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Israel Numbered on the Plains of Moab (Numbers 26)

The terrible plague of the previous chapter marked a turning point for Israel. The first generation that had come out of Egypt is now gone and God requires another census, which Moses and Eleazar (Aaron's son and successor) undertake: "But among these [whom they counted] there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest when they numbered the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai [in the first census]. For the Lord had said of them, 'They shall surely die in the wilderness.' So there was not left a man of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun" (verses 64-65).

The numbering is, in part, for inheritance purposes, as tribal inheritance will be according to the principle of "share, and share alike," with every tribe receiving proportions commensurate with their numbers (verse 54). Since someone is sure to say one piece of land is better than another, it is to be divided up by the casting of lots (verses 55-56).

A comparison of this census with the first one at Sinai is rather interesting. When the Israelites were delivered from slavery, the tribe of Simeon comprised 59,300 men of fighting age (1:22-23). Yet 40 years later, when Israel is about to enter the Promised Land, the Simeonites have only 22,200 men (26:4, 14)—a 62.5 percent drop in population, in contrast with an average 6.5 percent growth for the rest of Israel (even though four other tribes had shrunk slightly). What had happened? Though there could be another explanation, it is possible, as many have surmised, that a great number of Simeonites (known for their fiery temperament), along with groups from other tribes, left the mass of the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering. If so, where would they have gone? Since Jacob had prophesied that Simeon would be "scattered" among the tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:5-7), these early emigrants would probably have gone to the same place that other Israelites would go much later—Northwest Europe—paving the way for subsequent migrations (see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy).

Interestingly, before the Romans invaded Britain centuries later, there was a Celtic clan living in what is now southwest England and Wales known as the Simonii, a name that may derive from the Simeonites.

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