Numbers 1:1-54 . MOSES NUMBERING THE MEN OF WAR.
18. by their polls--individually, one by one.
19. As the Lord commanded Moses, &c.--The numbering of the people was not an act sinful in itself, as Moses did it by divine appointment; but David incurred guilt by doing it without the authority of God.
20-44. These are those that were numbered--In this registration the tribe of Judah appears the most numerous; and accordingly, as the pre-eminence had been assigned to it by Jacob [ Genesis 49:8-12 ], it got the precedence in all the encampments of Israel. Of the two half-tribes of Joseph, who is seen to be "a fruitful bough" [ Genesis 49:22 ], that of Ephraim was the larger, as had been predicted. The relative increase of all, as in the two just mentioned, was owing to the special blessing of God, conformably to the prophetic declaration of the dying patriarch. But the divine blessing is usually conveyed through the influence of secondary causes; and there is reason to believe that the relative populousness of the tribes would, under God, depend upon the productiveness of the respective localities assigned to them. [For
45, 46. all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand. &c.--What an astonishing increase from seventy-five persons who went down to Egypt about two hundred fifteen years before and who were subjected to the greatest privations and hardships! And yet this enumeration was restricted to men from twenty years and upwards ( Numbers 1:3 ). Including women, children, and old men, together with the Levites, the whole population of Israel, on the ordinary principles of computation, amounted to about 2,400,000.
47-54. But the Levites . . . were not numbered among them--They were obliged to keep a register of their own. They were consecrated to the priestly office, which in all countries has been exempted customarily, and in Israel by the express authority of God, from military service. The custody of the things devoted to the divine service was assigned to them so exclusively, that "no stranger"--that is, no person, not even an Israelite of any other tribe, was allowed, under penalty of death, to approach these [ Numbers 16:40 ]. Hence they encamped round the tabernacle in order that there should be no manifestation of the divine displeasure among the people. Thus the numbering of the people was subservient to the separation of the Levites from those Israelites who were fit for military service, and to the practical introduction of the law respecting the first-born, for whom the tribe of Levi became a substitute [ Exodus 13:2 , Numbers 3:12 ].