We will be concluding Chapter 26 today with a look at the number of fighting men counted in the second census of Israel. We will also see the count of the men in the tribe of Levi. The Levites are counted separately because they are exempt from military service.
"The descendants of Naphtali by their clans were: through Jahzeel, the Jahzeelite clan; through Guni, the Gunite clan; through Jezer, the Jezerite clan; through Shillem, the Shillemite clan. These were the clans of Naphtali; those numbered were 45,400." (Numbers 26:48-50) The number of fighting men in the tribe of Naphtali has decreased by 8,000 since the first census.
"The total number of the men of Israel was 601,730." (Numbers 26:51) This is only the number of men able to serve in the army. Men under twenty aren't counted. Men too old or too ill to serve in the army aren't counted. Men with physical or mental disabilities aren't counted. The tribe of Levi isn't counted. The total number of all the adult males of Israel is far higher than 601,730, but this census is for the purpose of forming an army; therefore we could compare it to our modern day military draft registry.
In the first census Israel had 603,550 men able to serve in the army. Seven tribes have gained men since then. Five tribes have lost men. But there is not a militarily significant change in the total number. Israel only has 1,820 fewer fighting men than she started with. In an army that numbers over half a million soldiers, 1,820 is not that much of a change over the course of almost four decades. According to a reference chart I used for this study, Israel's army is only .3% smaller in Numbers 26 than it was in Numbers 1. I'm so helpless at working math problems that I'll take the reference chart's word for it, but .3% is not going to make a difference, one way or the other, in battle---especially when we consider that God is the strength of Israel's army. Whether the fighting men are many or few, Israel's victory depends on the Lord. This is something to remember and encourage ourselves with when times are tough: the battle is the Lord's, not ours. We may feel weak and we may be weak, but as King David said, "The Lord is my light and my salvation---whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident." (Psalm 27:1-3)
"The Lord said to Moses, 'The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed. Be sure that the land is distributed by lot. What each group inherits will be according to the names for its ancestral tribe. Each inheritance is to be distributed by lot among the larger and smaller groups.'" (Numbers 26:52-56) Israel needs an army to take over the promised land. But once Israel has control of the promised land, land is to be parceled out to each group. This is a secondary purpose for the census. There has to be a record of each clan so land can be allotted and so inheritance rights can be established and followed down through the generations.
Now we move on to the tribe of Levi. "These were the Levites who were counted by their clans: through Gershon, the Gershonite clan; through Kohath, the Kohathite clan; through Merari, the Merarite clan. These also were Levite clans: the Libnite clan, the Hebronite clan, the Mahlite clan, the Mushite clan, the Korahite clan." (Numbers 26:57-58a) Moses' family was of the tribe of Levi. He and Aaron and Miriam were descended from Kohath. "(Kohath was the forefather of Amram; the name of Amram's wife was Jochebed, a descendant of Levi, who was born to the Levites in Egypt. To Amram she bore Aaron, Moses and their sister Miriam. Aaron was the father of Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. But Nadab and Abihu died when they made an offering before the Lord with unauthorized fire.)" (Numbers 26:58b-61)
As we learned in Numbers 18, the Levites will not be given agricultural territories in the promised land. They will be given towns and cities to live in but their business is to be about the Lord's business, not to become shepherds or farmers. This is what is meant by this next segment of Scripture: "All the male Levites a month old or more numbered 23,000. They were not counted along with the other Israelites because they received no inheritance among them." (Numbers 26:62) The Levites are not counted for the purpose of serving in the army or for the purpose of having land allotted to them. They are to be counted as soon as they are a month old (not twenty years old like the soldiers). We don't know whether the number of male Levites increased or decreased during Israel's forty years in the wilderness because the Levites weren't counted in the first census.
"These are the ones counted by Moses and Eleazar the priest when they counted the Israelites on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho. Not one of them was among those counted by Moses and Aaron the priest when they counted the Israelites in the Desert of Sinai. For the Lord had told those Israelites they would surely die in the wilderness, and not one of them was left except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun." (Numbers 26:63-65) The people rebelled against the Lord in Numbers 14 and Israel's fighting men refused to go forward into the promised land. Only Joshua and Caleb, of the men of army age, believed the Lord would enable them to take the land. So the Lord said none of the faithless men would ever lay eyes on the promised land. He kept Israel in the wilderness until the men of that generation died, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb. This is why no fighting men (other than these two) who were counted in the first census were counted in the second census.
The men who rebelled in Numbers 14 disinherited themselves from the promised land. But they didn't disinherit the nation of Israel from the promised land. The Lord is still going to do what He said He would do. If He weren't, a second census would be pointless. But He still intends to take Israel forward into the glorious inheritance He promised their ancestor Abraham.