Reading through the Bible: day 51

Numbers 1 – 3

The texts from today are really just academic. For History’s sake they record the census results of the Israelites at the time. The controversy over the population explosion (from 75 to over 2,000,000 in just over 400 years) has been brought up by critics and Biblical scholars alike. I’ll cover that in a separate post since it involves some maths, and I’m still trying to work out how this all works.

Mostly this text is recorded to show that the Israelites had the numbers to take the promised land as Caleb and Joshua testify to later in the book, but that the population rejected and for this rejection ended up spending 40 years in the desert.

The thing I want to look at here is…

The twelve tribes

Remember back when Jacob blessed his sons he included Joseph’s son’s, making 13 tribes? I said we would see later how we got to 12 tribes, well here it is.

The firstborn of Israel were preserved during the Passover. This resulted in God demanding that all firstborn (including people, livestock and firstfruits) be dedicated to Him. In the case of livestock, the Israelites were to sacrifice them. This has resulted in critics claiming that the firstborn Israelite children should be given as sacrifice and thus God demanded human sacrifice, which creates (combined with other events) a contradiction, which I will cover later. For now, I’ll just deal with the specific issue of the firstborn.

In today’s reading we see that the Levites would be committed to God for priestly duties (like looking after the tabernacle, its functions and checking the cleanliness of the sick). So they were then dedicated to God without having to be sacrificed, and this was done in lew of the firstborn children. Thus the firstborn children weren’t sacrificed and the Levites became God’s tribe, not Israel’s tribe. So in the lists of the 12 tribes, we see Levi being left off, which gives us 12, not 13, tribes. I’ll cover lists including Levi when they are used, and why such lists exist. For now, we have no problem.

What are your thoughts?

Please give the reading through the Bible page a look if you haven’t already, there are some background posts and the index to this reading plan. Share it with others who you think can benefit from Reading the Bible.


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