And this is why Numbers earns the title of the most boring book of the bible! Through Numbers 1:19-46 Moses repeats this entire paragraph twelve times! That’s twelve more times of writing out the phrase, “by their generations, after their families, by the house of their fathers, according to the number of the names, by their polls, every male from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war; Those that were numbered of them…” The only thing that changes is the name of the tribe and the count at the end. Why not write it once and then make a list of all the tribes with their numbers? Does Moses own stock in parchment manufacturing? Doesn’t God know about the Green movement? On the plus side, because of this crap, we’re already almost through the first chapter!
If you sum all the numbers listed, you get a total of 603,550 war-ready Israelites, and unlike other lists the bible, the mathematics actually add up correctly this time. This is unusual because it shows a slight increase from the 600,000 war-ready Israelites that left Egypt during the Exodus, or, at the very least, the population remained constant. I find it amazing that the Israelites, numbering in the multiple-millions, have made it through two years in a desolate wasteland with no food or water except the strange manna God provided, and yet, they’ve maintained their numbers. There haven’t been any large-scale deaths from heat exhaustion, dehydration, scorpion stings, snake bites, internal conflict, that big battle with the Amalekites which they almost lost, or even God smiting them into dust. Well, that’s not true, Moses had 3,000 exterminated, remember?
Yes, amazingly their numbers have remained constant, but what’s even more amazing is that the exponential growth which allowed them to go from a mere 70 to several million in only a couple centuries has stopped dead in its tracks. Did the Israelites finally ditch abstinence-only in favor of actual sexual education?
A couple more nitpicks. First, despite being the richest and most powerful tribe in Egypt, Joseph’s tribe is shown to be one of the smallest in population, and the bible offers no explanation of this oddity. Second, at the beginning of the chapter God demands that every single battle-capable man be listed by name. However, when you look at the numbers, most of the tribes rounded to the nearest 100. Either the Israelites are extremely good at producing offspring in multiples of 100, or they’ve disobeyed God yet again.