Introduction to the Book of Numbers

Census of 1490 B.C. and Wilderness Miracles

This Bible study from Numbers features an introduction plus the Hebrew name for this book. As in the case of many Bible translations, the choice of the name “Numbers” for the 4th book of the Bible was an attempt in English to characterize the subject. In fact, the Hebrew for this book is Bemidbar and means “in the wilderness”. Certainly, two instances of numbering the tribes of Israel took place, yet Numbers includes more lessons than just a count even though the census does begin in verse 1 of the first chapter.


Numbers 1:1 begins with God speaking to Moses with instructions for counting the number of males 20 years and older from all tribes, minus the Levites. The date was in 1490 B.C. because verse one states it took place on the first day of the second month of the second year since the beginning of the exodus from Egypt. Considering our studies are in the 4th book of the Pentateuch, only 14 months total have passed from the exodus to this event.


Most interesting is this fact. God gives Moses very specific instructions by naming the leaders from each tribe by name for taking the census. Here are the names from Numbers 1:5-16:


And these are the names of the men that shall stand with you: of the tribe of Reuben; Elizur the son of Shedeur. Of Simeon; Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai. Of Judah; Nahshon the son of Amminadab. Of Issachar; Nethaneel the son of Zuar. Of Zebulun; Eliab the son of Helon. Of the children of Joseph: of Ephraim; Elishama the son of Ammihud: of Manasseh; Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur. Of Benjamin; Abidan the son of Gideoni. Of Dan; Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai. Of Asher; Pagiel the son of Ocran. Of Gad; Eliasaph the son of Deuel. Of Naphtali; Ahira the son of Enan. These were the renowned of the congregation, princes of the tribes of their fathers, heads of thousands in Israel. Numbers 1:5-16 (KJV)


Chapter 1 continues with a count by tribe of all males 20 years and older described as “all that were able to go forth to war” with the total documented in verse 46 at 603,550. Considering the timeframe is 14 months after leaving Egypt, and estimating an equal number of women not counting the children, the total of more than a million having crossed the Red Sea as presented in a previous lesson in Exodus 12:37 is reasonable.


Even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty. Numbers 1:46 (KJV)


In addition as mentioned, Exodus 12:38 refers to a mixed multitude that accompanied them. These were not Israelis but Egyptians or others living in Egypt at the time of the exodus who were “camp followers” traveling with them. This is the beginning of year #2 of 40 years in the wilderness. Imagine the magnitude for a moment including the provisions necessary for the survival of one million people for 40 years in the middle of nowhere.


Miracle in the Wilderness


Later in our studies of Deuteronomy, the next book of the Bible, we will learn that during the 40 years that Israel wandered in the wilderness, a very significant miracle occurred as documented in chapter 29.


And I have led you forty years in the wilderness: your clothes are not waxen old upon you, and thy shoe is not waxen old upon thy foot. Deuteronomy 29:5 (KJV)



The Hebrew for “waxen old” in the previous verse is balah (baw-LAW) which means to fail, wear out, or decay. Their clothing and shoes though not shoes in the modern sense but more accurately translated “sandals”, did not wear out for 40 years. No doubt it was divine intervention and not a matter of quality workmanship. This lesson is as true today: Trust God and He will provide.


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