According to the census taken in chapters 1–4 of Numbers, the newly formed nation of Israel must have numbered about 2 million people. According to Numbers 1:1, this census was taken while the people were in the wilderness of Sinai at the beginning of their 40 years of wandering. However, the dry and desolate conditions of the Sinai desert would have made it impossible for such a large group to survive. So, is the census inaccurate?
Numbers 1:1 - 46
KJV - 1 And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying. 2 Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls.
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You are absolutely right that the Sinai desert could not support that many people. In fact the Bible makes it clear that for the first month and a half of their time in the Sinai, the Israelites had food issues (Exodus 16:1-3). Fortunately for them, they did not have to rely on the land for their food and water as God himself would directly provide these, with quail and a substance they would call “manna” to eat (Exodus 16:4-15) and water to drink (Exodus 17:5-6 and Numbers 20:7-11). The desert could not sustain that many people, but God could. As such, there is no reason that we should doubt the figures mentioned in Numbers 1-4.
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