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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 31

 

 

Verses 1-54

VENGEANCE ON MIDIAN

(vs.1-11)

The Midianites had been guilty of seducing Israel, and God required that account to be settled. This was the last charge laid upon Moses before his death (v.2). His own father in law was a Midianite (Exodus 3:1), so that it was surely a traumatic responsibility for Moses to command Israel to take vengeance for the Lord on Midian. Yet there is no indication that he even hesitated. He had learned the word of the Lord is absolute and he would not at all question it. At least the character of Jethro was not like Midian's character at this time.

One thousand men from each tribe were recruited for this attack (v.5). But it was not a warrior like Joshua who led them, but "Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest" (v.6). He had shown himself faithful to the Lord in his prompt killing of a man of Israel and Midianite woman who had brazenly come together into the midst of Israel (Numbers 25:6-8). Priestly work may generally be connected with grace and intercession, but the holiness of priesthood also requires firm judgment of evil, so that Phinehas was an appropriate leader in this case.

The victory was complete, for God had ordered the battle. The kings of Midian were killed and every male including Balaam the soothsayer (vs.6-8) their cities and the army camps were burned. The women, however, were taken captive and the young children, and cattle, flocks and other possessions were taken as plunder (vs.9-11). Midian's name means "strife" and speaks of the spirit of quarreling and division, which must be judged by the people of God.

As they returned with the spoil Moses and Eleazar went out to meet them, with other leaders of the people (v.13). but immediately Moses' anger was aroused and he strongly rebuked them for sparing the women, reminding them that it was the women of Midian who had seduced the men of Israel through the counsel of Balaam (vs.14-16). Phinehas ought to have realized the significance of this, for he had before killed the woman of Midian as well as the man of Israel for their corrupt relationship.

Moses commanded them to kill both the young boys and all the women who had been intimate with a man, but allow the other girls to remain alive and be integrated into Israel (vs.17-18). Only in this way would any contamination be guarded against. How different is the truth of Christianity that deals in grace to lead the ungodly to judge themselves and be saved!

Those who had killed anyone or had touched a dead body were then told to remain outside the camp, then on the third and seventh days purify themselves and their captives, according to Numbers 19:11-12. Also they must purify garments made of leather, everything woven of goats' hair and everything made of wood (v.20). These are specially emphasized, though in verses 22 and 23 it is indicated that all the spoil was to be purified. Metals were to be put through the fire for this purpose, but anything that might be consumed by fire was to be purified by water.

We might consider an analogy here. In our present condition on earth believers need the washing of water by the Word of God to purify us from moral and spiritual defilement (John 13:10; Ephesians 5:16-25), but at the judgment seat of Christ our works will be tested by fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-13). Gold, silver, precious stones will endure the test and will be rewarded. In fact, the fire will only refine the gold and silver and enhance the beauty of the precious stones. The gold speaks of the glory of God, and thus everything that has been done for God's glory will remain after passing through the fire. In fact, what believers have done for Christ will not only remain for eternity, but will be fully purified and beautified by the fire of God's holiness. The silver pictures the truth of redemption, telling us that anything done because of our appreciation of Christ's sacrifice will remain and be rewarded. Precious stones, which beautifully reflect the light, remind us of the fruit of the Spirit of God as He is reflected in believers' lives. If our works should be merely "wood, hay and straw" these will be burned, for they speak of things not evil in themselves, but useless for God. The first three give evidence of the work of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, which is done in the believer. The faithful believer gets the reward, though it is God's work that has produced the good works.

Israel needed purification because of the great victory they were given over Midian. What a reminder for us today! If we have been used by God to accomplish real work for Him, this is no reason for self-satisfaction, but the opposite. We need then the purification of true self-judgment by the Word of God to preserve us from the pride that soon attacks us after any victorious experience. Only after being purified the third and seventh days could the men of war then return to camp (v.24).

THE PLUNDER SHARED

(vs.25-47)

The soldiers did not take the plunder as they pleased, for it belonged to the Lord who gave instructions to Moses that he and Eleazar and the chief fathers of the congregation should supervise how the plunder was to be shared (vs.1-2). This would guard against any charge that might arise as to favoritism or dishonesty.

The plunder was to be divided in two parts, one for those who went to battle, the other for the rest of the congregation. Of the amount given to the men of war a tribute was to be taken amounting to one of every 500 persons and of the cattle, donkeys and sheep. This was given to Eleazar the priest as a heave offering to the Lord (vs.28-29).

From the share given to the congregation there were to be one of every 50 of all these taken and given to the Levites (v.30).

The total number then is seen in verses 35-36: 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women, and we see this divided (vs.36-47) in the way the Lord commanded.

There is teaching here for us today. All that has been gained in the Church by warfare for the Lord will be shared by all. Those who are foremost in the battle -- apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, etc. will receive a full reward, but those less prominent will not be forgotten, while the Lord too will be given His place of true recognition. It was He who gave the victory and He who alone enables His saints for every work for Him, but He delights to share the spoils with all who love Him.

A SPECIAL OFFERING FOR THE LORD

(vs.48-54)

After the spoil had been divided as the Lord decided, the officers of the army unitedly came to Moses (v.48) to tell him they had taken a count of all the men of war who went to the battle and found that there was not a man missing. It was so unusual to have no casualties out of 12,000 men who had killed a tremendous number in battle, that the officers could only recognize that it was the Lord who had preserved them in the way.

Therefore they brought a voluntary offering to the Lord of gold ornaments, armlets, rings and necklaces that they had taken from Midian (vs.49-50). When this was weighed it amounted to 16,750 shekels which would be about 700 pounds or a little over. At present prices (Dec.1994) the value of this is $4,210,000. Since this was offered to the Lord, Moses and Eleazar brought it into the tabernacle as a memorial.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 31:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/numbers-31.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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