The book of Numbers begins, not surprisingly, by numbering the people of Israel. “The people registered their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men twenty years old or more were listed by name, one by one, as the Lord commanded Moses.” (1:18-19). I would like to see the list of all those names! Given that they didn’t have paper or computers and there were 603,550 men it must have required a lot of writing material. This census totalled the number of men able to bear arms. The Levites are not included in this total and Joseph’s two sons are listed separately so that the list still includes twelve divisions. It is interesting to see the variance between the various tribes; some were obviously more prolific than others. Judah leads the way with 74,600 and Benjamin trails behind with 35,400. Manasseh only had 32,200 but combined with his brother far outpaces Benjamin. Judges 20 recounts how Benjamin was almost wiped out due to sin but that story must wait.
The following chapter repeats this information while detailing how the tribes will arrange themselves around the tent of meeting. Chapter three relates the counting of the Levite males one month of age or more. They totalled 22,000 and were dedicated to the Lord in place of the firstborn of every Israelite. There were 22,273 firstborn in Israel so the people had to redeem those extra 273 men at a cost of five shekels each which was given to Aaron and the priests.