Numbers 31


The command of the Lord to make war on the Midianites, 1, 2.

One thousand men are chosen out of each of the twelve tribes,

and sent with Phinehas against the Midianites, 3-6.

They slay all the males, 7;

their five kings and Balaam, 8.

They take all the women captives, with the flocks and goods, 9;

burn their cities, and bring away the spoil, 10,11.

They bring the captives, &c., to Moses, who is wroth with the

officers for sparing the women, who had formerly been the cause

of their transgression and punishment, 12-16.

He commands all the male children and all the grown up females

to be slain, 17, 18.

How the soldiers were to purify themselves, 19, 20;

and the different articles taken in war, 21-24.

They are commanded to take the sum of the prey, to divide it

into two parts; one for the 12,000 warriors, and the other for

the rest of the congregation, 25-27.

One of 500, both of persons and cattle, of the share of the

warriors, to be given to the Lord, 28, 29;

and one part of fifty, of the people's share, to be given to the

Levites, 30.

The sum of the prey remaining after the above division; sheep

675,000, beeves 72,000, asses 61,000, young women 32,000,

ver. 31-35.

How the soldiers' part was divided, 36-40.

How the part belonging to the congregation was divided, 41-47.

The officers report that they had not lost a man in this war,

48, 49.

They bring a voluntary oblation to God, of gold and ornaments,

50, 51;

the amount of which was 16,750 shekels, 52, 53.

Moses and Eleazar bring the gold into the tabernacle for a

memorial, 54.


Verse 2. Gathered unto thy people.] Where? Not in the grave

surely. Moses was gathered with none of them, his burial-place no

man ever knew. "But being gathered unto one's people means

dying." It does imply dying, but it does not mean this only. The

truth is, God considers all those who are dead to men in a state

of conscious existence in another world. Therefore he calls

himself the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob; now God is

not the God of the dead, but of the living; because all LIVE to

HIM, whether dead to men or not. Moses therefore was to be

gathered to his people-to enter into that republic of Israel

which, having died in the faith, fear, and love of God, were now

living in a state of conscious blessedness beyond the confines of

the grave. See Clarke on Ge 25:8, and "Ge 49:33".

Verse 3. Avenge the Lord of Midian.] It was God's quarrel, not

their own, that they were now to take up. These people were

idolaters; idolatry is an offence against GOD; the civil power has

no authority to meddle with what belongs to Him, without especial

directions, certified in the most unequivocal way. Private

revenge, extension of territory, love of plunder, were to have no

place in this business; the Lord is to be avenged; and through HIM

the children of Israel, (Nu 31:2,)

because their souls as well as their bodies had been well nigh

ruined by their idolatry.

Verse 6. A thousand of every tribe] Twelve thousand men in the

whole. And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar; some think he was made

general in this expedition, but this is not likely. The ark and

its contents must proceed to this battle, because the battle was

the Lord's, and he dwelt between the cherubim over the ark; and

Phinehas, who had before got a grant in the eternal priesthood,

was chosen to accompany the ark in place of his father Eleazar,

who was probably now too far advanced in years to undergo the

fatigue. Who then was general? Joshua, without doubt, though not

here mentioned, because the battle being the Lord's, he alone is

to have the supreme direction, and all the glory. Besides, it was

an extraordinary war, and not conducted on the common principle,

for we do not find that peace was offered to the Midianites, and

that they refused it; see De 20:10, &c. In such a case only

hostilities could lawfully commence; but they were sinners against

GOD; the cup of their iniquity was full, and God thought proper to

destroy them. Though a leader there certainly was, and Joshua was

probably that leader, yet because God, for the above reason, was

considered as commander-in-chief, therefore no one else is

mentioned; for it is evident that the sole business of Phinehas

was to take care of the holy instruments and to blow with the


Verse 8. Balaam-they slew with the sword.] This man had

probably committed what St. John calls the sin unto death-a sin

which God punishes with temporal death, while at the same time he

extends mercy to the soul. See Clarke on Nu 24:25.

Verse 17. Kill every male among the little ones] For this

action I account simply on the principle that God, who is the

author and supporter of life, has a right to dispose of it when

and how he thinks proper; and the Judge of all the earth can do

nothing but what is right. Of the women killed on this occasion

it may be safely said, their lives were forfeited by their

personal transgressions; and yet even in this case there can be

little doubt that God showed mercy to their souls. The little

ones were safely lodged; they were taken to heaven and saved from

the evil to come.

Verse 23. The water of separation] The water in which the

ashes of the red heifer were mingled;

See Clarke on Nu 8:7; "Nu 19:2", &c.

Garments, whether of cloth or skins, were to be

washed. Gold, silver, brass, iron, tin, and lead, to pass

through the fire, probably to be melted down.

Verse 28. And levy a tribute unto the Lord-one soul of five

hundred, &c.] The person to be employed in the Lord's service,

under the Levites-the cattle either for sacrifice, or for the use

of the Levites, Nu 31:30. Some monsters have supposed that

one out of every five hundred of the captives was offered in

sacrifice to the Lord! but this is abominable. When God chose to

have the life of a man, he took it in the way of justice, as in

the case of Midianites above, but never in the way of sacrifice.

Verse 32. The booty] It appears from the enumeration here that

the Israelites, in this war against the Midianites, took 32,000

female prisoners, 61,000 asses, 72,000 beeves, 675,000 sheep and

small cattle; besides the immense number of males who fell in

battle, and the women and children who were slain by the Divine

command, Nu 31:17. And it does not appear that in this

expedition, a single man of Israel fell! This was naturally to be

expected, because the battle was the Lord's, Nu 31:49.

As the booty was divided into two equal parts, Nu 31:22, one for

the soldiers employed in the expedition, and the other for those

who, being equally willing to be employed, were ordered to stay in

the camp; so each of the parties in this booty was to give a

certain proportion to the Lord. The soldiers to give to the Lord

one out of every five hundred persons, beeves, asses, and sheep,

Nu 31:28.

The people, who by staying at home risked nothing, and had no

fatigue, were to give one out of fifty of the above, Nu 31:30.

The booty, its divisions among the soldiers and people, the

proportion given by each to the Lord and to the Levites, will be

seen in one view by the following table, which I copy from


Total of sheep 675,000 ... / To the soldiers.. 337,500.

| To the people.... 337,500.

..of beeves.... 72,000 ... / To the soldiers.. 36,000.

| To the people.... 36,000.

..of asses..... 61,000 ... / To the soldiers.. 30,500.

| To the people.... 30,500.

..of persons... 32,000 ... / To the soldiers.. 16,000.

| To the people.... 16,000.

.....sheep....... / To the Lord from the soldiers.... 675.

| To the Levites from the people. 6,750.

.....beeves...... / To the Lord from the soldiers.... 72.

| To the Levites from the people... 720.

.....asses....... / To the Lord from the soldiers.... 61.

| To the Levites from the people... 610.

.....persons..... / To the Lord from the soldiers.... 32.

| To the Levites from the people... 320.

In this table the booty is equally divided between the people

and the soldiers; a five-hundredth part being given to the Lord,

and a fiftieth part to the Levites.

Verse 50. We have-brought an oblation for the Lord] So it

appears there was a great deal of booty taken which did not come

into the general account; and of this the soldiers, of their own

will, made a very extensive offering to God, because he had

preserved them from falling in battle. That not one man should

have been slain is a most extraordinary circumstance, and

powerfully marks the peculiar superintendence of God's especial

providence. The Midianites must certainly have made some

resistance; but that was ineffectual, because it was against the

Lord. When any nation undertakes a crusade against those whom

they are pleased to call the Lord's enemies, let them bring from

the contest this proof of their Divine mission, viz., that not one

man of them is either lost or missing; and then, and not till

then, shall we believe that God hath sent them.

To make an atonement for our souls] That is, to make an

acknowledgment to God for the preservation of their lives. The

gold offered on this occasion amounted to 16,750 shekels, equal to

37,869, 16s. 5d. of our money.

See Clarke on Ex 25:39,

where the true value of the shekel is given, and a rule laid down

to reduce it to English money.

Copyright information for Clarke