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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 31

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 2552. B.C. 1452.

God commands Moses to avenge Israel of the Midianites, Numbers 31:1 , Numbers 31:2 . Moses sends them to the war, Numbers 31:3-6 . They slay the Midianites, Numbers 31:7-12 . He reproves them for sparing the women, Numbers 31:13-18 . Directions for purifying themselves, Numbers 31:19-24 . The distribution of the spoil, Numbers 31:25-47 . The free-will-offering of the officers, Numbers 31:48-54 .

Verse 1

Numbers 31:1. Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites For their malicious designs and practices against Israel, both by hiring Balaam to curse them, and by sending their women to insnare them. The Moabites also were guilty, but God was pleased to spare them, because the measure of their iniquity was not yet full.

Verse 3

Numbers 31:3. Avenge the Lord What in the preceding verse is termed avenging Israel, is here called avenging the Lord, because by their idolatry and lewdness, and by seducing God’s people into rebellion against him, they had offered a high affront to him. God’s great care was to avenge the Israelites, and Moses’s chief desire was to avenge God, rather than himself or the people.

Verse 5

Numbers 31:5. Twelve thousand God would send no more, though it is apparent the Midianites were numerous and strong, because he would exercise their trust in him, and give them an earnest of their conquests in Canaan.

Verse 6

Numbers 31:6. Them and Phinehas Who had the charge, not of the army, as general, (an office never committed to a priest in all the Old Testament,) but of the holy instruments, and was sent to encourage and quicken them in their enterprise. The holy instruments The holy breast plate, wherein was the Urim and Thummim, which was easily carried, and was very useful in war, upon many emergent occasions.

Verses 7-8

Numbers 31:7-8. They slew all the males That is, they slew those who were in the fight, and who did not save themselves by flight. As a nation they had forfeited their lives to the laws of God, and he, as judge of all the earth, had given command that the sentence of his laws should be executed on the guilty. Le Clerc properly observes, that there was this material difference between the wars of other nations and those of the Jews, that the former followed the bent of their own passions; whereas the Jews were only the ministers or executioners of divine justice, most evidently appointed to this work by God himself, as he manifested by a train of miracles wrought among and for them, such as had never been known on the earth before. So that no consequence can be deduced from their conduct in their wars, to warrant the like conduct in other people. Balaam also they slew He suffered justly, for being the wicked instrument of seducing the Israelites from their allegiance to Jehovah.

Verses 13-14

Numbers 31:13-14. Went forth to meet them Partly to put respect upon them, and congratulate them on their happy success; and partly to prevent the pollution of the camp by the untimely entrance of the warriors into it.

Moses was wroth with the officers Because they had spared those who were most criminal, and who, by the law of God, were worthy of death, as idolaters, and as persons who had seduced God’s people to idolatry, Numbers 25:6; Numbers 25:17-18.

Verse 16

Numbers 31:16. Through the counsel of Balaam Since the Moabites and their associates were taught by Balaam to acknowledge Jehovah to be a very powerful deity, even superior to the gods of other nations, (Numbers 23:19; Numbers 24:16,) is it not strange that they should have been induced, by Balaam’s persuasion, rather to entice the Israelites to their idolatry, than with them to embrace the worship of the true God? But the case appears to be that those idolaters considered the God of the Hebrews, not as the supreme God of the universe, but as a mere local deity, who might indeed be superior to other gods, but still was but the tutelary god of the Jews. Now with respect to those tutelary deities, their opinion was, that they required a certain form and manner of worship from their own people, which neglected, they incurred their grievous displeasure. Thus, as the Moabites and their confederates were under a persuasion that they could bring anger upon Israel from Jehovah, by seducing them from his instituted worship, so they might think themselves no less liable to the resentment of Chemosh, Peor, or some other of their own gods, had they adopted the Jewish modes and object of worship, and abandoned their own.

Verse 17

Numbers 31:17. Kill every male 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. Kill every woman, &c. Partly for punishment, as having, in general, either prostituted themselves to the Israelites, or some way been accessary in enticing them to idolatry, in which they were so confirmed that there was no hope of reclaiming them; and partly for prevention of the like mischief in future; for had they been saved alive, they would probably have continued to lead the Israelites into the sin of fornication, and have poisoned their minds by their superstitions. The female children were to be spared, because, being young, there was some hope they might be reformed from idolatry, and become proselytes to the true religion. These they might have as servants, or might marry them.

Verses 19-20

Numbers 31:19-20. Abide without the camp seven days According to the law, Leviticus 15:13. Purify yourselves With the water of sprinkling, Numbers 19:9. Your raiment Namely, your spoil and prey. All work All which 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.

Verse 27

Numbers 31:27. Two parts The congregation was to have 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 twelve thousand, were to have a far greater share than their brethren, because they underwent greater pains and dangers.

Verses 29-30

Numbers 31:29-30. A heave-offering In thankfulness to God for their preservation and good success. One of fifty Whereas the former part was one of five hundred; the reason of the difference Isaiah , 1 st, 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. 2d, Because this was to be distributed into more hands, the Levites being now more numerous, whereas the priests were but few.

Verse 50

Numbers 31:50. We have brought an oblation Finding, to their great joy and surprise, that not a single man was missing of the whole twelve thousand, they unanimously resolved, out of the free plunder, to make a voluntary offering to God, for the service of religion. To make an atonement For their error, noted Numbers 31:14-16; and withal for memorial, or by way of gratitude for such a stupendous assistance and deliverance. We should never take any thing to ourselves, in war or trade, of which we cannot in faith consecrate a part to God, who hates robbery for burnt-offerings. But when God has remarkably preserved and succeeded us, he expects we should make some particular return of gratitude to him.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 31". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/numbers-31.html. 1857.
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