Bible Insights

Take a Census and Make a List

God Tells Moses to Count the Number of Men for the Army

The book of Numbers opens with God telling Moses to take a census of the people. Numbers also ends with a census.

These two numberings of the people serve as bookends for this section of Scripture, which is why we call it Numbers. It begins and ends with numbers.

Count the Army

This numbering of the people is not a complete census, however. It’s only of men twenty years or older who can fight. It’s like registering for the draft. Moses lists each man. The tally is over 600,000 eligible men.

If you add in boys and elderly men, the number of males surely tops one million. Double this to account for females, and we have a conservative number of two million people. That’s a lot.

But the focus of this effort in the book of Numbers is to assess the size of their potential army. It’s over 600,000, a formable number.

David Does This Too

It seems wise for a leader to know the size of his army. God has Moses do this, but when David does this it doesn’t work out so well.

In case you’re interested he had 1.3 million men to fight in his army. However, David felt guilty for counting the number of men (2 Samuel 24:10).

This signals him putting his trust in the size of his army and not in God. God punishes him for this.

This reminds us that what God says in the Bible may be situational. For Moses it was right to number his troops, while for David it was wrong.

None of These Men Make It to the Promised Land

The book of Numbers tells us what happens next. Twelve men spy out the land. Ten of the spies are scared and tell the people there is no way the army will prevail. (Only Caleb and Joshua have faith that God will give them victory.)

The people believe the negative report and cower in fear. They rebel against God.

But then they change their mind and go forward into battle under their own power. They’re soundly defeated.

As punishment, God says that none of the men included in the count, the men registered on Moses’s list, will enter the promised land. They will die in the desert, never seeing what God wants to give them. Only Caleb and Joshua will make it in.

This list referenced in the book of Numbers is one list to avoid.

Are Our Names Written on God’s List?

However, in the book of Revelation, John writes about the book of life. In this case those whose names written in this book will make it in (Revelation 21:27). The people whose names aren’t on the list are hosed (Revelation 20:15).

There’s a time to count, and a time not to count. There’s a list we want to be on, and a list we don’t. But at the end of time, what matters is that our names are in the Lamb’s book of life. That’s what counts.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Numbers 1-3, and today’s post is on Numbers 1:2.]

Read more in Peter’s devotional Bible study, A New Heaven and a New Earth: 40 Practical Insights from John’s Book of Revelation.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.

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