Friday, July 31, 2009

NUMBERS: Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Summary:God speaks to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first day of the second month*, in the second year after leaving their slavery in Egypt. He tells Moses, that along with his brother Aaron, he is to take a census of all of the men twenty years old and up who are fit to go to war, and to make note of their tribes and families, as well as the leaders of each tribe.

The following table shows the tribes of Israel, their leaders, and the number of men twenty years and older fit for war counted in the census:
TribeLeaderTotal Men
ReubenElizur (son of Shedeur)46,500
SimeonShelumi-el (son of Zuri-shaddai)59,300
JudahNahshon (son of Amminadab)74,600
IssacharNethanel (son of Zuar)54,400
ZebulunEliab (son of Helon)57,400
Ephraim (son of Joseph)Elishama (son of Ammihud)40,500
Manasseh (son of Joseph)Gamaliel (son of Pedahzur)32,200
BenjaminAbidan (son of Gideoni)35,400
DanAhiezer (son of Ammishaddai)62,700
AsherPagiel (son of Ochran)41,500
GadEliasaph (son of Deuel)45,650
NaphtaliAhira (son of Enan)53,400
Grand Total:603,550*

God, however, exempts the Levites from the military draft and tells Moses that their numbers are not to be counted in the census. God explains to Moses that the Levites are appointed to work in the tabernacle, everything it contains, and to care for its transportation. The Levites are to camp around the tabernacle, and wherever it is moved, the Levites are to tear it down and set it back up again. Anyone else touching the tabernacle is to be put to death.

Every tribe of Israel is to have its own camp, but the Levite camp surrounding the tabernacle shall serve as a barrier separating the tabernacle - and God's wrath - from the people of Israel.

The people of Israel did as God had commanded to Moses.
Notes:1.) Approximately April 15th by our modern calendar.
2.) This total number of eligible men is exactly the same number as taken in a previous census, as stated in Exodus: Chapter 38, which took place prior to the building of the tabernacle.
Thoughts:The first chapter of the book of Numbers takes place approximately two years after the Exodus from Egypt in the middle of April. God tells Moses that him and Aaron are to take a census of all the tribes of Israel to prepare for a military draft of all men over the age of twenty.

The first strange thing we notice is that the Levites are curiously absent from the list, yet the tribe of Joseph is split into two (by his sons Ephraim and Manasseh) in order to preserve the number of tribes to twelve. Much like the number seven (which is peppered throughout the book of Leviticus), the number twelve also holds mystical significance throughout the bible (most notably as the number of apostles that Jesus takes). A common theory as to the significance of the number twelve (as well as the superstition as to why the number thirteen is considered unlucky) is that it correlates to how people began to count. It is thought that man initially counted on his fingers (totaling ten digits) and then adding their two feet thereby "running out of numbers". Also, many biblical myths also seem to be borrow heavily from astrology, which separated the astrological signs into twelve signs - which also contributed to our modern calendar. Regardless of what the truth may be, the number twelve tends to be mystically revered much in the same way as the number seven.

The chapter continues on to list the twelve tribes, their leaders (as well as the names of their fathers), and conveniently round numbers. It begs the question as to what real purpose the census has if its accuracy isn't a concern and that it's simply an estimate. Surely we're not meant to believe that twelve tribes of people somehow managed to have completely round and even numbers of draftable men?

However, even more puzzling is the grand total of men listed - 603,550. If that number sounds familiar, it's because it's the exact same number we were given in Exodus: Chapter 38 when a census was taken prior to the building of the tabernacle. This earlier census was taken to impose a tax upon the men of Israel in order to raise money to build the tabernacle. It is believed by biblical scholars that the tabernacle was built about a year prior to the events here in the first chapter of Numbers, so it should be expected that a census taken the following year would report a similar number, but there are many problems as to why this number shouldn't be exactly the same.

It doesn't make sense that the earlier census figures would only include men twenty years of age and up that were fit to serve in the military when the sole purpose of that census was simply to raise money - I'm sure that the money of disabled, crippled, or old men would probably have been collected for the tabernacle construction. Even if the prior census was only counting the number of military fit men, what would be the purpose of having another census a year later unless there were either many nineteen year olds running around or many deaths of military age men? Did Moses accidentally throw out the results of last year's census?

Honestly, it seems far more plausible that this number was just thrown into "Exodus: Chapter 38" either after it was arrived upon here (to show some sort of connection) or it is simply a made up number that has some other sort of significance. I could find this more acceptable if we were just given a vague number like we were given in Exodus: Chapter 12 of "over 600,000 men", but when we're making a point to just throw random numbers around for each of the "twelve tribes" in order to reach the specific "grand total" number of 603,550, the accuracy and credibility of the bible comes into serious question - if you weren't already tipped off by 900+ year old people running around and talking snakes.

Absent from our list of tribes of course is the Levites - Aaron and Moses' tribe - who are apparently exempt from military duty as they'll be too busy moving the tabernacle around and slaughtering animals to be bothered with helping to invade other civilizations - and apparently in our earlier census, also couldn't be bothered to help pay for the building of the tabernacle either.

God obviously favors the Levites and entrusts them with caring for and moving the tabernacle as the camp moves along in the desert towards the "promised land". He tells Moses that only the Levites are to move and care for the tabernacle, and that anybody else who comes near it is to be put to death. If there was ever a good reason for stoning someone to death, I fail to see how touching or helping to move a "church in a tent" would qualify.

To further the point of his favoritism, God explains that the Levites will also have to camp outside and around the tabernacle - effectively forming a barrier of sorts to protect the rest of the common folk from "God's wrath". This is basically God saying that the Levites are protecting the people from God having to come down and slaughter them all.

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