When you take the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul to the LORD…
Why, under these circumstances, the ransom of half a shekel? Everybody when he went over to the official group was called specifically as a man of twenty years of age and upward. Let us see. Strip away wealth. Strip away learning. Strip away rank. Strip away fame. Reduce us to our natural nakedness. What is left? Nothing but a sinful man. There are four moments in our ecclesiastical life when we are all reduced to this naked simplicity, to this fundamental similarity. At the moment of our baptism. The minister receives into his arms, literally following the example of our Lord — "this child," not this prince or this peasant. Again, at the moment of our marriage. I remember that many years ago, when the Prince of Wales was married, and I was a mere boy, I was struck by the fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury turned to the Prince of Wales and said, "Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife?" not "this Princess of Denmark." And then to the woman he said in effect, we know nothing of the heir to the British throne in the house of God, — wilt thou have "this man" to be thy wedded husband? I was struck even then at the way in which the most exalted were reduced to their simple humanity. Then, again, at the Holy Communion, all men are absolutely equal. One table for rich and poor. I remember a beautiful incident in the life of the Duke of Wellington when he was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, a position held by the late Earl Granville, whose death we all so much lament. The Iron Duke was in church, and was going to receive the Lord's Supper, when a peasant, who had not noticed the duke, kneeled by his side. Discovering who he was, and being much terrified, he was getting up, when the duke put his hand on his shoulder, and said, "Don't move, we are all equal here." Wisely said, profoundly true. There is one other moment when we are all equal — at the moment of death. If any mighty monarch is fortunate enough to be a Christian, the utmost the Christian minister will say at his burial is this, "We commit the body of our dear brother to the dust." Our brother, nothing more. As there are four moments in our ecclesiastical history when we are reduced to our common humanity and to our absolute similarity, so there is one moment in our civic history, and that moment is to-night, perhaps the only time in your life when you will be absolutely on an equal with the greatest in the land. This is why in that old theocracy every man who was numbered in the census had to pay a tribute to the Tabernacle. When nothing is left except our common humanity surely then we must make our common confession, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all." You may be a duke. You may be an Oxford graduate. You may be a millionaire. But all these are superficial distinctions. At bottom you are a sinful man needing the mercy of God as much as the rest of us. Therefore, when for one moment all social, artificial distinctions ceased, each man paid his half-shekel to the Tabernacle as an acknowledgment of his obligation to sue for the mercy of heaven and to do the will of God.
(Hugh Price Hughes, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.
WEB: "When you take a census of the children of Israel, according to those who are numbered among them, then each man shall give a ransom for his soul to Yahweh, when you number them; that there be no plague among them when you number them.