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Morrish Bible Dictionary
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. Exodus 30:11-16; Exodus 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, Deuteronomy 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, Exodus 38:26; Numbers 1:1-46 (stated in round numbers as 600,000 in Exodus 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. Numbers 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. Numbers 26:51,62 .
3. By David, when there was no need for it, he being moved to it by Satan (being permitted by God, 2 Samuel 24:1 ), and which called down the judgement of God on his pride. In 2 Samuel 24:9 the number is 1,300,000; but in 1 Chronicles 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," 1 Chronicles 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. 2 Chronicles 2:17,18 .
5. Of those who returned from captivity: there were 42,360. Ezra 2:64 . In Ezra 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 ἀπογραφή, 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 Luke 2:1-5 . The same Greek word is translated 'taxing' in Acts 5:37 , when Judas headed an insurrection.