MemberJanuary 24, 2021 at 10:53 am
Levi and the Firstborn Sons
All attempts to resolve the problems of the census lists in Numbers 1 and 26 founder on the account of how the Levite males were dedicated to God in place of the firstborn sons of the other twelve tribes (Num 3:12-3).91 The problems involved in these calculations are perhaps the most difficult of all. Firstly, the figures of 22,000 Levite males in the first census (Num 3:39) and 23,000 in the second census (Num 26:62) are the only tribal totals given in round thousands. Secondly, as with the figures for the other tribes, it is entirely improbable that a careful census of Levite males of all ages should produce such round numbers. Thirdly, taking the figures as they stand, the size of the Levite tribe is not proportional to the other twelve tribes. Levite males of all ages number fewer than half the average number of adult men in the other tribes so that Levi is about one fifth the average size of the other tribes.92 And finally, in regard to the proportion of firstborn sons within Israel, with just 22,273 firstborn sons to 1.2 million Israelite males of all ages (about twice 603,550 adult males), only one son in fifty-four would be the firstborn of his father. From these observations, it is apparent that ‘something else’ has happened to the numbers of Levi and the firstborn sons.
91 Olson, The Death of the Old and the Birth of the New : The Framework of the Book of Numbers and the Pentateuch, 76. These groups did not match exactly of course, so a monetary value was levied on the outstanding number of Israelite firstborn males and was given to the Sanctuary, (Num 3:46-7).
92 A tribal average of 54,850 men over 20 years of age represents about twice that number of males of all ages, i.e. 109,700, with 22,000 Levite males of all ages about one fifth of this amount.