Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
The mustering of the tribes described in this chapter was immediately preparatory to the war against Midian, and to the invasion of Canaan wbich shortly followed. With a view also to an equitable allotment of the land to be conquered (compare Num 26:54) the numbers of the several tribes were taken according to their families.
After the plague - These words serve to show approximately the date at which the census was taken, and intimate the reason for the great decrease in numbers which was found to have taken place in certain tribes. Compare Deu 4:3 and Num 26:5 note in this chapter.
Following The tribes are mentioned in the same order as in the earlier census Num. 1, except that Manasseh here precedes Ephraim; probably as being now the larger tribe.
The following table shows the numbers of the tribes at each census; at Sinai, and in the Plains of Moab:
At Sinai Plains of Moab Reuben 46,500 43,730 Simeon 9,300 22,200 Gad 45,650 40,500 Judah 74,600 76,500 Issachar 54,400 64,300 Zebulun 57,400 60,500 Ephraim 40,500 32,500 Manasseh 32,200 52,700 Benjamin 35,400 45,600 Dan 62,700 64,400 Asher 41,500 53,400 Naphtali 53,400 45,400 Totals 603, 550 601, 730
Seven of the tribes, of which three are tribes belonging to the camp of Judah, show an increase of numbers; and five, among whom are the three belonging to the camp of Reuben, show a decrease. The greatest increase of any one tribe is in Manasseh. The most remarkable decrease is in Simeon, which now shows less than half its former strength. To this tribe Zimri, the chief offender in the recent transgression, belonged Num 25:14. Probably his tribesmen generally had followed his example, and had accordingly suffered most severely in the plague. In the parting blessing of Moses, uttered at no great interval from this date, the tribe of Simeon alone is omitted.
The families of all the tribes, excluding the Levites, number 57. The ancestral heads after whom these families are named correspond nearly with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Jacob, enumerated in Gen 46:8 ff. Both lists consist mainly of grandchildren of Jacob, both contain also the same two grandchildren of Judah, and the same two grandchildren of Asher. The document in Genesis should be regarded as a list, not of those who went down in their own persons with Jacob into Egypt, but of those whose names were transmitted to their posterity at the date of the Exodus as the heads of Israelite houses, and wire may thus be reckoned the early ancestors of the people.
Together with Korah - i. e., they were engulfed at the same time that Korah perished, for Korah himself appears to bare died among the two hundred and fifty incense offerers at the door of the tabernacle, not with Dathan and Abiram (compare Num 16:32 note).
The children of Korah died not - Compare Num 26:58. Samuel the prophet was of this family, and Heman, "the king's seer" Ch1 6:22, Ch1 6:33; Ch1 25:5. Several of the Psalms appear from the titles to have been composed for the sons of Korah: compare titles of Psa 42:1-11; 44; 45, etc.
This shows a decrease of 1,820 from the number at Sinai; a decrease due to the recent plague.
According to the lot ... - This method was adopted not only in order to preclude jealousies and disputes, but also that the several tribes might regard the territories as determined for them by God Himself: compare Pro 16:33.
whom her mother bare - literally, "whom she bare;" the subject is wanting, and the verb is in the feminine gender. The words "her mother" are merely conjectural. The text is probably imperfect.
The total number of male Levites, 23,000, shows an increase of 1,000 on the number at Sinai Num 3:39. It is doubtless to be taken as a round number; and, as before, includes the male children from a month old and upward, as well as the male adults.
It appears from Deu 2:14-15 that the generation numbered at the former census had perished before the host crossed the brook Zered.