Numbers 31

Vengeance on the Midianites

1 The LORD said to Moses,
2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them.
4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.”
5 So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel.
6 Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling.
7 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every man.
8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder.
10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps.
11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals,
12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.
13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp.
14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.
15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them.
16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the LORD in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the LORD’s people.
17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,
18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
19 “Anyone who has killed someone or touched someone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days. On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives.
20 Purify every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.”
21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, “This is what is required by the law that the LORD gave Moses:
22 Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead
23 and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water.
24 On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.”

Dividing the Spoils

25 The LORD said to Moses,
26 “You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured.
27 Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community.
28 From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the LORD one out of every five hundred, whether people, cattle, donkeys or sheep.
29 Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part.
30 From the Israelites’ half, select one out of every fifty, whether people, cattle, donkeys, sheep or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.”
31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.
32 The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep,
33 72,000 cattle,
34 61,000 donkeys
35 and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.
36 The half share of those who fought in the battle was: 337,500 sheep,
37 of which the tribute for the LORD was 675;
38 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the LORD was 72;
39 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the LORD was 61;
40 16,000 people, of whom the tribute for the LORD was 32.
41 Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the LORD’s part, as the LORD commanded Moses.
42 The half belonging to the Israelites, which Moses set apart from that of the fighting men—
43 the community’s half—was 337,500 sheep,
44 36,000 cattle,
45 30,500 donkeys
46 and 16,000 people.
47 From the Israelites’ half, Moses selected one out of every fifty people and animals, as the LORD commanded him, and gave them to the Levites, who were responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.
48 Then the officers who were over the units of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—went to Moses
49 and said to him, “Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing.
50 So we have brought as an offering to the LORD the gold articles each of us acquired—armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces—to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.”
51 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold—all the crafted articles.
52 All the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds that Moses and Eleazar presented as a gift to the LORD weighed 16,750 shekels.[a]
53 Each soldier had taken plunder for himself.
54 Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders 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.

Cross References 55

  • 1. S Genesis 25:2
  • 2. S Numbers 20:26; Numbers 27:13
  • 3. Judges 11:36; 1 Samuel 24:12; 2 Samuel 4:8; 2 Samuel 22:48; Psalms 94:1; Psalms 149:7; Isaiah 34:8; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 46:10; Ezekiel 25:17
  • 4. ver 6,21
  • 5. S ver 5
  • 6. S Exodus 6:25
  • 7. Numbers 14:44
  • 8. S Numbers 10:2; Numbers 10:9
  • 9. Numbers 25:16
  • 10. Deuteronomy 20:13; Judges 21:11; 1 Kings 11:15,16
  • 11. Joshua 13:21
  • 12. S Numbers 25:15
  • 13. S Numbers 22:5; S Numbers 24:14
  • 14. Joshua 13:22
  • 15. ver 15
  • 16. S Genesis 34:29
  • 17. Joshua 6:24; Joshua 8:28; Joshua 11:11; Judges 18:27
  • 18. Genesis 25:16; 1 Chronicles 6:54; Psalms 69:25; Ezekiel 25:4
  • 19. ver 26; Deuteronomy 20:14; 2 Chronicles 28:8
  • 20. ver 32,53; Genesis 49:27; Exodus 15:9
  • 21. S Numbers 27:2
  • 22. Numbers 22:1
  • 23. ver 48; Exodus 18:21; Deuteronomy 1:15; 2 Samuel 18:1
  • 24. S Numbers 22:5; S Numbers 24:14; S 2 Peter 2:15; Revelation 2:14
  • 25. S Numbers 23:28; Numbers 25:1-9
  • 26. S Numbers 14:37
  • 27. Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 20:16-18; Judges 21:11
  • 28. Numbers 19:16
  • 29. S Leviticus 21:1
  • 30. Numbers 19:12
  • 31. Numbers 19:19
  • 32. S Leviticus 11:32
  • 33. S ver 5
  • 34. Joshua 6:19; Joshua 22:8
  • 35. S 1 Corinthians 3:13
  • 36. S Numbers 8:7; Numbers 19:9,17
  • 37. S Leviticus 11:25
  • 38. S Leviticus 14:8
  • 39. S Numbers 1:4
  • 40. S Numbers 1:19
  • 41. S ver 11,12
  • 42. Joshua 22:8; 1 Samuel 25:13; 1 Samuel 30:24
  • 43. ver 37-41; S Numbers 18:21
  • 44. Numbers 3:7; Numbers 18:3
  • 45. S ver 12
  • 46. ver 38-41
  • 47. Numbers 5:9; Numbers 18:8
  • 48. ver 21,28
  • 49. S ver 14
  • 50. S Numbers 1:19
  • 51. Jeremiah 23:4
  • 52. S Exodus 30:16
  • 53. S Genesis 34:29; Deuteronomy 20:14
  • 54. S Exodus 27:21; Exodus 40:2
  • 55. S Exodus 28:12

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. That is, about 420 pounds or about 190 kilograms

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