As previously mentioned, the Hebrew name for the book of Numbers is “In the Wilderness,” which is a lot more accurate name than the English name, Numbers. The English name comes from the fact that in Numbers 1:2, God commands Moses to take a census of all the people of Israel. In this census, God demonstrates two things:
- God demonstrated that Israel had a large enough number of men age 20 and over to form the substantial army that they would need to conquer the people inhabiting the land of Canaan that God had promised to give them. According to Numbers 1:45-46, there were 603,550 men over the age of 20 in Israel at this time. An army of this size should have given Israel great confidence in their ability to conquer Canaan.
- God also demonstrated His faithfulness in keeping his promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:17: “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies…” It is estimated that, based on a population of males 20 years of age and over of 603,500, the total population of Israel was probably more than 2 million at this time. God has clearly kept His promise to Abraham.
In Numbers 1:47-54, the tribe of Levi was exempted from this census. They were not included in the census because they had a more important job than fighting. They were responsible for the tabernacle, God’s palace, the most vital part of the whole camp. Israel was the people of God, but without his presence with them in the tabernacle, there would have been no point to their existence. The Levites’ task was to ensure God’s continuing presence with Israel. They dismantled, carried, and reassembled the tabernacle (vv. 50–51). They also guarded it from intruders. Entry to the tabernacle by laypeople could lead to divine wrath breaking out and the death of many Israelites, so the Levites were told to execute any outsider breaking in (vv. 51–53). A similar threat had been made against anyone trying to approach God on Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:11–13; Heb. 12:18–29).
The nation of Israel is, definitely, a large nation with a large army and they are ready to fulfill what God has called them to do. Or are they? 😉