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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

Numbers 31

Verses 1-5

NUMBERS - CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Verses 1-5:

"Avenge," naqam, "take vengeance."

God claims a legal right to take vengeance upon the wicked, De 32:35; Ro 10:19; Heb 10:30. He had previously given a command to "vex" the Midianites (Nu 15:16-18) because of their complicity in leading Israel into idolatry and immorality. The Midianites had insulted Jehovah Himself by what they led Israel to do.

In this text, God commands Moses to carry out His mandate, as an act of judgment upon a wicked people. Moses mustered an army of one thousand men from each of Israel’s twelve tribes.

Verses 6-12

Verses 6-12:

Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the high priest, accompanied the army into battle. He was the successor to the office of high priest, and as such was Jehovah’s representative in the battle.

The "holy instruments" likely refer to the furniture of the Tabernacle, primarily the Ark of the Covenant. This later was a custom in Israel, Jos 3:14; 6:8; 1Sa 4:3, which may have begun at this occasion.

The "kings" of Midian were likely the tribal chieftains or heads of clans. Jos 13:21 identifies them as vessels of the Amorite king Sihon. It may be inferred that these were the tribes who gave allegiance to the invaders, and were thus considered traitors to their fellow countrymen. This would explain Israel’s relatively easy victory, as well as the appearance two centuries later of the formidable force of Midianites.

The soothsayer Balaam was slain in this battle, thus reaping the harvest of judgment for his complicity in seducing Israel.

The Israeli army slew the Midianite men in battle, but they took captive the women and children along with their livestock and personal belongings as spoils of war. They burned their cities and "goodly castles," tirah, towers, likely the pastoral villages consisting of tents and crude huts.

"Spoil," shalal, the goods confiscated in battle.

"Prey," malqoach, "what is taken or caught," the livestock, women, and children captured in battle.

"Captives," shebi, prisoners taken in battle.

All captives and booty were taken to Israel’s camp in the plains of Moab.

Verses 13-20

Verses 13-20:

Moses, Eleazar, and the princes of Israel met the returning army. But when Moses saw their captives, he became very angry. He rebuked the officers, charging that they should have known better than to spare the Midianite women. These were the very ones who had led Israel into immorality.

Moses ordered the immediate execution of every married woman, and every male child, among the Midianite captives. To some this sounds barbaric and unjust, entirely contrary to the concept of a loving, merciful God. But when seen from God’s viewpoint, this was an act both of justice and of mercy.

Justice: because of the guilt of the Moabite women. Their execution was necessary to preserve the integrity of Israel’s segregated family life and their relationships to God. The Midianite women had already demonstrated their sensual attraction of the Israeli men. To expose the camp to an influx of these women would be an open invitation to moral degeneration.

Mercy: because it would have been cruel to return the defenseless women and children to their desolated cities, where they would have no protectors and no means of feeding and clothing themselves.

Furthermore, if left alive, the Midianite boys would grow up among the Israelites and become a snare to marry their daughters and a source of possible sedition.

The Midianite girls were spared, to serve as servants and secondary wives among the Israelites. In this role, they would be treated kindly. They would not pose a threat to Israel’s society or to the worship of Jehovah.

The law of purification applied to the Israeli soldiers and their captives upon returning from battle, see Nu 19:11-13. Even the woolen garments and cloth must be subject to this law of purification.

Verses 21-24

Verses 21-24:

Verse 21 notes the Lord’s specific direction for Israel though the office of the high priest. Eleazar identifies this legal code as the word of Jehovah through Moses, but it was delivered through the high priest, to become a permanent part of Israel’s law.

The six metals listed in verse 22 were in common use in the ancient world. The.plunder Israel took from the Midianites includes some of all six. All were to be purified "by fire," according to the law of cleansing. They were to be purified not only because of their contact with the dead, but because they were tainted with idolatry. After the purification by fire, these metals were to be further purified by the waters of separation, chapter 19.

The plunder which could not be purified by fire must be purified by the waters of separation, chapter 19. Those who were involved in the battle, and who had touched the plunder, must follow the prescribed purification ritual.

Verses 25-30

Verses 25-30:

Moses commanded that an inventory be taken of all the spoils of war. This list included persons, livestock, and all other goods. The entire sum was to be divided equally, half going to those who fought in the battle, and the other half to the rest of the congregation.

God instructed that a levy (tax) be raised from each half. This consisted of:

(1) One "soul" out of five hundred, of persons and livestock. This was to be given to Eleazar the high priest, as his portion. This was to be a "heave offering" unto the Lord.

(2) One "soul" out of fifty, of persons and livestock. This levy was for the Levites, who ministered in the Tabernacle service, as their portion.

Verses 31-47

Verses 31-47:

The inventory of the spoils showed an immense quantity of livestock captured from the Midianites:

Item Total Half Eleazar Levites

Sheep 675,000 337,500 675 6,750

Beeves 72,000 36,000 72 720

Asses 61,000 30,500 61 610

Persons 32,000 16,000 32 320

Verses 48-54

Verses 48-54:

The roll call of the Israeli warriors showed that not one had fallen in battle. The officers of the army approached Moses with a proposal that they be allowed to offer a memorial to Jehovah, in token of their gratitude for His protection of their men.

A considerable quantity of gold jewelry, chains, and ornaments from the spoils of war was offered to the Lord: 16,750 shekels. This was about 6,700 ounces of gold. At today’s market price for gold, this would be over four and a quarter million dollars.

The gold was brought to the Tabernacle, where it was given to the Lord. Scripture does not reveal how it was disposed of. It may have become a fund for the maintenance of the Tabernacle, to pay for necessary repairs in later years.

The officers’ generosity demonstrates a genuine love for the House of God. Christians today should manifest such love for God’s House, His Church.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Numbers 31". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/numbers-31.html. 1985.