Day 26

The Second Census

from the reading plan

Numbers 26:1-65, Deuteronomy 2:14-15, Psalm 95:10-11

I’ll admit, reading a list of names that are difficult to pronounce alongside the census data of how many were in each tribe is hardly the stuff I am eager to wake up and read. Maybe the accountants among us are ecstatic with this kind of reading, but why couldn’t we spice it up with an inspiring and motivational message?

Yet in the documentation of a national census, there are some valuable insights for us. Moses identified two men, Dathan and Abiram specifically, who were leaders in the rebellion of Korah against Moses and Aaron. We remember that God stepped in, split the earth in two, and swallowed these rebels and all their followers. It was a significant loss for the people of Israel. We are reminded at the end of the chapter that this census covered an entirely new generation of men aged twenty and older. Moses reported that “among them there was not one of those who had been registered by Moses and the priest Aaron when they registered the Israelites in the Wilderness of Sinai” (Numbers 26:64). God had kept His word to the unbelieving prior generation. Not one person from the preceding generation remained alive—except Caleb and Joshua—to enter the promised land. The generational turnover was complete, total.

The census reminds us through its data of two things. First, God will fulfill His words against unbelief and rebellion, and He will not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7). And secondly, God is faithful to His people forever. The names and calculations of Numbers 26 should stun us—we should expect a major decline and even a significant subtraction of the people of Israel after forty years of the toils and turmoil of wandering in the wilderness. We should expect this census to reveal a nation half the size of what it was a generation earlier. But the numbers tell a different story. The total of the men of Israel at the second census is nearly identical to the number of men at the first census (just compare Numbers 26:51 with Numbers 1:46).

God kept His promises and showed His faithfulness to His people despite their failure and sin. This is good news for us because we are reminded that the Lord keeps His promises for us too. In Christ, we have God’s promise to those who hear and believe in Him that we are His forever. So let the numbers encourage you. The data demonstrates His faithfulness to all of His promises.

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