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Of the Midianites, for their malicious designs and practices against Israel, both by hiring Balaam to curse them, and by sending their women to enslave them. The Moabites also were guilty, but God out of his own good pleasure, and in kindness to Lot, was pleased to spare them, the rather, because the measure of their iniquity was not yet full.
For the affront and injury which they offered to God, partly by their own idolatry and lewdness, and partly by seducing God’s people into rebellion against him. God’s great care was to
avenge the Israelites, Numbers 31:2, and Moses’s chief desire was to avenge God rather than himself or the people. Withal he doth hereby insinuate, that God and his people have the same cause, the same friends and enemies.
A thousand of every tribe, to prevent emulations or divisions. God would send no more, though it is apparent that the Midianites were numerous and strong, because he would try and exercise their trust in him, and because he would hereby give them an earnest of their Canaanitish conquests.
Phinehas had the charge not of the army, as general, (an office never committed to any priest in all the Old Testament,) but of
the holy instruments, & c. as is here expressed, and was also sent to encourage, and quicken, and confirm them in their good enterprise. It is not here mentioned who was the general, whether Joshua, as some think, because he is not named amongst those who went out to meet the returning host, though that might be for other reasons, or some other prince, nor is it worth while to determine. The holy instruments; either,
1. The ark, with the things belonging to it, which before the building of the temple they did sometimes carry into the war for the encouragement of their army. See Numbers 14:44 Joshua 6:9 1 Samuel 4:4 14:18. But why then is it thus ambiguously expressed, seeing in all the other places it is called by its proper name? Nor is the ark ever so called in Scripture. Or,
2. The trumpets, as it here follows, the words being thus to be read, the holy instruments that is, the trumpets; for and is ofttimes put exegetically for that is, or to wit, as Genesis 13:15 1 Chronicles 21:12, compared with 2 Samuel 24:13 Zechariah 1:4 9:9, &c. Or rather,
3. The holy breastplate, wherein was the Urim and Thummim, which was easily carried and used, and very useful in war upon many emergent occasions. See 1 Samuel 23:9 30:7.
And the trumpets, which were to be used in war as well as in the service of the tabernacle. See Numbers 10:9 2 Chronicles 13:12.
Namely, all whom they took in that war, or all who lived in those parts; for it is probable (and was then very usual) some colonies of them were sent forth to remoter places, which therefore had no hand either in their former sin, or ill this present ruin, of whom we read after this, Jud 6. And herein they did according to God’s own order concerning such people, Deuteronomy 20:13; only their fault was, that they did not consider the special reason and great obligation which they had to involve the women in the destruction, for which reason Moses blames them afterward, Numbers 31:15,16.
The kings, called dukes or princes of Sihon, Joshua 13:21, because they were subject to him while he lived, but upon his death they resumed their kingly power.
Zur, the father of Cozbi, Numbers 25:15.
Object. He was gone and returned to his own place, Numbers 24:25, which was Aram or Mesopotamia, Numbers 23:7.
Answ. Either he did go thitherward, but in his journey made some stay in Midian, where he was overtaken by Divine vengeance; or understanding the success of his wicked counsel left with Balaam, in the sin and slaughter of the Israelites, he returned, partly to enjoy the reputation and reward of his counsel which he had lost before, and partly to employ his hellish arts against Israel, now they were, as he thought, forsaken by their God, and exposed to his malice. Here Balaam dies the death of the wicked, and not of the righteous, as he desired, Numbers 23:10.
Partly, to blot out the name and memory of so lewd and vile a people; partly, lest any of the Israelites should be tempted to settle there, and so be discouraged in their progress to Canaan; and partly, lest they should be possessed by other people who might prove as bad neighbours to them as these would have been.
Partly to put respect upon them, and congratulate with them for their happy success; and partly to prevent the pollution of the camp by the untimely entrance of the warriors into it.
Because they had spared those who were most criminal, and who by the law of God and of nature were worthy of death.
Among the little ones, which they were forbidden to do to other people, Deuteronomy 20:14, except the Canaanites, to whom this people had equalled themselves by their horrid crimes; and therefore it is not strange, nor unjust, that God, the supreme Lord of all men’s lives, who as he gives them, so may take them away when he pleaseth, did equal them in the punishment.
Every woman that hath known man; partly for punishment, because the guilt was general, and though some of them only did prostitute themselves to the Israelites, yet the rest made themselves accessory by their consent, or concurrence, or approbation; and partly for prevention of the like mischief from such an adulterous generation.
Not known a man, to wit, carnally: See Poole "Ge 4:1 19:8 Leviticus 18:22.
Keep alive for yourselves; either to sell them as slaves to others, or to use them as servants to yourselves, or to marry them, when you have prepared and instructed them.
Seven days; according to the law, Leviticus 15:13 Numbers 19:11,12.
Purify with the water of sprinkling, Numbers 19:9.
All your raiment, to wit, your spoil and prey. See Leviticus 8:15 14:49. All these things had contracted some ceremonial uncleanness, either from the dead bodies which wore them, or the tents or houses where they were, in which such dead bodies lay, or from the touch of the Israelitish soldiers, who were legally defiled by the slaughters they made.
The congregation hath some share, because the warriors went in the name of all, and because all having been injured by the Midianites, all were to have some share in the reparations; but the warriors, who were but 12,000, have a far greater share than others of their brethren, because they underwent greater pains and dangers.
One soul, i.e. one person, as it follows here and Numbers 31:30.
One portion of fifty; whereas the former part was one of five hundred: the reason of the difference is, partly because this was taken out of the people’s portion, whose hazards being less than the others, their gains also in all reason were to be less; partly because this was to be distributed into more hands, the Levites being now numerous, when the priests were but few.
The rest of the prey; all which was now left of the prey. It is so expressed because they took more, but some of the persons were since killed, Numbers 31:17, and some of the cattle was spent for the necessary provisions of the army.
Either now upon his consulting of God in the case, or formerly in general rules and laws for such occasions, such as Numbers 18:8.
For their error, noted, Numbers 31:14-16, and withal
for a memorial, as it is said Numbers 31:54, or by way of gratitude for such a stupendous assistance and deliverance, as appears from the word therefore in the beginning of this verse, and from Numbers 31:49.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Numbers 31". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/