And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men. (2 Sam 24:9)

And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword. But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king’s word was abominable to Joab. (1 Chr 21:5&16)

Here is one of the several places in the Scriptures where there is an apparent contradiction. However, with a Bible believing heart asking God to show us the truth, we can certainly find many possibilities as to why the numbers do not match and they need not match.

With regards to the differing number given during a census, one must take into account the process of time involved in such an exercise. It is not an overnight kind of affair. The criteria for qualifying enlistees must also be taken into consideration. Such a project would take months to complete even in our modern days of advanced technology in any head count exercise. Human ages are not static but dynamic. What number is true today may not be true tomorrow.

But David took not the number of them from twenty years old and under: because the LORD had said he would increase Israel like to the stars of the heavens. Joab the son of Zeruiah began to number, but he finished not, because there fell wrath for it against Israel; neither was the number put in the account of the chronicles of king David. (1 Chr 27:23&24)

The age being the mean criterion here is the determining factor in the census. Several months down the road, more men would become qualified to be included in the census while some would have passed away.

Another factor in the census presented here is that those who are on active duty and those who are on reserve as well as those who are in non-combat vocation. In Singapore, we are told that we have the capability of mobilizing 350,000 men in time of war. However, we don’t expect all the 350,000 to be recalled during a crisis and definitely not all 350,000 men are on active combat duties. We have new recruits added to our armed forces regularly as well as those who are retired from active duties. The number presented in any census need not be fixed at any given point in time.

Again, David gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. (2 Sam 6:1)

Are 30,000 men all the men that were available in Israel during that time? Certainly not! They were chosen men.

The difference of 30,000 for Judah and 300,000 for the northern tribes can easily be accounted for, as those who are on inactive duty while the rest are available for combat duties. Or it could also be accounted for in the case where new recruits are added to the strength and those who have been retired whether by age, illness or death. We are also told that Joab did not complete the census exercise in 1 Chronicles 27:24 because of God’s judgment upon Israel. Nowhere are we told that the number given is the final account of all the men available in Israel.

We must give the Holy Spirit the benefit of the doubts whenever there is any apparent “contradiction” in the Scriptures and there are also many other places where numbers do not match and in fact need not match.