MemberJanuary 19, 2021 at 11:54 am
A crucial question is whether the word translated as “thousand” really means 1000. There’s a strong case to make that it doesn’t. “The New Bible Commentary: Revised,” an evangelical commentary, notes that the same term means “family” in Judges 6:15 and elsewhere, and that with different vowels (remember, the original Hebrew was consonants only) can mean “captain.” So Numbers 1:20 might then mean 46 captains, 500 men in its original form. The total in 1:46 would be an incorrect summation by the compiler, working off lists he misunderstood, and the total might more accurately be 5550 men led by 598 captains, giving a total community size of perhaps 20-40,000. (I don’t know Hebrew, so it’s possible that the numbers divide up between captains and men a bit differently, but this would be in the ballpark.)
That would seem to fit better with the chariots Pharaoh musters, with the available water, space, and other logistics issues in the wilderness, with the fact that they couldn’t just overwhelm Jericho or the other cities of Canaan, and with the undoubtedly sub-million size of the nation in the ensuing years when they settle in the land and are often under the subjugation of other nations. It wouldn’t seem likely that the nation would suffer a massive population collapse just after arriving in the land of milk and honey.