The Census and God’s Faithfulness


So all those listed of the people of Israel, by their fathers’ houses, from twenty years old and upward, every man able to go to war in Israel—all those listed were 603,550.
(Numbers 1:45-46)

Read: Numbers 1

“Really, a devotion on Numbers 1? Isn’t that chapter literally just numbers and names? Can’t we just skip this one and get to the good stuff?”

I don’t know about you, but I think I may be allergic to chapters like Numbers 1. I’m reading my Bible, my mind is active, I’m alert, and then I come to a chapter like this one—just a list of numbers and names—and my eyelids suddenly get heavy, they close, and then forty minutes later I come out of my daze and find myself in the exact same place in the Bible that I was at forty minutes prior. I don’t know what else it could be other than an allergic reaction.

All joking aside, the above situation is certainly a struggle I’ve experienced in my Bible reading when I come to these census, genealogy, or list chapters. Maybe you’ve had those same struggles as well. One reason why God includes them in Scripture must be to serve as a test about whether I truly do believe that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (1 Tim 3:16-17). After all, how is reading the names of the heads of the households of the tribes of Israel at the beginning of their wandering profitable for me in the twenty-first century? Especially when you realize that just about everyone named in that first chapter is dead by the end of the book due to their disobedience and rejection of God over the course of the wilderness wanderings.

Near the end of Numbers we find a new census of the new generation that Joshua is going to lead into the Promised Land (Num 26). Why does God even inspire Moses to record Numbers 1? How is it profitable for anyone? Sure, we might be able to say that it was helpful for Israelites looking to trace their genealogies or to have a more complete record of their history, but is that all that it’s good for?

I don’t think so. If we just look at Numbers 1 in a vacuum, then we might come to that negative conclusion. But when we look at Numbers 1 in context of book of Numbers as a whole and Israel’s history up to Numbers 1, then we can see the chapter’s true purpose. What is the book of Numbers about? Well, it is littered with event after event of God’s faithfulness to his character and to his people, even when his people are utterly unfaithful to him.

In chapter eleven, as soon as the people set out from Sinai to the Promised Land, they complain about God’s provision. In chapter twelve, Miriam and Aaron complain about God’s chosen servant, Moses. In chapter thirteen, the spies are sent into the Promised Land and come back with a report that reflects that they do not trust God will give them the land. In chapter fourteen, the people rebel against God. In chapter sixteen, Korah and his cohorts rebel against Moses and the Aaronic priesthood. And in chapter twenty, even Moses and Aaron disobey God and disqualify themselves from being able to lead the people into the land. And we could go on from there. The point is that, through it all, God punishes the sin and yet also still preserves his people and raises up a new generation which he will lead into his promised land. God is faithful to his promises. He is worthy to be praised, and he is totally trustworthy. Therefore, listen to him, obey him, and follow him!

God is faithful to his promises. He is worthy to be praised, and he is totally trustworthy.

So, how does chapter one contribute to that lesson? Well, what was a part of the Abrahamic covenant? “And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: ‘This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.’ And he brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be,'” (Gen 15:4-5). Abraham begat Isaac, who begat Jacob, who then had twelve boys of his own. Then by the end of Genesis and the opening of Exodus, the number of Abraham’s offspring that go down to Egypt was seventy persons (Exod 1:5). Four hundred years and an exodus later, just the number of fighting men of Israel at the base of Mount Sinai is 603,550! That means if we account for the women and children, the nation of Israel—the Hebrew people, the physical offspring of Abraham—number roughly two million people. That growth is in spite of their status as slaves, in spite of Pharaoh’s decree to kill the male children of Israel, and in spite of Israel’s own unfaithfulness to Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Without having to get bogged down in the fine details, Numbers 1 is a tremendous testament to the faithfulness of God. He keeps his promises, and he will continue to keep his promises. And so, we must listen to, obey, and believe him at his word.

Ponder and Pray: Consider how you have seen God be faithful to his word in your life. How does God’s faithfulness encourage or motivate you in how you should live? Finished by praying to God, praising him for his faithfulness.