Scripture reading – Numbers 31-32
We are closing in the final chapters of the Book of Numbers, and though our study has been historical in context, it is foundational to a broader, and deeper understanding of the Scriptures! Don’t get weary, for the journey is worth it, and enriching.
Numbers 31 – A War of Revenge Against the Midianites
The LORD spoke to Moses, and as one of his last acts as Israel’s leader (31:1-2), he was commanded to raise up an army of twelve thousand men, to war against Midian (31:1-4). Strategically, it was important for Israel to eliminate all nations on the east side of Jordan that might threaten their campaign in Canaan. The LORD had determined to avenge Israel against Midian, because the kings of Midian had employed Balaam, the seer to curse Israel, and their women had enticed the men of Israel to sin (Numbers 25:6).
Thus, the LORD ordered Moses to wage war against the Midianites (31:1-10, 16). The LORD gave Israel’s army of twelve thousand a glorious victory, and not one soldier was lost in the battle (31:49b). Israel slew all the men of Midian, including five kings, and Balaam, whom “they slew with the sword” (31:8).
The spoils of war were the women and children of Midian, their cattle, flocks of sheep, and possessions (31:9). Israel burnt all the cities, and fortresses to the ground (31:10-11). Returning from battle, the soldiers were met outside the camp by Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the chief leaders of the tribes (31:12-13). Moses, seeing the women of Midian in the midst of the spoils, was furious, for he remembered they had wreaked havoc by luring the men of Israel (31:14-16). With the exception of virgins, Moses ordered all the women of Midian be slain, and “every male among the little ones” (31:17-18). Before they were reunited with their families, the soldiers were commanded to remain outside the camp for seven days, purify themselves, their clothes, and all their goods (31:19-24).
The balance of Numbers 31 addresses the large sum of people, livestock, and goods that had been taken in the victory over Midian (31:25-35), and the distribution of the spoils of the war with Midian. A half-portion of the spoils was awarded to the soldiers (31:36-40), the other half was divided up among the congregation (31:42-47), and the tribute or tithe was then given to the priests (31:41, 48-54).
Numbers 32 – The Division of the Land on the East Side of the Jordan River
Two and a half tribes of Israel, Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, petitioned Moses to assign them land on the east side of the Jordan, reasoning the land was fertile, and could support their livestock (32:1-5). Moses’ first reaction to the request was swift, for he feared those tribes were deserting the nation, and shirking their obligation to assist in conquering the Promised Land (32:6-15).
Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh responded to Moses’ concerns, and assured him they were ready to go to war. They desired, after Canaan would be conquered, to return to the grassy fields on the east side of the Jordan (32:16-42).
The compromise reached between Moses, and the tribes appeared to be, “all’s well that ends well.” Such, however, would not be the case. While the leaders of those tribes kept their vows, and fought beside their brethren in Canaan; their decision to build their homes, and raise their children short of Canaan proved disastrous.
Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh were not only geographically distant from the other tribes, but they also became spiritually distant from the LORD in the generations that followed. We will later read of those tribes: “They transgressed against the God of their fathers, and went a whoring after the gods of the people of the land” (1 Chronicles 5:25).
Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh were convinced the land “just short” of the Promised Land was good enough. That decision, however, would become a great sorrow for their children. Those tribes were the first to turn from the LORD, and were taken captive by Assyria (1 Chronicles 5:26).
Lesson – No half-way, half-hearted service for the LORD will ever be acceptable!
Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith