The Meaning of Numbers: Number 500,000 or less
This article delves into the fascinating number topic of large sums (under 500,000) recorded in the King James translation. The meaning of such large Old Testament sums is not entirely clear other than the accurate reporting of important Biblical events.
King Solomon numbered 153,600 men who were strangers (non-Israelites, Gentiles) within Israel whom he could conscript to help build Jerusalem's temple (2Chronicles 2:17). Seventy thousand of these men were assigned the drudgery of carrying burdens, while 80,000 were used to cut wood and the remaining were tasked as overseers (verse 18).
Punishment of a Tribe
Gibeah, a short distance northwest of Jerusalem, was one of the cities within the land inheritance of Benjamin (Judges 19:14). One day a Levite, traveling with his wife, comes to the city near sunset looking for lodging. The couple is spotted by a generous old man who allows them to stay the night in his home. Shortly after sunset, however, a number of men from the city begin to beat on the door demanding the Levite come out so that they can sodomize him. Hoping to appease the depraved men, the Levite gives them his wife.
The wife is raped and abused all night long until she is found dead on the old man's doorstep (Judges 19). The Levite, in a unique but gory way (see verses 29 - 30), calls upon all Israel to respond to this evil. An army of 400,000 fighting men (20:2) soon assembles and demands the Benjamites expel the vile murderers for punishment. Their refusal to do what is right almost causes the extinction of their entire tribe (see Judges 20 - 21)!
Number in Israel's Army
King Saul, shortly after being anointed by Samuel according to the Bible, was able to gather an army of 30,000 men from Judah, and 300,000 from the other tribes of Israel, in order to battle the Ammonites (1Samuel 11:8). His 330,000 strong military force completely crushes the enemy (verse 11).
Number 500,000 and Judah's Army
Rehoboam, king of Judah after his father Solomon died, assembled an army of 180,000 men to stop the northern tribes of Israel from forming a separate kingdom (1Kings 12:21). It took a warning from God to stop him from going to war (verses 22 - 24).
Abijah, the second ruler over the Kingdom of Judah, is threatened with war when King Jeroboam of Israel sets his army in battle array against him. Abijah's 400,000-man army, however, is only half the size of Jeroboam's military force (2Chronicles 13:1 - 3). The king calls upon God for help and his prayer is answered. Judah's army not only inflicts 500,000 causalities on Israel, they also take three cities (verses 17 - 19)!
King Amaziah, Judah's ninth sovereign, organizes an army of 300,000 fighters from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (2Chronciles 25:5). In preparation for a planned attack against the Edomites (children of Seir), Amaziah also pays Israel's king 100 talents of silver (roughly $1.86 million today) to hire an additional 100,000 mighty men (verses 6 - 11). Although he ultimately sends back home those he hired (2Chronicles 25:7 - 10) he is victorious over Edom.
Uzziah (Azariah), made King of Judah at the tender age of 16, was one of the good rulers over God's people. The Eternal prospered and strengthen him so that he could gather a military force of 307,500 handpicked individuals who "made war with mighty power" (2Chronicles 26:1 - 13).
War Casualties and meaning of 500,000
God used Pekah, the Kingdom of Israel's eighteenth ruler, to kill 120,000 valiant soldiers of Judah's kingdom in one day! These deaths were punishment for the people forsaking the Lord (2Chronicles 28:1 - 6). Pekah was also allowed to take captive a large contingent of women and children (verse 8).
Because of King Benhadad's arrogance (1Kings 20:2 - 6), as well as Syria's disrespect for God (verse 28), the Lord decides to deliver Syrian forces over to Israel's notorious King Ahab! The Israelites, in a single day, kill 100,000 Syrian footmen (verse 29). The remnants of Benhadad's army flees to Aphek, where a collapsed wall kills another 27,000 (verse 30)!
King Sennacherib of Assyria, in 701 B.C., sends an army of 185,000 men to conquer Jerusalem. One of Assyria's military leaders, as the army camps around the city, openly taunts Israel's King Hezekiah and blasphemes God for all to hear (2Kings 18:19 - 35). The Eternal's response is to send the Angel of the Lord who, at night, kills all 185,000 men so quickly that not even one arrow is shot (19:32 - 35)!