238 – Number 26 – Second Census

I would like you to resist the temptation to skip over Numbers chapter 26. At first glance, you may be tempted to ask, “so what’s the big deal? God says to count the nation for inheritance and then there’s just a big list of family names and their numbers! Boring!” If it was important enough to God to include it, then we should read and attempt to understand it. Although I don’t think it would be prudent to go through the chapter verse by verse for comment, I do think there is plenty to glean from the narrative. Even in just summarizing the content some things will have to go unsaid – this time.


It is interesting to compare the first and second times God tells Moses to count the individuals in the nation. Let’s consider a few side-by-side facts. The first census of Israel was commanded by Yahweh in chapter one of Numbers. He indicates in verse three the reason is to prepare for war – “…all who are able to go to war in Israel”.


If you wanted to be technical I suppose you could say the counting of the Levites in Numbers chapter three was the second census of Israel. The problem though is that the chapter one counting excluded the Levites, whereas the counting in chapter three was just the Levites. Only taken together do they qualify to be called the first census of Israel.


Like the first census, the second found here in chapter twenty-six is a two-parter. Part one is eleven of the tribes, part two is again a separate counting of the Levites.


Almost forty years separated the first time Yahweh commanded Moses to count the nation and the second census. The first census was in preparation for war, but the second was in preparation for the inheritance of the promised land.


I’ve made some additional comparisons in the following two charts. I hope you’ll spend a few minutes looking over the comparison between the two Censuses.


Warrior Census

First Census Numbers 1 Second Census Numbers 2
Numbers 1:2-3

2      Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male individually, 

       3       from twenty years old and above—all who are able to go to war in Israel.

Numbers 26:2

2       Take a census of all the congregation of the children of Israel from twenty years old and above, by their fathers’ houses, all who are able to go to war in Israel.”

Numbers 1:46

      46       all who were numbered were six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty.

Numbers 26:51

       51       These are those who were numbered of the children of Israel: six hundred and one thousand seven hundred and thirty.

603,550 601,730



Levite Census

Numbers 1:15, 22

      15       “Number the children of Levi by their fathers’ houses, by their families; you shall number every male from a month old and above.”

22       Those who were numbered, according to the number of all the males from a month old and above—of those who were numbered there were seven thousand five hundred.

Numbers 26:62

      62       Now those who were numbered of them were twenty-three thousand, every male from a month old and above; for they were not numbered among the other children of Israel, because there was no inheritance given to them among the children of Israel.

7,500 23,000


If you total the two-part countings you get:

611,050 for the First Census (Warriors & Priests)

624,730 for the Second Census (Warriors & Priests)


I was struck by the fact that in forty years there was only a 13,680 Increase in the number of Warriors & Priests from the first census to the second census (about 40 years later).


I realize it might be like comparing apples and oranges, but for context, I looked up a more modern forty-year population increase in Israel. 


Consider that Israel from the first to the second census (~40 years) demonstrated only a 2.23877% increase. By way of comparison, Israel from 1981 to 2021 (40 years) enjoyed a 133.108% increase. (From: https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/ISR/israel/population-growth-rate)


I realize there are a whole bunch of variables that would need to be considered in order for this comparison to be truly useful, but I think it does help us to realize the nation really didn’t grow much during their forty years in the wilderness.


Why did Israel only grow by 13,680 warriors and priests in forty years? Numbers 26:64-65 gives us a clear answer.


Numbers 26:64-65

           64       But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest when they numbered the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai. 

           65       For the LORD had said of them, “They shall surely die in the wilderness.” So there was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

The original members excluding Moses, Joshua, and Caleb disqualified themselves from entering the promised land. The nation would likely have been twice as big if everyone could have entered together.


What application can the modern-day believer make from this sobering conclusion? We must be careful how we make comparisons between Israel and the Christian lest we veer into a wrong understanding of the scriptures. For example, the Christian can never disqualify themselves from entering Heaven. However, dwelling in rebellion against God as a believer in Jesus Christ does come at a very high price. Our rewards both in the millennial kingdom and the eternal state (heaven) to follow are based on our works, both good and bad.


God truly is worthy of all praise, worship, and adoration!


All Scripture quotations from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print. 

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