The nation of Israel was a huge nation when they left the captivity of Pharaoh. It is estimated that there were over a million or more Israelites who made it out of Egypt during the Exodus, but since the census numbers only included men, we don’t really know the full amount of women and children that were in the camp. Also, by the time they had wandered the desert for many years many people had died due to old age, mishap, and war with other nations. According to the Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, “Including women, children, and old men, together with the Levites, the whole population of Israel, on the ordinary principles of computation, amounted to about 2,400,000.”
God asked Moses to take two censuses; one after two years in the desert and one after the plague at Peor. The count in the first census came out to 603,550 men. In the second, it was 601,730. Due to the plague (which killed 23,000 people according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:8) and for other reasons the number of men fell by a total of almost two thousand souls. Still, God had risen up a mighty nation to show all the others just how powerful He really was.
When I first read the book of Exodus and then found out through researching the book that the number of Israelites leaving Egypt numbered into a million or more people, I was in awe of how God moved that many people through the desert outside of Egypt, through the parted Red Sea, and then through the Sinai desert for forty years. I thought that the Israelites numbered maybe a hundred thousand people (from watching the Ten Commandments movie, of course), not a couple of million! It obviously took a lot longer for the people to get to the opposite shore of the Red Sea than any movie ever depicted.
When the people were numbered, the number only included men twenty years old and up. This was done in this fashion to see how many men of fighting age there were in the nation since God wanted to send Israel to fight and destroy the sinful nations who were against Him and His chosen people. If they did indeed count the number of women in the camp, it would be to find out who was still capable of bearing children to repopulate the nation that would keep it strong against their enemies and also for inheritance purposes if the husband died in battle.
Counting the people of Israel was mainly for the purpose of the finding how strong their military might would be. The time was coming when Israel would be fighting for its life every step of its way into the Promised Land and after. Even today, Israel is fighting for is survival. But we know that God will save them all in the future time He has promised the nation; a future time where Jesus will reign and rule and the nation of Israeli will finally know peace and prosperity. In all of this fighting, God will continue to show the world that He is King over all nations by keeping this one tiny nation alive and well no matter who tries to bomb it out of existence.