Numbers 31

1 God spoke to Moses:
2 "Avenge the People of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you will go to be with your dead ancestors."
3 Moses addressed the people: "Recruit men for a campaign against Midian, to exact God's vengeance on Midian,
4 a thousand from each tribe of Israel to go to war."
5 A fighting force of a thousand from each tribe of Israel - twelve thousand in all - was recruited.
6 Moses sent them off to war, a thousand from each tribe, and also Phinehas son of Eleazar, who went as priest to the army, in charge of holy vessels and the signaling bugles.
7 They attacked Midian, just as God had commanded Moses, and killed every last man.
8 Among the fallen were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba - the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
9 The People of Israel took the Midianite women and children captive and took all their animals and herds and goods as plunder.
10 They burned to the ground all the towns in which Midianites lived and also their tent camps.
11 They looted and plundered everything and everyone - stuff and people and animals.
12 They took it all - captives and booty and plunder - back to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the company of Israel where they were camped on the Plains of Moab, at Jordan-Jericho.
13 Moses, Eleazar, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet the returning army outside the camp.
14 Moses was furious with the army officers - the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds - as they came back from the battlefield:
15 "What's this! You've let these women live!
16 They're the ones who, under Balaam's direction, seduced the People of Israel away from God in that mess at Peor, causing the plague that hit God's people.
17 Finish your job: kill all the boys. Kill every woman who has slept with a man.
18 The younger women who are virgins you can keep alive for yourselves.
19 "Now here's what you are to do: Pitch tents outside the camp. All who have killed anyone or touched a corpse must stay outside the camp for seven days. Purify yourselves and your captives on the third and seventh days.
20 Purify every piece of clothing and every utensil - everything made of leather, goat hair, or wood."
21 Eleazar the priest then spoke to the soldiers who had fought in the battle: "This is the ruling from the Revelation that God gave Moses:
22 Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, and lead
23 - and anything else that can survive fire - must be passed through the fire; then it will be ritually purified. It must also be ritually washed in the Water-of-Cleansing. Further, whatever cannot survive fire must be put through that water.
24 On the seventh day scrub your clothes; you will be ritually clean. Then you can return to camp."
25 God said to Moses,
26 "I want you and Eleazar the priest and the family leaders in the community to count the captives, people and animals.
27 Split the plunder between the soldiers who fought the battle and the rest of the congregation.
28 "Then tax the booty that goes to the soldiers at the rate of one life out of five hundred, whether humans, cattle, donkeys, or sheep.
29 It's a God-tax taken from their half-share to be turned over to Eleazar the priest on behalf of God.
30 Tax the congregation's half-share at the rate of one life out of fifty, whether persons, cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, or other animals. Give this to the Levites who are in charge of the care of God's Dwelling."
31 Moses and Eleazar followed through with what God had commanded Moses.
32 The rest of the plunder taken by the army: 675,000 sheep
33 72,000 cattle
34 61,000 donkeys
35 32,000 women who were virgins
36 The half-share for those who had fought in the war:
37 with a tax of 675 for God
38 36,000 cattle, with a tax of 72 for God
39 30,500 donkeys, with a tax of 61 for God
40 16,000 people, with a tax of 32 for God
41 Moses turned the tax over to Eleazar the priest as God's part, following God's instructions to Moses.
42 The other half-share for the Israelite community that Moses set apart from what was given to the men who fought the war was:
43 337,500 sheep
44 36,000 cattle
45 30,500 donkeys
46 16,000 people
47 From the half-share going to the People of Israel, Moses, just as God had instructed him, picked one out of every fifty persons and animals and gave them to the Levites, who were in charge of maintaining God's Dwelling.
48 The military officers - commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds - came to Moses
49 and said, "We have counted the soldiers under our command and not a man is missing.
50 We've brought offerings to God from the gold jewelry we got - armlets, bracelets, rings, earrings, ornaments - to make atonement for our lives before God."
51 Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from them, all that fine-crafted jewelry.
52 In total, the gold from the commanders of thousands and hundreds that Moses and Eleazar offered as a gift to God weighed about six hundred pounds,
53 all donated by the soldiers who had taken the booty.
54 Moses and Eleazar took the gold from the commanders of thousands and hundreds and brought it to the Tent of Meeting, to serve as a reminder for the People of Israel before God.

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.

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

Published by permission. Originally published by NavPress in English as THE MESSAGE: The Bible in Contemporary Language copyright 2002 by Eugene Peterson. All rights reserved.