Bible Commentary: Numbers 26

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Numbers 26

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Israel Numbered on the Plains of Moab

The terrible plague of the previous chapter marked a turning point for Israel. The first generation that had come out of Egypt is now gone and God requires another census, which Moses and Eleazar (Aaron’s son and successor) undertake: “But among these [whom they counted] 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 [in the first census]. 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” (verses 64-65).

The numbering is, in part, for inheritance purposes, as tribal inheritance will be according to the principle of “share, and share alike,” with every tribe receiving proportions commensurate with their numbers (verse 54). Since someone is sure to say one piece of land is better than another, it is to be divided up by the casting of lots (verses 55-56).

A comparison of this census with the first one at Sinai is rather interesting. When the Israelites were delivered from slavery, the tribe of Simeon comprised 59,300 men of fighting age (Numbers 1:22-23 Numbers 1:22-23 [22] Of the children of Simeon, by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, those that were numbered of them, 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; [23] Those that were numbered of them, even of the tribe of Simeon, were fifty and nine thousand and three hundred.
American King James Version×
). Yet 40 years later, when Israel is about to enter the Promised Land, the Simeonites have only 22,200 men (Numbers 26:4 Numbers 26:4Take the sum of the people, from twenty years old and upward; as the LORD commanded Moses and the children of Israel, which went forth out of the land of Egypt.
American King James Version×
, Numbers 26:14 Numbers 26:14These are the families of the Simeonites, twenty and two thousand and two hundred.
American King James Version×
)—a 62.5 percent drop in population, in contrast with an average 6.5 percent growth for the rest of Israel (even though four other tribes had shrunk slightly). What had happened? Though there could be another explanation, it is possible, as many have surmised, that a great number of Simeonites (known for their fiery temperament), along with groups from other tribes, left the mass of the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering. If so, where would they have gone? Since Jacob had prophesied that Simeon would be “scattered” among the tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:5-7 Genesis 49:5-7 [5] Simeon and Levi are brothers; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. [6] O my soul, come not you into their secret; to their assembly, my honor, be not you united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they dig down a wall. [7] Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.
American King James Version×
), these early emigrants would probably have gone to the same place that other Israelites would go much later—Northwest Europe—paving the way for subsequent migrations (see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy).

Interestingly, before the Romans invaded Britain centuries later, there was a Celtic clan living in what is now southwest England and Wales known as the Simonii, a name that may derive from the Simeonites.

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