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Numbers 31

Listen to Numbers 31

Vengeance on Midian

1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 1"Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall 2be gathered to your people."
3 So 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 You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war."
5 So there were provided, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand 3armed for war.
6 And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, together with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and 4the trumpets for the alarm in his hand.
7 They warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and 5killed every male.
8 They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain, 6Evi, Rekem, 7Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. And they also killed 8Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.
9 And the people of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their little ones, and they took as plunder all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods.
10 All their cities in the places where they lived, and all their 9encampments, they burned with fire,
11 10and took all the spoil and all the plunder, both of man and of beast.
12 Then they brought the captives and the plunder and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of Israel, at the camp on 11the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.
13 Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the chiefs of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp.
14 And Moses was angry with 12the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war.
15 Moses said to them, "Have you 13let all the women live?
16 Behold, 14these, 15on Balaam's advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of 16Peor, and so 17the plague came among the congregation of the LORD.
17 Now therefore, 18kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.
18 But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him 19keep alive for yourselves.
19 20Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and 21whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day.
20 You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats' hair, and every article of wood."
21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the men in the army who had gone to battle: "This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded Moses:
22 only the gold, 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. Nevertheless, it shall also be purified 22with the water for impurity. And whatever cannot stand the fire, you shall pass through the water.
24 You must 23wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. And afterward you may come into the camp."
25 The LORD said to Moses,
26 "Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers' houses of the congregation,
27 and 24divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation.
28 And levy for the LORD a tribute from the men of war who went out to battle, 25one out of five hundred, of the people and of the oxen and of the donkeys and of the flocks.
29 Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to the LORD.
30 And from the people of Israel's half you shall take 26one drawn out of every fifty, of the people, of the oxen, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites 27who keep guard over the tabernacle of the LORD."
31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.
32 Now the plunder remaining of the spoil that the army took was 675,000 sheep,
33 72,000 cattle,
34 61,000 donkeys,
35 and 32,000 persons in all, women who had not known man by lying with him.
36 And the half, the portion of those who had gone out in the army, numbered 337,500 sheep,
37 and 28the LORD's tribute of sheep was 675.
38 The cattle were 36,000, of which the LORD's tribute was 72.
39 The donkeys were 30,500, of which the LORD's tribute was 61.
40 The persons were 16,000, of which the LORD's tribute was 32 persons.
41 And Moses gave the tribute, which was the contribution for the LORD, to Eleazar the priest, 29as the LORD commanded Moses.
42 From the people of Israel's half, which Moses separated from that of the men who had served in the army--
43 now the congregation's half was 337,500 sheep,
44 36,000 cattle,
45 and 30,500 donkeys,
46 and 16,000 persons--
47 30from the people of Israel's half Moses took one of every 50, both of persons and of beasts, and gave them to the Levites who kept guard over the tabernacle of the LORD, as the LORD commanded Moses.
48 Then 31the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, came near to Moses
49 and said to Moses, "Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us.
50 And we have brought the LORD's offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, 32to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD."
51 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received from them the gold, all crafted articles.
52 And all the gold of the contribution that they presented to the LORD, from the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, was 16,750 shekels.[a]
53 33(The men in the army had each taken plunder for himself.)
54 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tent of meeting, 34as a memorial for the people of Israel before the LORD.

Numbers 31 Commentary

Chapter 31

War with Midian. (1-6) Balaam slain. (7-12) Those slain who caused sin. (13-38) Purification of the Israelites. (39-24) Division of the spoil. (25-47) Offerings. (48-54)

Verses 1-6 All who, without commission from God, dare to execute private revenge, and who, from ambition, covetousness, or resentment, wage war and desolate kingdoms, must one day answer for it. But if God, instead of sending an earthquake, a pestilence, or a famine, be pleased to authorize and command any people to avenge his cause, such a commission surely is just and right. The Israelites could show such a commission, though no persons now can do so. Their wars were begun and carried on expressly by Divine direction, and they were enabled to conquer by miracles. Unless it can be proved that the wicked Canaanites did not deserve their doom, objectors only prove their dislike to God, and their love to his enemies. Man makes light of the evil of sin, but God abhors it. This explains the terrible executions of the nations which had filled the measure of their sins.

Verses 7-12 The Israelites slew the Kings of Midian. They slew Balaam. God's overruling providence brought him thither, and their just vengeance found him. Had he himself rightly believed what he had said of the happy state of Israel, he would not have thus herded with the enemies of Israel. The Midianites' wicked wiles were Balaam's projects: it was just that he should perish with them, ( Hosea 4:5 ) . They took the women and children captives. They burnt their cities and castles, and returned to the camp.

Verses 13-18 The sword of war should spare women and children; but the sword of justice should know no distinction, but that of guilty or not guilty. This war was the execution of a righteous sentence upon a guilty nation, in which the women were the worst criminals. The female children were spared, who, being brought up among the Israelites, would not tempt them to idolatry. The whole history shows the hatefulness of sin, and the guilt of tempting others; it teaches us to avoid all occasions of evil, and to give no quarter to inward lusts. The women and children were not kept for sinful purposes, but for slaves, a custom every where practised in former times, as to captives. In the course of providence, when famine and plagues visit a nation for sin, children suffer in the common calamity. In this case parents are punished in their children; and for children dying before actual sin, full provision is made as to their eternal happiness, by the mercy of God in Christ.

Verses 19-24 The Israelites had to purify themselves according to the law, and to abide without the camp seven days, though they had not contracted any moral guilt, the war being just and lawful, and commanded by God. Thus God would preserve in their minds a dread and detestation of shedding blood. The spoil had been used by Midianites, and being now come into the possession of Israelites, it was fit that it should be purified.

Verses 25-47 Whatever we have, God justly claims a part. Out of the people's share God required one in fifty, but out of the soldiers' share only one in five hundred. The less opportunity we have of honouring God with personal services, the more should we give in money or value.

Verses 48-54 The success of the Israelites had been very remarkable, so small a company overcoming such multitudes, but it was still more wonderful that not one was slain or missing. They presented the gold they found among the spoils, as an offering to the Lord. Thus they confessed, that instead of claiming a reward for their service, they needed forgiveness of much that had been amiss, and desired to be thankful for the preservation of their lives, which might justly have been taken away.

Cross References 34

  • 1. Numbers 25:17
  • 2. See Numbers 20:24
  • 3. Numbers 32:27; Joshua 4:13
  • 4. Numbers 10:6, 9; Leviticus 23:24
  • 5. [Deuteronomy 20:13; Judges 21:11; 1 Samuel 27:9; 1 Kings 11:15, 16]
  • 6. Joshua 13:21
  • 7. Numbers 25:15
  • 8. Joshua 13:22
  • 9. Genesis 25:16
  • 10. [Deuteronomy 20:14; Joshua 8:2]
  • 11. See Numbers 22:1
  • 12. ver. 48
  • 13. [1 Samuel 15:3]
  • 14. Numbers 25:2
  • 15. Numbers 24:14; 2 Peter 2:15; Revelation 2:14
  • 16. See Numbers 23:28
  • 17. Numbers 25:9
  • 18. Judges 21:11, 12
  • 19. See Deuteronomy 21:10-14
  • 20. Numbers 5:2
  • 21. See Numbers 19:12, 22
  • 22. Numbers 19:9
  • 23. See Leviticus 11:25
  • 24. Joshua 22:8; 1 Samuel 30:24
  • 25. [Numbers 18:26]; See ver. 30-41, 47
  • 26. See ver. 42-47
  • 27. See Numbers 1:53
  • 28. ver. 28
  • 29. [Numbers 18:8, 19]
  • 30. ver. 30
  • 31. ver. 14
  • 32. See Exodus 30:12
  • 33. ver. 32; Deuteronomy 20:14
  • 34. Exodus 30:16

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. A shekel was about 2/5 ounce or 11 grams

Chapter Summary


This chapter contains an order to make war upon Midian, which was accordingly done, Nu 31:1-12, but Moses was wroth, because they saved the women alive, who, through the counsel of Balaam, had been the cause of sin, and of the plague for it in Israel, and therefore orders them, and the male children, to be slain, Nu 31:13-18, and then directs to the purification of the soldiers, their captives and spoil, Nu 31:19-24, and by the command of God an account is taken of the prey, and a division of it made between the soldiers and the congregation, and out of each part a tribute is levied for the Lord, Nu 31:25-31 and the sum of the whole booty is given, Nu 31:32-35 and of the part which belonged to the soldiers, and of the tribute given to the Lord, Nu 31:36-41 and of the part which belonged to the children of Israel, Nu 31:42-47 and besides the above tribute to the Lord, the officers made a voluntary oblation out of their spoil, both by way of gratitude for sparing their lives, and to make atonement for their souls, Nu 31:48-54.

Numbers 31 Commentaries

The English Standard Version is published with the permission of Good News Publishers.