Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Mustering of Israel in the Steppes of Moab - Numbers 26
Before taking vengeance upon the Midianites, as they had been commanded, the Israelites were to be mustered as the army of Jehovah, by means of a fresh numbering, since the generation that was mustered at Sinai (ch. 1-4) had died out in the wilderness, with the sole exception of Caleb and Joshua (Num 26:64, Num 26:65). On this ground the command of God was issued, "after the plague,"' for a fresh census and muster. For with the plague the last of those who came out of Egypt, and were not to enter Canaan, had been swept away, and thus the sentence had been completely executed. - The object of the fresh numbering, however, was not merely to muster Israel for the war with the Midianites, and in the approaching conquest of the promised land with the Canaanites also, but was intended to serve at the same time as a preparation for their settlement in Canaan, viz., for the division of the conquered land among the tribes and families of Israel. For this reason (Num 26) the families of the different tribes are enumerated here, which was not the case in ch. 1; and generally instructions are also given in Num 1:52 -56, with reference to the division of Canaan. - The numbering was simply extended, as before, to the male population of the age of 20 years and upwards, and was no doubt carried out, like the previous census at Sinai, by Moses and the high priest (Eleazar), with the assistance of the heads of the tribes, although the latter are not expressly mentioned here. - The names of the families correspond, - with very few exceptions, - to the grandsons and great-grandsons of Jacob mentioned in Gen 46. - With regard to the total number of the people, and the number of the different tribes.
Mustering of the Twelve Tribes. - Num 26:1-4. The command of God to Moses and Eleazar is the same as in Num 1, 2, and 3, except that it does not enter so much into details.
"And Moses and Eleazar the priest spake with them" (דּבּר with the accusative, as in Gen 37:4). The pronoun refers to "the children of Israel," or more correctly, to the heads of the nation as the representatives of the congregation, who were to carry out the numbering. On the Arboth-Moab, see at Num 22:1. Only the leading point in their words is mentioned, viz., "from twenty years old and upwards" (sc., shall ye take the number of the children of Israel), since it was very simple to supply the words "take the sum" from Num 26:2.
(Note: This is, at all events, easier and simpler than the alterations of the text which have been suggested for the purpose of removing the difficulty. Knobel proposes to alter וידבּר into ויּדבּר, and לאמר into לפקד: "Moses and Eleazar arranged the children of Israel when they mustered them." But הדבּיר does not mean to arrange, but simply to drive in pairs, to subjugate (Psa 18:48, and Psa 47:4), - an expression which, as much be immediately apparent, is altogether inapplicable to the arrangement of the people in families for the purpose of taking a census.),
- The words from "the children of Israel" in Num 26:4 onwards form the introduction to the enumeration of the different tribes (Num 26:5.), and the verb יהיוּ (were) must be supplied. "And the children of Israel, who went forth out of Egypt, were Reuben," etc.
The families of Reuben tally with Gen 46:9; Exo 6:14, and Ch1 5:3. The plural בּני (sons), in Num 26:8, where only one son is mentioned, is to be explained from the fact, that several sons of this particular son (i.e., grandsons) are mentioned afterwards. On Dathan and Abiram, see at Num 16:1 and Num 16:32. See also the remark made here in Num 26:10 and Num 26:11, viz., that those who were destroyed with the company of Korah were for a sign (נס, here a warning); but that the sons of Korah were not destroyed along with their father.
The Simeonites counted only five families, as Ohad (Gen 46:10) left no family. Nemuel is called Jemuel there, as yod and nun are often interchanged (cf. Ges. thes. pp. 833 and 557); and Zerach is another name of the same signification for Zohar (Zerach, the rising of the sun; Zohar, candor, splendour).
The Gadites are the same as in Gen 46:16, except that Ozni is called Ezbon there.
The sons and families of Judah agree with Gen 46:12 (cf. Gen 38:6.); also with Ch1 2:3-5.
The families of Issachar correspond to the sons mentioned in Gen 46:13, except that the name Job occurs there instead of Jashub. The two names have the same signification, as Job is derived from an Arabic word which signifies to return.
The families of Zebulun correspond to the sons named in Gen 46:14.
The descendants of Joseph were classified in two leading families, according to his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim, who were born before the removal of Israel to Egypt, and were raised into founders of tribes in consequence of the patriarch Israel having adopted them as his own sons (Gen 48).
Eight families descended from Manasseh: viz., one from his son Machir, the second from Machir's son or Manasseh's grandson Gilead, and the other six from the six sons of Gilead. The genealogical accounts in Num 27:1; Num 36:1, and Jos 17:1., fully harmonize with this, except that Iezer (Num 26:30) is called Abiezer in Jos 17:2; whereas only a part of the names mentioned here occur in the genealogical fragments in Ch1 2:21-24, and 7:14-29. In Num 26:33, a son of Hepher, named Zelophehad, is mentioned. He had no sons, but only daughters, whose names are given here to prepare the way for the legal regulations mentioned in Num 27 and 39, to which this fact gave rise.
There were four families descended from Ephraim; three from his sons, and one from his grandson. Of the descendants of Sutelah several links are given in Ch1 7:20.
The children of Benjamin formed seven families, five of whom were founded by his sons, and two by grandsons. (On the differences which occur between the names given here and those in Gen 46:21.) Some of the sons and grandsons of Benjamin mentioned here are also found in the genealogical fragments in Ch1 7:6-18, and Ch1 8:1.
The descendants of Dan formed only one family, named from a son of Dan, who is called Shuham here, but Hushim in Gen 46:23; though this family no doubt branched out into several smaller families, which are not named here, simply because this list contains only the leading families into which the tribes were divided.
The families of Asher agree with the sons of Asher mentioned in Gen 46:17 and Ch1 7:30, except that Ishuah is omitted here, because he founded no family.
The families of Naphtali tally with the sons of Naphtali in Gen 46:24 and Ch1 7:30.
The total number of the persons mustered was 601,730.
Instructions concerning the Distribution of the Land. - In Num 26:53, Num 26:54, the command is given to distribute the land as an inheritance among the twelve tribes ("unto these"), according to the number of the names (Num 1:2-18), i.e., to the tribes and families that contained only a few persons, they were to make it small; to every one according to the measure of its mustered persons (ל must be repeated before אישׁ). In Num 26:55, Num 26:56, it is still further commanded that the distribution should take place by lot. "According to the names on their paternal tribes shall they (the children of Israel) receive it (the land) for an inheritance." The meaning of these words can only be, that every tribe was to receive a province of its own for an inheritance, which should be called by its name for ever. The other regulation in Num 26:56, "according to the measure of the lot shall its inheritance (the inheritance of every tribe) be divided between the numerous and the small (tribe)," is no doubt to be understood as signifying, that in the division of the tribe territories, according to the comparative sizes of the different tribes, they were to adhere to that portion of land which fell to every tribe in the casting of the lots. The magnitude and limits of the possessions of the different tribes could not be determined by the lot according to the magnitude of the tribes themselves: all that could possibly be determined was the situation to be occupied by the tribe; so that R. Bechai is quite correct in observing that "the casting of the lot took place for the more convenient distribution of the different portions, whether of better or inferior condition, that there might be no occasion for strife and covetousness," though the motive assigned is too partial in its character. The lot was to determine the portion of every tribe, not merely to prevent all occasion for dissatisfaction and complaining, but in order that every tribe might receive with gratitude the possession that fell to its lot as the inheritance assigned it by God, the result of the lot being regarded by almost all nations as determined by God Himself (cf. Pro 16:33; Pro 18:18). On this ground not only was the lot resorted to by the Greeks and Romans in the distribution of conquered lands (see the proofs in Clericus, Rosenmller, and Knobel), but it is still employed in the division of lands. (For further remarks, see at Jos 14:1.).
Mustering of the Levites. - The enumeration of the different Levitical families into which the three leading families of Levi, that were founded by his three sons Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, were divided, is not complete, but is broken off in Num 26:58 after the notice of five different families, for the purpose of tracing once more the descent of Moses and Aaron, the heads not of this tribe only, but of the whole nation, and also of giving the names of the sons of the latter (Num 26:59-61). And after this the whole is concluded with a notice of the total number of those who were mustered of the tribe of Levi (Num 26:62). - Of the different families mentioned, Libni belonged to Gershon (cf. Num 3:21), Hebroni to Kohath (Num 3:27), Machli and Mushi to Merari (Num 3:33), and Korchi, i.e., the family of Korah (according to ch. Num 16:1; cf. Exo 6:21 and Exo 6:24), to Kohath. Moses and Aaron were descendants of Kohath (see at Exo 6:20 and Exo 2:1). Some difficulty is caused by the relative clause, "whom (one) had born to Levi in Egypt" (Num 26:59), on account of the subject being left indefinite. It cannot be Levi's wife, as Jarchi, Abenezra, and others suppose; for Jochebed, the mother of Moses, was not a daughter of Levi in the strict sense of the word, but only a Levitess or descendant of Levi, who lived about 300 years after Levi; just as her husband Amram was not actually the son of Amram, who bore that name (Exo 6:18), but a later descendant of this older Amram. The missing subject must be derived from the verb itself, viz., either היּלדת or אמּהּ (her mother), as in Kg1 1:6, another passage in which "his mother" is to be supplied (cf. Ewald, 294, b.).
Sons of Aaron: cf. Num 3:2 and Num 3:4; Exo 6:23; Lev 10:1, Lev 10:2.
The Levites were not mustered along with the rest of the tribes of Israel, because the mustering took place with especial reference to the conquest of Canaan, and the Levites were not to receive any territory as a tribe (see at Num 18:20).
Concluding formula with the remark in Num 26:65, that the penal sentence which God had pronounced in Num 14:29 and Num 14:38 upon the generation which came out of Egypt, had been completely carried out.