This was a great chance for me to practice my larger numbers in Spanish. I was pretty good in translation, but not perfect. Cincuenta and Cuarenta seem to trip me up way more often than is expected.
The reported population of the Isrealites continues to increase. First, we have Jacob and his twelve sons. But when then move to Egypt, the total roster of males is 70. Gen. 46:26-27; Ex. 1:5. Over the next 430 years the population increases to over six hundred thousand. Ex. 12:37-40. There is that little set back when Moses directed the Levites to walk through the camp and kill a bunch of people indiscriminatingly dropping about three thousand people, literally. Ex. 32:28. But, by the time they are forming up camps from today’s reading they are up to 603,550. P.S. As predicted in Gen. 48:17-21, Joesph’s younger son Ephraim has more people, 40,500, in his tribe than his big brother Manneseh, 32,400. [Update 2/25: From here, this would require a Growth Rate of 2.13%, which seems not crazy to me because in 2000 the world wide growth rate slowed to 1.2%.]
You don’t count the Levites. And they stay with the tabernacle in the camping formation. The boss tribes are Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan. Reuben & Judah are flanked by other kids of Leah. Ephraim has the other tribe of Joseph and Benjamin, the other child of Rachael. Then Dan has the concubine kids.
Note: Rachel’s two kids make up three tribes. Mathematically required since we pulled out the Levites.
Here’s what I know about these numbers. Nothing. I think they are probably super inflated compared to the actual population of the Hebrews at this time. Although, it is hard to talk about “actual” anything here since the pre-monarchy period for the Hebrews is not contemporaneously recorded. Here’s what I think, it feels like the numbers may relate to relative size of tribes that existed during the monarchy. But, frankly, the meaning is pretty lost to me. It demonstrates the value of scholarship in understanding ancient texts.