How to say ‘census’ in Hebrew and how it is related to the biblical concept of military?

The opening part of the Book of Numbers deals with the census of the people of Israel and that is the reason for the book’s name – numbers.

The census which appears in the beginning of Numbers was initiated from military reasons, meaning to receive a valid estimation of the military force of the people of Israel. In the Hebrew Bible the word for ‘census’ is ‘Mifkad’ {מפקד}, as can be seen in 2 Samuel:

“And Joab gave the sum of the NUMBERING of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.” (2 Samuel 24:9)

The Hebrew root for ‘census’ is P-K-D  {פ-ק-ד} and can be found many times and in different variations in the Hebrew Bible – but almost in all cases can be understood as military related, as we just witnessed. For example the Hebrew word for ‘command’ (‘Pekudah’ {פקודה}) and the person who is job is to give commands – ‘commander’ (‘Mefaked’ {מפקד}).


Interestingly, also the ‘job’ or ‘role’ itself comes from this Hebrew root (‘Tafkid’ {תפקיד}) and not just the military commander but also just a ‘civilian clerk’ (‘Pakid’ {פקיד}). During biblical times, there was only one system of administration -in state level – which means both civilian and military systems were built and operated the same way.

A good example for that can be found in the first chapter of the Book of Numbers: According to the Book of Numbers, the Levi tribe was exempt from this census:

“But the Levites were not listed along with them by their ancestral tribe. For the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Only the tribe of Levi you shall not list, and you shall not take a census of them among the people of Israel. But APPOINT the Levites over the tabernacle of the testimony…” (Numbers 1:47-51)

The reason the Levi tribe was not taken into account for this census is due to their exempt from military service and the purpose of this census is for military reasons. However, the Levites were appointed for other mission – serving in the Tabernacle. The original Hebrew word for ‘appoint’ is ‘Hafked’ {הפקד} – yes, comes from the same Hebrew root that we just discussed (P-K-D).

That is the reason that even today – in Modern Hebrew – a lot of terms can be used to describe both civilian and military administrations. This week we will talk about some of the deeper Hebrew meaning of this biblical administration.