Numbers 31

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2 Avenge the wrongs of the children of Israel on the Madianites, and afterwards thou shalt be added to thy people.
3 And Moses spoke to the people, saying, Arm some of you, and set yourselves in array before the Lord against Madian, to inflict vengeance on Madian from the Lord.
4 Send a thousand of each tribe from all the tribes of the children of Israel to set themselves in array.
5 And they numbered of the thousands of Israel a thousand of tribe, twelve thousands; armed for war.
6 And Moses sent them away a thousand of every tribe with their forces, and Phinees the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest: and the holy instruments, and the signal trumpets in their hands.
7 And they set themselves in array against Madian, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew every male.
8 And they slew the kings of Madian together with their slain ; even Evi and Rocon, and Sur, and Ur, and Roboc, five kings of Madian; and they slew with the sword Balaam the son of Beor with their slain.
9 And they made a prey of the women of Madian, and their store, and their cattle, and all their possessions: and they spoiled their forces.
10 And they burnt with fire all their cities in the places of their habitation and they burnt their villages with fire.
11 And they took all their plunder, and all their spoils, both man and beast.
12 And they brought to Moses and to Eleazar the priest, and to all the children of Israel, the captives, and the spoils, and the plunder, to the camp to Araboth Moab, which is at Jordan by Jericho.
13 And Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the rulers of the synagogue went forth out of the camp to meet them.
14 And Moses was angry with the captains of the host, the heads of thousands and the heads of hundreds who came from the battle-array.
15 And Moses said to them, Why have ye saved every female alive?
16 For they were to the children of Israel by the word of Balaam of their revolting and despising the word of the Lord, because of Phogor; and there was a plague in the congregation of the Lord.
17 Now then slay every male in all the spoil, slay every woman, who has known the lying with man.
18 And as for all the captivity of women, who have not known the lying with man, save ye them alive.
19 And ye shall encamp outside the camp seven days; every one who has slain and who touches a dead body, shall be purified on the third day, and ye and your captivity on the seventh day.
20 And ye shall purify every garment and every leathern utensil, and all furniture of goat skin, and every wooden vessel.
21 And Eleazar the priest said to the men of the host that came from the battle-array, This the ordinance of the law which the Lord has commanded Moses.
22 Beside the gold, and the silver, and the brass, and the iron, and lead, and tin,
23 every thing that shall pass through the fire shall so be clean, nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of sanctification; and whatsoever will not pass through the fire shall pass through water.
24 And on the seventh day ye shall wash your garments, and be clean; and afterwards ye shall come into the camp.
25 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
26 Take the sum of the spoils of the captivity both of man and beast, thou and Eleazar the priest, and the heads of the families of the congregation.
27 And ye shall divide the spoils between the warriors that went out to battle, and the whole congregation.
28 And ye shall take a tribute for the Lord from the warriors that went out to battle; one soul out of five hundred, from the men, and from the cattle, even from the oxen, and from the sheep, and from the asses; and ye shall take from their half.
29 And thou shalt give to Eleazar the priest the first-fruits of the Lord.
30 And from the half belonging to the children of Israel thou shalt take one in fifty from the men, and from the oxen, and from the sheep, and from the asses, and from all the cattle; and thou shalt give them to the Levites that keep the charges in the tabernacle of the Lord.
31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.
32 And that which remained of the spoil which the warriors took, was—of the sheep, six hundred and seventy-five thousand:
33 and oxen, seventy-two thousand:
34 and asses, sixty-one thousand.
35 And persons of women who had not known lying with man, all the souls, thirty-two thousand.
36 And the half, the portion of them that went out to war, from the number of the sheep, was three hundred and thirty-seven thousand and five hundred.
37 And the tribute to the Lord from the sheep was six hundred and seventy-five.
38 And the oxen, six and thirty thousand, and the tribute to the Lord seventy-two.
39 And asses, thirty thousand and five hundred, and the tribute to the Lord, sixty-one:
40 and the persons, sixteen thousand, and the tribute of them to the Lord, thirty-two souls.
41 And Moses gave the tribute to the Lord, the heave-offering of God, to Eleazar the priest, as the Lord commanded Moses;
42 from the half belonging to the children of Israel, whom Moses separated from the men of war.
43 And the half from the sheep, belonging to the congregation, was three hundred and thirty-seven thousand and five hundred.
44 And the oxen, thirty-six thousand;
45 asses, thirty thousand and five hundred;
46 and persons, sixteen thousand.
47 And Moses took of the half belonging to the children of Israel the fiftieth part, of men and of cattle, and he gave them to the Levites who keep the charges of the tabernacle of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.
48 And all those who were appointed to be officers of thousands of the host, captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, approached Moses, and said to Moses,
49 Thy servants have taken the sum of the men of war with us, and not one is missing.
50 And we have brought our gift to the Lord, man who has found an article of gold, whether an armlet, or a chain, or a ring, or a bracelet, or a clasp for hair, to make atonement for us before the Lord.
51 And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold from them, even every wrought article.
52 And all the wrought gold, even the offering that they offered to the Lord, was sixteen thousand and seven hundred and fifty shekels from the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds.
53 For the men of war took plunder every one for himself.
54 And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold from the captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, and brought the vessels into the tabernacle of witness, a memorial of the children 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.

Footnotes 9

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