Numbers 31 Commentary

Judgment on Midian (31:1-54)

God now sent Israel to carry out his judgment on the Midianites (and Balaam with them) for the evil they did to Israel at Peor (see 25:1-9,14-17). Since it was a ‘holy’ war, the person who led the Israelite forces was not the army general Joshua, but the priest Phinehas (see 25:10-13). The Israelites were to destroy the Midianite fighting forces and burn their settlements. All captives and goods seized in battle were to be given to God, represented by the high priest, Eleazar (31:1-12). When Moses saw that the Israelites spared the Midianite women he was angry, for these women were the ones who caused Israel to sin. He therefore gave orders to execute all the women except the virgins (13-18).

Since the war was a holy judgment by God, the Israelites had to remove whatever uncleanness had resulted from their contact with the enemy. Those who handled dead bodies needed to be ceremonially cleansed (as detailed in Chapter 19). Articles of clothing were purified by washing. Metal articles were purified by passing them through fire and then washing them (19-24).

The goods seized in battle were divided equally between soldiers and non-soldiers. But whereas the soldiers gave only one five-hundredth of their goods to share among the priests, the non-soldiers gave one fiftieth of their goods to share among the Levites (who were far more numerous than priests) (25-47).

When the soldiers found they had not lost one man in battle, they made an additional offering to express their thanks to God. The offering was placed in the tabernacle treasury (48-54).

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