The Scriptorium

Getting Organized

Without genealogies, this would have been impossible. Numbers 1-4, 26

Gleanealogy: Forward, Ever Forward (1)

Pray Psalm 106.47, 48.
Save us, O LORD our God,
And gather us from among the Gentiles,
To give thanks to Your holy name,
To triumph in Your praise.
Blessed be the LORD God of Israel
From everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the LORD!

Sing slowly and with gratitude Psalm 106.46-48.
(Trust in Jesus: ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus)
Save us, Lord, from every nation; gather us from all our ways.
And we to Your Name will offer glorious thanks and endless praise!
Refrain v. 48
Blessèd be our God and Savior, evermore His praise proclaim!
Let all those who know Your favor praise Your holy, glorious Name!

Read Numbers 1.1-44, chapter 26

1. Why did God require this census, this numbering of the people?

2. Who was to help Moses in this? Why?

Here is the first of two “numberings” of the people of Israel. We recall that the book of Genesis ended with a census of the seventy people of Jacob’s family who went down to Egypt. Now we’re more than 400 years after that event, and it’s time for the people of Israel to look back and look ahead. As they do, genealogy plays an important role.

We note that the task must have been considerably larger this time around, as Moses needed a man from each tribe to assist (v. 4). We are given the names of those men in Numbers 1.5-17, with the specific note that they are appointed by name. Next begins the actual census of the people.

Right away we seen that genealogical records matter (cf. Num. 1.22, 24, 26, etc.). The people maintained their genealogies throughout the period of their sojourn and captivity in Egypt. This indicates both that they understood the importance of maintaining their roots, and that they hoped for the promise to their father Abraham, to be a blessing to all families of the earth. At this point following their departure from Egypt, they had arrived at Mt. Sinai, received the Law, built the tabernacle, and put the priests in order (Exodus, Leviticus). Shortly, they would begin their eleven-day journey to Canaan (Deut. 1.2), which, tragically, would take them nearly forty years.

The numbering of the tribes is summarized first (Num. 1.18-44), and a tally is provided of the men able to go to war: 653,550 men. This is not all the people, only those able to go to war – a foreshadowing of what awaits them. The tribe of Levi was not numbered here, because they would be tending to the tabernacle and the services that were conducted there (Num. 1.47-54).

Further organizing of the people is recorded in Numbers 2-4, first, where they will camp in relation to the tabernacle (Num. 2). In chapter 3, the descendants of Aaron and Moses (the toledoth of Aaron and Moses) is recorded, and the Levites are now numbered for service (vv. 14ff.), in particular, those who belong to the family of Kohath (Num. 4). Would any of this have been even remotely possible without some written record of who belonged to which tribe? That genealogies played an important role in getting Israel organized for her journey to the land of Canaan is quite clear. Their role in this census-taking should remind us that God requires order among His people, lest chaos and confusion obtain.

A second census of the people comes in Numbers 26, after a series of events that threatened to unravel the people and leave them disorganized and vulnerable. First, they refused to enter the land of promise, and were turned back to the wilderness, where they wandered for nearly 40 years, until that unbelieving generation perished (Num. 14, 15). Next, a rebellion against Moses and Aaron was put down by God in a most dramatic and devastating manner (Num. 16). A variety of complaints on the part of the people led to a challenge to Aaron’s authority, which God reasserted (Num. 16, 17). Moses’ prideful act at Kadesh left him embarrassed and excluded from the land (Num. 20). Aaron’s death shortly after that must have raised questions about leadership. Then came various confrontations with the people of the land, and compromise with sin on the part of the people (Num. 21-25). After all this, and forty years traipsing around in the wilderness, we can imagine that the threat of confusion and disintegration was great.

The census taken in Numbers 26 was designed to reestablish God’s order among His people, and ready them for the invasion of Canaan. This census, we note, goes all the way back to the sons of Jacob, tracing their line through the first generation after the twelve tribal heads to the present generation, struggling through the wilderness. By taking the census within genealogies, God reestablished Israel as His chosen people, reorganizing to take up His covenant project, in the place – the land of Canaan – God had chosen for them. The total of men over twenty years of age was 601,730. For all their struggle and rebellion, they were not diminished, and this census would be the basis on which the land was divided following the conquest of the Canaanite nations (Num. 26.52ff.).

Once again, genealogy served a valuable purpose for the people of Israel, pointing them back, helping them get organized, and preparing them to go forward in laying hold on the promises of God.

1. How should you read these genealogies as you come upon them in your reading of Scripture? What do they teach us about how God works with His people?

2. The census/genealogy of Numbers 26 includes reference to historical information, which would have served to remind Israel of their covenant obligations (cf. vv. 8-11, 19). Explain.

3. This census/genealogy seems to say to the people of Israel, “Look back, look around, and get ready to look ahead.” Can genealogies play a similar role in our walk with the Lord? Explain.

the reason for thus numbering the people a second time was, because they were very soon about to remove their camp from the wilderness of Sinai to take posession of the promised land. Since, however, their impiety withheld thmn from doing so, there was a third census taken just before their actual entrance into the land, and with this object, that it might be obvious, on comparison, how marvellously the people had been preserved by the springing up of a new generation, in spite of so many plagues and so much slaughter; for although a great proportion of them had been cut off, almost as many persons were found as before. John Calvin (1509-1564), Commentary on Numbers 1

I rejoice, Lord, that my name is written in Your book of names! Help me to be faithful in my calling as Your child today as I…

Pray Psalm 106.1-12.
Thank the Lord for His saving mercy, and for including you among His covenant people. Confess your sins, praise Him for His grace, and commit the day ahead to serving Him.

Sing Psalm 106.1-12, 48.
Psalm 106.1-12, 48 (Trust in Jesus: ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus)
Praise the Lord!  Give thanks and praise Him!  He is good, His love endures!
More His works than can be spoken; let His praise be ever sure!
Refrain v. 48
Blessèd be our God and Savior, evermore His praise proclaim!
Let all those who know Your favor praise Your holy, glorious Name!

Lord, when You Your people favor, help me, O, remember me,
that I may Your blessings savor and in joy and glory be!

We have sinned, just like our fathers; we have done iniquity.
Just like them, our hearts have wandered; we have acted wickedly.

For Your love we have forgotten; we rebelled against Your grace.
Yet You save us by Your power, make us stand before Your face.

T. M. Moore

The genealogies of Scripture reveal the heart of God in His covenant relationship with His people. To learn more about God’s covenant, order our book, I Will Be Your God, by clicking here. You can learn to sing all the psalms to familiar hymn tunes by ordering a copy of The Ailbe Psalter (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from
The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore