendants of Reuben numbered, 46,500, Simeon, 59,300, Gad, 45,650, Judah, 74,600, Issachar, 54,400, Zebulun, 57,400, Ephraim, 40,500, Manasseh, 32,200, Benjamin, 35,400, Dan, 62,700, Asher, 41,500, Naphtali, 53,400. The amount of all the effective men in Israel, from twenty years old and upward, was 603,550. The Levites were not numbered with the tribes, because they were dedicated to the service of Yahweh to care for the tabernacle and its work.

Prayer: Yahweh, it seems you’ve been my home forever; long before the mountains were born, before you brought earth itself to birth, from “once upon a time” to “kingdom come”—you are God. So don’t return me to mud, saying, “Back to where you came from!” Be patience with me because you have all the time in the world—whether a thousand years or a day, it’s all the same to you. I am more to you than a wispy dream, although I am, in truth, no more than a blade of grass that springs up gloriously with the rising sun and is cut down without a second thought. Your anger is far and away too much for me; I am at the end of my rope. You keep track of all my sins; every misdeed since I was a child is entered in your books. All I can remember is that frown on your face, but that is not all I’m ever going to get. We humans live for seventy years or so (with luck we might make it to eighty or, even, a hundred), and what we have to show for it is toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard. Oh, teach me to live wisely and well. You are my constant companion and guide. I don’t have to wait for you to forgive me for my sins because you keep me cleansed from their stink as I confess them to you. You treat your servant with kindness and surprise me with love at daybreak; and my heart skips and dances all the day long. You make up for the bad times with some good times; I’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime. You show me what you’re best at— the ways you rule and bless your children. Your loveliness rests on me, confirming the work that I do. And blessed be your name, Yahweh, the name of the Most High God, from this time forth and forevermore.



Things to think about

  1. Why do you think it is important for us to know how long Israel had been free before Yahweh called for the census?
  2. The twelve men who helped Moses and Aaron with the census were chosen by Yahweh who told Moses to choose them. How do you think that works? What part do we have in obeying our God, Yahweh and what part does he take in guiding us to preform our duties well?
  3. What do you think perfect freedom has to do with obeying the law?
  4. Yeshua/ Jesus was the exact representation of Yahweh – “God made manifest in the flesh” – and he said that we should connect ourselves to him and take on his burden – learn about him – because duty to him is easy and his burden is light. The burden of sin is oppressive and heavy. Does remembering that help you to understand the compatibility of of freedom and obedience to the law of Yahweh? What does that have to do with Rabbi [13]Kushner’s words, ‘God does not bring us the problem; God brings us the solution,’?
  5. Do you think it is important for us to remember that we can’t understand everything about how things were done in the past because we didn’t live in the past?
  6. Why weren’t the Levites counted for military service?
  7. Why was it important for the tabernacle to be taken care of and protected? What was the job of the Levites?



[1] Exodus 30:11-16

[2] Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, said, “These events do not reflect God’s choices. They happen at random, and randomness is another name for chaos.” https://www.amazon.com/Harold-S.-Kushner/e/B000APIOYE/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

[3] http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9929/jewish/Chapter-1.htm

[4] https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/guz/numbers-1.html

[5] The meaning of 12, which is considered a perfect number, is that it symbolizes God’s power and authority, as well as serving as a perfect governmental foundation. It can also symbolize completeness or the nation of Israel as a whole. http://www.biblestudy.org/bibleref/meaning-of-numbers-in-bible/12.html

[6] Psalms 147:4; Isaiah 40:26.

[7] Matthew 10:30

[8] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/numbers/1-20.htm

[9] Genesis 49:2

[10] Numbers 3:12

[11] Ex 13:2; Nu 3:12

[12] Hebrews 9:23-26

[13] Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen To Good People, said, “These events do not reflect God’s choices. They happen at random, and randomness is another name for chaos.” https://www.amazon.com/Harold-S.-Kushner/e/B000APIOYE/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1