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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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Commentary on Numbers

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1.1–46 :

First Israelite census and appointment of tribal chieftains: Numbers opens with the Israelites still encamped at the base of Mt. Sinai ( 1.1–10.10 ). They already have received the laws, constructed the portable Tabernacle, and been instructed on formal worship procedures and regulated observances both for priests and lay persons (Exod. chs 20–31; 34–40; Lev. chs 1–27 ). Now they must be organized into a mobile war camp to resume their travels in the wilderness and in readiness to meet any foes along the way. Ch 1 begins with a census.

2 :

The purpose of a census is to determine military strength or potential taxation revenues (cf. 2 Sam. ch 24 ), though later Jewish interpretation suggests that God counts Israel because they are dear to Him (see Rashi). All males 20 years and older are eligible for military duty, and tribal chieftains who function as census supervisors are appointed, one from each tribe. A separate census is taken of the Levites who are exempt from military service (ch 3; 26.57–62 ).

5–15 :

Heading the list of chieftains is the representative of Reuben, Jacob's first‐born son, though elsewhere in Numbers, Judah is typically listed first. The other sons follow Reuben in chronological order of birth with Leah's sons first, Rachel's second, and the concubines' last. None of the names on the list contains a theophoric element, that is, an element with the name of God as prefix (“yeho‐” or “yo‐”) or suffix (“‐yahu” or “‐yah”). In the latter period of the monarchy such names are commonplace (e.g., Jehoiada, Zechariah).

20–46 :

The census figures for each tribe, with a grand total of 603,550, are vastly inflated by any realistic standards. The final tally, however, is generally consistent in the biblical literature (cf. Exod. 12.37; 38.26; Num. 11.21; 26.51 ). Earlier biblical scholars posited that this number reflected a census at a later period, perhaps under David, but this is incorrect.

27 :

Judah has the largest number, reflecting its later importance.

1.47–54 :

Levites are charged with the Tabernacle. This is part one of a lengthy, detailed outline of Levitical duties (continued in chs 3–4 ). Being exempt from military service, the Levites are charged with guarding the Tabernacle as well as dismantling it for travel and erecting it when encamped. As such, their position in the layout of the camp is closest to the Tabernacle. Rabbinic midrash (Num. Rab. 1.12 ) attributes their prestigious responsibilities to a reward they receive for remaining loyal to God by not having participated in the golden calf worship (Exod. 32.25–29 ).

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