The end of the book of Exodus dealt with the plan and construction of the wilderness sanctuary, and Leviticus in large part
dealt with the ceremonies that take place in the sanctuary and the priesthood. Numbers opens (chs 1–10
) with stories and laws pertaining more broadly to the people and their relationship to the sanctuary, still in the period
soon after the Exodus and the revelation on Sinai. Ch 1
tells of a census taken of the twelve tribes. It omits the tribe of Levi and subdivides the tribe of Joseph into Ephraim
and Manasseh, Joseph's sons (see Gen 48
), to maintain the twelve‐tribe structure (cf. 17.2–3
). Two censuses of the Levites appear separately in chs 3 and 4. Ch 26
describes a further census of both the twelve tribes and the Levites. The two countings of the Israelites (chs 1 and 26
) appear roughly at the beginning and end of the forty‐year wilderness period.
Tent of meeting, see Ex 26; 33.9. See also Num 7.89n.
The wilderness camp and march has a military character (cf. 33.1
), and the census seeks in part to determine the military capability of the people. Hence it counts only males twenty or more
For some of the principles influencing the order of the tribal lists, see 2.3–31n.
Most of the individuals named do not occur elsewhere in the Bible outside of the book of Numbers (see also chs 2; 7; 10).
The largest tribe is Judah; this likely reflects the political importance of the tribe to the author.
This high number is a reflection of the story's legendary rather than historical nature; see also Ex 12.37n.
This is the first mention of the Levites as sanctuary servants, a theme that is continued in chs 3; 4; 8
. Previously in the Priestly literature, only priests, the descendants of Aaron, have been of concern (e.g., Ex 29; Lev 8
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