Exodus 30:11-16

The Ransom Money

30:11 The Lord spoke to Moses: 30:12 “When you take a census of the Israelites according to their number, then each man is to pay a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. 30:13 Everyone who crosses over to those who are numbered is to pay this: a half shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel weighs twenty gerahs). The half shekel is to be an offering 10  to the Lord. 30:14 Everyone who crosses over to those numbered, from twenty years old and up, is to pay an offering to the Lord. 30:15 The rich are not to increase it, 11  and the poor are not to pay less than the half shekel when giving 12  the offering of the Lord, to make atonement 13  for your lives. 30:16 You are to receive the atonement money 14  from the Israelites and give it for the service 15  of the tent of meeting. It will be a memorial 16  for the Israelites before the Lord, to make atonement 17  for your lives.”

sn This brief section has been interpreted a number of ways by biblical scholars (for a good survey and discussion, see B. Jacob, Exodus, 829-35). In this context the danger of erecting and caring for a sanctuary may have been in view. A census would be taken to count the losses and to cover the danger of coming into such proximity with the holy place; payment was made to ransom the lives of the people numbered so that they would not die. The money collected would then be used for the care of the sanctuary. The principle was fairly straightforward: Those numbered among the redeemed of the Lord were to support the work of the Lord to maintain their fellowship with the covenant. The passage is fairly easy to outline: I. Every covenant member must give a ransom for his life to avoid death (11-12); II. The ransom is the same for all, whether rich or poor (13-15); and III. The ransom money supports the sanctuary as a memorial for the ransomed (16).

tn Heb “and Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying.” This full means for introducing a quotation from the Lord is used again in 30:17, 22; 31:1; and 40:1. It appears first in 6:10. Cynthia L. Miller discusses its use in detail (The Representation of Speech in Biblical Hebrew Narrative, 373-86).

tn The expression is “when you take [lift up] the sum [head] of the Israelites.”

tn The form is לִפְקֻדֵיהֶם (lifqudehem, “according to those that are numbered of/by them”) from the verb פָּקַד (paqad, “to visit”). But the idea of this word seems more to be that of changing or determining the destiny, and so “appoint” and “number” become clear categories of meaning for the word. Here it simply refers to the census, but when this word is used for a census it often involves mustering an army for a military purpose. Here there is no indication of a war, but it may be laying down the principle that when they should do this, here is the price. B. Jacob (Exodus, 835) uses Num 31 as a good illustration, showing that the warrior was essentially a murderer, if he killed anyone in battle. For this reason his blood was forfeit; if he survived he must pay a כֹּפֶר (kofer) because every human life possesses value and must be atoned for. The payment during the census represented a “presumptive ransom” so that they could not be faulted for what they might do in war.

tn The “ransom” is כֹּפֶר (kofer), a word related to words translated “atone” and “atonement.” Here the noun refers to what is paid for the life. The idea is that of delivering or redeeming by a substitute – here the substitute is the money. If they paid the amount, their lives would be safe (W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:473).

tn The temporal clause uses a preposition, an infinitive construct, and then an accusative. The subject is supplied: “in numbering them” means “when [you] number them.” The verb could also be rendered “when you muster them.”

sn Each man was to pass in front of the counting officer and join those already counted on the other side.

sn The half shekel weight of silver would be about one-fifth of an ounce (6 grams).

sn It appears that some standard is in view for the amount of a shekel weight. The sanctuary shekel is sometimes considered to be twice the value of the ordinary shekel. The “gerah,” also of uncertain meaning, was mentioned as a reference point for the ancient reader to understand the value of the required payment. It may also be that the expression meant “a sacred shekel” and looked at the purpose more – a shekel for sanctuary dues. This would mean that the standard of the shekel weight was set because it was the traditional amount of sacred dues (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 333). “Though there is no certainty, the shekel is said to weigh about 11,5 grams…Whether an official standard is meant [by ‘sanctuary shekel’] or whether the sanctuary shekel had a different weight than the ‘ordinary’ shekel is not known” (C. Houtman, Exodus, 3:181).

10 tn Or “contribution” (תְּרוּמָה, tÿrumah).

11 tn Or “pay more.”

12 tn The form is לָתֵת (latet), the Qal infinitive construct with the lamed preposition. The infinitive here is explaining the preceding verbs. They are not to increase or diminish the amount “in paying the offering.” The construction approximates a temporal clause.

13 tn This infinitive construct (לְכַפֵּר, lÿkhapper) provides the purpose of the giving the offering – to atone.

14 tn Heb “the silver of the atonements.” The genitive here is the result (as in “sheep of slaughter”) telling what the money will be used for (see R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 11, §44).

15 sn The idea of “service” is maintenance and care of the sanctuary and its service, meaning the morning and evening sacrifices and the other elements to be used.

16 sn S. R. Driver says this is “to keep Jehovah in continual remembrance of the ransom which had been paid for their lives” (Exodus, 334).

17 tn The infinitive could be taken in a couple of ways here. It could be an epexegetical infinitive: “making atonement.” Or it could be the infinitive expressing result: “so that atonement will be made for your lives.”