Book of Numbers Chapter Thirty-One Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-4: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 'Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered to your people.' 3 Moses spoke to the people, saying, 'Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. 4 A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.'" We see in Scripture the onset of Israel, demonstrating how God takes a couple of people or a small group and creates a nation. Something similar occurs in the creation of organizations of all kinds. And notice that historically, nations don't last very long. A few hundred years typically sees the end of nations and empires. It's like small businesses. The sign outside the business may be the same but the owners are gone, and the new owners change the menu, revising the business plan as they choose. Except that God is behind all such changes, and even when the outward events seem wrong, He has ultimate good intentions in all that occurs. Midian was the son of Abraham by Keturah (Genesis 25:1-6), after the death of Sarah. The descendants from that union were on stage for a time, but after the events of this chapter, the Midianites would be briefly seen again in Judges 6:1 but not for long. Have you ever met a Midianite? I haven't either. Armed men of Israel would soon attack Midian, as led by the Lord.
Verses 5-11: "So there were furnished from the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. 6 Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war with them, and the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. 7 So they made war against Midian, just as the Lord had commanded Moses, and they killed every male. 8 They killed the kings of Midian along with the rest of their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. 9 The sons of Israel captured the women of Midian and their little ones; and all their cattle and all their flocks and all their goods they plundered. 10 Then they burned all their cities where they lived and all their camps with fire. 11 They took all the spoil and all the prey, both of man and of beast." This world is a war zone. Family members are all too often at war with one another, differing groups within nations would destroy one another if they could, companies have factions that don't agree on much of anything, and religions often display what can only be described as hatred toward those who don't believe as they do. What we usually don't perceive is the Lord's hand in all this. He has a good outcome in store. The Midianites were seen in Numbers 23-25 as a group that had some belief in the Lord, enough to pay a false prophet, Balaam, to attempt to curse the nation Israel in God's name. He was unable to earn the money, but encouraged the Midianites to send promiscuous women, bringing their idols with them into the camp of Israel. Midian acted in a manner that went counter to the will of God—from His perspective they declared war on Him, and He who is mighty in war and in every other way, responded to their declaration of war as we see in these verses. The message to all of us is clear—don't act against the Lord or Almighty God will declare war on you. Balaam, as seen in Verse 8, was now dead and so were those who paid him to damage God's people.
Verses 12-18: "They brought the captives and the prey and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest and to the congregation of the sons of Israel, to the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan opposite Jericho. 13 Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the congregation went out to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 15 And Moses said to them, 'Have you spared all the women? 16 Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord. 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. 18 But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves." The ramifications of these veses are terrifying, but let's take a look: God was the One who gave you life, and it is God your Creator who has every right to take that life away. You have the freedom to choose the Lord or not; He has given you that freedom and it is His right to take it away. The women of these verses had just lost their families; every male human being they knew about was dead or about to be killed and suddenly innumerable young women, girls actually, were given to men they did not know, men who had just killed the girl's fathers, uncles, brothers and male cousins. Israel would increase, but the Midianite survivors knew grief, anger, and fear all of their lives and those feelings might well continue within humanity's gene pool to this day. This disturbing heritage exists within all nations, for all of us bear the weight of our ancestors (and us) choosing mere knowledge and self-will over pure, loving faith in the Lord. The anger from the Fall of mankind is a destructive force in humanity right now.
Verses 19-24: "And you, camp outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves, you and your captives, on the third day and on the seventh day. 20 You shall purify for yourselves every garment and every article of leather and all the work of goats’ hair, and all articles of wood.' 21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who had gone to battle, 'This is the statute of the law which the Lord has commanded Moses: 22 only the gold and the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin and the lead, 23 everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean, but it shall be purified with water for impurity. But whatever cannot stand the fire you shall pass through the water. 24 And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day and be clean, and afterward you may enter the camp.'" Isn't it interesting that God would create something He hates! It's not humanity He hates, for He truly loves us all, proved by God the Son dying to save us. It's death that the Lord hates—He created death and yet He longs for us to live. Death changes everything. We would probably live in our sins forever, except that death is the inescapable doorway to eternity that makes us see our need of God. We can lose everything in death. To touch death, to grasp the things that have become impure through death, takes us out of innocence and into shame-filled guilt. We must be purified or His holiness will destroy us. We must be washed, for we are terminally unclean in His sight. Here is His solution in 1 Corinthians 6:11, observing the change in those who have placed their trust in the Lord: "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." We lost the innocence of children, we touched the things of this world that render us unclean, and then, after rescue seemed too late for us, we found that the Lord can and will render us holy and clean once more. Jesus compared it to being "born again" (John 3:3, 7). A new start, with a new, very certain hope, as we breathe "Yes, Lord" to Him (John 11:27).
Verses 25-31: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 26 'You and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ households of the congregation take a count of the booty that was captured, both of man and of animal; 27 and divide the booty between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. 28 Levy a tax for the Lord from the men of war who went out to battle, one in five hundred of the persons and of the cattle and of the donkeys and of the sheep; 29 take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest, as an offering to the Lord. 30 From the sons of Israel’s half, you shall take one drawn out of every fifty of the persons, of the cattle, of the donkeys and of the sheep, from all the animals, and give them to the Levites who keep charge of the tabernacle of the Lord.' 31 Moses and Eleazar the priest did just as the Lord had commanded Moses." If we think we know the reasons God judged the earlier-in-time city-state of Sodom, Ezekiel 16:49 comes as a surprise: "Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." And His intention is that we do not merely give "reluctantly or under compulsion," but instead "God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). He has in mind we will finally see that everything we have acquired is from Him. He gives us the abilities we think of as "ours," reasonably expecting that we will joyfully join God's creative process by sharing with those who don't have those abilities. The pastor, the minister, the priest has taken a vow of poverty and therefore receives the help of those who have not taken such a vow. And note that "all" are to share in God's gifts to His people. It's not just about ourselves anymore. It's all about the Lord who loves you and me. The "tax" of these verses was a parable, indicating that we are to share out of the bounty that God provides for us.
Verses 32-41: "Now the booty that remained from the spoil which the men of war had plundered was 675,000 sheep, 33 and 72,000 cattle, 34 and 61,000 donkeys, 35 and of human beings, of the women who had not known man intimately, all the persons were 32,000. 36 The half, the portion of those who went out to war, was as follows: the number of sheep was 337,500, 37 and the Lord’s levy of the sheep was 675; 38 and the cattle were 36,000, from which the Lord’s levy was 72; 39 and the donkeys were 30,500, from which the Lord’s levy was 61; 40 and the human beings were 16,000, from whom the Lord’s levy was 32 persons. 41 Moses gave the levy which was the Lord’s offering to Eleazar the priest, just as the Lord had commanded Moses." Isn't it astonishing that God will take one person's property, or in this case, one nation's property, and give it to somebody else? And it is even more amazing that He will give "human beings" to others in humanity. And this behavior was not invented by Moses or any other earthly leader, but instead by God Himself. Moses simply acted as the Lord commanded him. Israel would be enriched by these events, and this is interesting: An important extra is that the young women involved were being given the opportunity to leave an idolatrous culture in which they were raised up in false religion, and instead find the Creator-God who gives life to all.
Verses 42-47: "As for the sons of Israel’s half, which Moses separated from the men who had gone to war— 43 now the congregation’s half was 337,500 sheep, 44 and 36,000 cattle, 45 and 30,500 donkeys, 46 and the human beings were 16,000— 47 and from the sons of Israel’s half, Moses took one drawn out of every fifty, both of man and of animals, and gave them to the Levites, who kept charge of the tabernacle of the Lord, just as the Lord had commanded Moses." Some of the men had gone to war and some did not, as God led the nation at that moment, yet all shared in the spoils of victory. All were part of God's nation Israel, and some went to war and some did not, as He directed them. Through faith in the Lord, we are all part of God's holy nation, His church, His people. Some among us will win great victories for the Lord, bringing thousands to Him, whereas others will bring a few and some apparently none at all. Yet all will share in the fruits of that victory, because, just like in this triumph over Midian, the victory is the Lord's, not merely ours. It is the Lord who heals, who leads each soul to Christ, touching them to have faith in Him. And yet, He who is Victor over all, graciously shares everything with those who merely say "Yes, Lord," placing their trust in Him.
Verses 48-54: "Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, approached Moses, 49 and they said to Moses, 'Your servants have taken a census of men of war who are in our charge, and no man of us is missing. 50 So we have brought as an offering to the Lord what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces, to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.' 51 Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold from them, all kinds of wrought articles. 52 All the gold of the offering which they offered up to the Lord, from the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, was 16,750 shekels. 53 The men of war had taken booty, every man for himself. 54 So Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold from the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it to the tent of meeting as a memorial for the sons of Israel before the Lord." Gratitude. Can you imagine the feelings of the soldiers who returned alive after battling the well-armed Midianite soldiers? Thousands of the enemy died, and this is amazing—not one, not even one Israelite died in the fighting. The nation was once again faced with undeniable evidence that God is real and that He loves His people. And so they gave back to the Lord some of what He had won for them in battle. They were grateful—as we also should be.
Jesus said to a grieving woman beside the grave of a loved one, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26). Her answer in the next verse was: "Yes, Lord, I believe You are the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world." And then the dead man was raised to life. What is YOUR answer to the Lord's question? The decision is an eternal choice. There is a battle within humanity that has raged for millennia. You choose to be on the Lord's side by breathing the words, "Yes, Lord," to Him. Will you believe in Him right now?
Yes, Lord, I believe in You. Please forgive my unbelief. I give you my heart, my life, placing my trust in You now and for all eternity. I am Yours, Lord. Yes, I place my faith in You. Thank You for saving me. In Jesus Name. Amen.