The Numbers of the Book of Numbers

I wrote this post about a year ago and didn’t post it because I didn’t really feel like it provided enough value.  I’ve decided to post it now with the hope that others might add to these thoughts with their own.


If you have read through the Bible before or maybe you are doing it now for the first time, you’ve noticed that when it comes to the genealogies, the descriptions of the ceremonies and sacrifices and also the references to locations in and around Israel, it can be hard to read and even harder to understand what they mean, and how they are relevant today.

Well, they are difficult and there are some good books that can help (see post on New Year’s resolutions) but since I just finished the Book of Numbers, I thought I would share a thought on the census data provided.

In Numbers chapter 1 and chapter 26, we hear about the first and second census of the Israelites.  This is why the book is called Numbers.  Here is what the numbers look like graphically:

Book of Numbers, Census of Israelites, Bible

I believe there are at least 3 things you should note from these numbers.  First, the size of the family of Simeon dropped by over 63% in the 40 year period between the two census.  Second, the family of Judah is the largest at both times.  Finally, the family of Manasseh has the largest increase.

The question to ask is why?  By looking at the history of the family, Jacob’s blessing and Moses blessing, we can find these answers and make Numbers more interesting at the same time!

  • Jacob’s blessing (or curse) on Simeon stated “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel” – Genesis 49:6.  This seems to be exactly what happened during these years.
  • Moses blessing ( – “The prophecy I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel (in Genesis 49:7) was given to both the tribes of Simeon and Levi. For the tribe of Levi it was a blessing, as they were scattered throughout the nation to minister to the people and to bring God’s word to the whole nation. For the tribe of Simeon, the scattering was a significant curse; they are not even mentioned among the tribes being blessed here.”
  • Jacob’s bless on Judah “You are he whom your brothers shall praise…as a lion…the sceptor shall not depart from Judah, not a lawgiver from between his feet…to Him shall be the obedience of the people…until Shiloh comes”  Judah would be separated from the rest of Israel but had kingship even during the time of Daniel.  out of line of Judah, came the Messiah.  
  • This leaves Manasseh’s growth to explain.  We do know that Jacob adopted both Ephraim and Manasseh but he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.  It was clear that both were blessed, although they would later both sin and be cursed.  I can’t fully explain this growth, it might be best to look at both of Joseph’s sons together and understand that they were more in number than any other single tribe.  Do you have a better explanation?  Share in the comments!

Finally, this map from really helped me picture the scene in my mind.  Notice that Simeon is surrounded by Judah and would later be swollowed up by it.  Also, notice the size of Manasseh.  Finally, you will notice that the Levites received no inheritance.

I hope this helped put a little more context around the Book of Numbers and encouraged you to keep reading.  Please let us know what you think in the comments!  Thanks