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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 31

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-54

Chapter 31

Then as we get into Numbers chapter thirty-one, the Lord orders the destruction of the Midianites.

Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward thou shall be gathered to your people ( Numbers 31:2 )

So this was to be sort of the final act of Moses. They are just about ready to enter into the land that God has promised and God orders the avenging against the Midianites, who actually created a problem with the children of Israel that we were studying last week. Balak the king, sending the girls into the camp, causing the children of Israel to commit fornication and idolatry. And so now God is taking out judgement against the Midianites for those actions. And so Moses ordered a thousand men from each of the tribes to arm themselves for battle. And so there were a thousand from each of the tribes, twelve thousand men armed for war that came to Moses. And they were ordered to go in against the cities of the Midianites.

Now Eleazar was the high priest. His son Phinehas went with the armies to fight against the Midianites and the Lord delivered the Midianites into the hands of these twelve thousand men.

And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they killed all of the males. ( Numbers 31:7 )

And this also included this prophet Balaam. Now you remember in the first prophecy that Balaam had uttered over the children of Israel. He said, "Let me die the death of the righteous and let my last days be as his" ( Numbers 23:10 ). That request wasn't granted. He did not die the death of the righteous. Balaam was guilty of greed. He allowed that greed to master him, and allowing the greed to master his life, he removed himself from the place of God's blessing. And rather than dying the death of the righteous, he was slain when the children of Israel conquered over the Midianites; Balaam also was slain.

So they took the women of Midian as their captives, and the little ones, and they took the spoil of all of their cattle, their flocks and their goods. They burnt the cities where they were living and all of the beautiful castles with fire. And they took all the spoil and all the prey, both of the men and beasts. And they brought the captives, and the spoil. Now Moses was angry with the officers of the army, and the captains over the thousands, and the captains over the hundreds, which have come from the battle. And Moses said unto them, Have you saved all of the woman alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, [and here we have it] through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, which and there was the plague among the congregation of the LORD. Therefore kill all of the male babies, and all of the women who are not virgins ( Numbers 31:9-12 , Numbers 31:14-18 ).

You can save the little girls and the virgins alive but the rest of them are to be slain because these are the women that were used in this subterfuge to bring a curse upon the children of Israel.

Now at this point it should be noted that there are many people who have difficulty with the Old Testament, and especially in the areas where we are going to be entering into next, as we get into Joshua and Judges, into the Kings and all. People have difficulty with the orders for extermination of the people. How is it that God would order that they totally wipe out a nation, the children and all, the women and the children in many cases? In some cases, even the animals, everything was to be obliterated. How is it that God would order such an extermination? When they came into the land they weren't to make a league or a covenant, a treaty with any of the peoples within the land. They were to utterly destroy them or drive them out. Why would God command such a thing?

In order to understand these commands, it would of course be necessary to understand a little bit about the culture of these people and especially their religious practices. In all of the history of the world there were probably-these people were probably living on the lowest kind of moral levels that man ever lived, every kind of sin you could possibly imagine was practiced by these people. Marriage vows were nothing. They lived as animals and even to the point of bestiality as a common practice. Their manner of living was so polluted and so corrupted that it was impossible that they could survive. They believed in human sacrifice and offered their children as sacrifices unto their gods. The things that were done by these people are so polluted, so vile, that it would be impossible to tell you in a mixed company the practices that were common among the people called the Canaanites, those that inhabited the land that God ordered exterminated.

God ordered their extermination lest their pollution would also pollute His children. God is bringing them into a land using them, first of all, as a tool of judgement against these people because of the horrible, abominable practices they all were deserving to die. You say, "Well, what about the little children, the babies, the infants?" Without their parents and all to raise them, they would have had a horrible, miserable life if they were allowed to continue to live. It was in mercy that the children were taken. But God ordered their extermination, lest they would become a polluting influence to His people and His own people would be dragged down into the same moral pits that these people were living in.

God used the children of Israel as His instruments of judgement to destroy an exceedingly vile group of people. Now, God brought the flood to destroy people who had lived in such a horrible way, and all were destroyed by the flood, with the exception of Noah and his immediate family. God used the flood as an instrument of judgement. Now God is using the nation Israel, as His instrument of judgement against these people whose practices had sunk so low that it was necessary that God's judgement fall upon them. That is why God ordered their extermination. It was His judgement against their horrible sin that they were committing, and to destroy them lest they be a polluting influence upon His people. It was to protect His own children from the mad dog culture of the Canaanites.

So, Moses was angry because they kept the women alive and he ordered them to kill all of the little baby boys and just save alive those women who were virgins and the little girls and they were to become slaves to the Israelites. Now Moses said, "Take the spoil that they have gotten in the battle and divide it in two. And a half of the spoil is to go to all of Israel and a half of the spoil will go to the twelve thousand men who went to battle".

Now of the twelve thousand men who went to battle, the half of the spoil that they received, one in five hundred was to go Eleazar the high priest. Which meant that Eleazar became overnight a very wealthy man because there was about three hundred and thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep alone for the half of the amount for their six hundred and seventy-five thousand total sheep that they took. So the half of those that went to the twelve thousand that went to battle, one of five hundred of those three hundred and thirty-seven thousand five hundred went to Eleazar. So suddenly he had just an awful lot of sheep.

And then of course it gives the number of cattle and the number of donkeys that they had taken. There were seventy-two thousand beasts and sixty-one thousand donkeys and thirty-two thousand persons in all that were young women who were virgins. So, these were divided as the spoil to the children of Israel. Now, from the half that went to all of Israel, one in five was to go to the rest of the Levites. So that was their portion, a twentieth of that which was taken in the battle. And so they divided up the spoils of war.

Now, when the fellas came back from war they numbered off and they found out there wasn't one man missing. They'd destroyed all of these Midianite cities, had taken all of these captives, had killed all of these men without a single casualty. Impossible in the natural but we're not dealing with natural things. We're dealing with God's hand and God's intervention. And thus, grateful for the fact that there wasn't a single casualty among them, that all twelve thousand returned from the battle. The captains brought unto the Lord an offering of the portion of the gold and the silver and the brass, the precious metals that they had taken. They brought a portion to the Lord, to offer to the Lord in thanksgiving for his preservation of their troops in the battle. That's in the latter portion of chapter thirty-one.

So Moses, [verse fifty-one] and Eleazar the priest took the gold, and all of the jewels. The offering that they offered to the LORD, from the captains over the thousands and hundreds, and there was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels. ( Numbers 31:51-52 )


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Numbers 31". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/numbers-31.html. 2014.
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