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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Numbers 31

 

 

Verses 1-18

Numbers 31:1-18. The Extermination of the Midianites.—This story of a war of extermination, waged to avenge the wiles practised on Israel by Midian (as described in Numbers 25:6-15) is marked by various fanciful elements, such as (a) the huge number massacred (for if the girls and unmarried women amounted to 32,000, the married women and the males of all ages must have been three times as many); (b) the vast quantity of spoil taken; (c) the complete immunity of the Israelite force from all loss of life. If any war with Midian occurred at this time, it certainly did not result in the extermination of the people, who were a powerful tribe in the period of the Judges (Judges 6). The real object of the story (whether it has any basis in fact or not) is to illustrate by means of an ostensibly historical occurrence the laws relating to purification, and the division of booty taken in war.

Numbers 31:5. delivered: i.e. to Moses. But LXX has "numbered."

Numbers 31:6. the vessels of the sanctuary: this possibly means the Ark (see 1 Samuel 4:3 f, and cf. Numbers 14:44), but it is an unusual phrase for it. Some render, "the holy garments" (for the Heb. cf. Deuteronomy 22:5).

Numbers 31:8. The Midianite kings are represented in Joshua 13:21 as princes of Sihon the Amorite; and as slain when he was killed. The association here of Balaam with Midian differs from the conception of him in Numbers 22-24, where he is brought into relation with Moab.

Numbers 31:16. Since the reference to Balaam's advice comes in abruptly, probably some account of it once preceded Numbers 25:6-15. The reference to Peor is due to confusion with the story of the Moabite women in Numbers 25:1-5 (cf. Numbers 25:18).


Verses 19-24

Numbers 31:19-24. The Purification of the Israelite Army after the Slaughter.—The purification of warriors after a battle, practised in antiquity as by savage peoples to-day, was due, not to any desire for physical cleanliness, but to the dread of the mystery involved in spilt blood and in dead bodies: those who had been in contact with such were sources of danger to the community until ritually purified. The rules observed are those prescribed in Numbers 19:11 f.; but in addition it is here enjoined that everything that can stand fire shall be purified by fire and by the water of separation (Numbers 19:9), whereas for everything likely to suffer from fire ordinary washing shall suffice.


Verses 25-54

Numbers 31:25-54. The Division of the Booty.—The principle of equal division between those who went forth to fight, and those who remained in the camp was observed by David (1 Samuel 30:22-25), who seems to have been the first to establish such a rule. The tax of ⅟500 of the combatants' share for the priests and of ⅟50 of the residue for the Levites is not elsewhere mentioned.

Numbers 31:50. ankle chains: the use of these made the steps of the wearers short and tripping (Isaiah 3:16*, Isaiah 3:20). But some translate "bracelets" (cf. 2 Samuel 1:10), and render the next word "wristlets."—to make atonement, etc.: see Exodus 30:11-16. The offence thought to be involved in taking the number of the people (cf. 2 Samuel 24:1*, 1 Chronicles 21:1), was perhaps originally due to the feeling that a Divine prerogative had been trenched upon, for to number Israel was believed to be as hard a task as to number the stars (Genesis 15:5), and only God was equal to the latter (Psalms 147:4, Isaiah 40:26).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Numbers 31:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/numbers-31.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, September 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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