Numbers 31


‘The LORD said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.” So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them. Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.” So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signalling. They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man. Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho. Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the LORD in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. “Anyone who has killed someone or touched someone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days. On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives. Purify every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.” Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, “This is what is required by the law that the LORD gave Moses: Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water. On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.” Numbers 31:1-24

Vengeance On The Midianites

In this chapter we find Moses being obedient to God in reference to making war against the Midianites, Numbers 25:17-18. God tells Moses to take vengeance, which implies, that this is God Himself taking action against the Midianites because they had deceived His people.

This action would certainly send a strong message out to all of the other nations that if anyone tried to destroy Israel, they themselves would end up being destroyed.

As Israel go to war against the Midianites, using only 12,000 men, they caught the Midianites by surprise and killed all their males and five of their kings.

Notice that Balaam was also among those who were killed because he counselled the women of Midian to seduce the men of Israel, Numbers 23:10 / Numbers 25:1-5 / Jude 11.

Moses was angry because he had ordered that the older women be killed, as well as all the male children, the army, however, had spared the lives of the women and children.

It appears that the Israelite men had forgotten that it was the Midian women who had deceived them into committing fornication. It’s certainly possible that those men who had relationships with those Midianite women wanted to keep them alive.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Moses’ outrage because the soldiers had brought the vast company of women, along with their children, with the purpose of bringing them into the camp of Israel is easily understood. To have permitted this would have been an unqualified disaster for Israel. Therefore, Moses ordered all except the virgins to be slain at once.’

The point is that Israel were to kill all the adults to prevent any future influence of immortality from the nations around.

The ceremony of purification mentioned in Numbers 31:20 is fully elaborated in Numbers 19.

Dividing The Spoils

‘The LORD said to Moses, “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured. Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community. From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the LORD one out of every five hundred, whether people, cattle, donkeys or sheep. Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part. From the Israelites’ half, select one out of every fifty, whether people, cattle, donkeys, sheep or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.” So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses. The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man. The half share of those who fought in the battle was: 337,500 sheep, of which the tribute for the LORD was 675; 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the LORD was 72; 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the LORD was 61; 16,000 people, of whom the tribute for the LORD was 32. Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part, as the LORD commanded Moses. The half belonging to the Israelites, which Moses set apart from that of the fighting men—the community’s half—was 337,500 sheep, 36,000 cattle, 30,500 donkeys and 16,000 people. From the Israelites’ half, Moses selected one out of every fifty people and animals, as the LORD commanded him, and gave them to the Levites, who were responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle. Then the officers who were over the units of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—went to Moses and said to him, “Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. So we have brought as an offering to the LORD the gold articles each of us acquired—armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces—to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.” Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold—all the crafted articles. All the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds that Moses and Eleazar presented as a gift to the LORD weighed 16,750 shekels. Each soldier had taken plunder for himself. Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and brought it into the tent of meeting as a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD.’ Numbers 31:25-54

When the war was over, Israel counted of all the spoils from the war which had been taken from their enemies. After doing so, the spoils were then divided in half, with half going to the soldiers who actually went to war and the other half to the rest of the people who stayed at home and watched the camp.

One-fifth of one per cent of what was given to the soldiers was to be given to Eleazar the priest. Two per cent of the half that was given to the people was to be given to the Levites.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘The atonement was not for any special offence committed, which would have called for a sacrifice of blood-shedding, but rather like the half-shekel given at the census in the Book of Exodus, Exodus 30:11-16, was an acknowledgement of having received undeserved mercies. These, if unacknowledged, would have entailed guilt on the soul.’

Because the soldiers were grateful that none of them had lost their lives during the war, they brought all the jewels of gold to the tabernacle to be offered as an atonement for themselves. These jewels of gold were stored in the tabernacle as a remembrance of the great victory that God had given them over the Midianites.

Whitelaw, in his commentary, says the following.

‘We should not be surprised by such enormous quantities of gold and jewels captured from a race of nomadic wanderers. It is still the case with peoples of that area and under circumstances far less favourable. The weight of the gold mentioned here as some 11,000 ounces. At the current price of gold $325.00 per ounce, the value of this free-will offering was more than $3,500,000.00!’

Go To Numbers 32


"Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."