Organizing the Census of the Israelites
1:1 Now the LORD spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the wilderness of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites departed from the land of Egypt. He said: 1:2 “Take a census of the entire Israelite community by their clans and families, counting the name of every individual male. 1:3 You and Aaron are to number all in Israel who can serve in the army, those who are twenty years old or older, by their divisions. 1:4 And to help you there is to be a man from each tribe, each man the head of his family. 1:5 Now these are the names of the men who are to help you:
from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur;
1:6 from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai;
1:7 from Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab;
1:8 from Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar;
1:9 from Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon;
1:10 from the sons of Joseph:
from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud;
from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur;
1:11 from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni;
1:12 from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai;
1:13 from Asher, Pagiel son of Ocran;
1:14 from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel;
1:15 from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan.”
The Census of the Tribes
1:16 These were the ones chosen from the community, leaders of their ancestral tribes. They were the heads of the thousands of Israel.
1:17 So Moses and Aaron took these men who had been mentioned specifically by name, 1:18 and they assembled the entire community together on the first day of the second month. Then the people recorded their ancestry by their clans and families, and the men who were twenty years old or older were listed by name individually, 1:19 just as the LORD had commanded Moses. And so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai.
1:20 And they were as follows:
The descendants of Reuben, the firstborn son of Israel: According to the records of their clans and families, all the males twenty years old or older who could serve in the army were listed by name individually. 1:21 Those of them who were numbered from the tribe of Reuben were 46,500.
Those of them who were numbered from the tribe of Reuben were 46,500 – The text says that there were 46 ‘eleph and 500 men. Although ‘eleph can mean ‘thousand’, it can also mean ‘group’ or ‘troop’. If given the latter meaning here, we have 46 ‘groups’ amounting to 500 men in total. This interpretation requires that later editors of the Pentateuch misunderstood which meaning of ‘eleph was applicable here. See the discussion in Humphreys, The Miracles of Exodus, ch. 8.