Understanding the Old Testament

The Second Census

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

As the Israelites prepared to invade Canaan, the Lord ordered another census of all males who were age twenty and above, “whoever is able to go out to war in Israel.” (Numbers 26:2) This was necessary because all but three of the adult males who had been alive at the time of the first census were now dead—those three being, of course, Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. (Numbers 26:63-65) A second census was also necessary because Canaan was to be divided unevenly, with the larger tribes receiving more land and the less numerous tribes receiving less (Numbers 26:52-56 and 33:54). So the Israelites needed to determine how many men were in each tribe.

This second census yielded results similar to that of the first census: the Israelite army potentially had more than 600,000 soldiers, per Numbers 26:51.

As before, the Levites were numbered separately, for they belonged to the Lord. This census revealed 23,000 male Levites above the age of one month. (Numbers 26:62)

The census only counted males, so the daughters of Zelophehad brought an inequity to Moses’ attention. Their father, as a member of the tribe of Manasseh, would have been entitled to a share of the land, except that he had died in the wilderness. And since he had no sons, his daughters argued that they should be entitled to his portion. (Numbers 27:1-4) The Lord agreed (Numbers 27:6-8), but with one stipulation: to ensure that the land would always remain within the tribe of Manasseh, the daughters must marry within their own tribe. (Numbers 36:1-12) This became the rule for the land of any man who died without a son to inherit from him.

Keeping the land within the tribe to which it was allocated led to at least two other peculiar rules. First, if a man died before his wife had produced a son to inherit from him, the man’s brother was required to marry the widow, and the resulting child would be regarded as the child of the deceased brother. (See Deuteronomy 25:5-10.)

Second, land could never be permanently sold, but only leased for a term of years, for in the Jubilee Year—every fiftieth year—all land would revert back to its original owner or his descendants. (See Leviticus 25:8-16 and 25:23-24.)

Questions to ponder or discuss: Leviticus 25:23 justifies the Jubilee Year rule by explaining that the land belongs to the Lord. This was similar to the thought process of many Native Americans, who thought of themselves as belonging to the land rather than the reverse. How different would our society be if we followed the Jubilee Year rule? What changes would be necessary if we adopted that rule?

.Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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