When the first full year was passed that Israel had spent in the wilderness, God commanded Moses to take a census, a “numbering” of all the men of the nation. A prince of each tribe was called to aid Moses and Aaron in this task; and the entire congregation marched past them and were. “declared … according to the number of the names, by their polls, every male from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war.”
This military reckoning of Israel’s numbers has been much discussed, mainly because our present version of the scriptures gives the enormous total of over six hundred thousand men in Israel.
This, with the women and the children and the aged, would indicate a nation of perhaps three million people, undoubtedly an enormous horde to have wandered with their herds over this bare peninsula of Sinai. If the numbers are right, the preservation of the people was indeed miraculous; but there are many possibilities of error.
A shrewd suggestion lately offered by a celebrated Egyptologist is that the Hebrew word here translated thousands means really “tents,” so that instead of reading, for instance with the tribe of Reuben, “forty and six thousand and five hundred,” we should read “forty and six tents containing five hundred.”
by Julius A. Bewer; Charles F. Horne
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