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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Numbers 26

 

 

Verses 1-65

EXPOSITION

THE SECOND MUSTERING (Numbers 26:1-65).

Numbers 26:1

It came to pass after the plague. This plague was the last event which seriously diminished the numbers of the Israelites; perhaps it was the last event which diminished them at all, for it seems to be throughout implied that none died except through their own fault. It is often supposed that this plague carried off the last survivors of the generation condemned at Kadesh (see Numbers 26:64); but this is opposed to the statement in Deuteronomy 2:14, Deuteronomy 2:15, and is essentially improbable. The victims of the plague would surely be those who had joined themselves to Baal-Peor; and these again would surely be the younger, not the older, men in Israel. It is part of the moral of the story that these offenders deprived themselves, not merely of a few remaining days, but of many years of happy rest which might have been theirs.

Numbers 26:2

Take the sum of all the congregation. This was certainly not commanded with a view to the war against Midian, which was of no military importance, and was actually prosecuted with no more than 12,000 men (Numbers 31:5). A general command to "vex the Midianites" had indeed been given (Numbers 25:17) on the principle of just retribution (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:6), but no attempt seems to have been made to act upon it until a more specific order was issued (Numbers 31:2). In any case the present mustering has to do with something far more important, viz; with the approaching settlement of the people in its own territory. This is clear from the instructions given in Numbers 26:52-56, and from the distribution of the tribes into families. From twenty years. See on Numbers 1:3.

Numbers 26:3

Spake with them, i.e; no doubt with the responsible chiefs, who must have assisted in this census, as in the previous one (Numbers 1:4), although the fact is not mentioned.

Numbers 26:4

Take the sum of the people. These words are not in the text, but axe borrowed from Numbers 26:2. Nothing is set down in the original but the brief instruction given to the census-takers—"from twenty years old and upward, as on the former occasion." And the children of Israel which went forth out of the land of Egypt. This is the punctuation of the Targums and most of the versions. The Septuagint, however, detaches these words from the previous sentence and makes them a general heading for the catalogue which follows. It may be objected to this that the people now numbered did not come out of Egypt, a full half having been born in the wilderness, but see on Numbers 23:22; Numbers 24:8.

Numbers 26:5

The children of Reuben. The four names here registered as distinguishing families within the tribe of Reuben agree with the lists given in Genesis 46:9; Exodus 6:14; 1 Chronicles 5:3.

Numbers 26:7

These … the families of the Reubenites. The mustering according to families was the distinguishing feature of this census, because it was preparatory to a territorial settlement in Canaan, in which the unity of the family should be preserved as well as the unity of the tribe.

Numbers 26:8

And the sons of Pallu. This particular genealogy is added because of the special interest which attached to the fate of certain members of the family. The plural "sons" is to be explained here not from the fact (which has nothing to do with it) that several grandsons are afterwards mentioned, but from the fact that וּבְנֵי ("and the sons") was the conventional heading of a family list, and was written doom by the transcriber before he noticed that only one name followed.

Numbers 26:10

Swallowed them up together with Korah. יַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם וְאֶת־קֹרַח. Septuagint, κατέπειν αὐτοὺς καὶ κορέ. This distinct statement, which is not modified in the Targums, seems decisive as to the fate of Korah. If indeed it were quite certain from the detailed narrative in Numbers 16:1-50 that Korah perished with his own company, and not with the Reubenites, then it might be deemed necessary to force this statement into accordance with that certainty; but it is nowhere stated, or even clearly implied, that he perished by fire, and therefore there is no excuse for doing violence to the obvious meaning of this verse. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were swallowed up, we are told, at the same time that Korah's company were consumed by fire; that is a clear statement, and cannot be set aside by any supposed necessity for avenging the sacri1egious ambition of Korah by the element of fire. And they became a sign. The Hebrew נֵם properly means a banner or ensign, and is unusual in this sense. It exactly corresponds, however, to the Greek σήμειον, and has no doubt the same secondary signification—a something made conspicuous in order to attract attention and enforce a warning (cf. Numbers 16:30, Numbers 16:38).

Numbers 26:11

The children of Korah died not. The confused nature of the narrative in Numbers 16:1-50 is well exemplified by this statement; we should certainly have supposed from Numbers 16:32 that Korah's sons had perished with him, if we were not here told to the contrary. The sons of Korah are frequently mentioned among the Levites, and Samuel himself would seem to have been of them (see on 1 Chronicles 6:22, 1 Chronicles 6:28, 1 Chronicles 6:33-38, and titles to Psalms 42:1-11; Psalms 88:1-18, &c.); it is, however, slightly doubtful whether the Kohathite Korah of 1 Chronicles 6:22, the ancestor of Samuel, is the same as the Izharite Korah, the ancestor of Heman, in 1 Chronicles 6:38.

Numbers 26:12

The sons of Simeon. As in Genesis 46:10; Exodus 6:15, with the omission of Ohad, who may not have founded any family. In such cases it is no doubt possible that there were children, but that for some reason they failed to hold together, and became attached to other families. In 1 Chronicles 4:24 the sons of Simeon appear as Nemuel, Jamin, Jarib, Zerah, and Shaul. In Genesis and Exodus the first appears as Jemuel. These minute variations are only important as showing that Divine inspiration did not preserve the sacred records from errors of transcription.

Numbers 26:15

The children of Gad. Cf. Genesis 46:16, the only other enumeration of the sons of Gad.

Numbers 26:20

The sons of Judah after their families. The Beni-Judah, or "men of Judah," according to their sub-tribal divisions, are clearly distinguished from the "sons of Judah" as individuals, two of whom are mentioned in the previous verse. Of the families of Judah, three were named after sons, two after grandsons. As the Pharzites remained a distinct family apart from the Hamulites and Hezronites, it may he supposed that Pharez had other sons not mentioned here, or in Genesis 46:12, or in Chronicles Genesis 2:3, Genesis 2:4, Genesis 2:5.

Numbers 26:23

The sons of Issachar. As in Genesis 46:13; 1 Chronicles 7:1, except that in Genesis we have Job instead of Jashub; the two names, however, appear to have the same meaning.

Numbers 26:26

The sons of Zebulun. As in Genesis 46:14.

Numbers 26:29

The sons of Manasseh. There is considerable difficulty about the families of this tribe, because they are not recorded in Genesis, while the details preserved in 1 Chronicles 7:14-17 are so obscure and fragmentary as to be extremely perplexing. According to the present enumeration there were eight families in Manasseh, one named after his son Machir, one after his grandson Gilead, and the rest after his great-grandsons. The list given in Joshua 17:1, Joshua 17:2 agrees with this, except that the Machirites and the Gileadites are apparently identified. It appears from the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 7:1-40 that the mother of Machir was a stranger from Aram, the country of Laban. This may perhaps account for the fact that Machir's son received the name of Gilead, for Gilead was the border land between Aram and Canaan; it more probably explains the subsequent allotment of territory in that direction to the Machirites (Numbers 32:40). Gilead appears again as a proper name in 11:2.

Numbers 26:33

Zelophehad … had no sons, but daughters. This is mentioned here because the case was to come prominently before the lawgiver and the nation (cf. Numbers 27:1; Numbers 36:1; 1 Chronicles 7:15).

Numbers 26:35

The sons of Ephraim. These formed but four families, three named after sons, one after a grandson. In 1 Chronicles 7:21 two other sons of Ephraim are mentioned who were killed in their father's lifetime, and a third, Beriah, who was the ancestor of Joshua. He does not seem to have founded a separate family, possibly because he was so very much younger than his brothers.

Numbers 26:38

The sons of Benjamin. These formed seven families, five named after sons, two after grandsons. The list in Genesis 46:21 contains three names here omitted, and the rest are much changed in form. Them is still more divergence between these and the longer genealogies found in 1 Chronicles 7:6-12; 1 Chronicles 8:1-5 sq. It is possible that the family of Becher (Genesis), who had nine sons (1 Chronicles), went under another name, because there was a family of Becherites in Ephraim (1 Chronicles 8:35); and similarly the family of the Ephraimite Beriah (1 Chronicles) may have ceded its name in favour of the Asherite family of Beriites (verse 44). But it must be acknowledged that the various genealogies of Benjamin cannot be reconciled as they stand.

Numbers 26:42

The sons of Dan. These all formed but one family, named alter Shuham (elsewhere Hushim), the only son of Dan that is mentioned. It is possible that Dan had other children, whose descendants were incorporated with the Shuhamites.

Numbers 26:44

The children of Asher. Of these three families were named after sons, two after grandsons. In Genesis 46:17; 1 Chronicles 7:30, 1 Chronicles 7:31 a sixth name occurs, Ishuah, or Isuah. It is possible that its similarity to the following name of Isui or Ishui led to its accidental omission; but if the family continued to exist in Israel, such an omission could scarcely be overlooked.

Numbers 26:48

The sons of Naphtali. As in Genesis 46:24; 1 Chronicles 7:13.

Numbers 26:51

These were the numbered of the children of Israel. The results of this census as compared with the former may be tabulated thus:—

Tribe

No. of families.

First Census

Second Census

Decrease

Increase

Reuben.

4

46,500

43,730

6%

Simeon.

5

59,300

22,200

63%

Gad.

7

45,650]

40,500

11%

Judah.

5

74,600

76,500

2.5%

Issachar.

4

54,400

64,300

18%

Zebulun.

3

57,400

60,500

5.5%

Ephraim.

4

40,500

32,500

20%

Manasseh.

8

32,200

52,700

63%

Benjamin.

7

35,400

45,600

29%

Dan.

1

62,700]

64,400

2.5%

Asher.

5

41,500

53,400

28%

Naphtali.

4

53,400

45,400

15%

Total

603,550

601,730

It is evident that the numbers were taken by centuries, as before, although an odd thirty appears now in the return for Reuben, as an odd fifty appeared then in the return for Gad. It has been proposed to explain this on the ground of their both being pastoral tribes; but if the members of these tribes were more scattered than the rest, it would be just in their case that we should expect to find round numbers. The one fact which these figures establish in a startling way is, that while the nation as a whole remained heady stationary in point of numbers, the various tribes show a most unexpected variation. Manasseh, e.g; has increased his population 63 per cent. in spite of the fact that there is not one man left of sixty years of age, while Simeon has decreased in the same proportion. There is indeed little difficulty in accounting for diminishing numbers amidst so many hardships, and after so many plagues. The fact that Zimri belonged to the tribe of Simeon, and that this tribe was omitted soon after from the blessing of Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1-29), may easily lead to the conclusion that Simeon was more than any other tribe involved in the sin of Baal-Peor and the punishment which followed. But when we compare, e. g; the twin tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, concerning whom nothing distinctive is either stated or hinted, whether bad or good; and when we find that the one has decreased 20 percent and the other increased 63 percent during the same interval, and under the same general circumstances, we cannot even guess at the causes which must have been at work to produce so striking a difference. It is evident that each tribe had its own history apart from the general history of the nation—a history which had the most important results for its own members, but of which we know almost nothing. It is observable, however, that all the tribes under the leadership of Judah increased, whilst all those in the camp of Reuben decreased.

Numbers 26:53

According to the number of the names. The intention clearly was that the extent of the territory assigned to each tribe, and called by its name (Numbers 26:55, b), should be regulated according to its numbers at the discretion of the rulers.

Numbers 26:55

Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot. This can only be reconciled with the preceding order by assuming that the lot was to determine the situation of the territory, the actual boundaries being left to the discretion of the rulers. Recourse was had as far as possible to the lot in order to refer the matter directly to God, of whose will and gift they held the land (cf. Proverbs 16:33; Acts 1:26). The lot would also remove any suspicion that the more numerous tribes, such as Judah or Dan, were unfairly favoured (Numbers 26:56).

Numbers 26:58

These are the families of the Levites. The three Levitical sub-tribes have been named in the preceding verse, and the present enumeration of families is an independent one. The Libnites were Gershonites (Numbers 3:21), the Hebronites and Korathites (or Korahites) were Kohathites (Numbers 3:19; Numbers 16:1), the Mahlites and Mushites were Merarites (Numbers 3:33). Two other families, the Shimites (Numbers 3:21) and the Uzzielites (Numbers 3:27; 1 Chronicles 26:23, and cf. Exodus 6:22; 1 Chronicles 24:24, 1 Chronicles 24:25), are omitted here, perhaps because the list is imperfect (see, however, the note on Numbers 26:62).

Numbers 26:59

Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, whom her mother bare to Levi in Egypt. Rather, "whom she ( אֹתָהּ ) bare." The missing subject is usually supplied, as in the A.V and there certainly seems no more difficulty in doing so here than in 1 Kings 1:6. Some critics take "Atha" as a proper name—"whom Atha bare;" others render "who was born;" this, however, like the Septuagint, ἣ ἔτεκε τούτους τῷ λευὶ, requires a change of reading. Perhaps the text is imperfect. The statement here made, whatever difficulties it creates, is in entire agreement with Exodus 6:20; 1 Chronicles 23:6, 1 Chronicles 23:12, 1 Chronicles 23:13, and other passages. If two Amrams, the later of whom lived some 200 years after the earlier, have been confused (as we seem driven to believe), the confusion is consistently maintained through all the extant records (see the note on 1 Chronicles 3:1-24 :28).

Numbers 26:62

Those that were numbered of them. We have here again a round number (23,000), showing an increase of 1000 since the former census. It is evident that the males of Levi were not counted by anything less than hundreds, and probable that they were counted by thousands (see note on Numbers 3:29). The smallness of the increase in a tribe which was excepted from the general doom at Kadesh, and which in other ways was so favourably situated, seems to point to some considerable losses. It is possible that portions of the tribe suffered severely for their share in the rebellion of Korah; if so, the families of the Shimites and of the Uzzielites may have been so much reduced as to be merged in the remaining families.

Numbers 26:65

There was not left a man of them. This had been known to be practically the case before they left the wilderness, properly so called (Deuteronomy 2:14, Deuteronomy 2:15), but it was now ascertained for certain. For the necessary exceptions to the statement see note on Numbers 14:24.

HOMILETICS

Numbers 26:1-65

THE FINAL NUMBERING OF THE ELECT

Both the numberings of the children of Israel are to be spiritually interpreted of that knowledge which God has of his elect, and of their inscription in the registers of life. The people of God are to him as his flock is to the shepherd; he knows his sheep, and calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out to the journey, or leadeth them in to rest. Again, the people of God are to him as his army is to the captain; they are drawn up ( τετάγμενοι, Acts 13:48) and set in array unto eternal life, every one in his proper place, so that each may act most to his own advantage, and to the advantage of all. "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19), according to the saying, "I know thee by name" (Exodus 33:17; cf. Isaiah 43:1), and, "I will not blot out his name out of the book of life" (Revelation 3:5; cf. Philippians 4:3). But as the numberings of Israel were two, and a great distinction between them, so God's knowledge of his elect has a double character, which is in some important respects strongly contrasted. The first numbering (see the homiletic notes on Numbers 1:1-54) was for that march which was to prove a fiery trial to all, and did in fact involve the destruction of most, albeit entirely through their own default; the second numbering was for the actual entry into and possession of their long-promised rest. In like manner there is a twofold election on the part of God, according to which his people are counted his indeed, and are personally known to him. There is the election unto grace, whereby we have been called out of darkness, and made the soldiers of the cross, and assigned our place in the "one body" (Colossians 3:15), to share in its privileges and trials, its strifes and consolations; there is also the election unto glory, whereby, when the probation is past and the temptation overcome, we are numbered unto eternal life and inheritance among the saints. On this distinction hangs all the teaching of this chapter. Consider, therefore, with respect to this mustering as a whole—

I. THAT THERE SHOULD HAVE BEEN BUT ONE CENSUS TAKEN, SINCE ALL WHO WERE NUMBERED AT SINAI WERE NUMBERED FOR VICTORY AND FOR SPEEDY INHERITANCE IN CANAAN. That a second muster was needful at all was entirely due to the rebellion at Kadesh, and the subsequent rejection of that generation. Even so there is in the will of God concerning us, as declared at large in the gospel, but one election and one enrolling in the ranks of salvation. All who are called to grace are designed for glory; none are enlisted under the cross but may, and should, attain the crown; the Christian name and calling is not a mockery in any case. That there is a double election, that names may be blotted out of the book of life, that it is not possible to maintain a consistent scheme of salvation on the ground of the Divine predestination alone, is all due, and only due, to the sin and cowardice of men, which does not indeed cancel the election or impair the glory of God's Church, but does alter the personal composition of that Church.

II. THAT AS A FACT NOT ONE (ORDINARY)NAME REMAINED IN THE SECOND MUSTER WHICH BELONGED TO THE FIRST. Even so there is not in any case an assurance that those who are called to grace will persevere unto glory. Not all indeed will, but all may, be lost through their own rebellion. The two lists, of the baptized and of the finally saved, ought (in a true sense) to be coincident; as a fact they will no doubt be startlingly dissimilar.

III. THAT THOSE FORMERLY ENROLLED DISAPPEARED ONE BY ONE, ACCORDING TO THE DECLARATION OF GOD, BECAUSE THEY HAD REFUSED AT KADESH TO ENTER INTO REST. Even so if men fall out of the number of such as are being saved ( οἱ σωζόμενοι, Acts 2:47), it is simply because they have refused to enter upon their lot, and have counted themselves unworthy of, or unequal to, the attainment of eternal life.

IV. THAT, NEVERTHELESS, SOME NAMES WERE FOUND IN BOTH LISTS; as those of Caleb, Joshua, Eleazar, and presumably many of the Levites. Even so it is abundantly evident, not only from the testimony of Scripture, but from the example of our brethren, that nothing in our probation need be fatal to our hopes, if only we he true to God and to ourselves. Arid note that here is one of the great contrasts between that dispensation and ours, that whereas only two individuals out of the twelve tribes obtained inheritance at the last, there will be of us "a great multitude whom no man can number." Nevertheless, we have the same warning (cf. Luke 13:23, Luke 13:24).

V. THAT IN EACH CASE THE MUSTERING WAS LIMITED TO THE SAME CLASS OF MEN VIZ; SUCH AS WERE FIT TO BEAR ARMS. Even so there is no difference between election to grace and to glory as far as the position and character of the individual is concerned. The two states are so far one, even when looked at from the side of man, that whoso is called to the one needs nothing more to be ready for the other; he only needs to remain what he is, a soldier of Christ, in order to be crowned (cf. Revelation 2:7, &c.).

VI. THAT THE TOTAL NUMBER OF ALL ISRAEL REMAINED PRACTICALLY STATIONARY; so that as many entered after all as had refused at Kadesh. Even so God will have his kingdom filled (Luke 14:21-23), and his calling is without repentance (Romans 11:29); so that if some fall short of salvation, others will be found to take their place. And note that the long waiting of Israel in the wilderness was due to the necessity of an evil generation dying out, and another growing up to equal it in numbers. It may be that the long and unexpected tarrying of Christ is due to a like necessity; that the number of the elect is slowly filled up amidst the defection and unworthiness of so many.

VII. THAT THE VARIOUS TRIBES OF ISRAEL SHOWED A REMARKABLE VARIATION; some showing a great increase, others a decrease quite as great. Even so while the Church of Christ as a whole maintains, it may be, its position relative to the rest of the world, how great has been the variation in size and importance of various branches of the Church! Think, e.g; what the Greek-speaking Churches were at one time: and how they are now reduced; and, on the other hand, to what relative importance have the English-speaking Churches grown from small beginnings.

VIII. THAT IN ONE CASE WE CAN TRACE THE CAUSE OF DECLINE WITH SOME ASSURANCE. Simeon, the tribe of Zimri, omitted in the blessing of Moses. must have joined himself more especially to Baal-Peor. Even so the one thing which we can unhesitatingly assign as the fruitful cause of loss of spiritual life and decay of Churches is immorality. Doubtless purity of doctrine is most potent for good, but impurity of life is still more potent for evil. That Church will train fewest souls for heaven which gives most place to those fleshly lusts which war against the soul. And note that this census was taken "after the plague" which followed on the harlotry of Baal-Peor; for the thousands who perished then were not of them that were doomed at Kadesh (see Deuteronomy 2:14), but of those who would have inherited Canaan in a few months. So it is "after the plague" of fleshly sin and of its ruinous effects that the servants of God are numbered for eternal life. "The pure in heart shall see God" (cf. Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5; Revelation 22:15).

IX. THAT IN ANOTHER CASE WE CAN DISCERN A POSSIBLE REASON FOR DECAY, IN THAT ALL THE TRIBES UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF REUBEN FELL OFF IN NUMBERS (Reuben, Simeon, Gad). This may point to the unhappy effects of bad example, and the contagious nature of a turbulent and self-willed spirit in religious matters.

X. THAT, ON THE CONTRARY, ALL THE CAMPS WHICH WERE UNDER THE STANDARD OF JUDAH INCREASED (Judah, Issachar, Zebulun). For to Judah, as having the birthright, appertained now the promise, "In thee and in thy seed shall all nations be blessed." Thus for the sake of Jesus, who sprang from the tribe of Judah, the companions of Judah were blessed long ago: and this no doubt because his character and example were more or less in accordance with the dignity of his position.

XI. THAT AFTER ALL THE CAUSES OF INCREASE OR DECLINE ARE FOR THE MOST PART UNKNOWN, AND LIE BENEATH THE SURFACE OF THE SACRED RECORD. How little do we know of the inner history of Ephraim and Manasseh, which has left no trace in the narrative, and yet had such important effects in their comparative prosperity! Even so how little do we know of the real life of Churches; how little can we estimate those forces which determine their spiritual growth or decadence!

XII. THAT NOTHING BROUGHT TO LIGHT THE GREAT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TRIBES EXCEPT THE MUSTERING ON THE VERGE OF JORDAN. Even so nothing can really test the comparative excellence, the success or failure, of a Church, except the verdict of "that day," and the numbers then found worthy to stand before the Son of man.

Consider also, with respect to the Levites—

THAT THEY HAD INCREASED, BUT NOT NEARLY SO MUCH AS THEY SHOULD HAVE DONE, CONSIDERING THEIR IMMUNITIES AND PRIVILEGES. Four tribes, although under the condemnation of Kadesh, had prospered more than they. Even so it is certain that no situation of vantage, ecclesiastical or religious, delivers us from spiritual loss, or really makes religious progress easier. Many who have fewer advantages and greater difficulties, many even who have at some time fallen under greater condemnation, will nevertheless outstrip us in the heavenly race.

Consider again, with respect to the inheritance of each tribe in Canaan—

I. THAT ITS SITUATION WAS TO BE DECIDED BY LOT, i.e; BY DIVINE DISPOSITION, APART FROM HUMAN CHOICE OR FAVOUR. Even so our "place in heaven" will be allotted to us by God himself, being predestinated for us according to his infinite wisdom, without any respect of persons.

II. THAT ITS BOUNDARIES WERE TO BE DETERMINED BY ESTIMATION OF THE SIZE AND NEEDS OF EACH. Even so our "place in heaven" will be our own, not only as given to us of God's free grace, but as being exactly suited for us, and precisely adapted to our measure of spiritual growth.

Consider again, with respect to the sins of Korah—

THAT THEY DID NOT PERISH WITH THEIR FATHER (NOT BEING OF HIS "COMPANY"), BUT LIVED TO FOUND AN HONOURABLE AND USEFUL FAMILY IN ISRAEL. Even so God does not visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, unless the children also" hate him." It is a thing pleasing to God when the children retrieve the forfeited honour of their father's name by their good works. How often does the Church of God find its ornaments and supports amongst the children of its greatest enemies!

HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE

Numbers 26:52-56

THE LOT IS TO DECIDE WHERE EVERY TRIBE SHALL RECEIVE ITS INHERITANCE

Seventy years ago a party of emigrants from the Scottish border found themselves at the entrance of the valley in South Africa which had been assigned for their settlement. The patriarch of the party, gazing wistfully on the goal of their long wanderings, gave vent to the feeling of his heart in the exclamation, And this at length is the lot of our inheritance! A sure instinct taught him to see, in the providential ordering of the momentous turning-point in life which he and his companions had now reached, the same thoughtful and wise Hand which appointed to the tribes raider Joshua their inheritance in the promised land; and the language of the Old Testament history rose naturally to his lips.

I. To do justice to this aspect of Divine providence, it is of consequence to consider well WHAT AN IMPORTANT BUSINESS IS THE ORDERING OF THE LOCALITY IN WHICH MEN ARE TO PASS THEIR DAYS. The complexion of a nation's life and the tenor of its history are exceedingly affected by the sort of locality where it has its seat. A nation whose lot is fixed in the impenetrable depths of Africa, how different its history must necessarily be from that of a nation which has received for inheritance a sea-girt land, like Greece or Italy, Great Britain or Scandinavia! The one is sequestered front all quickening intercourse, and is likely to sleep on in a semi-torpid state; the other lies open to the influence of every tide of foreign thought and sentiment. Now it was precisely this question of locality which was determined for the tribes by lot. It is a mistake to suppose that the lot determined everything. The division of the country was to proceed on the principle that the extent of territory bestowed on the respective tribes was to be proportioned to the number of names in each (verses 53, 54). A glance at the map will show how carefully this was attended to. The number of acres which fell to the lot of "little Benjamin" was much smaller than the number embraced in the inheritance of "the mighty tribe of Ephraim." The business of thus apportioning to every tribe a domain corresponding to the number of its families was devolved on a Commission of Twelve, under the oversight of Eleazar and Joshua (Numbers 34:16-29). But before these commissioners could make the apportionment, it had first to be determined whereabouts each tribe was to be planted; and this was done by lot. The Lord reserved to himself the business of determining the bounds of his people's habitation. And, I repeat, this was a momentous determination. If Judah, instead of occupying the inland hills and valleys of the south, had received for its inheritance the lot of Simeon, on the coast of the Mediterranean, and in the way of the Gentiles, how different the course of its history would have been!

II. CONSIDER THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD IN THIS MATTER OF ORDERING THE BOUNDS OF MEN'S HABITATIONS. It is not the tribes of Israel only about whose bounds Divine providence is exercised. Read Deuteronomy 32:8 and Acts 17:26. But although God "from the place of his habitation looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth," it is equally evident from the Scripture that his providence occupies itself very specially about the affairs of his chosen people, and particularly about the ordering of their lot.

1. How true this is might be shown by many clear testimonies of Holy Scripture. At present it may be sufficient to remind you of the testimony borne by daily experience. When you left school you had in your mind many projects and resolves about the future—where you would settle, and what you would do. Have these stood? Have they not rather, in nine cases out of ten, been quite overruled? You proposed, but God disposed. Your portion has fallen to you by lot.

2. This being so, it is surely your duty to consider God's hand and providence in the matter. "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord" (Proverbs 16:33). Here again experience says Amen to God's word. The man must have been blind indeed who has never perceived the hand of a special providence prospering or frustrating his purposes, and ordering his lot far better than he could himself have ordered it.

3. Due consideration of God's hand will move the soul to trust his providence. Abraham, being told of a country which he should afterwards receive for inheritance, went out trustfully, although he knew not whither he went. This we also are to do; it is the proper fruit and demonstration of our faith. And as we are to go forward in faith ourselves, so we are in faith to send forth into the world those most dear to us. We need not doubt that in answer to the prayer of faith the Lord will appoint to them a suitable lot, and give them cause to sing, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage" (Psalms 16:6).—B.

HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG

Numbers 26:1-62

THE SECOND CENSUS

I. THE PURPOSE OF IT.

1. The number of those able to go to war in Israel had still to be ascertained. Though the people are now reposing in unaccustomed and grateful quietude, with the promised Canaan just over against them, it is being impressed upon them in many ways that they must win it by conquest. The children, while inheriting the promises given to their fathers, inherit at the same time the services which the fathers had been found incompetent and unworthy to render. We may gather from this repeated census that God would have his people in every generation to count up their strength for conflict. It is only too easy to depreciate and forget our spiritual resources, and think them less than they are. Even a man like Elijah professed himself left alone, when the Lord knew there were still in Israel seven thousand who had not bowed to Baal. Those going forward into life must be made ready, so far as the advice and arrangements of ethers can make them ready, both for the certain conflict peculiar to each person, and for a part in the great battle against darkness and wrong which goes on through every age, under the leadership of Christ himself.

2. Possession of the land had to be prepared for (Numbers 26:52-56). The conflict will be a great, an arduous, and a taxing one, but it will assuredly end in victory. God's command to prepare for war brings as its logical and cheering sequence the command to prepare for possession. God is able to make regulations for the future, which, if men were spontaneously to make them for themselves, would savour of braggadocio (Numbers 15:2).

II. THE EXACT TIME AT WHICH IT WAS MADE. It was after the plague. We may presume that Israel had been to some extent purified by this visitation, although the plague was doubtless no respecter of persons, but involved innocent and guilty in one common temporal suffering, according to the fixed law of our fallen nature that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children. The dreadful result which the infecting idolatries of Moab had brought upon Israel was indeed a very impressive intimation that the full strength of the people was required. Those numbered in the army by reason of fit age were to see to it, and examine their hearts, and become as fit as possible in all other respects.

III. THE METHOD. Still the same as before, by tribes. There had been many changes, losses, and sad disturbances during this time of wandering and severity, but each tribe had kept itself distinct. They were still ranged in the same order round the tabernacle, and regarding it from the same point of view. So if we take a period, say of forty years, in the course of Christ's Church, we shall find the sects at the beginning of the period still existent at the end of it. The men who looked at truth from a certain point of view at the beginning have their spiritual successors who look at truth from the same point of view. The differences, the marked, emphasized, and pertinacious differences, found amongst believers are not so much between truth and error as between different aspects of the same external object.

IV. THE RESULT. It must have been anxiously waited for, not only to see the grand total, but the relative position of each tribe. The result shows somewhat fewer in number, but, as we have suggested, they were possibly purer in quality. Some tribes have increased, others decreased. In Simeon there is a most extraordinary falling away, but still it was quite within truth to say that for practical purposes the number had not diminished. Yes; but if Israel had not been passing through a temporary curse there ought to have been, and probably would have been, a marked and exhilarating increase. But instead of increase there is a slight decrease. Things had not been going lately as they did in Egypt, when "the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them" (Exodus 1:7). Certainly if one goes by the actual state of the people, there is but little room for Balaam's cheering words concerning the dust of Jacob and the fourth part of Israel (Numbers 23:10). In the light of this second census the whole narrative is seen to harmonize in a most subtle way. If Israel were under a curse these forty years, if there were a real suspending of God's favour and of the previous communications of his energy, it is just what might be expected that at the end of the period the people would be found no further forward than at the beginning—600,000 when they left Sinai, 600,000 still when they reach Jordan.—Y.

Numbers 26:64, Numbers 26:65

A GENERATION GONE

Certain things strike us in examining this second census and comparing it with the former one at Sinai: e.g; the difference as to numbers; the fluctuations of the tribes, some increasing, others decreasing; in particular, the extraordinary decrease in Simeon arrests attention. But all these are passed over as not needing notice. There is one thing, however, to which attention is specially called, and indeed it must have been kept in view all the census through, namely, that not one of those numbered in the previous census was now alive. Those counted now had not been counted before.

I. ATTENTION IS CALLED TO A FULFILLED PREDICTION. It deserves special attention as a very remarkable, exact, and early fulfillment of prediction. Most of God's predictions for Israel worked on to their fulfillment slowly and imperceptibly through many generations; some in the highest sense of them are still incomplete; but here was a prediction concerning the present, moving to its fulfillment under the very eyes of many whom in their turn it would also include. Surely it must often have been talked of in the tents of Israel. And here was another purpose that the census served—to show clearly and impressively that the prediction had been fulfilled. The fulfillment had its dark side and its bright one. It was an impressive proof that what penalties God attaches to sin he can accomplish to their full extent. All had perished save Caleb and Joshua. Things had happened exactly as God said they would, the people themselves being witnesses. "If any one numbered in the previous census is still alive, save Caleb and Joshua, let him step forward," Moses and Eleazar might have said. But they were all silent in the mystery of a peculiar death. Rightly looked at, it was very comforting and inspiring for Israel to go into Canaan with such a wonderful proof of God's power in their minds. He who had so manifestly fulfilled such a peculiar prediction might be confidently expected to keep his word in all others.

II. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE DIVINE CONTROL OVER THE TERM OF HUMAN LIFE. What God did in the particular instance of this generation he can do in any and every generation, with any and every one of the children of men. We talk very grandly sometimes of the value of a sound constitution, the prudence of attending to the laws of health, and taking such means as may preserve life to a ripe old age. But while these considerations are indeed not to be neglected, God's will also must be taken, into account, as at least a possible regulating force in the term of every human life. He may have some weighty reason of his own for shortening or lengthening, which will nullify alike the prudence of some and the recklessness of others. It is not competent for us to say that he does actually interfere in every instance, as he so plainly did with the men of this doomed generation; it is enough for us to feel that he has power to do it. We have here but one out of many evidences to be found in the Scriptures that God has death completely under restraint. He can keep us back from its grasp as long as may seem good to him. He can also allow us to fall into its grasp, if thereby his own purposes will be better served. They are much more important than the devices and desires which arise out of our selfish, ignorant, and unexperienced hearts.

III. THE SPECIAL INTERVENTION IN THIS INSTANCE SUGGESTS THAT, AS A GENERAL RULE, NATURE IS LEFT TO ITS OWN COURSE. Every one entering this world is left to the play of what, for want of a better term, may be called the forces of nature. So much of natural vitality and energy, so much power of assimilation and growth, so much, sometimes good and sometimes bad, by Way of inheritance from parents, and, over and above what may be peculiar, the taint of that depravity which is the common calamity of the children of men—these are the elements with which we have to do our best. And might we not hope, if only the obstacles were taken away which arise from ignorance, error, prejudice, sensuality, and slavery to base appetites of every sort, that the term of human life would be extended far beyond what it is in the great majority of instances? Should it not be reckoned the normal state of things, the state of things according to God's own wish, for those who come into the world as infants to go out of it as old men? The reason why so many do not should be made a matter of urgent, light-seeking, personal inquiry. It is a very misleading thing to speak, and without any real authority to do so, of God calling people away; particularly infants and children, who furnish such a large and melancholy proportion of the world's mortality. We foreclose many questions of the greatest moment by a traditional, thought-benumbing fatalist,, a seemingly pious, yet really impious, profession of submission to the will of God. The will of God would sooner be complied with in this ignorant, purblind world if Christians, who pray that God's will may be done on earth as in heaven, would only set themselves to discover what the will of God really is. Surely it is a strange and horrible thing that, without some plain reason such as we find in 2 Samuel 12:14, many infants should breathe their little lives so quickly away; and it is all the more horrible when they thus die in spite of the solicitude and patient care of a loving mother. Where love abounds, wisdom may yet be lacking. A world wiser to consider the laws of nature and self-denyingly to obey them would be a less anguished and sorrowing world. Mothers would not so often be sharing Rachel's bitter lot, weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted.

IV. THE EXTENSION OF GOD'S WRATH OVER THIS LONG PERIOD ESPECIALLY MARKS IT OUT AS WRATH AGAINST UNRIGHTEOUSNESS (Romans 1:18). God is not a man, that he should be carried away in sudden bursts of passion, and need the exhortation, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." For forty years he went patiently through the vineyard, cutting down the cumberers of the ground. Sudden as were the flamings out of the Divine wrath on Israel, it was because Israel was as dry, susceptible fuel to the flame. Wherever there is unrighteousness of men there must be wrath of God. In the deliberate, steady fulfilling of God's wrath on the doomed generation we see a most sublime contrast with the caprice, uncertainty, and partiality of human passion.

V. THERE IS A VERY EMPHATIC ASSURANCE OF GOD'S INTEREST IN ISRAEL INDIVIDUALLY. Each man who thus died had the eye of the Lord on him as an individual. And though he suffered temporal death as a necessary consequence of belonging to the doomed generation, yet the very same watchful care of God which acted with severity in one way was equally available to act with mercy in another. The doom which fell upon the Israelite as Israelite was quite compatible with mercy to the Israelite as a man. Let us in the midst of our need, in the midst of our difficulties in finding a way to God, lay hold of every assurance we can get, and especially in the Scriptures, as to the reality of God's dealings with individuals. There is special record in the Scriptures of his dealings with some, but of many there is of necessity no such record. Here there is clear evidence of God's dealings, individually, with more than 600,000 men in forty years. That period was given for every one of them to pass from the earth, so that at the end of it there was not a survivor to enter the promised land, save the two men who had been singled out for preservation. And God is dealing with every individual now, and by his goodness would lead him to repentance. What is wanted in return is that every individual thus appealed to, when he meets the angel of repentance in the way, should have dealings with God such as may end in the full reception of eternal life and increased glory to the fullness of the Divine Trinity.—Y.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 26:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/numbers-26.html. 1897.

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