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The daily summaries are written by Wayne D. Turner, Pastor of SouthPointe Bible Fellowship in Fayetteville, Georgia

This is the March 31 reading. Select here for a new reading date:

BibleTrack Summary: March 31
<< Num 30

For New King James text and comment, click here.

Numbers 31-32    Listen Podcast


Those evil women...what's to be their end? (Numbers 31:1-18)

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.

Numbers 31:2 is interesting regarding God's word to Moses, "Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people." Here's Moses' last big assignment before he is to be "gathered unto thy people." While not specifically detailed, there is no question that the Hebrews clearly understood the principle of the afterlife in the presence of their ancestors and the Lord. Moses knew back in Numbers 20:12 (see notes) that he would not be accompanying Israel over into Canaan when the time came. But Moses is not done yet; God has commissioned him to plan this battle against the Midianites who had planned the destruction of Israel.

To lend some perspective here, let's first look at verse 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." The NKJV inserts the word "women" (i.e. "these women") in that verse because the Hebrew pronoun translated "these" is feminine plural. Remember back in Numbers 22:4-7 (see notes) that the Midianites and the Moabites conspired to contract the Midianite prophet Balaam to curse Israel; that plan failed. But Balaam subsequently devised a plan that they corrupt the morals of Israel instead. The Midianite episode in Numbers 25 (see notes) was orchestrated by Balaam. With all the adversity Israel had overcome, they were almost corrupted by the heathen Midianites and Moabites. And what was the weapon of their warfare against Israel back in Numbers 25? It was a troop of women who had been designated to entice Israel sexually for the purpose of introducing them to heathen gods, thus causing Israel to forsake the one true God. As a matter of fact, one of the women (Cozbi) was identified in Numbers 25:15 as being the daughter of one of the Midianite leaders. Make no mistake about it, the Midianites, along with the Moabites, had conspired, as a nation, to use their women to corrupt Israel's allegiance to the Lord, Jehovah. Balaam's evil plan was quite effective, but fell short due to the heroic deed of Phinehas (Numbers 25:6-8). Understand this, the Midianites and Moabites (including the women) were bent on Israel's destruction.

Maybe the resulting events of chapter 31 seem extreme. What about the events of 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Innocent people died there as well at the hands of the USA. Was there another solution that would have brought to a close World War II? Then it seemed that there was not, and in retrospect today it seems that there was not. War is war. When God commissioned the events of Numbers 31, it's because there was no other way. And who knows better than God? Oh, and appropriately, Balaam was executed in this battle as well.

Let's add some perspective to the selection of those Midianites who were sentenced to death at the end of this battle. The women had been commissioned as an army of prostitutes to corrupt Israel. These women, therefore, were not innocent victims of war as many times was the case in other battles. Secondly, The remaining people of the Midianites were integrated into the tribes of the Hebrews. That being the case, non-Hebrew male children would have injected a non-Jewish line of Midianites into the Tribes of Israel. These males would have harbored an intense resentment against the Hebrews as they entered adulthood. Since no males survived this battle, the virgin women became the possessions of Hebrew men; as such, the resulting children would have been of Hebrew lineage, since lineage was dependent upon the father's ancestry and not the mother's. And...incidentally, the leaders of the Midianites were executed (Numbers 31:8) - one being Zur, the father of Cosbi (slain by Phinehas in Numbers 25:15).

The uncleanness of war (Numbers 31:19-24)

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.

The soldiers required purification because of their contact with the dead. This seven-day purification ritual for the soldiers and for the plunder taken in war had to be performed outside the camp in order to prevent contamination of the rest of the people in accordance with the instructions of Numbers 19 (see notes).

Let's divide up the spoils of war (Numbers 31:25-54)

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.

When the smoke had cleared, this was a massive haul of people, possessions and livestock. The spoils of war are divided among all of Israel - some for the soldiers, some for the Levites, some for the people and some for the Lord. The exact division of the spoil in these verses is most interesting. Look at all the livestock! And here's another remarkable aspect of this campaign that one might overlook in verse 49; not one Israeli soldier was lost in the battle.

Let's break down the numbers here for the distribution of the spoils:

Category of spoils Totals taken in battle Totals distributed to the 12,000 soldiers (half minus that distributed to the priests) Totals distributed to the priests (1/500th of the soldiers' portion) Totals distributed to the 590,000 (or so) families in the congregation (half minus that distributed to the Levites) Totals distributed to the 23,000 (or so) Levites (1/50th of the congregations portion)
Beef cattle
Virgin women
Based upon these numbers, the priests made out very well after the distribution of the spoils. The soldiers didn't fair badly either. The remaining Levites and the Hebrew families who did not participate in the war effort had to learn to share.

Reuben and Gad: A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush! (Numbers 32)

The tribes of Reuben and Gad speak to Moses about staying on the east side of the Jordan River.

1 Now the children of Reuben and the children of Gad had a very great multitude of cattle: and when they saw the land of Jazer, and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place was a place for cattle;
2 The children of Gad and the children of Reuben came and spake unto Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and unto the princes of the congregation, saying,
3 Ataroth, and Dibon, and Jazer, and Nimrah, and Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Shebam, and Nebo, and Beon,
4 Even the country which the LORD smote before the congregation of Israel, is a land for cattle, and thy servants have cattle:
5 Wherefore, said they, if we have found grace in thy sight, let this land be given unto thy servants for a possession, and bring us not over Jordan.
6 And Moses said unto the children of Gad and to the children of Reuben, Shall your brethren go to war, and shall ye sit here?
7 And wherefore discourage ye the heart of the children of Israel from going over into the land which the LORD hath given them?
8 Thus did your fathers, when I sent them from Kadeshbarnea to see the land.
9 For when they went up unto the valley of Eshcol, and saw the land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, that they should not go into the land which the LORD had given them.
10 And the LORD’S anger was kindled the same time, and he sware, saying,
11 Surely none of the men that came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob; because they have not wholly followed me:
12 Save Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, and Joshua the son of Nun: for they have wholly followed the LORD.
13 And the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation, that had done evil in the sight of the LORD, was consumed.
14 And, behold, ye are risen up in your fathers’ stead, an increase of sinful men, to augment yet the fierce anger of the LORD toward Israel.
15 For if ye turn away from after him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and ye shall destroy all this people.

Moses negotiates a deal with Reuben and Gad: They'll still fight for the other tribes against the Canaanites.

16 And they came near unto him, and said, We will build sheepfolds here for our cattle, and cities for our little ones:
17 But we ourselves will go ready armed before the children of Israel, until we have brought them unto their place: and our little ones shall dwell in the fenced cities because of the inhabitants of the land.
18 We will not return unto our houses, until the children of Israel have inherited every man his inheritance.
19 For we will not inherit with them on yonder side Jordan, or forward; because our inheritance is fallen to us on this side Jordan eastward.
20 And Moses said unto them, If ye will do this thing, if ye will go armed before the LORD to war,
21 And will go all of you armed over Jordan before the LORD, until he hath driven out his enemies from before him,
22 And the land be subdued before the LORD: then afterward ye shall return, and be guiltless before the LORD, and before Israel; and this land shall be your possession before the LORD.
23 But if ye will not do so, behold, ye have sinned against the LORD: and be sure your sin will find you out.
24 Build you cities for your little ones, and folds for your sheep; and do that which hath proceeded out of your mouth.
25 And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben spake unto Moses, saying, Thy servants will do as my lord commandeth.
26 Our little ones, our wives, our flocks, and all our cattle, shall be there in the cities of Gilead:
27 But thy servants will pass over, every man armed for war, before the LORD to battle, as my lord saith.

Let's review the specifications of the deal with the tribes of Reuben and Gad. Half of the tribe of Manasseh joins them.

28 So concerning them Moses commanded Eleazar the priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the chief fathers of the tribes of the children of Israel:
29 And Moses said unto them, If the children of Gad and the children of Reuben will pass with you over Jordan, every man armed to battle, before the LORD, and the land shall be subdued before you; then ye shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession:
30 But if they will not pass over with you armed, they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan.
31 And the children of Gad and the children of Reuben answered, saying, As the LORD hath said unto thy servants, so will we do.
32 We will pass over armed before the LORD into the land of Canaan, that the possession of our inheritance on this side Jordan may be ours.
33 And Moses gave unto them, even to the children of Gad, and to the children of Reuben, and unto half the tribe of Manasseh the son of Joseph, the kingdom of Sihon king of the Amorites, and the kingdom of Og king of Bashan, the land, with the cities thereof in the coasts, even the cities of the country round about.
34 And the children of Gad built Dibon, and Ataroth, and Aroer,
35 And Atroth, Shophan, and Jaazer, and Jogbehah,
36 And Bethnimrah, and Bethharan, fenced cities: and folds for sheep.
37 And the children of Reuben built Heshbon, and Elealeh, and Kirjathaim,
38 And Nebo, and Baalmeon, (their names being changed,) and Shibmah: and gave other names unto the cities which they builded.
39 And the children of Machir the son of Manasseh went to Gilead, and took it, and dispossessed the Amorite which was in it.
40 And Moses gave Gilead unto Machir the son of Manasseh; and he dwelt therein.
41 And Jair the son of Manasseh went and took the small towns thereof, and called them Havothjair.
42 And Nobah went and took Kenath, and the villages thereof, and called it Nobah, after his own name.

As Israel is encamped on the east side of the Jordan poised to go over Jordan and take some real estate, the leaders of these two tribes (Reuben and Gad) ask Moses, "We like this land; why can't we just stay here?" In verses 6-15 Moses accuses them of acting like their fathers who refused to go over into Canaan back in Numbers 14 (see notes) after the return of the 12 spies. We see the substance of Moses' concern in verse 15 when he says, "For if ye turn away from after him, he will yet again leave them in the wilderness; and ye shall destroy all this people." He's concerned that the disobedience of these tribes may bring judgment from God on the whole nation of Israel. However, at the conclusion of his angry accusations, they assure Moses that they will be willing to fight side by side with Israel as they go into Canaan. As a matter of fact, in verse 17 they volunteer for the front lines of Israel's military efforts into Canaan.

Moses finally consents to their request, but with certain stipulations that these tribes dare not ignore. They must agree to go over Jordan with the rest of the fighting men of Israel to take Canaan. They readily agree to wholeheartedly support the war effort. After Moses does significant warning of the consequences of not providing this armed assistance, he agrees to let them settle on the east side of the Jordan in the land they had already conquered. There's a phrase in this passage that has been repeated over and over down through the ages as a warning to others. You've probably said it yourself without knowing where it originated. See if you can find it. There it is in verse 23, "...and be sure your sin will find you out." As it turns out, Reuben, Gad and half of Manasseh remain on the east side of the Jordan river. This is the area occupied by Syria and Jordan today. To see a map of the land as Israel would eventually settle in, click here.

Incidentally, these east-of-the-Jordan tribes keep their promise all the way down to the time that they are released from service by Joshua in Joshua 22:1-9 (see notes). It had taken something more than seven years at that point.

For commentary on another passage, click here.

Copyright 2003-2011 by Wayne D. Turner