Read Exodus 30
Focus on verse 11-12
Whenever a government takes a census of the population, there is typically one major motivating factor…they think they need more taxes, and they are looking for ways to justify raising it. There are several occasions in the Bible where a census is taken. Three that come to mind are the one in this chapter of Exodus, the one mentioned below taken by King David, and the census of the Roman Empire taken at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ.
I also remember the last census that was taken here in America, which involved filling out a rather extensive, multiple page form which asked some relatively personal questions that I found a little disturbing.
In today’s reading Moses is instructed to take a census of the people, and to be sure to collect a half shekel tax from every person who is counted so that the people do not die.
The Lord said to Moses, “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. (v. 11-12)
I suspect that the failure to collect this tax – along with the fact that God had not instructed the King to take one could be why when King David took an unapproved census of the people, the consequence was that many people died by what seemed to be a plague of sorts. I had not made that connection before that it might have been as a result of breaking this command to collect a census tax as a ransom for the life of each person counted. I can’t say that I fully understand the significance or symbolism of this census tax at this point, and I suspect that with the advent of Jesus life and death and resurrection, something has changed, otherwise why am I still alive after being part of a census where the tax was not collected?
I suspect the point of the census tax during the time of the Exodus had something to do with the people learning to respect and trust God more fully…and it will have added a little to the tabernacle treasury since each person would also be contributing a half shekel. Some things never change.