51 These registered Israelite men numbered 601,730. (Numbers 26:51)
Numbers 26 is another mind-numbing list of names and numbers of Israelites, very similar to the one that began the book, and I suppose one of the reasons the book gets its name. The main purpose for the census is to show that God was faithful to His promise that none of those who rebelled against Him in the wilderness would enter into the promised Land, except for Caleb and Joshua (see Numbers 26:64-65).
File that away for later: God is faithful to keep ALL His promises–not just the ones we like!
But buried in the numbers is an amazing little detail that only comes to light if you compare the numbers from Chapter 2 to the numbers in chapter 26:
In Numbers 2:32, we read that,
32 These are the people of Israel as listed by their fathers' houses. All those listed in the camps by their companies were 603,550.
Then, we get the number of Levites in 3:43:
43 And all the firstborn males, according to the number of names, from a month old and upward as listed were 22,273.
Now, consider that for thirty-eight years, the Israelites have basically been homeless refugees wandering in the desert. They’ve dealt with plagues, wars, food insecurity, water insecurity, and rebellion.
What impact would you expect that to have on the population?
Just for fun, I found an article about the population shift in the United States that happened during the Great Depression. Bear in mind that these were the Dust Bowl years for the Midwest, when a lot of the farmland and pasture lands of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska dried up and became, well, deserts. On this map, the darker the purple, the more the population of that county declined:
Now, granted, most of these people didn’t die. They moved. And the darker green spots on this map show where they were moving to (California, here I come!).
But imagine if they had nowhere to move to? What would happen? In just ten years, the hardest-hit areas of the Dust Bowl experienced a population decrease of 25% or more! What if they had been in the desert for forty years?
This is basically where we find the Israelites. So wouldn’t you expect the population to decrease substantially in the 38 years they were in the desert?
|Numbers 2-3 census||Numbers 26 Census||Difference|
|603,550 Israelites||601, 730 Israelites||-1,820|
|22,273 Levites||23,000 Levites||+727|
After 40 years in the desert, the net population decrease was less than one percent!
Beloved, this can only be God’s goodness and protection! God is in the details!