Reflections on Scripture

by Wayne Bandy

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Scripture Passage

      Numbers - Chapter 31 (Contemporary English Version)
    1. The LORD said to Moses,
    2. "Before you die, make sure that the Midianites are punished for what they did to Israel."
    3. Then Moses told the people, "The LORD wants to punish the Midianites. So have our men prepare for battle.
    4. Each tribe will send a thousand men to fight."
    5. Twelve thousand men were picked from the tribes of Israel, and after they were prepared for battle,
    6. Moses sent them off to war. Phinehas the son of Eleazar went with them and took along some things from the sacred tent and the trumpets for sounding the battle signal.
    7. The Israelites fought against the Midianites, just as the LORD had commanded Moses. They killed all the men,
    8. including Balaam son of Beor and the five Midianite kings, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba.
    9. The Israelites captured every woman and child, then led away the Midianites' cattle and sheep, and took everything else that belonged to them.
    10. They also burned down the Midianite towns and villages.
    11. Israel's soldiers gathered together everything they had taken from the Midianites, including the captives and the animals.
    12. Then they returned to their own camp in the hills of Moab across the Jordan River from Jericho, where Moses, Eleazar, and the other Israelite leaders met the troops outside camp.
    13. (SEE 31:12)
    14. Moses became angry with the army commanders
    15. and said, "I can't believe you let the women live!
    16. They are the ones who followed Balaam's advice and invited our people to worship the god Baal Peor. That's why the LORD punished us by killing so many of our people.
    17. You must put to death every boy and all the women who have ever had sex.
    18. But do not kill the young women who have never had sex. You may keep them for yourselves."
    19. Then Moses said to the soldiers, "If you killed anyone or touched a dead body, you are unclean and have to stay outside the camp for seven days. On the third and seventh days, you must go through a ceremony to make yourselves and your captives clean.
    20. Then wash your clothes and anything made from animal skin, goat's hair, or wood."
    21. Eleazar then explained, "If you need to purify something that won't burn, such as gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, or lead, you must first place it in a hot fire. After you take it out, sprinkle it with the water that purifies. Everything else should only be sprinkled with the water. Do all of this, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
    22. (SEE 31:21)
    23. (SEE 31:21)
    24. Wash your clothes on the seventh day, and after that, you will be clean and may return to the camp."
    25. The LORD told Moses:
    26. Make a list of everything taken from the Midianites, including the captives and the animals. Then divide them between the soldiers and the rest of the people. Eleazar the priest and the family leaders will help you.
    27. (SEE 31:26)
    28. From the half that belongs to the soldiers, set aside for the LORD one out of every five hundred people or animals and give these to Eleazar.
    29. (SEE 31:28)
    30. From the half that belongs to the people, set aside one out of every fifty and give these to the Levites in charge of the sacred tent.
    31. Moses and Eleazar followed the LORD's instructions
    32. and listed everything that had been taken from the Midianites. The list included 675,000 sheep and goats, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys, and 32,000 young women who had never had sex.
    33. (SEE 31:32)
    34. (SEE 31:32)
    35. (SEE 31:32)
    36. Each half included 337,500 sheep and goats, 36,000 cattle, 30,500 donkeys, and 16,000 young women. From the half that belonged to the soldiers, Moses counted out 675 sheep and goats, 72 cattle, 61 donkeys, and 32 women and gave them to Eleazar to be dedicated to the LORD. Then from the half that belonged to the people, Moses set aside one out of every fifty animals and women, as the LORD had said, and gave them to the Levites.
    37. (SEE 31:36)
    38. (SEE 31:36)
    39. (SEE 31:36)
    40. (SEE 31:36)
    41. (SEE 31:36)
    42. (SEE 31:36)
    43. (SEE 31:36)
    44. (SEE 31:36)
    45. (SEE 31:36)
    46. (SEE 31:36)
    47. (SEE 31:36)
    48. The army commanders went to Moses
    49. and said, "Sir, we have counted our troops, and not one soldier is missing.
    50. So we want to give the LORD all the gold jewelry we took from the Midianites. It's our gift to him for watching over us and our troops."
    51. Moses and Eleazar accepted the jewelry from the commanders,
    52. and its total weight was over four hundred pounds.
    53. This did not include the things that the soldiers had kept for themselves.
    54. So Moses and Eleazar placed the gold in the LORD's sacred tent to remind Israel of what had happened.

Numbers - Chapter 31

Entered: January 17, 2007
As Moses' last act, God has him send the Israelites to war. An army of 1,000 men from each tribe was sent out against the Midianites. They soundly defeated them, killing every male. The brought back the women and children along with other spoils of war and presented to Moses. Moses was furious that they had not killed the women. It had been the Midianite women who had incited the plague at Peor and here they were bringing them back into the camp. Moses instructed them to kill all the women who had had sexual relations. They were allowed to keep for themselves the young women who had not had sexual relations. Of all the spoils, a tribute was set aside for the Lord and the remainder was divided among the troops.

Entered: July 25, 2012

Balak, the Midianite king who conspired to use Balaam to bring a curse on Israel so they would be at a disadvantage to war against the Midianites would have done better to have put himself and his people at the mercy of the Israelites and their God. Their fate would most likely have been similar to the other nations of the area who were left alone. Though Balaam was unable to bring a curse against Israel, he counseled the Midianites to use their women to entice the Israelites into sex and idolatry which brought God's judgment against those Israelites who participated. Now, in chapter 31, we see God's judgment against the Midianites for their treachery against the Israelites. 

God instructed Moses to conduct a holy war against the Midianites to "Execute vengeance for the Israelites against the Midianites." (31:2) This was a war led by God in which the soldiers were accompanied by the priests carrying holy objects. It was to involve total annihilation of all living things and the devotion of all material goods to the Lord. But the soldiers didn't quite get it right. Instead of annihilation they allowed all the women and children to survive. Justification for this would not be hard to come by, but it wasn't what God wanted. Although instructions for annihilation are not described in this chapter, Moses' reaction implies it as do other passages dealing with holy war. 

How often do we commend ourselves for serving the Lord when we have only partially done so. Rather than really doing what God tells us to do, we do only what seems most reasonable to us. In this case, Moses made a concession which we might assume to be from God since there was no repurcussions. Though the soldiers returned with the women and children, they were given these instructions by Moses: "kill all the male children and kill every woman who has had sexual relations with a man, but keep alive for yourselves all the young females who have not had sexual relations." (31:17-18) So annihilation was still the order of the day with the exception of the young female virgins. Even with this concession the Midianites were no longer a people and never would be again. 

All materials goods had been brought back and were dedicated to the Lord. The Lord then distributed them at His own discretion. Half went to the soldiers and half to the people. Of each half, a token was to be given to the Lord, and His portion went to the priests and Levites. When the commanding officers took account of their troops, they found that all had returned safely. In thankfulness to God for their safety, the soldiers gave an offering from the gold they had plundered from the Midianites.