Study Notes

Numbers 31:1-54

31:1-2 Vengeance On The Midianites

When Israel camped next to the Moabites' and Midianites' land,

Num. 22:4 ...Moab said to the elders of Midian, "Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field."

King Baw-LAWK decided to hire Balaam the prophet to curse the Israelites.

Num. 22:7 So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the {fees for} divination in their hand; and they came to Balaam and repeated Balak's words to him.

Although Balaam could not curse the Israelites, he did want the fees for divination that he'd been offered. So he gave advice to the Moabites and the Midianites, telling them to send their idolatrous and immoral women over to the Israelite camp to tempt them into sin.

The advice worked, the plan succeeded. The Israelites fell into the trap, and God judged them for it, killing 24,000 of the Israelites. Certainly, they had sinned knowingly and willingly against God. They deserved their judgment.

Today, many drug users will be sentenced to prison for breaking the law knowingly and willingly. But what drives me crazy is that the dealers that manufactured and sold the drugs to these people are still selling on the street, flying in their planes, living it up in their mansions. That is not complete justice.

God, however, is a God of complete justice. The Lord doesn't just judge the user, He judges the dealer. And so, after the Israelites have been judged for their sin, God turns His attention to the Midianites, telling Moses, "Take full vengeance on the Midianites."

31:3-5 12,000 Armed For War

In this case, there will be no pestilence or plague. No supernatural judgment. Twelve thousand men are armed to go to war. God's vengeance will be executed by God's people.

Does this justify me thinking, "God has called me to exercise vengeance"? The Scripture says in Romans 12,

Rom. 12:17-21 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath {of God,} for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord. "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS UPON HIS HEAD." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We are commanded in the New Testament to leave vengeance to God. This is mostly because we always take our own revenge, rather than the Lord's. Plus, He endures more, suffers longer, waits more patiently that we do. We need to leave room for the wrath of God. We must let God have the time and space to accomplish what He desires.

31:6 Phinehas Goes To War

The priest Pee-nekh-AWS, the son of the high priest El-aw-ZAWR, is sent out to war as well. He is to carry the trumpets to sound the alarm. Back in chapter 10, you may remember, God had instructed Moses to make these two trumpets of silver. They had several purposes, but in regards to war, Moses was told,

Num. 10:9 "And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies."

Pee4-nekh-AWS also is carrying the "holy vessels" with him. Some believe that this refer to to Urim and the Thummim, which the high priest carried in the breastpiece, and used to discern the will of God. Some have thought that it was the ark of the covenant, but there's no way that just one priest could have carried it. We really don't know what he brought with him.

31:7-11 Killing, Capturing, Plundering, Burning

All of the male Midianites were killed, including the five kings of Midian: Ev-EE, REH-kem, Tsoor, Khoor, and REH-bah. The women and children are captured, the flocks and goods are plundered, and the cities and camps are burned.


Balaam was also killed during this war. Although the last we saw of him, he was leaving, he apparently came back. This is the end of a man who made terrible decisions based on desire for money rather than his desire to please God. Peter called Balaam,

2Pet. 2:15 ...Balaam, the {son} of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness

Scripture warns us,

1Tim. 6:9-10 But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang.

This was certainly the way that Balaam's life ended - pierced through with the sword. This is doubly tragic, considering that back in chapter 23, while he was speaking a blessing over the camp of Israel, said,

Num. 23:10 "Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!"

Balaam's desire was to die the death of the upright. But you can't die the death of the upright unless you live the life of the upright. He was caught with the Midianites and died the death of unrighteous idolaters.

31:12-18 Kill Every Male Child And Touched Woman

Imagine Moses' surprise when the army of 12,001 Israelites came marching back with a bunch of women! It was in fact the women who had caused the Israelite's stumbling in the first place! These immoral, idolatrous ladies had caused the deaths of 24,000 of their family members, and here they were, being paraded towards the camp of Israel!

Moses' command is that every woman who had known a man intimately, and every male child be killed.

This is a section of Scripture that many people have a problem with. How could God be responsible for ordering the death of women and children? As I've said before, God is not squeamish about taking the responsibility for His judgments. They are righteous and true. Many women and children were killed during the flood in Genesis 7. Many women and children will be killed when He pours out His judgment upon the earth during the Great Tribulation.

What is God's reason for having women and children killed? In the flood, God saw that mankind's wickedness was great - that every intent and thought was continually evil. In the Tribulation, He will see that mankind refuses to repent of wickedness, worship of demons, the beast, and the devil.

The Midianites were the same way. They were wicked, practicing evil and idolatry. When your body has a virus, you don't have mercy on the virus, because you know it's not going to repent and turn passive. No, it will afflict and affect your entire body. When Old Yeller got rabies, the family didn't say, "Well, we're sure he'll get over it... let's let him out of the cage and back into the house." Of course they didn't - the rabid dog would have killed them all. Well, God knows that the idolatrous and immoral nations were like a virus or a rabid dog. There was not going to be repentance on their parts, and they could only do terrible harm to His chosen people.

So they are to be killed. Only the young girls who had not been defiled by the immorality of their society were allowed to live.

31:19-24 Cleansing From Impurity

Remember that the law said any contact with a dead body made you unclean.

Num. 19:11 The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days.

The process for becoming ceremonially clean again was,

Num. 19:12 That one shall purify himself from uncleanness with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and then he shall be clean...

This was the water that was mixed with the ashes of the red heifer that we learned about back in chapter 19. The one who was unclean from touching a dead person was to be washed by the water to be cleansed.

31:21-24 Purified By Fire Or Water

The spoils of war also had to be purified by either fire or water.

Fire in Scripture is symbolic of judgment. Water is symbolic of the Word of God. Notice that both cleanse and purify. We are washed by the water of the Word, we are purified by the refining fire. The two are used together. All fire and no water would burn us up. All water and no fire becomes stagnant.

Isaiah wrote,

Isa. 64:2 causes water to boil...

The trials and tribulations in our lives, the refiner's fire, stirs up the water that's been poured into us. The offerings in Leviticus were washed by water, then offered by fire. It is the same with us... we come to the water of the Word, we're cleansed, refreshed. Then we go into the world where the fire is turned up, and causes the water to boil inside of us, purifying us as boiling water does.

Isa. 43:1-3 But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior

The water and the fire... As they cleanse and purify us, God is with us through both.

31:25-30 Booty And Tax Levy

The booty that was taken is to be counted and divided in half between the men who went to war and the congregation that stayed behind.

This sounds a lot like what happened with David in 1Samuel 30. Maybe you know the story... While David and his 600 men were coming back from the land of the Philistines, the Amalekites made a raid on Ziklag, capturing the women and children, and burning down the city. When they arrived at Ziklag and discovered what had happened, everyone wept until they had no strength left.

It was decided to pursue the Amalekites. But by the time they got to the brook Besor, 200 of his men were to exhausted to continue. David kept going with the other 400 men. They caught up with the Amalekites and fought them, recovering all the people, livestock, and goods that had been taken.

1Sam. 30:21-25 When David came to the two hundred men who were too exhausted to follow David, who had also been left at the brook Besor, and they went out to meet David and to meet the people who were with him, then David approached the people and greeted them. Then all the wicked and worthless men among those who went with David answered and said, "Because they did not go with us, we will not give them any of the spoil that we have recovered, except to every man his wife and his children, that they may lead {them} away and depart." Then David said, "You must not do so, my brothers, with what the LORD has given us, who has kept us and delivered into our hand the band that came against us. And who will listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down to the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage; they shall share alike." And so it has been from that day forward, that he made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel to this day.

Those who look after things at home share the benefits with those who go out. In other words, the heavenly rewards gained by going out in missions and ministries are shared by those who stay at home and cover those works in prayer. Maybe you don't have the financial or family freedom to spend a year in Africa. But if you pray for those that do, then you gather some of the riches gained by that work. Maybe you don't have the physical ability to preach the gospel throughout our city. But if you are praying and supporting those who do, then you are gathering rewards as well. So those who stayed behind benefited from the spoils gained by those who went to war.

There is also to be a 1/500 tax given to the high priest as an offering to the Lord from the soldiers' half, and a 1/50 tax to the Levites. Earthly gains are to be shared with those who minister spiritually.

(31:31-47) The Accounting

These verses make an accounting of the booty plundered from the Midianites. Verse 34 mentions that there were 61,000 donkeys taken. I just have to wonder if Balaam's donkey was among them!

Another thing we learn from this is that there were 32,000 young women who were not killed. If you start to do the math with basic ratios, you realize that this victory was a miracle. The 12,000 Israelites must have been up against 30, 40, or even 50 thousand Midianite men!

31:48-54 An Offering To The Lord

Not a man was missing! This was even more of a miracle than it first appeared! Not one of the Israelites lost their lives.

They recognized this victory was from the Lord, and offered articles of gold and other valuables as a memorial offering to God. I often wonder if the Lord withholds more blessings from us because we often don't bother to show gratitude for the blessings He's already given us. Let us learn the lesson taught us by the ten lepers.

Luke 17:11-18 And it came about while He was on the way to Jerusalem, that He was passing between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a certain village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; and they raised their voices, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" And when He saw them, He said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And it came about that as they were going, they were cleansed. Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine - where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?"

Statistically, 90% of us haven't given thanks and glory to God like we should. May we be as the officers of the thousands, who offered glory and thanks to God.

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