Surveys (or censuses) are not new. Indeed about 1446 BC, shortly after the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, Moses ordered a census—so that the people could be atoned for their sins, and to provide financial support for the Tabernacle (Exodus 30:11-16). Twelve months later, as the Israelites were preparing to continue their journey to the Promised Land, Moses ordered a second census. But this time the focus was on military service (Numbers 1:1-5a). Both censuses were ordered by God.

About 980 BC King David ordered a census to assess his military strength (2 Samuel 24:1-18 & 1 Chronicles 21:1-8). Now the official record in 2 Samuel suggests that God had ordered it. But that is not what 1 Chronicles says. And in any event David, later, was forced to admit that he was the one responsible. Indeed motivated by either pride or insecurity, he was left to face the wrath of God, who he had undermined in the process.

And one of the most well-known censuses was that of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1). It was a census, probably for tax purposes but may have had military overtones. However, it is the reason that Mary and Joseph found themselves in Bethlehem, where Jesus was about to be born.

Surveys (or censuses) then, can have many purposes, and they have certainly played a major part in the life of the worshipping community. But collecting data is only the first part of the exercise. Carrying out the results is just as important too. After all, imagine what would have happened at Mount Sinai if the people had been counted, but atonement and provision for the Tabernacle had never been made.

Posted: 6th October 2016
© 2016, Brian A Curtis