Today’s reading begins with the census of Israel and concludes with the redemption of the firstborn.
The first event in the Book of Numbers is the census of the men in the camp of the Israelites who were aged 20 and older. This census was to take into account the fighting force of the people of Israel. Men from each tribe of Israel were selected to perform the census among their tribe and then report this number to Moses and Aaron for recording. Of all the people of Israel, those men aged 20 and above numbered 603,550. This number would not have accounted for the total number of people of Israel, so the total number of the Israelites at this point would be comfortably placed at 1.8 million. Obviously that’s an estimate, but it speaks to the stressful and difficult task that lay ahead of Moses to lead a group of this size on an unknown path to the promised land.
The only tribe of Israel that was exempted from the census of Israel were the Levites. The Levites being of the priestly class, they were not to be numbered because they were not to be sent into battle but rather minister to the LORD amongst all the people of Israel. Having been excluded from the census of men capable of being sent into battle, the number of Levites and their assigned positions surrounding the Tabernacle was recorded. In all there were 22,000 men of an age one month and older among the tribe of Levi.
The last event of this reading was a redemption that was to be made for the firstborn of Israel. When the number of firstborn males of all the people of Israel was counted, there were a total of 22,273. God required that the firstborn of all Israel belonged to Him, but instead of requiring their service, the LORD redeemed the Levites as the firstborn. For the 273 firstborn over and above the number of the Levite males, God required that redemption be made for this number multiplied by the redemption cost of five shekels for each male for a total of 1,365 shekels. This money was collected from the people of Israel and given to Aaron the priest of Israel.