The Atonement Money for the Tabernacle

30: 11-16

    DIG: What were the benefits, both spiritually and militarily, for the Israelites to take a census (see Numbers 26:2)? What is a ransom? How is it like or unlike a bribe, tax or premium due? Why did God require a ransom? On what basis were the rich and the poor ransomed?

    REFLECT: What ransom payment has superseded the need for all others (see First Timothy 2:5-6)? In response, or in addition, what do you feel you owe to God? What symbolic ransom payment do you then make to Him?

    This is the first time in the Bible that we learn about a census for the people of Isra'el. It was very dangerous to do so, but necessary. King David found out just how dangerous it was. God was angry with His people, and He allowed Satan to provoke David to take a census of the Israelites (see my commentary on the Life of David Ek - David Counts the Fighting Men). There is no contradiction, for God simply let Satan tempt David to undertake the census, much as He permitted Satan to attack Job. God’s sovereignty extends even to the workings of the Devil. The fact that David only had the military men counted, suggests that he probably took the census so that he could brag about his military might (Second Samuel 24:1-3).492 However, the result was that ADONAI sent a plague on Isra'el, and seventy thousand men of Isra'el fell dead (First Chronicles 21:1-14). David had forgotten that God would not share His glory with anyone. There is only one King, the Captain of our salvation, who, being entrusted with the counting of His people, never forgets the Father’s glory.493

    But on the other hand, a census could be very useful and practical. In this section, it is used to raise money for the building and operation of the Tabernacle. Then ADONAI said to Moses His servant: When you take a census of the Israelites to count, or muster, the men (Numbers 1:2-4). The verb translated take a census literally means lift up the head. In a figurative sense it symbolizes the counting of heads, or numbering (Numbers 1:2 and 49, 4:2 and 22; 26:2). We don’t learn until later that the purpose of the census was for the construction and ongoing work of the Tabernacle.

    Each one must pay ADONAI a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. This tax was considered a ransom, because its payment guaranteed protection from plagues. This motivated each man to pay (30:11-12).494 Although the immediate need of the census was to raise money for the Tabernacle and a secondary benefit was protection against disease. But there was still another purpose. The census was a record of military manpower. Only young men twenty years old or more were to be counted (30:14). The verb counted, or mustered, certainly has military overtones. Therefore, the point is that when Moses took a census for the purpose of military service he was taking a ransom from each soldier and donating it to the construction and ministry of the Tabernacle.495

    Each one who crossed over to those already counted, or passed muster, was to give a half shekel to the work of the Tabernacle, which weighs twenty gerahs. It was considered an offering and his half shekel was an offering to ADONAI (30:13). The shekel was silver, the basic unit of currency for the Hebrews. In fact, the word itself comes from the verb meaning, to weigh. Shekels have been unearthed all over Israel. The full standard shekel was ordained to be used in connection will all sacred purposes. They weigh anywhere from eight to twelve grams. Different shekel weights were used in Israel at the same time. To avoid confusion, a merchant would have two sets of weights, one for buying and another for selling (Deuteronomy 25:13). In his passage, the term gerah, a Babylonian weight, was one twentieth of a shekel (Leviticus 27:25; Numbers 18:16).

    When writing this part of the book, Moses used a term that was common after the Tabernacle had been built and in use. This term, the sanctuary shekel (30:13) is used in Leviticus 5:15, 27:3 and 25, and later became known as the Temple tax. All who crossed over, those twenty years or more, were to give an offering to God (30:14).

    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 ADONAI to atone for your lives (30:15). God was teaching them that they are a ransomed people. It was the same price for everyone, rich and poor alike. They all had an equal stake in the Tabernacle, so it belonged to everyone equally. However, the cost was such that everyone could afford it. Later, this became the basis for the Temple tax (Nehemiah 10:32). Although the amount then was reduced to one-third of a shekel, it became an annual tax in the time of Christ.496

    Receive the atonement money from the Israelites, and use it for the service of the Tabernacle. The significance of the atonement money is the teaching that God’s work must be supported by God’s people. Moses received the silver from the men who were mustered and counted. It was to be given to the work of the Tabernacle. Since silver was an essential part of the construction materials it was greatly needed (38:25-27). The silver would become a memorial for the Israelites before God, making atonement for their lives (30:16). Whenever an Israelite saw the silver of the Tabernacle, he would be reminded of his atonement. The idea of a memorial is an important concept in the book of Exodus (12:14, 13:9, 17:14, 28:12 and 29).

    The equality of the atonement price in the census is an important concept. No matter what one’s outward condition was, whether rich or poor, the cost was the same – half a shekel. This demonstrates that no one is given a privileged status before ADONAI in His Tabernacle. For God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11). Every man of Israel stood on equal terms before the Creator. In reality, that’s how we all stand before the LORD.

    Tradition tells us that Alexander the Great, on his deathbed, ordered that his burial should be different from the usual custom. He commanded that his entire body should be covered by a shroud, except for his hands. He wanted people to see that he left the world empty-handed. This man who had conquered most of the known world and had all the treasures that earth could offer was leaving life with none of it. At death, he and the lowest beggar were on equal terms.

    The rabbis teach that a child enters the world with clenched fists in order to grab for everything they can get. But that same person is buried with open hands showing that he takes nothing with him. All are on equal terms when it comes to riches, honor and power, because when we stand before God none of those things matter. What does matter is if we, as individuals, have a relationship with Jesus Christ or not. If so, an eternal inheritance awaits us - one that is far richer and more glorious than anything this world has to offer.497


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