“Yahweh spoke to Moses. ‘When you take a census of the Israelites, to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to Yahweh so that no plague may come upon them for being registered. This is what each one who is registered shall give, half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary. The shekel is twenty gerahs. Half a shekel is the offering to Yahweh. Each one who is registered, from twenty years old and upward, shall give Yahweh’s offering. The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you bring this offering to Yahweh to make atonement for your lives. You shall take the atonement money from the Israelites and shall designate it for the service of the tent of meeting. Before Yahweh it will be a reminder to the Israelites of the ransom given for your lives.’”
Yahweh wants to register every person, like a census, everyone who is twenty years old or older. Then they will give a ransom or tax to Yahweh for their lives so that no plague may come upon them. Everyone gives half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary, no matter rich or poor. The shekel is about twenty gerahs. A gerah was about 2 cents, so that the equivalent would be about 20 cents. The shekel was used in Babylonia as well as a weight measurement. The atonement money was designated for the service of the tent of meeting. This ransom tax was a reminder that Yahweh had ransomed or saved their lives.