Numbers 1:2

I. A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE CENSUS which is being taken to-day in every town, every hamlet, every remote habitation of the United Kingdom, from the English Channel to the seas that surge round the Shetland Islands. There are still some people - not many, let us hope - who have a scruple about filling up the census papers. They are haunted with an apprehension that there is something wrong, something dangerous, about the business. "Did not King David transgress in numbering the people? Did he not by so doing bring God's wrath upon his kingdom? Would that which brought guilt and sorrow on David be right or safe for us?" What are we to say to these scrupulous persons? I have not time to go into the questions that have been raised about the real nature of David's sin. One thing is plain: the evil lay not in the taking of a census, but in the intention of that particular census. David was a man of war. In his hands the kingdom was in danger of becoming a despotic and military monarchy, such as the nations of the world have had occasion to know too well. And there can be little doubt that the census he projected was meant to subserve the ends of such a monarchy. It was meant to be just such an instrument of oppression in Israel as William the Conqueror's Domesday Book was in England. The design of the compilation seems to have been, in both cases, very much the same. Anyhow, it is certain that the simple numbering of the people was not forbidden by the law of God. On the contrary, the Bible is dead against such a barbarous and hazardous style of national administration as is inevitable when the national governors are in the dark regarding the statistics of the people. The Israelites dealt largely in statistics; to a surprising degree they anticipated the practice of the nineteenth century in this matter. At all the great turning-points in their history a census was taken. This Book of NUMBERS owes its name to the fact that it records two census-takings, one at the beginning, the other at the close, of the forty years' sojourn in the wilderness. So long as the Bible has a Book of Numbers in it, intelligent Bible readers will see in it an admonition to fill up their census papers with exactness and for conscience sake.

II. MEDITATIONS PROPER TO THE CENSUS DAY. The filling up of a census paper is, in itself, a piece of secular business. Yet I do not envy the man who can perform it without being visited with a touch of holy feeling. The setting down of the names of one's household brings up many tragic memories. The setting down one's own age, after a lapse of ten years - surely it summons us to count our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom. It is not often observed that the law of Moses prescribed a religious service for the occasion of a census-taking (Exodus 30:11-16). This the children of Israel are to perform, "that there be no plague among them when thou numberest them." A measure may be right in itself, and yet may be apt to become to us an occasion of sin. When a nation is reckoning up the number of its sons, it will be apt to harbour proud confidence in their valour; and proud confidence in man God will not bear. When Nebuchadnezzar begins to say, "Is not this great Babylon which I have built for the house of my kingdom?" God's humbling stroke is near. On the census day the Israelites were to bring "every man a ransom for his soul.'" The act was as much as to say, "I am not worthy to be registered among the living in Israel, the holy nation, the kingdom of priests. I am a sinful man, O Lord; but I believe that there is forgiveness with thee. Forgive me, therefore, O Lord reject me not. Remember me with the favour thou bearest unto thy people, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, and glory with thine inheritance." The ransom money required from every Israelite on the census day was a poll-tax of half a shekel. The rich paid no more, the poor paid no less. The law of Moses did not often impose this sort of tax; for With a show of equality, it is the most unequal of taxes. Ordinarily the law invited princes to bring princely gifts, while it suffered the poor man's pair of turtle-doves to come up with acceptance on the altar. The poll-tax of the census day was altogether exceptional. Nor is it difficult to understand why the exception should have been made on this one occasion. It was very significant. Religion does not abrogate all social inequalities; but the non-recognition of these in the atonement-money admonishes us that the inequalities which find place among men in regard to wealth, station, intellectual gifts, are as nothing in comparison with their essential equality as creatures made in the image of God. It admonishes us also that all who have obtained an inheritance among God's people are on one level with regard to their right to be there. "There is no difference; for all have sinned, and all are justified freely." Yet another reflection. The Lord keeps an exact register of his people. There is a Book of Life in which are inscribed the names of all whom he has chosen, and caused to approach unto him, that they may dwell in his house. How true this is, the whole Scripture bears witness (see Exodus 32:32; Isaiah 4:3; Ezekiel 13:9; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 13:8). We commonly think of this as a book which is shut and sealed. No man on earth can take it into his hand and read out the names inscribed in it. The Lord only knoweth them that are his; we may not sit in judgment on one another's state before God. All this is true. Yet the truth has another side: if the seventy are to rejoice because their names are written in heaven, it must be possible for them to ascertain the fact. A man may ascertain his own acceptance with God. Not only so. If the Apostle was confident regarding certain of the early Christians that their names were in the Book of Life, we also may, without prying into God's secrets, attain to a similar persuasion respecting such of our brethren as bear Christ's image, and abound in his work. Who bear Christ's image, and abound in his work - I use these words advisedly; they express the evidence which avails to prove that a given name is in the Book of Life. The census-table compiled by Moses contained only the names of such as were, by birth or adoption, the sons of Jacob. The Book of Life contains only the names of those whom God has "predestinated to the adoption of sons by Jesus Christ." To make sure that I am a son - that God has brought me home to himself by his Word and Spirit - this is the only way of making sure that my name has a place in the Lamb's Book of Life. - B.

Take ye the sum of all the congregation.
Not because God would understand whether they were sufficient for number, or able for strength, to encounter their enemies, forasmuch as nothing is unknown to Him or impossible for Him to bring to pass, who is able to save as well with a few as with many.

1. For order's sake: that there should be no occasion of contention for primacy, but that every tribe and family should know his place and time, when to remove and when to stand still, when to fight with their enemies, and in every point what to do.

2. That such things as were to be paid for the use of the tabernacle might the more easily be collected when they were separated according to their tribes, and the tribes according to their families, and the families according to the household, man by man.

3. To testify His exceeding great love toward them and special care over them. A faithful shepherd will many times count the sheep committed to him, lest any should be missing.

4. Lastly, they are severally and distinctly numbered every tribe by itself, that in time to come it might be certainly known of what tribe and family Christ Jesus, the promised Messiah, should be born.

(W. Attersoll.)

1. To prove the accomplishment of the promise made to Abraham, that God would multiply his seed exceedingly; and renewed in Jacob (Genesis 28:14). Now it appears that there did not fail one tittle of that good promise, which was an encouragement to, them to hope that the other promise of the land of Canaan for an inheritance should always be fulfilled in its season. Therefore God would have Israel numbered, that it might be upon record how vastly they were increased in a little time, that the power of God's providence and the truth of His promise may be acknowledged by all. It could not have been expected, in any ordinary course of nature, that seventy-five souls (which was the number of Jacob's family when he went down into Egypt): should in two hundred and fifteen years multiply to so many hundred thousands. It is therefore to be attributed to an extraordinary virtue in the Divine promise and blessing.

2. It was to put a difference between the true-born Israelites and the mixed multitude that were among them. None were numbered but Israelites. All the world is but a lumber in comparison with those jewels. Little account is made of others; but the saints God has a particular property in and concern for (2 Timothy 2:19; Philippians 4:3). The hairs of their head are numbered; but He will say to others, "I never knew you, never made any account of you."

3. It was in order to their being marshalled into several districts, for the more easy administration of justice, and their more regular march through the wilderness. It is a rout and a rabble, not an army, that is not mustered and put in order.

( Matthew Henry, D. D..)

1. The order for this enumeration is Divine. God gave the order, and He appointed the men who should fulfil it. It may be asked, Why does the Lord now sanction the doing of this work, and in the subsequent ages curs David for doing, substantially, the same thing? The answer is twofold: First, it was not the Lord, but Satan, who tempted David to number Israel; and, secondly, it was done for the gratification of David's personal pride and ambition. Further, it may be said, this was done against the protest of the general-in-chief of his armies (see 1 Chronicles 21:3, 4). When God commands it is always safe to obey; but when Satan incites us we are to beware. There are several reasons why God commanded this muster-roll to be made now.(1) The promise had been made to Abraham of an exceeding great multiplication of his seed. It was now designed that they should see how this promise had been fulfilled, even amid the heartless bondage of Egypt.(2) This He demanded should be done carefully and certainly. There is nothing easier than to miscalculate numbers, especially where the basis of reckoning is careless. Here He orders this to be done by an individual count.(3) It was only those who were able to go forth to war who were numbered. The blind, the lame, the diseased, and the aged were not enrolled. It is the Lord's plan in all the ages, never to ask a man to do what he is incompetent to perform. On the other hand, He expects every one to do all he is able to do. The men selected for this enrolment were "renowned men." Heads of their families and their tribes — princes in Israel. Sometimes the great, the wealthy, and the wise attempt to excuse themselves from the service of God. They are too much busied with their own concerns. But there are those who wear crowns and coronets who do pray and labour in Christ's cause. They are worthy standard-bearers in the army of the Lord. Like Queen Victoria and Lord Shaftesbury, like Coligny and Conde, like the electors of Germany in the time of the Reformation, they stand forth doing the Lord's will, and accomplishing His purposes. We see here, further, with what quickness and promptness this work was done. It would seem as if only a few days were consumed in doing a work so vast. Thus when God calls us to do His work there is to be no delay. "The King's business requires haste." No one has a right to be an indifferent or idle worker. Another thought here: only Israelites were to be mustered. No one of the mixed multitude is to be put upon the rolls, They could not be intrusted on the army-rolls. They were more ready for a ferment than for a fight. No wonder that the immortal Washington, on an occasion of great importance and peril, said, "Put no one but Americans on guard to-night." So God would not allow any one but His own people to fight His, battles, or to do His work. In the numeric record Judah is found to have the largest number of men. "This deserves notice in connection with the blessing pronounced on that tribe in Genesis 49:8-12, 'Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.'" Judah was the grand leader of all the princes and tribes of Israel. God designed that He should be so, as his was the tribe from which Immanuel was to come. The whole number was six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty. With three exceptions, Russia, Germany, and France, this is larger than the regular army of any nation now on the face of the globe. Of court, the war-footing of many other nations is greater than this; but this is an amazing regular army for that day and age. But, vast as it was, it was all swallowed up in thirty-eight years from this time, because of unbelief and sin. Only two of this great number escaped the general destruction; namely, Caleb and Joshua. So multitudes who profess to be soldiers in the Lord's army are wasted by death or become inefficient and useless. One of the great defects in all our Churches is want of organisation. Herein were the beauty and the strength of this mustering. The Levites, however, were exempted from this enrolment. In all ages the priestly caste of men has been generally free from war-service; so the Levites, by the appointment of God, were free. To them were committed the spiritual interests of the tribes, the worship and service of God, the offering of sacrifices, and the expounding of the law. "They warred the warfare of the tabernacle." So we think no minister should be a soldier, a lawyer, a physician, a business man, or a farmer. He cannot do these things without lowering the standard of his calling and materially injuring his efficiency.

(Lewis R. Dunn, D. D.)

I. A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE CENSUS, which is being taken to-day in every town, every hamlet, every remote habitation of the United Kingdom. The Israelites dealt largely in statistics. At all the great turning-points in their history a census was taken. This Book of Numbers owes its name to the fact that it records two census-takings; one at the beginning, the other at the close of the forty years' sojourn in the wilderness. An admonition to fill up the census-papers with exactness and for conscience' sake.


1. The filling up of a census-paper is, in itself, a piece of secular business. Yet I do not envy the man who can perform it without being visited with holy feeling. The setting down of the names of one's household brings up many tragic memories. The setting down one's own age, after a lapse of ten years, summons us to count our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

2. The Lord keeps an exact register of His people. There is a Book of Life in which are inscribed the names of all whom He has chosen. How true this is the whole Scripture bears witness (Exodus 32:30; Isaiah 4:3; Ezekiel 13:9; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 13:8). We commonly think of this as a book which is shut and sealed. The Lord only knoweth them that are His. A man may ascertain his own acceptance with God.

(W. Binnie, D. D.)

I. THE AUTHORITY FOR THIS NUMBERING. Leaders of men should be well assured of two things in the movements which they inaugurate —

1. That they have the Divine approval of their undertakings. The movement which is approved by God, and well prosecuted, shall advance to splendid triumph.

2. That they are actuated by worthy motives in their undertakings. A sinful, selfish motive will vitiate our enterprises and mar our works. "The Lord looketh at the heart." Let us scrutinise our motives.

II. THE PLACE OF THIS NUMBERING. "In the wilderness of Sinai."

1. In a desert.




2. In a desert where the tabernacle of God was.

III. THE TIME OF THIS NUMBERING. Exactly one month after the setting up of the tabernacle (Exodus 40:2, 17) and about eleven months from the time of their arrival in the desert of Sinai. The people abode in this desert nearly a whole year (comp. Exodus 19:1 with Numbers 1:1 and Numbers 10:11). What was the reason of this protracted halt? That they might be instructed in their relations to God and to each other; that they might learn lessons of duty and worship; that they might be taught to reverence and obey God. There are times and circumstances in which standing still is the speediest advance.

IV. THE MANNER OF THIS NUMBERING. They were to take account of —

1. Only the males.

2. Only the males above twenty years old.

3. Only the males above twenty years old who were in vigorous health — "able to go forth to war."

4. They were to be numbered "after their families," that it might be known of what tribe and of what particular house every able man was.

5. The numbering was to be individual, and by name.The census was minute.

(1)The Lord chooses fit instruments for the accomplishment of His purposes.

(2)The Lord is perfectly acquainted with every one who is fitted for His work.


1. The organisation of the army.

2. To manifest the Divine faithfulness.

3. To show the Divine power.

4. To the promotion of order.

5. To exhibit, on the coming of the Messiah, the correspondence of the event with the predictions concerning it.

6. To illustrate the care of God for His people generally and particularly. The Lord's care over His people is most minute and constant and tender.

(W. Jones.)

1. In common matters men count possessions, which are choice and dear and prized. They whose mean joys are fixed on this world's pelf thus calculate their gold. Their coffers are oft opened. Do we, then indulge unfounded fancy when in God's numbering we read God's love? Do not clear characters here write that His people are thus numbered because loved — counted, because prized?

2. Who are numbered? The young, the weak, the female, stand apart. None are enrolled but they whose age and strength enable them for war. Christ's service is a mighty work, a determined fight. About a year has passed since the last numbering of this family. The Levites then formed part of the collected mass. They are not now included. They stand apart, a separate portion. But mark a wondrous fact. The number then and now amounts exactly to the same. Israel has surrendered Levi's tribe, but Israel's forces are not thereby less. We never lose by giving to the Lord.

3. Once more survey the numbered people. You are inclined to say this band will safely reach the promised land. Surely their willing steps will ever run in the appointed way. Alas! two, and two only, steadfastly adhere. Ah, unbelief! It is the sin of sins, the misery of miseries, the hopeless malady, the death of souls, the bar which shuts out Christ.

(Dean Law.)

We may again learn of these gracious numberings of His people to number often with ourselves His mercies vouchsafed unto us, that we may send up thankful thoughts to His majesty for them. Such an holy numbering used Jacob when he said, "O Lord, with my staff came I over this river, and now I return with much wealth." How many great men, of all callings, may thus number God's favour towards them since their first beginning, in cities and towns, where little stocks have grown to great sums. What a fit meditation is this? and how shall the Lord like this kind of numbering? We may also remember what the Psalm says, and learn to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. But you may say this numbering was restrained to the Jews, and even so was God's love, in some sort, for a time. But when Christ came, then there went out a decree from Augustus Caesar that all the world should be taxed, which could not be without numbering of them. And therefore by Christ the partition-wall is broken down, and the comforts of God's numbering of them imparted to us, and to be approved by us to our joy, praying with him that so prayed, "Grant, good Lord, that in Thy numberings of Thy people I may be ever one."

(Bp. Babington.)

The census paper may be, by God's blessing, the means of bringing home some very telling facts. You, who are going to sign it, are ten years older than when last a similar paper lay before you. Ten years gone! gone for ever! Is not this something to make you thoughtful? The census papers will show what increase and progress has been made throughout the country. Mark this. There is no idea of failure or decrease. Can you show marks of Christian progress as clear? Whether you have prospered in your everyday work or not, enjoyed health and happiness, or had to bear sickness, disappointment, and even bereavement — in any case have you, as if forgetful of the past, still kept "pressing forward" for the prize of your high calling in Christ Jesus? Is there no decrease, no failure? You will write down your Christian name, condition, and profession. Your Christian name! Many a man's name is his character. There are names which in every rank, profession, business, and trade, are coupled with skill, courage, honesty, and truth: their names are, as it were, registered in the book of greatness. There is a book in which the names of Christians are registered (Philippians 4:3). Is your Christian name entered there? Does your Christian name suggest before God and His angels, to your neighbour, and yourself, a Christian character. Perhaps your condition has not altered. You are still what you were ten years ago: Have all who are under your roof learnt to see in you a kind friend, a good father or mother, a forbearing master or mistress, a steward conscious that you must give account to God of the duties and responsibilities of your trust? Perhaps it has altered. You have married, and children have been granted to you. Have you been, and are you, a true Christian parent, caring for the souls of your children as well as their bodies, training them by your words and example for Heaven? Or, perhaps, the last ten years have been full of sadness to you. You are now a widow or widower, an orphan, or childless, a lone being. Have you learnt, though the heart was torn, to look up to the Father in heaven who chastens with suffering all whom He loves? And does the question the census paper asks you about your profession suggest no similar question about your Christian profession? Are you careful never to say or do anything which will bring discredit upon that profession? Do you watch the thoughts of your heart, that nothing base, or impure, or careless, shall enter in to dwell there? In the Book of the Revelation, Christians are taught that "all, small and great, shall stand before God and be judged out of those things written in the books, according to their works." Then will be the great census; the names, ages, conditions, and professions of all will be known.

Able to go forth to war.
: —

I. This teacheth us that A GODLY MAN MAY LAWFULLY BE A WARRIOR. If war were not in itself lawful, God would never have a muster taken of such as are able to bear arms. True, every good profession may be abused. Abraham is said to be the father of the faithful, yet he made war, and overthrew the enemies that had spoiled Sodom, and carried away the riches of it as a prey, and was not reproved of Melchizedeck, the priest of the living God, but refreshed together with his army. The like we might say of Moses, Joshua, the Judges, and other godly kings, who fought many battles by the commandment of the Lord. When the soldiers heard the preaching of John, the forerunner of Christ, they asked him what they must do; he did not dissuade them from war, but gave them directions how to behave themselves in that honourable profession. Neither did Peter, being sent for to come to Cornelius, command him to follow a new trade of life. Neither did Paul persuade Sergius Paulus, the deputy, a prudent man, to renounce that calling, which no doubt they would have done if the profession of chivalry had not stood with the profession of Christianity.


1. God doth command it, and therefore doth allow it as just and lawful.

2. As God gave direct commandment, so the people of God going forth to battle were to call upon Him for a blessing, and to sanctify the work by prayer, and in doing so have been heard. Things in their own nature unlawful are so filthy that no invocation of God's name can cleanse them; nay, they make such prayer foul and abominable. Seeing, therefore, God blesseth and delivereth such as go to war, it must needs follow that war and true religion may well stand together, so that one and the same man may be both a warrior and yet religious.

(W. Attersoll.)

Then there were some who were not able. There were some who were not designed for military pursuits. The Lord would say here: Examine the people; go carefully over them as to force, capacity, and providential destiny, and arrange that those who are able to go forth to war in Israel may be ready. There is always that wonderful other side. The Lord does not pour contempt upon men who cannot fight. He knows what they can do, and He will bless them if they keep within their capacity and their Divine call. Each man's business should be to inquire, Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? am I a soldier, a leader, a sailor? am I a home-keeper? am I intended for obscurity? am I to be written down amongst Thy feeble ones? Thy will be done. Nor let us limit this word "soldier" to what we understand commonly by war. Let us get away from these narrow limitations and look at life largely. The fact is that life itself is war. You cannot get away from strife. You cannot get away from it in business; you found it in the nursery before you found it in the market-place. The Church is a battlefield. What, then, is to be done? Everything depends upon the spirit in which the strife is urged. We may go forth to good wars with an evil intent. Or we may take it good-heartedly, with a great rising of gladness within the soul, saying, "This is Thy way, Lord, that we are to be made strong by fight; we begin by conflict, we are not to have our own way in the world; but give us the good spirit, loving, magnanimous." The great fight is within. If you are a living man, you are at war with yourself. Even supposing all your friends and enemies were at one with you, there would be a great war in the soul. You must do the evil deed. Yet you do not want to do it; you dare not speak about it; the war is secret, silent, profound, vital. God give you strength! You may overcome yet. Life is not only a war, but the war may be conducted under the very presence and with the very blessing of Christ. Whoso goes forth to war in that power comes back at eventide more than the conqueror. The text reads as if it were a direction in statistics. We cannot exclude the element of statistics from spiritual aggression and spiritual defence. How strong is God's army in numbers? "It is the glory of God to conceal a thing," saith the wise book; and God conceals from us the exact numerical strength of His army. The statistics of the army are kept in heaven. What if it should turn out that a little child's little finger-has won more victories than all the embattled hosts that went forth in mail? What we have to do is for each man to do his own share of the war, fight as if everything depended upon him. Christianity is the military religion. It will fight; it was born to fight. Christianity is dead against all evil. Not against great vulgar crimes only; there is not a magistrate on the bench who does not delight to punish crime. Crime is overt, external, rough, vulgar, and men are paid to sentence it to hard labour. Christianity deals with the spring, with the deceitful heart. Christianity is at war with motive, purpose, thought, intention of the heart. Therefore much of its war is done silently. It is not therefore the less vital and the less tremendous. Christianity insists that we shall fight evil spirits. It is soul against soul, spirit against spirit, thought against thought. There is no tragedy so sublime, so overwhelming, as the fight between the soul and the devil. Do not expect to win all at once. You are winning a little every day. Whatever fight you are waging you believe to be good, the mere fighting of the battle makes you stronger; you may he driven back for a little time, but you will come up again. Only, in God's name, for Christ's sake, do not lose your heart, or you will lose yourself. Let there be no doubt as to which side you are upon. People who are going between this side and that vide will be of no use in the fight and no use in the council. Let us have detiniteness of position. Let us have a clear, simple, honest profession of religion. Nor let any soul be discouraged because it cannot do much in the way of public battle. Some conquer by patience. Patience! — who can write the history of that great conqueror? Patience, that hardly sighs; patience, that scarcely ever turns its eyes to the clock to see how the weary time is going; patience, that puts the best view upon every case; patience, that sits up for the wanderer, though midnight be passed, saying all the while, that it really did not want to sleep; it is the inner interpretation of things; it is God's view of life; it is love at its best. You are not doing much public fighting mayhap, but let me tell you what you are doing — you are succouring the soldiers that are out in the field; you spake so kindly to the good man when he left home in the morning that he went out as strong as ten men. And you are but some poor obscure servitor; your place is in the kitchen; you do what are called the humbler duties of life, but you make the whole house glad. You make the man of business go forth a happier and stronger man in the morning because of your simplicity and faithfulness and daily care. Understand that whoever gives one of Christ's soldiers a cup of cold water with a loving hand and a loving glance wins part of the victory.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

He is not worthy to be a member of a state, by whom the state is no whir bettered. The Romans well understood this, when they instituted their censors, to inquire into every man's course of life, and to note them, carbone nigro, with a character of infamy, that could not give some good account of their life. It is a thing pitiful to consider how many there are in this land of ours whose glory is their shame, the very drones and cumber-grounds of their country, the chronicle of whose life was long since summed up by the poet, Nos numerus sumus et fruges consumere nati; no better than ciphers if you respect the good they do. But let them know that God will have no mutes in His grammar, no blanks in His almanack, no dumb shows on His stage, no false lights in His house, no loiterers in His vineyard.

(J. Spencer.)

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