Numbers 31

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2 "Avenge the Israelites on the Midianites; afterward you shall be gathered to your people."
3 So Moses said to the people, "Arm some of your number for the war, so 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 out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe were conscripted, twelve thousand armed for battle.
6 Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for sounding the alarm in his hand.
7 They did battle against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male.
8 They killed the kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian, in addition to others who were slain by them; and they also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
9 The Israelites took the women of Midian and their little ones captive; and they took all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods as booty.
10 All their towns where they had settled, and all their encampments, they burned,
11 but they took all the spoil and all the booty, both people and animals.
12 Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the Israelites, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.
13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp.
14 Moses became angry with the 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 allowed all the women to live?
16 These women here, on Balaam's advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the Lord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.
17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.
18 But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.
19 Camp outside the camp seven days; whoever of you has killed any person or touched a corpse, purify yourselves and your captives on the third and on the seventh day.
20 You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, everything made of goats' hair, and every article of wood."
21 Eleazar the priest said to the troops who had gone to battle: "This is the statute of the law that the Lord has commanded Moses:
22 gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, and lead—
23 everything that can withstand fire, shall be passed through fire, and it shall be clean. Nevertheless it shall also be purified with the water for purification; and whatever cannot withstand fire, shall be passed through the water.
24 You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean; afterward you may come into the camp."
25 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
26 "You and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the ancestral houses of the congregation make an inventory of the booty captured, both human and animal.
27 Divide the booty into two parts, between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation.
28 From the share of the warriors who went out to battle, set aside as tribute for the Lord, one item out of every five hundred, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats.
29 Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as an offering to the Lord.
30 But from the Israelites' half you shall take one out of every fifty, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats—all the animals—and give them to the Levites who have charge of the tabernacle of the Lord."
31 Then Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord had commanded Moses:
32 The booty remaining from the spoil that the troops had taken totaled six hundred seventy-five thousand sheep,
33 seventy-two thousand oxen,
34 sixty-one thousand donkeys,
35 and thirty-two thousand persons in all, women who had not known a man by sleeping with him.
36 The half-share, the portion of those who had gone out to war, was in number three hundred thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep and goats,
37 and the Lord's tribute of sheep and goats was six hundred seventy-five.
38 The oxen were thirty-six thousand, of which the Lord's tribute was seventy-two.
39 The donkeys were thirty thousand five hundred, of which the Lord's tribute was sixty-one.
40 The persons were sixteen thousand, of which the Lord's tribute was thirty-two persons.
41 Moses gave the tribute, the offering for the Lord, to Eleazar the priest, as the Lord had commanded Moses.
42 As for the Israelites' half, which Moses separated from that of the troops,
43 the congregation's half was three hundred thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep and goats,
44 thirty-six thousand oxen,
45 thirty thousand five hundred donkeys,
46 and sixteen thousand persons.
47 From the Israelites' half Moses took one of every fifty, both of persons and of animals, and gave them to the Levites who had charge of the tabernacle of the Lord; as the Lord had commanded Moses.
48 Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, approached Moses,
49 and said to Moses, "Your servants have counted the warriors who are under our command, and not one of us is missing.
50 And we have brought the Lord's offering, what each of us found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and pendants, to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord."
51 Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from them, all in the form of crafted articles.
52 And all the gold of the offering that they offered to the Lord, from the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred fifty shekels.
53 (The troops had all taken plunder for themselves.)
54 So Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tent of meeting as a memorial for the Israelites 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 1

  • [a]. Gk: Heb adds [to the war]

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

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.