“Moshe, Aaron and the twelve leaders of Israel, each from a clan, counted the people of Israel by their clans, those twenty years old and over, eligible for military service in Israel; and the grand total came to 603,550.”-Numbers 1:44-46
We’re in the midst of studying the census being taken for the purpose of forming an army for Holy War.
We’re going to encounter many censuses in the Bible and when we do you’ll notice that based on the purpose of the census, the category groupings may differ.
For example, when the census for the purpose of collecting a half-shekel tax in the Book of Exodus was taken, the men were NOT counted per clan and tribe.
So why are the military eligible men being counted according to clan and tribe here in chapter one of the Book of Numbers?
I can answer that in one word: MOTIVATION.
This is preparation for a holy war and men who fight together with men they know of the same tribe and clan will be much more loyal to one another and much more willing to risk oneself to save another than if they were grouped together with strangers.
This is why when international coalitions go into battle to fight a common enemy, they will go in groups composed of fellow country men to avoid linguistic confusion, maintain cohesiveness (as military protocol will differ), and to maintain fighting spirit!
As Israel prepared for its conquest of the HOLY land, each tribe in its own right was going to be its own army each with its own unique combat style and personality.
A given tribe would always be led by a member from within that same tribe.
There would never have been a situation of one tribe being led by a commander of another tribe.
In fact, it’s going to be quite some time before all of the tribes actually come together in harmony and start behaving as one nation.
Now the truth be told, the total figure of 603,500 men is a stumbling block for many historians and scholars.
Here’s the problem they have.
If you add in the number of woman and children to the 603,500 person figure, the total population comes to between two to three million people and they just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that such a huge number of people would have been able to survive in the desert for upwards of 40 years or more.
Hence, they’ll say the 603,500 men figure must be an error.
For instance, the Hebrew word for “thousand” here is ELEP.
However, some scholars will say that ELEP should be translated as “hundred” or they’ll propose that ELEP doesn’t even represent a numerical unit and that it just means a “family” or a “group of people“.
Others will say the listed population numbers are just mythical legend.
The heart of the problem is simple.
All of the Bible scholars, commentators, and historians who doubt the veracity of the figures listed here LACK FAITH, plain and simple.
And honestly, from a pragmatic, earthly and rational perspective, they’re right.
There is absolutely no way in hell a group of 2-3 million Israelites would have been able to survive in a desert wasteland with practically zero resources.
But that’s the problem with viewing Scripture from a rational empirical perspective.
It doesn’t leave room for miracles.
If you’re going to read Scripture with the assumption that there must be a rational basis or natural explanation for all of the awesome events that occur in Scripture, then you might as well stop reading the Bible right now.
This book isn’t for you and won’t do anything for you because if you are incapable of believing in the miracles of God, then you’ll never be able to trust and surrender your life to Him.
And if you can’t trust Him, you can’t have a relationship with Him.
You are effectively and by definition an unbeliever.
When God’s commands and His actions defy common sense and science, we can choose to trust Him or we can choose to retreat back into our fleshly intellects.
Those are the only two choices we have.
The simple truth is if God is real and He has the attributes that Scripture says He has, then it shouldn’t be too hard to believe He kept 2-3 million Israelites alive in the Sinai Desert for a good 40 years.
Published in Jerusalem, Israel on Thursday, August 17th at Landwere Cafe