Updated: May 12, 2021
Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
The word bamidbar means in the wilderness in Hebrew.
This portion can be divided up as follows:
The First Census of Israel
The Order of Encampment and Marching
The Sons of Aaron
The Duties of the Levites
A Census of the Levites
The Redemption of the Firstborn
The First Census
Here we read about the first taking of a census of the children of Israel. We are given how the males were all divided by age and counted. One should notice that the Levites were not counted with the other tribes. This is because they did not go out to war to fight as warriors. The Levites were counted separately because they were the priests and helpers in the
Tabernacle. This will be an important thing to remember as we read through the book of Numbers. It ties in with the spies who will be sent into Canaan. We read then that only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the promised land of those who left Egypt. However, this did not include the Levites but only the warriors. Many of the Levites that left Egypt entered the promised land. For example: Aaron's son, Eleazar, left Egypt and entered the promised land.
We shouldn't see this census as a boring list that we need to read. Instead we should see it not just as numbers but by names, names of real people who lived - individuals. Every one got to tell their name and be counted as an individual of worth. Each one by their families, by their fathers' households, according to the number of their names, head by head they were counted as men who could go out to war (Numbers 1:20).
Israel was a nation – composed of individuals. Each person is valuable, just as the first man Adam. The Jews view each human being as a whole world. They say that whoever destroys a single person it is as if he destroyed an entire world. If a single person saves a single person it is as if they saved an entire world.
Every human being is a rare treasure to God so much so that He states that He knows the number of hairs on each one of our heads. We are each uniquely made, not minted like coins – all made from one mold. Every human being has a thumb print like no one else. We are each cherished and admired by our maker and just as He sees each sparrow that falls from the sky, He cares about each one of us as an individual. He knitted each one of us uniquely in our mother's womb.
As the children of Israel encamped in the wilderness they did so as instructed by YHWH. They were arranged in encampments around the Tabernacle in groups of 4 with each of the four encampments containing 3 tribes. The heads of these encampments with their symbol/ensign and the direction they were to camp were as follows:
Encampment leader - Judah (Issachar, Zebulon)
symbol - lion
camped - eastward
Encampment leader - Ephraim (Manasseh, Benjamin)
symbol – ox
camped - westward
Encampment leader - Reuben (Simeon, Gad)
symbol – man
camped - southward
Encampment leader Dan
symbol – eagle (serpent or dragon)
camped – northward
The tabernacle was in the middle of the encampments above and around the tabernacle itself. The Levites and priests encamped accordingly:
Marari - north
Kohath - south
Moses, Aaron and His sons – east
The Sons of Aaron
The sons of Aaron were Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. Nadab and Abihu were put to death by YHWH for placing profane fire on His altar. Eleazar became High Priest after the death of Aaron. Ithamar's line had the high priesthood during the time of Eli after the death of Phinehas, Eleazar's son. During the time of David there were two High Priest, one from the line of Eleazar and one from the line of Ithamar. King Solomon banished the line of Ithamar (per David's request) because they sided with Adonijah instead of Solomon. The lineage of Eleazar, under Tzadok's descendants, carried on the priesthood from this point forward.