Numbers 31

1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Avenge the children of Israel for the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” 3 Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from amongst you for the war, that they may go against Midian, to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. 4 Of every tribe one thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, you shall 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 Moses sent them, one thousand of every tribe, to the war, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. 7 They fought against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses. They killed every male. 8 They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. 9 The children of Israel took the women of Midian captive with their little ones; and all their livestock, all their flocks, and all their goods, they took as plunder. 10 All their cities in the places in which they lived, and all their encampments, they burnt with fire. 11 They took all the captives, and all the plunder, both of man and of animal. 12 They brought the captives, and the prey, and the plunder, to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the children of Israel, to the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan at Jericho. 13 Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went out to meet them outside of the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who came from the service of the war. 15 Moses said to them, “Have you 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 so the plague was amongst the congregation of the LORD. 17 Now therefore kill every male amongst the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. 18 But all the girls, who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. 19 “Encamp outside of the camp seven days. Whoever has killed any person, and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves on the third day and on the seventh day, you and your captives. 20 As to every garment, and all that is made of skin, and all work of goats’ hair, and all things made of wood, you shall purify yourselves.” 21 Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who went to the battle, “This is the statute of the law which the LORD has commanded Moses: 22 however the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead, 23 everything that may withstand the fire, you shall make to go through the fire, and it shall be clean; nevertheless it shall be purified with the water for impurity. All that doesn’t withstand the fire you shall make to go through the water. 24 You shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. Afterward you shall come into the camp.” 25 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 26 “Count the plunder that was taken, both of man and of animal, you, and Eleazar the priest, and the heads of the fathers’ households of the congregation; 27 and divide the plunder into two parts: between the men skilled in war, who went out to battle, and all the congregation. 28 Levy a tribute to the LORD of the men of war who went out to battle: one soul of five hundred; of the persons, of the cattle, of the donkeys, and of the flocks. 29 Take it from their half, and give it to Eleazar the priest, for the LORD’s wave offering. 30 Of the children of Israel’s half, you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the persons, of the cattle, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the livestock, and give them to the Levites, who perform the duty of the LORD’s tabernacle.” 31 Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses. 32 Now the plunder, over and above the booty which the men of war took, was six hundred and seventy-five thousand sheep, 33 and seventy-two thousand head of cattle, 34 and sixty-one thousand donkeys, 35 and thirty-two thousand persons in all, of the women who had not known man by lying with him. 36 The half, which was the portion of those who went out to war, was in number three hundred and thirty-seven thousand and five hundred sheep: 37 and the LORD’s tribute of the sheep was six hundred and seventy-five. 38 The cattle were thirty-six thousand; of which the LORD’s tribute was seventy-two. 39 The donkeys were thirty thousand and five hundred; of which the LORD’s tribute was sixty-one. 40 The persons were sixteen thousand; of whom the LORD’s tribute was thirty-two persons. 41 Moses gave the tribute, which was the LORD’s wave offering, to Eleazar the priest, as the LORD commanded Moses. 42 Of the children of Israel’s half, which Moses divided off from the men who fought 43 (now the congregation’s half was three hundred and thirty-seven thousand and five hundred sheep, 44 and thirty-six thousand head of cattle, 45 and thirty thousand and five hundred donkeys, 46 and sixteen thousand persons), 47 even of the children of Israel’s half, Moses took one drawn out of every fifty, both of man and of animal, and gave them to the Levites, who performed the duty of the LORD’s tabernacle; as the LORD commanded Moses. 48 The officers who were over the thousands of the army, the captains of thousands, and the captains of hundreds, came near to Moses. 49 They said to Moses, “Your servants have taken the sum of the men of war who are under our command, and there lacks not one man of us. 50 We have brought the LORD’s offering, what every man has gotten, of jewels of gold, armlets, and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and necklaces, to make atonement for our souls before the LORD.” 51 Moses and Eleazar the priest took their gold, even all worked jewels. 52 All the gold of the wave offering that they offered up to the LORD, of the captains of thousands, and of the captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand and seven hundred and fifty shekels. 53 The men of war had taken booty, every man for himself. 54 Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the Tent of Meeting, for a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD.

(Previous Chapter)    •    (Next Chapter)

Questions about today’s reading? See if Matthew Henry can help.
Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, 1706

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, Ho 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.

Back to Top