Numbers 1:3
From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.
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(3) From twenty years old and upward.—The result of the previous numbering (Exodus 30:12; Exodus 38:26), which was made about six months earlier, and which was probably obtained by counting the number of half-shekels which were paid, as Ithamar appears to have done (Exodus 38:2), exactly corresponds with the result of the present census (Numbers 1:46). But the complete census, or numbering and enrolment of the persons according to tribes, families, and fathers’ houses, appears to have been deferred until after the erection of the tabernacle, towards the construction of which the atonement money had been paid. If the whole was done in obedience to the command contained in Exodus 30:12, and was regarded as one transaction, those only would be numbered on the second occasion who had already paid their atonement money. There is nothing impossible in the supposition that the whole of those who had been numbered six months previously were still alive, but no allowance is made, on this supposition, for the number of those who were below twenty years of age at the earlier period, and who had exceeded that age at the later period. Inasmuch, however, as the sum-total in both cases is divisible by ten, and inasmuch as the separate items in this chapter are given in tens (the smallest subdivision of the people which was adopted by Moses, on the recommendation of Jethro, Exodus 18:21), no objection to the historical accuracy of both records can be sustained if it be allowed that the number of those who had attained the age of twenty years since the earlier census corresponded nearly with the number of deaths during the same period. The whole of the objection, however, is removed in a far more satisfactory manner by the supposition that there was only one census. (See the Introduction.)

By their armies.—Better, their hosts or companies.

Numbers 1:3. That are able to go forth to war — It would seem from this that none of the aged and infirm were numbered, as being unable to go to war. Among several other nations as well as the Jews, particularly the Romans, all who were of age to bear arms were obliged, upon some occasions, to go forth to battle. And hence it is that we read of the kings of Israel bringing such numerous armies into the field as appear hardly credible to those who judge of their manners by ours.

1:1-43 The people were numbered to show God's faithfulness in thus increasing the seed of Jacob, that they might be the better trained for the wars and conquest of Canaan, and to ascertain their families in order to the division of the land. It is said of each tribe, that those were numbered who were able to go forth to war; they had wars before them, though now they met with no opposition. Let the believer be prepared to withstand the enemies of his soul, though all may appear to be peace.A month had passed away since the setting up of the tabernacle Exodus 40:2, Exodus 40:17 : and the Sinaitic legislation was now complete (compare Leviticus 27:34).

A census ("sum") was commanded, to be based not upon any fresh registration of individuals, but upon that which had accompanied the previous collection of the offerings. Compare Exodus 30:11, etc.; Exodus 38:25-28. The offerings had been probably tendered by the people in groups, and if certificates of registration were furnished to such groups, the new census might be easily carried out by means of these documents, and got through Numbers 1:18 in a single day. The present registration enrolled persons "after their families, by the house of their fathers;" and was superintended not by the Levites (see Exodus 38:21 and note), but by Numbers 1:4 an assessor for each tribe to act in the business with Moses and Aaron. The purpose now in view was not religious only. The census now taken would serve as a basis for various civil and military arrangements.

3. Aaron shall number them by their armies—or companies. In their departure from Egypt they were divided into five grand companies (Ex 13:18), but from the sojourn in the wilderness to the passage of the Jordan, they were formed into four great divisions. The latter is here referred to. No text from Poole on this verse.

From twenty years old and upwards,.... All that had entered into their twentieth year, or, as it should rather seem, who were full twenty years of age, and all that were above it without any limitation; though some limit it to fifty, and others to sixty years, when men may be reasonably excused going to war; for to know who were fit for it seems to be a principal design of this order, as follows:

all that are able to go forth to war in Israel; who being about to journey, might expect to meet with enemies, with whom they would be obliged to engage in battle; and therefore it was proper to know their strength, and whom to call out upon occasion: Aben Ezra observes, that the phrase "in Israel" excepts the mixed multitude; those were not of Israel, and so not numbered, and perhaps not to be trusted or depended upon in war; nor were they mustered and marshalled by the standards of the several tribes; in a mystical sense, those numbered may signify the valiant of Israel, the same as the young men in 1 John 2:14; see Sol 3:7,

thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies; each tribe making a considerable army; see Gill on Exodus 7:4; these people were now typical of the church of God in its militant state in the wilderness, for which they are provided, and prepared, and accoutred.

From twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies.
Verse 3. - By their armies. Every citizen was a soldier. The military monarchies of mediaeval or of modern days, with their universal obligation to service in the ranks, have (so far) but followed the example of ancient Israel. Numbers 1:3Muster of the Twelve Tribes, with the Exception of that of Levi. - Numbers 1:1-3. Before the departure of Israel from Sinai, God commanded Moses, on the first of the second month in the second year after the exodus from Egypt, to take the number of the whole congregation of the children of Israel, "according to their families, according to their fathers' houses (see Exodus 6:14), in (according to) the number of their names," i.e., each one counted singly and entered, but only "every male according to their heads of twenty years old and upwards" (see Exodus 30:14), viz., only צבא כּל־יצא "all who go forth of the army," i.e., all the men capable of bearing arms, because by means of this numbering the tribes and their subdivisions were to be organized as hosts of Jehovah, that the whole congregation might fight as an army for the cause of their Lord (see at Exodus 7:4).
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