5 occurrences in 5 dictionaries

Reference: Census


There are five instances of a census of the Jewish people having been taken. (1.) In the fourth month after the Exodus, when the people were encamped at Sinai. The number of men from twenty years old and upward was then 603,550 (Ex 38:26). (2.) Another census was made just before the entrance into Canaan, when the number was found to be 601,730, showing thus a small decrease (Nu 26:51). (3.) The next census was in the time of David, when the number, exclusive of the tribes of Levi and Benjamin, was found to be 1,300,000 (2Sa 24:9; 1Ch 21:5). (4.) Solomon made a census of the foreigners in the land, and found 153,600 able-bodied workmen (2Ch 2:17-18). (5.) After the return from Exile the whole congregation of Israel was numbered, and found to amount to 42,360 (Ezr 2:64). A census was made by the Roman government in the time of our Lord (Lu 2:1). (See Taxing.)

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Miphqad, "numbering combined with lustration" or "purification." By the law (Ex 30:12-13) half a shekel was to be paid by every man above 20 years as a ransom for his soul, that there should be no plague whenever a numbering of the people took place. The number at the census in the third or fourth month after the Exodus was 603,550 above 20 years (Ex 38:26); in Ex 12:37 the round number 600,000. There were besides 22,000 male Levites of a month old and upwards (Nu 3:39). Adding the wives and children we should have about 2,000,000. Of the 70 that went down to Egypt, after deducting Jacob, his 12 sons, Dinah, Zerah (Asher's daughter), Levi's three sons, the four grandsons of Judah and Benjamin, and those grandsons of Jacob who died without posterity, there remain at least 41 grandsons of Jacob who founded families, besides the Levites.

Reckoning 40 years as a generation, there would be ten generations passed in the 400th year of the sojourn in Egypt. Compare 1Ch 7:20-27, where ten or eleven generations elapse between Ephraim and Joshua. Assuming three sons and three daughters to each married couple of the first six generations, and two sons and two daughters in the last four, there would be 478,224 sons about the 400th year of the sojourn, besides 125,326 of the ninth generation, still living; in all 603,550 men coming out of Egypt upward of 20 years old. Besides, the Israelites were under a special dispensation of fruitfulness from God, and preservation from plague and from serious diminution even by Pharaoh's repressive measures. In Nu 3:43 all the firstborn males for whom the Levites were accepted as a substitute are stated to be 22,273, which, if it were the suni of the firstborn sons in the entire nation, would require there to be 40 males begotten of each father in each family to make up 608,550 men of 20 years and upward, or a population of more than 1,000,000 males.

But Ex 13:2,11-12 shows that the law does not apply retrospectively, but only to the sanctification to God of all the firstborn of men and cattle that should be born from that time forward. It appears from Nu 3:13; 8:17, God had actually sanctified already all the firstborn to Himself by having protected His people from the destroyer on the paschal night (Ex 12:22-23; 4:22), and had adopted the whole nation in instituting the Passover. The presentation of their firstborn to the Lord thenceforth was to be the practical manifestation of their sonship. The number of Levites (Nu 3:39,51), Nu 3:22,1, does not agree with the numbers assigned to the three families 7,500 + 8,600 + 6,200 = 22,300. But the total is correct; for it is written, the number of the firstborn, 22,273, exceeded that of the Levites by 273.

Probably there is a copyist's error in the number of one of the Levitical families, perhaps in Nu 3:28 read 8,300 for 8,600. For the surplus 278 each was to pay five shekels, 1,365 in all. The earlier numbering for collecting atonement money from every male of 20 or upward (Ex 30:11-16; 38:25-26) gave the same number, 603,550, as that nine months later (Nu 1:1-46; Ex 40:17), in the second month of the second year, four weeks after the rearing of the tabernacle. The reason is, because the former census for gathering the atonement head money was taken as the basis for mustering all fit for war nine months later. This latter mustering merely consisted in registering those already numbered in the public records according to their families and fathers' houses; probably according to Jethro's suggestion of classification for administering justice, namely, in thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens (Ex 18:25).

Each tribe was placed under a special leader; head of the tribe, as is usual among the Arabs to this day. The supernumerary units would be used to balance the changes that had taken place in the actual condition of the families and fathers' houses between the earlier provisional numbering and the subsequent preparation of the master rolls, so that the few changes that had taken place during the nine months' interval among those fit for war was made no account of, but the number was left the same. A new census was taken 38 years afterwards in the plains of Moab (Numbers 26) for the division of Canaan among the tribes according to their families (Nu 33:54). The number then was 601,730, of 20 years and upward, of whom Joshua and Caleb alone were in the former census, the whole generation having died in the wilderness. The tribe of Simeon especially suffered a diminution of its numbers; probably owing to the plague which followed Zimri's sin with Cozbi the Midianite woman (Nu 25:9-15; 26:51,63-65; compare Nu 11:21).

The history does not detail the events of the intervening 38 years, but only of the beginning and the close of the 40 years. The total of Israel, including the 23,000 Levite males from a month old upwards, would be thus about 2,000,000 (Nu 26:62). The objection of rationalists that the peninsula of Sinai could not have sustained such a number is answered by the consideration (1) that Israel was sustained by a miracle, (2) the peninsula yielded much more anciently than at present. The destruction of the trees diminishes the rainfall; in the monumental period of ancient Egypt it is evident that the land was more cultivated; and the water in the wadies and the rain might, by artificial means, be made available to increase the fertility. The inscriptions of Sinai, Serbal, and the wady Mokatteb, and other valleys prove that formerly a numerous population lived there.

The next numbering was that by David, contrary to Joab's advice (2Sa 24:1-9; 1Ch 21:1,5; 27:24). "Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel." Pride is peculiarly of Satan (Isa 14:12), and proud presumption actuated David. It was not so much the act which was faultworthy (for indeed the taking of the census was recognized in the pentateuch: Ex 30:12) as the motive, trust in the arm of flesh instead of in Jehovah (Jer 17:5). Psalm 30 (see its authoritative heading, which ought to be read "A Psalm of David at the dedication of the house," namely, of God) commemorates "the dedication," or consecration, of the site whereon subsequently Solomon's temple was built. When David, after the plague sent for numbering the people, sacrificed upon an altar of burnt offering on the threshing floor of Araunah on mount Moriah, Jehovah by fire from heaven consecrated the place as "the house of God," even before the actual building of the temple (compare 1Ch 22:1-2 with Ge 28:17-19).

Pride through prosperity, and a sudden, severe, but temporary, reverse appear in the psalm as in the history. The deliverance was the answer to David's prayer, Jehovah at the same time interceding; for while we pray below our Intercessor is pleading above (compare Ps 30:8-10 with 1Ch 21:15-18). Apparently David had neglected to have the half shekel apiece payment made to God in recognition of His sovereignty (Ex 30:12-13); in which respect the people shared the guilt and therefore the punishment. Probably he sought popularity by omitting it. The number in 1Ch 21:5 is 1,100,000 of Israel and 470,000 of Judah. But in 2Sa 24:9 of Israel 800,000, of Judah 500,000. The census was not completed, through the reluctance of Joab to proceed, and through David's revoking the order before it was finished.

The number was never put "in the account of the chronicles of King David" (1Ch 27:24). Levi was omitted, as it was for men fit for war that the census was taken. Benjamin, which came last in order on the return home to Jerusalem, had not been numbered when the census was interrupted (1Ch 21:6). The 30,000 difference in the number of Judah, as given in Chronicles and according to Samuel, was perhaps due to Benjamin being given in Samuel but not in Chronicles. or, possibly, Chronicles omits the 30,000 army of observation stationed on the Philistine frontier (2Sa 6:1). The 300,000 more in Israel according to Chronicles probably included the standing army in 24, courses of 24,000 each, i.e. 288,000 in all (1 Chronicles 27), besides 12 captains with 1,000 each as the king's own guard, in all 300,000, not counted in 2 Samuel 24.

These were in actual service

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It was a part of the Mosaic law that when the people were numbered, every one, from twenty years old and upwards should give unto the Lord a half shekel as a ransom for his soul, that there might be no plague among them. Ex 30:11-16; 38:25-26. The numbering was an opportunity when flesh might exalt itself as to their numbers collectively, as well as each individual being noticed. But there was to be the recognition that it could only be on the ground of redemption that they could be taken into account by Jehovah. They must be reminded that they belonged to God, De 7:6, and must pay a ransom each one for himself.

A census of Israel was taken several times. It comprised the males from twenty years old and upwards, able to go to war.

1. At Sinai in the second month of the second year when they declared their pedigree after their families; there were 603,550, Ex 38:26; Nu 1:1-46 (stated in round numbers as 600,000 in Ex 12:37). The Levites from a month old were 22,000. These were taken for the tabernacle service as a redemption for the first-born of Israel whom God claimed; but of the latter there were 273 more than of the Levites, therefore the 273 were redeemed at 5 shekels each. Nu 3:39-51.

2. On the plains of Moab, 38 years after, when the number was 601,730, the numbering at that time being needed for the division of the land. The Levites numbered 23,000. Nu 26:51,62.

3. By David, when there was no need for it, he being moved to it by Satan (being permitted by God, 2Sa 24:1), and which called down the judgement of God on his pride. In 2Sa 24:9 the number is 1,300,000; but in 1Ch 21:5 it is 1,570,000. We read that Joab did not finish the numbering of the people "because there fell wrath for it against Israel," 1Ch 27:24: so that the number in Samuel may be of those actually counted, and that in Chronicles may include an estimate of the districts not canvassed. It is added "neither was the number put in the account of the chronicles of king David." If the above numbers be multiplied by 3.3 the result will give approximately the number of the population.

4. By Solomon, of the strangers that were in the land: they amounted to 153,600. 2Ch 2:17-18.

5. Of those who returned from captivity: there were 42,360. Ezr 2:64. In 1'>Ezr 8:1-20,1,754 males are also recorded.

In the N.T. the 'taxing' under Cyrenius is generally held to be a census: the word is ????????, an enrolment or register. Florus the Roman historian says, that a census comprised "every one's estate, dignity, age, employment, and office;" this occasion may therefore have been only a preliminary to taxing. The Jews were apparently allowed to conduct the census in their own way as to lineage. It has been proved that Cyrenius (Quirinius) was twice governor of Syria, which removes all difficulty as to the date of the census in Lu 2:1-5. The same Greek word is translated 'taxing' in Ac 5:37, when Judas headed an insurrection.

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See Taxing