In Numbers 1, a census is recorded with the number of people being 603,550. A second census recorded in Numbers 26(after the 40 year period)with the number of people being 601,730. This was only the adult men, the whole number of people including women and children would be around 2 million!

Yet in Deuteronomy 7:7 it says

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.”

If they had a population of 2 million people than they would be one of the largest nations at that time! So how does this make sense.

2 Answers 2


This is simpler that it appears, so let me settle this with two simple observations:

  1. The nation if Egypt was a large nation that had existed for centuries before Joseph and even Abraham. Indeed, when Abraham visited Egypt in Gen 12, Egypt was already a huge and prosperous nation with a well-established economy. As far as population is concerned, Egypt was always larger than Israel and remains so to this day.

  2. The comment in Deut 7:7 about Israel being small refers to the time that God made the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At THAT time, the chosen people never numbered more than a few dozen. Indeed, when Jacob moved his family to Egypt because of the famine, we are told that Israel numbered just 70 people, Gen 46:27, Ex 1:5, Deut 10:22.

Thus, Moses' point appears to be that the promises were given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not because they were so numerous because they were not numerous, only 70 persons! Obviously, four generations later, they numbered a few million, but even then they were not the largest nation.

  • To get from 70 people to 2 million four generations later, you need each couple to produce 26 children surviving to adulthood.
    – Henry
    Commented Mar 20 at 11:48
  • @Henry - you are correct - it is biologically impossible. However, we also know that many Egyptians became Israelites - all 12 sons took non-Israelite wives, etc. That would make it possible.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 20 at 19:40

Two million is actually a very conservative estimate, considering the 600k or so were adult men on foot. If we include women, children and men who could not walk long distances, the number may have been closer to three million. And this does not even count the "mixed multitude" and vast numbers of cattle:

Exodus 12:37-38

About six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting the children. A crowd of mixed ancestry also went up with them, with livestock in great abundance, both flocks and herds.

For critical scholars the problem is not so much Deuteronomy's "fewest of all peoples" but the large number given in Exodus. These Israelites and their mixed-race followers - a number larger than the world's greatest city at the time - left no archaeological remains during their 40 years in the wilderness. No wonder many believers, as well as skeptics, understand this number to be exaggerated.

There is also an issue in the text itself, which states - much more credibly - that the whole number of first-born males was about 22,000.

Numbers 3

42 So Moses enrolled all the firstborn of the Israelites, as the Lord had commanded him. 43 All the firstborn males, registered by name, of a month or more, numbered twenty-two thousand two hundred and seventy-three.

It is a mathematical impossibility that 22,000 first-born males would form the core or a fighting force of 600,000 thousand men. If my math is right this would boil down to about 27 brothers for every first-born male (not including their sisters).

Conclusion: We may never know whether Deuteronomy's "fewest of all" or the Book of Numbers' 600,000 men on foot is more accurate. The important thing is not the numbers themselves, but the fact that they left the realm of Pharaoh's domain, and God was with them.

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