O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
Everybody knows that there were eight people saved by Noah's ark. But what we typically fail to realize is that some people don't count. Servants for instance.
I'd like to compare two events, Noah's Flood and Jacob's travel to Egypt, to show that the ancients counted people differently than we do today.
In our more egalitarian society, we try to count everybody. Everybody counts.
But was this true in ancient times? Did they really care how many servants they had?
In Genesis 6:18, "But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall go into the ark—you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.," the numbers appear to be pretty cut and dried. Noah, three sons, one wife, and three wives, for a total of eight. This is echoed in 1 Peter 3:20 and 2 Peter 2:5. It's obvious to most that only eight people were on the ark. Or at least only eight that counted.
What about the servants Noah and his family had? We typically assume he had none. But is this really a correct assumption?
Compare this to Exodus 1:5 "All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already)." This is confirmed by Acts 7:14 "Then Joseph sent and called his father Jacob and all his relatives to him, seventy-five people." The seventy plus Jacob, plus Joseph, plus Joseph's wife, plus Joseph's two sons is seventy-five.
Again, what about the servants? In this case, we know Jacob had servants. Genesis 30:43 "Thus [Jacob] became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks, female and male servants, and camels and donkeys." What happened to Jacob's servants?
If we read Exodus 1:5 and Acts 7:14, the way we read Genesis 6:18, 1 Peter 3:20, and 2 Peter 2:5, we have to assume that Jacob left his servants behind to starve in Canaan. Is this reasonable? Certainly not. They went to Egypt with Jacob, yet they were never counted. They didn't count.
How many servants did Jacob have? We don't have any numbers. We do know though that Abram/Abraham had a small army. He took 318 trained servants to rescue Lot (Genesis 14:14).
Were they all Abram had? Or did he leave a similar number behind to protect his camp? We don't know. But these were trained soldiers. Training takes time and resources. While these men were training, they were not growing food or tending flocks and herds. This army was a costly expense.
To feed, house, and equip this army, Abram required hundreds of men who specialized in other things. These men likely had wives, children, and parents. Three thousand servants born in Abram's household would be a low, conservative estimate.
And Jacob had more.
They all went to Egypt. But they were not counted.
Similarly, Noah would have had servants. Hundreds, maybe thousands. They would have followed their master onto the ark. But like Jacob's servants, they would not have been counted.