Numbers 31
Benson Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
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.

Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.
And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the LORD of Midian.
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.

Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.
So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.
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.

And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand.
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.

And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
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.

And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.
And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.
And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
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.

And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
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.

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
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.

But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day.
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.

And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats' hair, and all things made of wood.
And Eleazar the priest said unto the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD commanded Moses;
Only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead,
Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water.
And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Take the sum of the prey that was taken, both of man and of beast, thou, and Eleazar the priest, and the chief fathers of the congregation:
And divide the prey into two parts; between them that took the war upon them, who went out to battle, and between all the congregation:
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.

And levy a tribute unto the LORD of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep:
Take it of their half, and give it unto Eleazar the priest, for an heave offering of the LORD.
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.

And of the children of Israel's half, thou shalt take one portion of fifty, of the persons, of the beeves, of the asses, and of the flocks, of all manner of beasts, and give them unto the Levites, which keep the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD.
And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.
And the booty, being the rest of the prey which the men of war had caught, was six hundred thousand and seventy thousand and five thousand sheep,
And threescore and twelve thousand beeves,
And threescore and one thousand asses,
And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him.
And the half, which was the portion of them that went out to war, was in number three hundred thousand and seven and thirty thousand and five hundred sheep:
And the LORD'S tribute of the sheep was six hundred and threescore and fifteen.
And the beeves were thirty and six thousand; of which the LORD'S tribute was threescore and twelve.
And the asses were thirty thousand and five hundred; of which the LORD'S tribute was threescore and one.
And the persons were sixteen thousand; of which the LORD'S tribute was thirty and two persons.
And Moses gave the tribute, which was the LORD'S heave offering, unto Eleazar the priest, as the LORD commanded Moses.
And of the children of Israel's half, which Moses divided from the men that warred,
(Now the half that pertained unto the congregation was three hundred thousand and thirty thousand and seven thousand and five hundred sheep,
And thirty and six thousand beeves,
And thirty thousand asses and five hundred,
And sixteen thousand persons;)
Even of the children of Israel's half, Moses took one portion of fifty, both of man and of beast, and gave them unto the Levites, which kept the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD; as the LORD commanded Moses.
And the officers which were over thousands of the host, the captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, came near unto Moses:
And they said unto Moses, Thy servants have taken the sum of the men of war which are under our charge, and there lacketh not one man of us.
We have therefore brought an oblation for the LORD, what every man hath gotten, of jewels of gold, chains, and bracelets, rings, earrings, and tablets, to make an atonement for our souls before the LORD.
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.

And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of them, even all wrought jewels.
And all the gold of the offering that they offered up to the LORD, of the captains of thousands, and of the captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels.
(For the men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.)
And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tabernacle of the congregation, for a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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