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Scripture reading – Numbers 31-32

We are closing in on the final chapters of the Book of Numbers. Although our study has been historical in context, I assure you it is foundational to a broader and deeper understanding of the Scriptures! So don’t get weary; the journey is enriching and will prove worthwhile as we continue our chronological study of the Old and New Testaments.

Numbers 31 – A War of Revenge Against the Midianites

God’s Command to Go to War (Numbers 31:1-2)

After being told that his death was imminent, the LORD commanded Moses, “Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people” (31:1-2). Moses then spoke to the people and rallied them to arm themselves for war and raise up from “every tribe a thousand” men to wage war against Midian (31:3-4). Then, with an army of 12,000 men, “Phinehas,” the zealous “son of Eleazar the priest,” was commanded to go to war with the army, “and the trumpets to blow in his hand” (31:6).

The Victory Over the Midianites (Numbers 31:3-8)

Strategically, it was important for Israel to eliminate all nations on the east side of Jordan that might threaten their campaign in Canaan. Thus, the LORD 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). Israel slew all the men of Midian, including five kings, and Balaam, whom “they slew with the sword” (31:8). The army of 12,000 warriors experienced a glorious victory. No soldier of the twelve tribes was lost in the battle (31:49b).

The Spoils of War and A Foolish Choice (Numbers 31:9-18)

Israel’s soldiers returned to the camp with the spoils of war, including Midian women and children, their cattle, flocks of sheep, and possessions (31:9). All the cities and fortresses of Midian were destroyed (31:10-11).

When the soldiers returned from the battle, they were met outside the camp by Moses, Eleazar, the priest, and the chief leaders of the tribes (31:12-13). Seeing the women of Midian amid the spoils, Moses was furious, for he remembered how they had lured the men of Israel (31:14-16). So, except for virgins, Moses ordered all the Midianite women to be slain and “every male among the little ones” (31:17-18).

The Ritual of Purification (Numbers 31:19-24)

Before the soldiers were reunited with their families, they were commanded to remain outside the camp for seven days. During that time, they were to purify themselves, their clothes, and all their goods (31:19-24).

The Distribution of the Spoils and the LORD’s Tithe (Numbers 31:25-54)

The balance of Numbers 31 addressed the large sum of people and goods taken in the victory over Midian (31:25-35) and the distribution of the spoils. Each soldier was awarded a half-portion of the spoils (31:36-40), and the other half was divided among the congregation (31:42-47). Finally, the tribute or tithe was given to the priests (31:41, 48-54).

Numbers 32

The Division of the Land on the East Side of the Jordan River (Numbers 32:1-5)

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. They reasoned that the land was fertile and could support their livestock (32:1-5).

Moses’ Misinterpretation of the Request of the Tribes (Numbers 32:6-15)

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).

The Tribes’ Assurance of Their Intent to Go to War (Numbers 32:16-42)

Then, Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh answered Moses and assured him they were ready to war for Israel. Still, after Canaan was conquered, they desired to return to the grassy fields on the east side of the Jordan (32:16-42).

Closing thoughts:

The compromise between Moses and Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh appeared to be, “All’s well that ends well.” Such, however, would not be the case. The leaders of those tribes kept their vows and fought beside their brethren in Canaan. Yet, their decision to build homes and raise their families outside Canaan would prove disastrous. In the following generations, Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh would be not only geographically distant from the other tribes but also spiritually distant from the LORD. So we will later read concerning 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. Yet, that decision became a great sorrow for their children. As a result, Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh were the first to turn from the LORD and were taken captive by Assyria (1 Chronicles 5:26).

Lesson – No halfway, half-hearted service for the LORD will ever be blessed!

Questions to consider:

1) How many men did Israel send into battle against the Midianites? (Numbers 31:4-5)

2) Who did Moses send with the trumpets? (Numbers 31:6)

3) Why was Moses angry with the officers and captains of Israel? (Numbers 31:14-16)

4) What tribes requested to settle on the east side of the Jordan River? (Numbers 32:1-5)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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