Some who read God's word scoff at the idea that its large values are accurate. They argue, for example, that the size of Israel's exodus could not have been as great as Moses recorded (Num. 1:1, 3, 46). They also reject Israel's huge population of men discovered when King David took his famous census of the people (2Samuel 24:9). Our view regarding the validity of the Old Testament's large numbers is aptly summed up by the following.
"The nonsensical proposition that over-enthusiastic, religiously-oriented scribes . . . changed the numbers of the Old Testament in order to make the story more impressive must be firmly rejected as an insult to the intelligence . . ." (Biblical Numerology, Part 2, Chapter 3).
Size of the Exodus
The population of Israel, in the second year after leaving Egypt, totaled 603,550 men at least twenty years old. From this, it is projected that at least 2 to 3 million people, and likely more, left Egyptian bondage under Moses.
God commanded Moses, prior to his death, to take a second census counting Israelite men age twenty and above (Numbers 26:1 - 2). The purpose of the census was to determine who could fight in the Promised Land and who was eligible to receive an inheritance from God (verses 51 - 56). This time the potential army was 601,730 or 1,820 less men than 38 years prior. Why did this population drop?
The number of men dropped, in part, due to factors such as 250 males perishing in Korah's rebellion (Numbers 16:35) along with 14,700 others whom God killed with a plague when the Israelites blamed Moses and Aaron for their deaths (45 - 49). Another 24,000 were put to death by another plague as punishment for worshipping false gods (25:1 - 9).
Spoils of War
The Israelites, under Moses, fought and overcame the Midianites who had caused them quite a bit of trouble (Num. 31). One of the spoils of their victory was the confiscation of 675,000 sheep (verse 32), half of which was given to those who fought while the remaining half was divided among the people and the Lord.
United Israel's Army
King David was enticed to carry out a census to discover the potential strength of his army. Joab, the captain of army, was commanded to travel through all of Israel's tribes and number the men who could go to war. Joab, at the end of his more than nine month task, reported there were 800,000 fighting males in Israel and 500,000 in Judah for a total of 1.3 million (2Samuel 24:1 - 9).
King Asa, the third monarch over Judah, amassed an army of 580,000 skilled men out of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin (2Chronicles 14:8). Such a force came in handy in 895 B.C. when Ethiopia's military, headed by Zerah, entered Judean territory. Asa, after crying out to God, routes the invaders and carries away great quantities of spoils back to Jerusalem (verses 9 - 15).
King Jehoshaphat, the son of Asa, was one of the good rulers over the Kingdom of Judah. Over time, with God's blessing, he amassed a huge army to protect himself against a military conflict with Israel's King Ahab. He was able to field an army of 1.16 million men led by five captains (2Chronicles 17:12 - 19)!
Jeroboam was the first king over the northern ten tribes of Israel after they split from Judah. In his eighteenth year of rule, he went to war with Judah's King Abijah. Jeroboam's army, at 800,000 fighting men, was twice the strength of his opponent (2Chronicles 13:1 - 3). God, however, decided to deliver the battle to Abijah and enabled him to kill half a million Israelites (verse 17)!
Biblical meaning of millions
Abraham, wanting to find an acceptable wife for Isaac, sends his most trusted servant to the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia (Genesis 24:1 - 10, 40). The servant, before entering the city, asks God to bless his search for a bride. Before he finishes his prayer, an answer appears in the form of a beautiful woman named Rebekah!
Rebekah, in faith, decides to go back with Abraham's servant and marry Isaac. Before she leaves, however, her family offers a blessing where we find the only mention of "million" in Scripture.
And they blessed Rebekah, and said to her, 'Our sister, be the mother of thousands of MILLIONS, and let your seed possess the gate of those who hate them' (Genesis 24:60).
Rebekah, after healed of being barren, gives birth to twins Esau and Jacob. The twelve tribes of Israel, which spring from Jacob, continue to grow as each generation passes (1Kings 4:20, Isaiah 10:22) until the present time, fulfilling the blessing of countless millions given to Isaac's wife!