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Adam Clarke Commentary

Numbers 31

Introduction

The command of the Lord to make war on the Midianites, Numbers 31:1 , Numbers 31:2 . One thousand men are chosen out of each of the twelve tribes, and sent with Phinehas against the Midianites, Numbers 31:3 -6. They slay all the males, Numbers 31:7 ; their five kings and Balaam, Numbers 31:8 . They take all the women captives, with the flocks and goods, Numbers 31:9 ; burn their cities, and bring away the spoil, Numbers 31:10 , Numbers 31:11 . They bring the captives, etc., to Moses, who is wroth with the officers for sparing the women, who had formerly been the cause of their transgression and punishment, Numbers 31:12 -16. He commands all the male children and all the grown up females to be slain, Numbers 31:17 , Numbers 31:18 . How the soldiers were to purify themselves, Numbers 31:19 , Numbers 31:20 ; and the different articles taken in war, Numbers 31:21 -24. They are commanded to take the sum of the prey, to divide it into two parts; one for the 12,000 warriors, and the other for the rest of the congregation, Numbers 31:25 -27. One of 500, both of persons and cattle, of the share of the warriors, to be given to the Lord, Numbers 31:28 , Numbers 31:29 ; and one part of fifty, of the people's share, to be given to the Levites, Numbers 31:30 . The sum of the prey remaining after the above division; sheep 675,000, beeves 72,000, asses 61,000, young women 32,000, Numbers 31:31 -35. How the soldiers' part was divided, Numbers 31:36 -40. How the part belonging to the congregation was divided, Numbers 31:41 -47. The officers report that they had not lost a man in this war, Numbers 31:48 , Numbers 31:49 . They bring a voluntary oblation to God, of gold and ornaments, Numbers 31:50 , Numbers 31:51 ; the amount of which was 16,750 shekels, Numbers 31:52 , Numbers 31:53 . Moses and Eleazar bring the gold into the tabernacle for a memorial, Numbers 31:54 .

Verse 1

Vex the Midianites, etc. - See this order fulfilled, Numbers 31:1-20. Twelve thousand Israelites attacked the Midianites, destroyed all their cities, slew their five kings, every male, and every grown up woman, and took all their spoils.

Verse 2

Gathered unto thy people - Where? Not in the grave surely. Moses was gathered with none of them, his burial-place no man ever knew. "But being gathered unto one's people means dying." It does imply dying, but it does not mean this only. The truth is, God considers all those who are dead to men in a state of conscious existence in another world. Therefore he calls himself the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob; now God is not the God of the dead, but of the living; because all Live to Him, whether dead to men or not. Moses therefore was to be gathered to his people - to enter into that republic of Israel which, having died in the faith, fear, and love of God, were now living in a state of conscious blessedness beyond the confines of the grave. See the note on Genesis 25:8 , and Genesis 49:33 (note).

Verse 3

Avenge the Lord of Midian - It was God's quarrel, not their own, that they were now to take up. These people were idolaters; idolatry is an offense against God; the civil power has no authority to meddle with what belongs to Him, without especial directions, certified in the most unequivocal way. Private revenge, extension of territory, love of plunder, were to have no place in this business; the Lord is to be avenged; and through Him the children of Israel, Numbers 31:2 , because their souls as well as their bodies had been well nigh ruined by their idolatry.

Verse 6

A thousand of every tribe - Twelve thousand men in the whole. And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar; some think he was made general in this expedition, but this is not likely. The ark and its contents must proceed to this battle, because the battle was the Lord's, and he dwelt between the cherubim over the ark; and Phinehas, who had before got a grant in the eternal priesthood, was chosen to accompany the ark in place of his father Eleazar, who was probably now too far advanced in years to undergo the fatigue. Who then was general? Joshua, without doubt, though not here mentioned, because the battle being the Lord's, he alone is to have the supreme direction, and all the glory. Besides, it was an extraordinary war, and not conducted on the common principle, for we do not find that peace was offered to the Midianites, and that they refused it; see Deuteronomy 20:10 , etc. In such a case only hostilities could lawfully commence; but they were sinners against God; the cup of their iniquity was full, and God thought proper to destroy them. Though a leader there certainly was, and Joshua was probably that leader, yet because God, for the above reason, was considered as commander-in-chief, therefore no one else is mentioned; for it is evident that the sole business of Phinehas was to take care of the holy instruments and to blow with the trumpet.

Verse 8

Balaam - they slew with the sword - This man had probably committed what St. John calls the sin unto death - a sin which God punishes with temporal death, while at the same time he extends mercy to the soul. See the remarks at Numbers 24:25 (note).

Verse 17

Kill every male among the little ones - For this action I account simply on the principle that God, who is the author and supporter of life, has a right to dispose of it when and how he thinks proper; and the Judge of all the earth can do nothing but what is right. Of the women killed on this occasion it may be safely said, their lives were forfeited by their personal transgressions; and yet even in this case there can be little doubt that God showed mercy to their souls. The little ones were safely lodged; they were taken to heaven and saved from the evil to come.

Verse 23

The water of separation - The water in which the ashes of the red heifer were mingled; See Numbers 8:7 (note), Numbers 19:2 (note), etc. Garments, whether of cloth or skins, were to be washed. Gold, silver, brass, iron, tin, and lead, to pass through the fire, probably to be melted down.

Verse 28

And levy a tribute unto the Lord - one soul of five hundred, etc. - The person to be employed in the Lord's service, under the Levites - the cattle either for sacrifice, or for the use of the Levites, Numbers 31:30 . Some monsters have supposed that one out of every five hundred of the captives was offered in sacrifice to the Lord! but this is abominable. When God chose to have the life of a man, he took it in the way of justice, as in the case of Midianites above, but never in the way of sacrifice.

Verse 32

The booty - It appears from the enumeration here that the Israelites, in this war against the Midianites, took 32,000 female prisoners, 61,000 asses, 72,000 beeves, 675,000 sheep and small cattle; besides the immense number of males who fell in battle, and the women and children who were slain by the Divine command, Numbers 31:17 . And it does not appear that in this expedition, a single man of Israel fell! This was naturally to be expected, because the battle was the Lord's, Numbers 31:49 .As the booty was divided into two equal parts, Numbers 31:22 , one for the soldiers employed in the expedition, and the other for those who, being equally willing to be employed, were ordered to stay in the camp; so each of the parties in this booty was to give a certain proportion to the Lord. The soldiers to give to the Lord one out of every five hundred persons, beeves, asses, and sheep, Numbers 31:28 . The people, who by staying at home risked nothing, and had no fatigue, were to give one out of fifty of the above, Numbers 31:30 . The booty, its divisions among the soldiers and people, the proportion given by each to the Lord and to the Levites, will be seen in one view by the following table, which I copy from Houbigant.Total of sheep - 675,000To the soldiers - 337,500To the Lord from the soldiers - 675To the people - 337,500To the Levites from the people - 6,750Total of beeves - 72, 00To the soldiers - 36,000To the Lord from the soldiers - 72To the people - 36,000To the Levites from the people - 720Total of asses - 1,000To the soldiers - 30,500To the Lord from the soldiers - 61To the people - 30,500To the Levites from the people - 610Total of persons - 32,000To the soldiers.. 16,000To the Lord from the soldiers - 32To the Levites from the people - 320To the people - 16,000In this table the booty is equally divided between the people and the soldiers; a five-hundredth part being given to the Lord, and a fiftieth part to the Levites.

Verse 50

We have - brought an oblation for the Lord - So it appears there was a great deal of booty taken which did not come into the general account; and of this the soldiers, of their own will, made a very extensive offering to God, because he had preserved them from falling in battle. That not one man should have been slain is a most extraordinary circumstance, and powerfully marks the peculiar superintendence of God's especial providence. The Midianites must certainly have made some resistance; but that was ineffectual, because it was against the Lord. When any nation undertakes a crusade against those whom they are pleased to call the Lord's enemies, let them bring from the contest this proof of their Divine mission, viz., that not one man of them is either lost or missing; and then, and not till then, shall we believe that God hath sent them.To make an atonement for our souls - That is, to make an acknowledgment to God for the preservation of their lives. The gold offered on this occasion amounted to 16,750 shekels, equal to 37,869, 16s. 5d. of our money. See the note on Exodus 25:39 , where the true value of the shekel is given, and a rule laid down to reduce it to English money.

Numbers 31


  1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
  2 Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.
  3 And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the LORD of Midian.
  4 Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.
  5 So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.
  6 And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand.
  7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
  8 And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
  9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
  10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
  11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.
  12 And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.
  13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
  14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
  15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
  16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
  17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
  18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
  19 And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day.
  20 And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats' hair, and all things made of wood.
  21 And Eleazar the priest said unto the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD commanded Moses;
  22 Only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead,
  23 Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water.
  24 And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.
  25 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
  26 Take the sum of the prey that was taken, both of man and of beast, thou, and Eleazar the priest, and the chief fathers of the congregation:
  27 And divide the prey into two parts; between them that took the war upon them, who went out to battle, and between all the congregation:
  28 And levy a tribute unto the LORD of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep:
  29 Take it of their half, and give it unto Eleazar the priest, for an heave offering of the LORD.
  30 And of the children of Israel's half, thou shalt take one portion of fifty, of the persons, of the beeves, of the asses, and of the flocks, of all manner of beasts, and give them unto the Levites, which keep the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD.
  31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.
  32 And the booty, being the rest of the prey which the men of war had caught, was six hundred thousand and seventy thousand and five thousand sheep.
  33 And threescore and twelve thousand beeves,
  34 And threescore and one thousand asses,
  35 And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him.
  36 And the half, which was the portion of them that went out to war, was in number three hundred thousand and seven and thirty thousand and five hundred sheep:
  37 And the LORD'S tribute of the sheep was six hundred and threescore and fifteen.
  38 And the beeves were thirty and six thousand; of which the LORD'S tribute was threescore and twelve.
  39 And the asses were thirty thousand and five hundred; of which the LORD'S tribute was threescore and one.
  40 And the persons were sixteen thousand; of which the LORD'S tribute was thirty and two persons.
  41 And Moses gave the tribute, which was the LORD'S heave offering, unto Eleazar the priest, as the LORD commanded Moses.
  42 And of the children of Israel's half, which Moses divided from the men that warred,
  43 (Now the half that pertained unto the congregation was three hundred thousand and thirty thousand and seven thousand and five hundred sheep,
  44 And thirty and six thousand beeves,
  45 And thirty thousand asses and five hundred,
  46 And sixteen thousand persons;)
  47 Even of the children of Israel's half, Moses took one portion of fifty, both of man and of beast, and gave them unto the Levites, which kept the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD; as the LORD commanded Moses.
  48 And the officers which were over thousands of the host, the captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, came near unto Moses:
  49 And they said unto Moses, Thy servants have taken the sum of the men of war which are under our charge, and there lacketh not one man of us.
  50 We have therefore brought an oblation for the LORD, what every man hath gotten, of jewels of gold, chains, and bracelets, rings, earrings, and tablets, to make an atonement for our souls before the LORD.
  51 And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of them, even all wrought jewels.
  52 And all the gold of the offering that they offered up to the LORD, of the captains of thousands, and of the captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels.
  53 (For the men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.)
  54 And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tabernacle of the congregation, for a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD.

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