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F. FUTURE PROSPECTS IN THE LAND (chapters 26-36).
We now come to the final main section of the book. It will commence with the numbering of Israel, a sign that they were making ready for the final push, and is divided up into rededication and preparations for entering the land (chapters 26-32), and warning and encouragement with respect to it (chapters 33-36). The first section concentrates on the mobilisation and dedication of the people of Yahweh, and the punishment of those who by their behaviour hinder that mobilisation and dedication.
In terms of the overall pattern of the book the first section covers the mobilisation of Israel, the appointment of Joshua on whom was the Spirit and the death of Moses For Sin (chapters 26-27), which compares with the earlier murmuring of Israel, the appointment of elders on whom came the Spirit, and the plague on Miriam because of sin (chapters 11-12). This then followed by the dedication of Israel through Feasts, Offerings and Vows and the purifying of Transjordan through vengeance on the Midianites and settlement of the two and a half Tribes (chapters 28-32) which compares with the purification and dedication of Israel in chapters 5-10.
Analysis of the section.
(I). Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).
This can be divided up into:
a Numbering of the tribes for possessing the land (Numbers 26:1-51).
b Instructions concerning division of the land (Numbers 26:52-62).
c Vengeance had been brought on those who had refused to enter the land (Numbers 26:63-65).
d Regulation in respect of land to be inherited by women and others (Numbers 27:1-11).
e Provision of a dedicated shepherd for the people of Israel (Numbers 27:12-23).
e Provision of a dedicated people and future worship in the land (Numbers 28-29).
d Regulation in respect of dedicatory vows made by women and others (Numbers 30:0)
c Vengeance to be obtained on Midian (Numbers 31:1-24).
b Instructions concerning division of the spoils of Midian (Numbers 31:25-54).
a Settlement of the Transjordanian tribes in possessing land (Numbers 32:0).
(II) Warning and Encouragement of The Younger Generation (chapters 33-36).
a Review of the journey from Egypt to the plains of Moab (Numbers 33:1-49).
b Instruction concerning the successful possession of and dividing up of the land in the future (Numbers 33:50 to Numbers 34:15).
c The Leaders who will divide the land for them are appointed (Numbers 34:16-29).
d Provision of cities for the Levites. (Numbers 35:1-5)
d Provision of cities of refuge and prevention of defilement of the land (Numbers 35:6-34).
c The Leaders of the tribe of Manasseh approach Moses about the possible loss of part of their division of the land as a result of the decision about the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:1-4).
b Instruction concerning women who inherit land so as to maintain the dividing up of the land which they successfully possess (Numbers 36:5-12)
a Final summary of the book and colophon. The journey is over. They are in the plains of Moab opposite Jericho (Numbers 36:13).
In this section stress is laid on preparation for entering the land.
(I). Overall Preparation for Entering the Land (chapters 26-32).
The preparations include the mobilisation of Israel, instructions as to what to do on entering the land, appointment of a new commander-in-chief in whom is the Spirit, instructions concerning the worship to be offered to Yahweh, a description of the ‘atonement’ for the sin of Baal-peor and purification of the land by the slaughter of the Midianites, and the settling in of the tribes in their land on the east of Jordan, preparatory to their soldiers joining the offensive on Canaan.
(i) The Sentence Passed and Carried Out on the Local Midianites (Numbers 31:1-24 ).
a The command to avenge Yahweh on Midian (Numbers 31:1-6).
b The judgment of Yahweh in the defeat of Midian (Numbers 31:7-8).
c The sparing of the women who had caused them to sin at Baal-peor (Numbers 31:9-12).
c The judgment on the sparing of the women who had made them sin (Numbers 31:13-18).
b Purification before returning to the camp to avoid judgment (Numbers 31:19-20).
a Retention and purification of the spoils (Numbers 31:21-24).
‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Once again it is emphasised that we have here the words of Yahweh to Moses.
‘Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterwards you shall be gathered unto your people.’
The avenging of the people of Israel on the Midianites was to be Moses’ final act. After that he was to be ‘gathered to his people’. He was to die, but it was the death of the righteous. He would join those who had been faithful to Yahweh. The avenging was on the basis of ‘a life for a life’, on the basis of ‘whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed’ (Genesis 9:6). For while Midian had not done the actual killing, it was as a result of their deliberate manoeuvrings that so many had died
‘And Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm you men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian, to execute Yahweh’s vengeance on Midian.”
So Moses was called on to arrange for the arming of a sufficient task force to destroy Midian, that is, the Midianites who were still encamped either in a part of the former kingdom of Sihon (Joshua 13:21), or over the border in Moab, having escaped there from the slaughter of the Amorites. They were to ‘execute Yahweh’s vengeance’ on Midian. These Midianites had sought to woo His people from Him, and He was a jealous God, and was concerned for the purity of the worship of His people. So His concern was such that Midian must be blotted out because of what they had done. Indeed had they not been blotted they would probably have called in their roving Midianite and Amalekite allies for a major attack on Israel (such as would come later in Judges 6:0), taking them in the rear as they invaded the land. It was therefore essential that they be wiped out before they could stir up further trouble.
“ Of every tribe an ’eleph, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall you send to the war.”
That the Midianite numbers were fairly small comes out in that it was not the whole army that was to be involved. A military unit (and eleph) taken from each tribe was considered to be sufficient for the task
‘So there were delivered, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.’
So out of the many fighting units of Israel, twelve units, one from each tribe, were armed for the purpose of taking out Midian.
‘And Moses sent them, a thousand of every tribe, to the war, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand.’
With them went Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the Priest, who would have responsibility for the Ark of the covenant of Yahweh and the trumpets which would sound so as to convey the commander’s messages to his troops. His presence and possibly that of the Ark and some holy vessels would be the assurance that this was holy war and that Yahweh was with them. The High Priest himself would not want to become ‘unclean, by the contact with death, for that would interfere with his daily ministry.
“With the vessels of the Sanctuary.” This could actually indicate the priestly garments (the word means ‘garments’ in Deuteronomy 22:5), but the Ark does seem to have been intended to lead the way for Israel (Numbers 3-36), and its presence along with some holy vessels used for some special purpose, would be a huge encouragement as it would be in Joshua 6:3-4 where it was assumed that the Ark would go with the army. Alternately we may read, ‘with the vessels of the Sanctuary, even the trumpets for the alarm’, seeing the trumpets as being the ‘accoutrements of the Sanctuary’.
‘And they warred against Midian, as Yahweh commanded Moses; and they slew every male.’
So the twelve military units of Israel attacked the Midianites with overwhelming force. There may well have been only a few hundred Midianite soldiers. And they may well have caught the Midianites unprepared and in fact in battles with the kind of weapons that they had casualties were regularly light. It was when one side panicked and fled that the real killing took place. It would seem probable that that is what happened in this case, and that they pursued them until every Midianite man was dead. Being caught unprepared and fleeing in panic would explain why there was not a single fatal casualty among the Israelites (Numbers 31:49).
‘And they slew the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain: Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.’
All were slain, including the ‘kings’ of Midian whose names are given, and Balaam the diviner who was found to be among them. The giving of names confirms the authenticity of the account. It was a daughter of Zur who was slain by Phinehas in Numbers 25:8; Numbers 25:14, and that he would have been seeking blood revenge was one reason why the destruction of the Midianites was so necessary, while the fact Balaam was there among them suggests that that vengeance was already being planned. This was not an attack on an innocent people, but on a very belligerent and determined enemy who would stop at nothing.
‘And the children of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their little ones; and all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods, they took for a prey.’
The children of Israel then took over the Midianite camps, taking captive all the Midianite women, with their children, together with their cattle, flocks and a host of spoils.
‘And all their cities in the places in which they dwelt, and all their encampments, they burned with fire.’
We must not read too much into ‘cities’. An encampment could be called a ‘city’ (see Numbers 13:19), which was probably the fact in this case, and a ‘city’ could contain a mere fifty men with their families, or even less. These were burned to the ground. They were ‘devoted’ to Yahweh.
‘And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of man and of beast. And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the children of Israel, to the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan at Jericho.’
So everything that belonged to the Midianites was taken, both of man and of beast, their wives, their young men, their daughters, their herds and their flocks. And they brought them to Moses and Eleazar, to the camp of Israel in the plains of Moab.
‘And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them outside the camp.’
And Moses and Eleazar and the chieftains went out from the camp to meet and welcome the victorious army.
‘And Moses was angry with the officers of the host, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who came from the service of the war.’
But when Moses saw that they had allowed the wives of the Midianites to live he was angry with their officers and NCOs.
‘And Moses said to them, “Have you saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against Yahweh in the matter of Peor, and so the plague was among the congregation of Yahweh.” ’
He angrily pointed out that these women were the ones responsible for turning so many Israelites away from Yahweh and thus causing so many deaths in Israel. They were the most blood guilty of all. They should not have been allowed to live.
It is made quite clear that the women had engaged in an act of war. They were not innocent. Following the guidance of Balaam they had deliberately sought to separate between the men of Israel and Yahweh their God as a military strategy so that Yahweh would then curse Israel. Balaam had clearly still not given up his attempts to persuade Yahweh that His people were worthy of cursing. Once they had succeeded the plan was that Balaam would persuade Yahweh to curse His errant people and the Midianites would then attack, assisted by the Moabites. And it had so nearly succeeded.
‘Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.’
So he commanded the soldiers to kill all the male children, and to kill every woman who had known a man by lying with him, the wives and seducers of the enemy.
We might be horrified at what was commanded, but there was really little alternative. There was no possibility of setting up prisoner-of-war camps. Even had they been a settled people it would not have been possible, but being on the march towards Canaan it was totally impractical. Furthermore, while they might have enslaved them, every Midianite boy would have grown up knowing that it was his bounden duty to obtain blood vengeance against Israel, and with Midianites scattered throughout the wilderness and desert regions east of the Jordan, who could be called on for assistance on the grounds of blood ties, they would have been a constant danger. Allowing them to live would have been like taking to bed a deadly poisonous snake on the grounds of being kind to animals. It might have been a different matter if they had already been settled in the land.
Furthermore the women had been guilty of seducing many Israelites to their death. They were even more guilty. Their blood was required as a recompense. Nor would they have made suitable wives, they would have been vipers in the nest, to say nothing of further attempts to turn Israel’s menfolk away from Yahweh.
‘But all the women-children, who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.’
But the young women children were a different matter. They could be taken in marriage or as servants and would expect to accept the religion of their new husbands or masters. They would gradually be merged into Israel. Compare Deuteronomy 21:10-14. They would not feel the same responsibility for blood vengeance which was mainly incumbent on the males.
‘And you encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever has killed any person, and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves on the third day and on the seventh day, you and your captives.’
However, as a result of their contact with the dead enemy, any who had killed someone, or who had touched a dead body, were to purify themselves with the water of uncleanness as described in Numbers 19:0. For that purpose they had to remain outside the camp with their captives. The taint of death must not enter the camp of Israel in such quantity. Death was ever to be seen as contrary to what Yahweh was. It was true that it was sometimes necessary in order to compensate for other deaths, in order to bring out the heinousness of murder, and it was even sometimes commanded by Yahweh for that reason, but it was still contrary to His original purpose in creation which had been that man should produce life (Genesis 1:28), not death. Death was the result of man’s fall in the Garden, and the sin that had permeated mankind ever since. It was an intruder in God’s creation.
‘And as to every garment, and all that is made of skin, and all work of goats’ hair, and all things made of wood, you shall purify yourselves.’
And this was to be true of all their clothing, and all captured clothing, which would need to be purified by washing, including all that was made of skin, or goats’ hair, and the same applied to anything made of wood.
‘And Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who went to the battle, This is the statute of the law which Yahweh has commanded Moses,’
Eleazar now informed the men who had been in the battle of the statute of the instruction which Yahweh had commanded Moses in these circumstances.
‘Only the gold, and the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that may abide the fire, you shall make to go through the fire, and it shall be clean. Nevertheless it shall be purified with the water for uncleanness, and all that abides not the fire you shall make to go through the water.’
All that could survive fire had to be cleansed by being put through the fire. That included the gold, the silver, the bronze (or copper), the iron, the tin and the lead. Then it would be clean. And yet even then it had to go through the water of uncleanness (Numbers 19:0). And anything that could not stand being put through the fire had to be cleansed with the water of uncleanness. It is clear from this that the taint of death was seen as connected with the spoils, whose masters were dead.
‘And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean; and afterwards you shall come into the camp.’
Then the men were to wash their clothes and be clean. After that they could come into the camp. Note here that the clothes, which might have been defiled by blood, were what needed to be washed. Bathing was not necessary. Indeed bathing was never said to cleanse. It was preparatory to the waiting before God that did cleanse.
This account brings out for us any number of lessons. It stresses God’s hatred of sin and especially of anything that turns His people away from Him. It brings out that while merciful (if Midian had kept out of Israel’s way they would have been left alone), His holiness demands justice on those who will not respond to His mercy. It reveals God’s might acting on behalf of His people, and that all of us need to be continually cleansed if we would come into His presence. It brings out that God is both light and love. Those who turn from His love come into His awesome light which can only result in their condemnation (John 3:18-21). In what follows it also reveals that in the end Yahweh always rewards His people with good things.
(ii) The Division of the Spoils (Numbers 31:25-54 ).
This whole passage follows the following pattern.
a The sum of the prey that was taken and the levies commanded (Numbers 31:25-31).
b Division between the men of war, Yahweh (the priests), the people and the Levites (Numbers 31:32-47).
a The sum of the men of war and their freewill gift to the Sanctuary (Numbers 31:48-54)
These sections can then be analysed as follows:
The Sum of The Prey That Was Taken and The Levies which Were To Be Exacted (Numbers 31:25-31 ).
a Yahweh speaks to Moses. With Eleazar he is to take the sum of the prey which has been captured (Numbers 31:25-26).
b The prey to be divided into two parts between the men who went to war and the remainder of the congregation (Numbers 31:27).
b A levy to be made on the soldiers’ share for Yahweh and given to Eleazar the Priest as a contribution offering and a levy to be made on the congregation’s share for the Levites who keep the charge of the Dwellingplace (Numbers 31:28-30).
a Moses and Eleazar do as Yahweh commanded (Numbers 31:31).
‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’
Once more it is emphasised that these were the words of Yahweh to Moses.
‘Take the sum of the prey that was taken, both of man and of beast, you, and Eleazar the priest, and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation; and divide the prey into two parts: between the men skilled in war, that went out to battle, and all the congregation.’
The first step with regard to the booty was a division between the men who went to war and the rest of Israel. We learn later that this was an equal division, and the fact that the skilled men of war were specifically distinguished here confirms that they each received the larger portion as a reward for risking their lives in battle.
So Moses, Eleazar and the tribal chieftains were first to assess the amount of the booty, including the young women (‘of man’) and were then to divide it into two parts.
‘And levy a tribute to Yahweh of the men of war who went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the oxen, and of the asses, and of the flocks: take it of their half, and give it to Eleazar the priest, for Yahweh’s heave-offering.’
Then of the share that went to the men of war one individual woman or animal out of every ‘five hundred’ (a half flock or five small groups) was to be given to Eleazar the Priest as Yahweh’s contribution offering. This would include young women, probably to serve in the outer Sanctuary, although they may have become servants in the priests’ households, as well as oxen, asses and flocks.
“Counting” would simply be by setting aside physically and apportioning accordingly. Very few could count. They would assess with the eye in terms of ‘thousands’ (flocks), ‘hundreds’ (smaller groupings), fifties’ (even smaller groupings’), and so on. Number words in those ancient days would have a different significance than they would have later, and would be fluid. The number of flocks may indicate how many men there had been in the Midianite camps (675), each family having a ‘flock’ which would not have been large, the number of herds may indicate the number of more wealthy Midianites (72) and so on.
‘And of the children of Israel’s half, you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the persons, of the oxen, of the asses, and of the flocks, even of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites, who keep the charge of the tabernacle of Yahweh.’
And of the share that went to the children of Israel, one out of every smaller group was to be given to the Levites who had the charge of the Sanctuary.
‘And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as Yahweh commanded Moses.’
And Moses and Eleazar did as Yahweh commanded them. They divided up the spoils of war in the way that He had instructed.
The Division Between the Men of War, Yahweh (the Priests), the People and the Levites (Numbers 31:32-47 ).
The assessing and dividing of the spoils follows a sequential pattern rather than the usual chiastic pattern.
a The sum of the prey assessed (Numbers 31:32-35).
b Sum of the half which belongs to the soldiers and to Yahweh’s tribute (Numbers 31:36-40).
c Yahweh’s tribute given to Eleazar the Priest (Numbers 31:41).
a The congregation’s half divided from the men that warred (Numbers 31:42).
b Sum of the half which belongs to the congregation (Numbers 31:43-46).
c The Levites share given to the Levites (Numbers 31:47).
‘Now the prey, over and above the booty which the men of war took, was six hundred ’eleph and seventy ’eleph and five ’eleph sheep, and threescore and twelve ’eleph oxen, and threescore and one ’eleph asses, and thirty and two ’eleph persons in all, of the women who had not known man by lying with him.’
The prey was now assessed. There were six hundred and seventy five units (flocks?) of sheep, seventy two units (herds?) of oxen, sixty one units (herds) of asses, and of young women there were young women from thirty two families.
‘And the half, which was the portion of those who went out to war, was in number three hundred thousand and thirty thousand and seven thousand and five hundred sheep.’
Thus for the men who went to war there were three hundred and thirty seven and a half flocks of sheep to be distributed.
‘And Yahweh’s tribute of the sheep was six hundred and threescore and fifteen.’
And Yahweh’s tribute was one out of every five half flocks, namely six smaller groups, three small groupings and some odd ones over.
‘And the oxen were thirty and six thousand, of which Yahweh’s tribute was threescore and twelve.’
Of the oxen there were thirty six herds for the fighting men, of which Yahweh’s tribute was three small groupings and odd ones over.
‘And the asses were thirty thousand and five hundred, of which Yahweh’s tribute was threescore and one.’
Of the asses there thirty and a half herds. Yahweh received three small groupings and one over.
‘And the persons were sixteen thousand; of whom Yahweh’s tribute was thirty and two persons.’
Of the young women there were women from sixteen families, and Yahweh’s tribute three small groups and two persons.
‘And Moses gave the tribute, which was Yahweh’s heave-offering, to Eleazar the priest, as Yahweh commanded Moses.’
And Moses gave Yahweh’s contribution to Eleazar the Priest as Yahweh had commanded him.
‘And of the children of Israel’s half, which Moses divided off from the men who warred,’
They then moved on to assessing the half set aside to be divided among the children of Israel as a whole.
‘(Now the congregation’s half was three hundred thousand and thirty thousand, seven thousand and five hundred sheep, and thirty and six thousand oxen, and thirty thousand and five hundred asses, and sixteen thousand persons),’
Their share also was three hundred and thirty seven flocks, and a smaller group, of sheep, thirty six herds of oxen, thirty herds and a smaller group of asses, and young women from sixteen ‘families’.
‘even of the children of Israel’s half, Moses took one drawn out of every fifty, both of man and of beast, and gave them to the Levites, who kept the charge of the tabernacle of Yahweh, as Yahweh commanded Moses.’
And out of their half one out of every smaller grouping was given to the Levites, because they kept the charge of the Dwellingplace of Yahweh, just as Yahweh had commanded Moses.
The Sum of The Surviving Men of War and Their Freewill Gift to The Sanctuary Of Their Personal Spoil (Numbers 31:48-54 ).
a The assessing of the men of war, not one is missing (num 8-49).
b They offer the gold from their personal spoils to Yahweh to make atonement for themselves before Yahweh (Numbers 31:50).
c Moses and Eleazar accept the gold and wrought jewels of their offering (Numbers 31:51).
c The sum of the offering made to Yahweh (Numbers 31:52).
b The explanation of where the personal spoils came from (Numbers 31:53).
a Moses and Eleazar take the gold into the Dwellingplace of the congregation for a memorial of the children of Israel before Yahweh (Numbers 31:54).
‘And the officers who were over the thousands of the host, the captains of thousands, and the captains of hundreds, came near to Moses, and they said to Moses, “Your servants have taken the sum of the men of war who are under our charge, and there lacks not one man of us.”
Then the officers and NCOs approached Moses and said that they had checked who were still alive and had discovered that not a single man had died. While gratifying this was not as remarkable as it might at first seem. If they had caught the enemy by surprise, attacking in larger numbers, panic would have set in early and the whole affair been a rout.
Examples from throughout history demonstrate how often even quite large battles could end with very few having died. Weaponry was limited and not as lethal as modern days. The high level of deaths took place after the battle when the losers were sought out and killed. Tacitus, a Roman historian, for example, mentions the Romans as having slaughtered all the foe without losing a single man on the capture of a Parthian castle, while Strabo tells of a battle in which 1000 Arabs were slain, while only 2 Romans died.
“ And we have brought Yahweh’s oblation, what every man has obtained of jewels of gold, ankle-chains, and bracelets, signet-rings, earrings, and armlets, to make atonement for our souls before Yahweh.’
Because of their heartfelt gratitude the men had determined to give their personal booty to Yahweh. This was not only a dedicatory and worship gift, but also an act of atonement and reconciliation for any wrong that they might have done. It was to their credit that they did not find easy the slaughter in which they had had to participate, even though there had been little alternative. The jewels, ankle chains, bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and armlets were typical of what Midianites would wear.
‘And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold from them, even all wrought jewels.’
On behalf of Yahweh Moses and Eleazar received the gold and the jewels for placing in Yahweh’s treasury.
‘And all the gold of the contribution (heave-offering) which they offered up to Yahweh, from the captains of thousands, and of the captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels.’
And the amount of gold was sixteen and three quarter weightings, a good quantity.
‘(For the men of war had taken booty, every man for himself.)’
This was the private booty that the men had taken for themselves, stripping the bodies of their enemies, taking it from the womenfolk and looting the tents.
‘And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold from the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tent of meeting, for a memorial for the children of Israel before Yahweh.’
So Moses and Eleazar took the gold and laid it up in the Tent of meeting as a memorial on Israel’s behalf before Yahweh.
What with the prey seized from the Amorites and the wealth seized here the Israelites would enter the land far more wealthy than when they first entered the plains of Moab. It is probable that much of what was seized was kept in Transjordan territory while the initial invasion was going on. Again we must note that the actual carrying out of the invasion would have to be carefully planned, and they would not want too much encumbrance.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 31". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent