Numbers 1–4: The Census

Old Testament Seminary Student Study Guide, (2002), 63


Numbers 1–4 relates how Israel was numbered by tribe, or family. Joseph’s tribe received a double inheritance because of the birthright. This double inheritance was divided between Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. As a result, these two sons were given status as separate tribes in Israel (see Genesis 48:5), making thirteen tribes in Israel. The tribe of Levi had a special calling to hold the priesthood and perform ordinances under the law of Moses. Because of this calling, they lived among all the other tribes and were not counted in the same way. Israel was generally considered to have twelve tribes—plus the Levites. Numbers 1–2 tells that the twelve tribes were counted and organized into groups for marching and camping. Numbers 3–4 records how the Levites were counted and given their assignments.Numbers 3–4 also explains that all the firstborn among the children of Israel belong to the Lord because they were saved only through the Lord’s mercy when they put blood on their doorpost at the time of the tenth plague in Egypt (see Exodus 12–13). The Lord explained, however, that instead of having the firstborn of every family serve him full-time, he would have Levites serve in their place. To show they recognized that the Levites served in their place, each firstborn son in the other twelve tribes was required to pay a certain amount of money each year to support the Levites’ work in the tabernacle. This was called “redemption money” (see Numbers 3:44–51).

Studying the Scriptures

Do activities A and B as you study Numbers 1–4.

Activity A iconIt Could Be You

Read Numbers 3:12–13; 4:40–41 and the explanation of Numbers 1–4 above to learn what the Lord said about the firstborn in all Israel. Then read 2 Nephi 9:6–9 and explain how we could be compared to the firstborn in Israel. In other words, without the Atonement of Christ, what would happen to us? (see also 1 Corinthians 6:19–20; 1 Peter 1:18–19).

Activity B iconWhat Should You Do?

Considering what you learned in activity A, how should knowing who we belong to affect our priorities? What does the Lord ask us to do that could be compared to “redemption money”?