The first chapter of the book of Numbers lives up to its name—it involves taking a census (i.e. “numbering”) of the Israelites. First, the leaders of the tribes were numbered, then a census was taken of each tribe. The exception to this census-taking was the Levites. The apparent purpose of the census was to assess their fighting strength, and determine the number of males above the age of twenty, who were eligible for military service.

Numbers 1 can be outlined as follows:
• The LORD Commanded Moses to Take a Census of Israel (Num. 1:1 – 4)
• The Tribal Leaders Were Counted (Num. 1:5 – 19)
• The Census Was Taken for Each Tribe (Num. 1:20 – 46)
• The Levites Were Exempted from the Census (Num. 1:47 – 54)

Numbers 1:1-4

The first thing the LORD wanted Moses to do in preparation for leaving Mount Sinai was to take a census of all males twenty years old and older to obtain a count of how many men would be able to go to war.

Numbers 1:5-19

God names a man from each tribe to be appointed to help Moses and Aaron carry out the census.

Numbers 1:20-46

Verses 20 – 46 relates the count of the number of men qualified for warfare by each tribe. The last three verses record the totals.

Numbers 1:47-54

The Levites were exempt from military duty because they were designated by God to maintain and transport the tabernacle, the LORD’s dwelling place amongst His people.