God commands Moses to take a census of each Israelite tribe, counting all males 20 years and over. The numbers of each tribe are listed, totaling 603,550. Camped on the front (or east) of the Tent of Meeting are the Judites, Issacharites, and Zebulunites. On the south are the Reubenites, Simeonites, and Gadites. On the west: Ephraimites, Manassites, Benjaminites. On the east: Danites, Asherites, Naphtalites. In the middle: the Levites. The LORD takes the Levites in place of the first-born of Israel. The Levites are then counted as well, totaling 22,000 whereas the number of first-born is 22,273. The extra 273 are redeemed through payment to Aaron and his sons. The Levites are then assigned to carry different parts of the Tabernacle. When the Tabernacle is taken down, Aaron and his sons must cover every component–least the Levites look upon them and die–before the Levites start carrying them.
- The numbers here are impossible. The wilderness cannot support 600,000 adult men, plus women and children. Furthermore, if there are only 22,273 first-born among 603,550 people, each woman must of had over 20 children.
- In the census of the tribes, Judah has the largest population, probably due to its later importance.