ReadBibleAlive.com                                          Front Page

Series Theme: FRAMEWORKS: Numbers

(Return to Framework Contents)

 

 

CONTEXT

PART 7B: An Aside: Justice & Retribution

Ch.31: [Action] Dealing with the Midianites

•  Vengeance

   

   

FRAMEWORKS: Numbers 31: Dealing with the Midianites

 

v.1,2 Command to take Vengeance on the Midianites

v.3-6 An Army Raised

v.7-12 Victory over the Midianites

v.13-18 Anger at only partial obedience

v.19-24 The Need for Purity

v.25-27 Equality in Dividing the Spoils

v.28-30 Parts for the Lord

v.31-41 The Plunder & the Tributes of the Soldiers

v.42-47 The Plunder & the Tributes of the People

v.48-54 The Soldiers Report & Present Gold

 

[Preliminary Notes: This chapter raises various difficulties and we will face them as we go through the chapter.]

 

 

v.1,2 Command to take Vengeance on the Midianites

 

v.1 The Lord said to Moses,

v.2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”

 

[Notes: Although the word ‘vengeance' is used here, it might be more appropriate to replace it with ‘execute justice' or ‘execute judgment'. It follows the specific activity of the Midianite women who purposefully sought to undermine Israel - see chapter 25 and the comments made there.

 

 

v.3-6 An Army Raised

 

v.3 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.

v.4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.”

v.5 So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel.

v.6 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 signaling.

 

[Notes: In what follows the modern reader will find a temptation to judge strongly these actions [which ARE horrific] that took place over three thousand years ago. Apart from being honest about the extent of our own nations' records in respect of war in the 20 th century, the reader should remember a number of important points:

i) Israel is an embryonic nation struggling for survival.

ii) In war in earlier days, the dictum ‘kill or be killed' prevailed, often to the extent of including every single person.

iii) Although modern critics like to use the word genocide, what we so often fail to appreciate is that part of the struggle to survive included a spiritual and moral struggle which was at the heart of the life and example of Israel. The danger of enemy survivors was that they may come back at some point and seek to bring down the nation, as had already happened in this very instance with Midian.

iv) The record is clearly not complete and numbers sometimes given are clearly approximations that may be way from accurate.

v) The name Midianites applies to a nomadic group of people who tended to be spread over the whole of the Sinai Peninsula south of Canaan and the fact that Midianites were giving Israel a tough time years later in Gideon's time (Judg 6) suggests that the truth is that only part of the Midianite tribes were involved here and so the descriptions of what happened are in respect of only part of the total Midianite population.]

 

 

v.7-12 Victory over the Midianites

 

v.7 They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man.

v.8 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.

v.9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder.

v.10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps.

v.11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals,

v.12 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.

 

[Notes: The triumph is extensive (over five kings) and complete (bearing in mind the comments made above). All men are killed but all else spared by the fighting force.]

 

 

v.13-18 Anger at only partial obedience

 

v.13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp.

v.14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.

v.15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them.

v.16 “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.

v.17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,

v.18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

 

[Notes: When they return to camp, Moses & Eleazar see all the women spared and berate the commanders for sparing the very ones who had sought to seduce and undermine the men of Israel. Boys should not be spared [as they will grow into enemy warriors] nor the mature women. Young women can be spared. There is hope for them. It is not wholesale genocide but a self-preserving action.]

 

 

v.19-24 The Need for Purity

 

v.19 “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.

v.20 Purify every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.”

v.21 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:

v.22,23 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.

v.24 On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.”

 

[Notes: In the laws in respect of the red heifer (Num 19) touching a dead body was a primary cause for cleansing to take place. Here it is reiterated in respect of the soldiers.]

 

 

v.25-27 Equality in Dividing the Spoils

 

v.25 The Lord said to Moses,

v.26 “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured.

v.27 Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community.

 

[Notes: The Lord establishes a rule that plunder from battle should be shared with the whole community and not merely all taken by the soldiers.

 

 

v.28-30 Parts for the Lord

 

v.28 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.

v.29 Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the Lord 's part.

v.30 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.”

 

[Notes: When the plunder is divided between both soldiers and people, both halves are to pay as ‘tribute' – giving honour or respect - to God. If people are taken (in this case only young women) they will become Israel's servants, with a very small number (see below) given to the Levites to help work with the Tabernacle.]

 

 

v.31-41 The Plunder & the Tributes of the Soldiers

 

v. 31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.

v. 32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, v. 33-35 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.

v. 36 The half share of those who fought in the battle was: 337,500 sheep,

v. 37 of which the tribute for the Lord was 675;

v. 38 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72;

v. 39 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61;

v. 40 16,000 people, of whom the tribute for the Lord was 32.

v. 41 Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the Lord 's part, as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

[Notes: In this account, commentators accept there are doubts over the large numbers (especially of young women) and among causes proposed are inaccurate work of the scribes. We simply cannot explain these. It is of course possible that the numbers of Midianites were extensive and so the numbers taken will match.]

 

 

v.42-47 The Plunder & the Tributes of the People

 

v.42-46 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.

v.47 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.

 

[Notes: Similar comments apply to the above.]

 

 

v.48-54 The Soldiers Report & Present Gold

 

v.48 Then the officers who were over the units of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—went to Moses

v.49 and said to him, “Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing.

v.50 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.”

v.51 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold—all the crafted articles.

v.52 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.

v.53 Each soldier had taken plunder for himself.

v.54 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.

 

[Notes: The gold that was taken in the plunder was handed over to Moses and stored in the Holy Place.]

  

     

CONTINUE TO CHAPTER 32