Friday, February 5, 2016

Exodus 30:11-16 Census Atonement

"Then the LORD said to Moses,
'When you take a census of the Israelites to count them,
each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted.
Then no plague will come on them when you number them.

Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel,
according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.
This half shekel is an offering to the LORD.
All who cross over, those twenty years old or more,
are to give an offering to the LORD.
The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less
when you make the offering to the LORD to atone for your lives.

Receive the atonement money from the Israelites
and use it for the service of the Tent of Meeting.
It will be a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD,
making atonement for your lives.' "

Exodus 30:11-16 (NIV)

When I read this passage, another passage immediately came to mind.  It was II Samuel 24:1-17, the time when King David calls for a census to be taken of the Israelites.  After warning David that the LORD would not be pleased with this action, Joab, the commander of David's army, reluctantly does conduct the census, although I Chronicles 21:6 notes that Joab omits counting the tribes of the Levites and the Benjamites, "for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab."

So what's the big deal about counting up the number of men you have in the army?

To understand what Joab was so upset about, we need to go back and see a bit of background to this passage.  Soon after the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt by the LORD, these things were commanded by the LORD:

"Consecrate to me every firstborn male.
The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me,
whether man or animal."

Exodus 13:1-2 (NIV)
"After the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites
and gives it to you, as he promised on oath to you and your forefathers,
you are to give over to the LORD the first offspring of every womb.

All the firstborn males of your livestock belong to the LORD.
Redeem with a lamb every firstborn donkey,
but if you do not redeem it, break its neck.

Redeem every firstborn among your sons.

In days to come, when your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' say to him,
'With a mighty hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery.  When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go,
the LORD killed every firstborn in Egypt, both man and animal.
This is why I sacrifice to the LORD the first male offspring of every womb
and redeem each of my firstborn sons.'  And it will be like a sign on your hand and
a symbol on your forehead that
the LORD brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand."

Exodus 13:11-16 (NIV)

The NIV Study Bible notes these things: "The verb 'redeem' means to "obtain release by means of payment".... "Humans were to be consecrated to the LORD by their life, not by their death.  (Genesis 22:12; Numbers 3:39-51; Romans 12:1)"

Taking all these things into account,  it seems that the principles behind this passage in Exodus 30:11-16 are as follows:

All of the Israelites had been delivered by God from slavery in Egypt.  Meanwhile, a plague had come upon the firstborn sons of Pharaoh and the rest of the Egyptians as punishment for Pharaoh's refusal to release the Israelites, even though the Egyptians had been given ten warnings in the form of plagues [which showed the inability of their idols to deliver them.]

As a result of this deliverance of the Israelites, the LORD considered the Israelites' firstborn males --  both man and animals -- as his own portion from this victory.  [In fact, other verses indicate that the LORD considered all of Israel to be his collective 'firstborn son'. (Exodus 4:22-23) ] The firstborn humans could be redeemed by payment.  The firstborn animals were sacrificed to the LORD as an offering.  

Years later, when David decided to have a census taken, there is no indication that he had offered the prescribed payment for the men who had been counted.  (These men were not all firstborn sons, but they had been counted in a census:  (See Exodus 30:11-16, above.)  Instead, ignoring God's directions about census-taking, it seems that David had been indulging in a prideful tally of the number of men which he had under his command.  This conclusion is further strengthened by the fact that right after he had the men counted, David knew that he had sinned. (I Chronicles 21:7-8).

  David repented immediately, but he still ran into severe repercussions [70,000 dead!] by seeming to count the Israelites as his own, rather than the LORD's, men.

OK, but why am I going into so much detail about these passages in II Samuel 24:1-17 and the whole 21st chapter of I Chronicles?  Well, it started out as just an example of census-taking done without obedience to the directions found in our passage of Exodus 30:11-16.  However, the more I read, the more parallels with the deliverance from Egypt I saw, and the more important the concept of the 'firstborn' seemed to become.

Regarding the parallels with the deliverance from Egypt, note that in Exodus 30:11-16 there is the concept of 'crossing over'.  In that passage it merely says that as the Israelites were being counted in a census, "each one who crosses over" had to pay the half shekel as they moved over to the group of already-counted men.  Later in the same passage, "all who cross over" are to give the prescribed offering.  Maybe I am making too much of this, but this language reminds me that this is a picture of those who 'crossed over' the Red Sea as they fled Egypt, moving from a place of death to a place of life.  In addition "no plague will come upon them", just as the plagues upon the Egyptians did not come upon the Israelites who had followed God's directions regarding the Passover lamb.

Regarding the concept of the 'firstborn', I note that the firstborn of Egypt died in the final plague, for they had not put the Passover lamb's blood upon their doorposts as directed by Moses.  However, the firstborn of Israel were delivered from this plague when the Israelites [and apparently others who had also complied with the LORD's instructions about the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:37-38)] obeyed those instructions.

Moving into the New Testament, there is also the concept of  Jesus Christ being the one whose death [which occurred at Passover time] becomes the means of our sins being paid for and pardoned.  John the Baptist called Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"  (John 1:21).

Jesus is also called "the firstborn from the dead" (Colossians 1:18; Revelation 1:5).  [Although others were raised from the dead, they eventually died, while Jesus was the first to rise from the dead and remain alive forever.]
There is so much more to be gleaned from the Scriptures about these subjects, but that is all that I have at this time.  I think that the best way to end this post is the following  quotation from I Peter  1:17-21:

"Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially,
live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.  For you know that 
it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed
from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers,
but with the precious blood of Christ, 
a lamb without blemish or defect.

He was chosen before the creation of the world,
but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

Through him you believe in God,
who raised him from the dead and glorified him,
and so your faith and hope are in God."

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