In my previous post, God commanded Moses to destroy the Midianites for corrupting His people through fornication and idolatry at Baal of Peor. In “The Truth About What Actually Happened In Numbers 31” blog post, we discussed
- How Christians have trouble with the killing and blood of the Old Testament.
- We learned to humanize God into our mold is IDOLATRY!
- We learned what is different between the slaughter of Midian and the slaughter of Armageddon?
- We also discovered that the Lord deals FIRST with his own people regarding sin and then He punished the outsiders.
- How Israel had committed adultery by worshipping Chemosh.
- We also learned about Phinehas, the war priest.
Read Numbers 31:14-54
Now, let me remind you; the Israelites killed every Midianite male, but it was ONLY those Midianites who resided in the northern Trans-Jordan region.
Various Midianite tribes and clans had settlements all the way from Moab down to the southwestern end of the Arabian Peninsula, and they were not one large unified nation or people group. So, all the descendants of Midian were not exterminated.
The kings of several of the tribes and city-states of these Midianites were also killed, and their names are listed for us. What is more interesting to me, however, is that Balaam the Mesopotamian sorcerer who King Balak hired to curse Israel for him (but didn’t) was also put to death by the Israelites.
An earlier chapter tells us that Balaam went back home (empty handed) after his encounter with Yehoveh and King Balak; naturally, he came back. Big mistake.
In verse 9 we’re told that the women and children of Midian, along with all their livestock, was confiscated. And the towns where the Midianites lived were burned down.
These practices were completely standard for that day. Allow me to comment here on something that can get lost: it was standard procedure to expand ones’ own tribe or nation by seizing the women and children (and in some cases, men) of a tribe or nation that they defeated. The Israelites did the same.
In fact, we see that Jacob (500 years before this war with Midian) grew his clan virtually overnight when, after his sons led the misguided raid of revenge on the city of Shechem and killed all the males (sound familiar?), they took all the women and children of Shechem as slaves. We don’t know just how many people we’re talking about here, but it would have been substantial, and it would have increased the size of Jacob’s family.
The same thing was about to happen here in Numbers 31 concerning these Midianites. So most of the time Israel conquered some king or another, some portion of that kingdom’s population wound up belonging to Israel. Therefore Israel’s size increased considerably more than just by additional children being born to Hebrew women.
But notice how it also shows that a genealogical purity within Israel was practically impossible from their very inception. The vast majority of those conquered people were absorbed into Israel and in a short time were no longer considered foreigners, but Israelites. That is simply the way of tribal society.
The spoils of the Midianite War were brought back to where Moses and Israel were encamped, just a little east of the Jordan River, not far from Jericho. And it probably surprised the returning soldiers that Moses became irate when he saw the Midianite women in tow.
Why was Moses so angry? Moses was angry because these were the women who led (without difficulty I suspect) the Hebrew men astray, and as a result of the actions of these women 24,000 Israelites were slain by Yehoveh.
It is also confirmed for us that it was Balaam who came up with the bright idea for these pagan women to entice the Hebrew men and in this way weaken Israel. Balaam may not have issued an official curse upon Israel, but he cursed them by his hellish plan to infiltrate Israel with pagan women.
So Moses decrees that all virgin women are to be spared (but kept, of course, as slaves), and all women who are sexually experienced to be executed. The reasoning is simple: only women involved in the apostasy of the Israelites against Yehoveh should die.
Why should a woman who obviously never had sexual relations with anyone, let alone a Hebrew, be killed? They had no part in persuading the Israelite men to worship Chemosh.
The killing of the boy children is a little harder to take. It is rather typical for the era for a couple of reasons:
- First, it was a male child’s duty that, when he grew up, he was to avenge the death of his father. A Hebrew killed every one of these boys’ fathers and so to let them live meant that in time they’d have to be dealt with.
- And second, since it was the father’s name that was given to the children and it was a husband’s right to possess all the property of his wife, Moses did not want any male Midianites among the mix to pollute Israel or drain wealth and land away from it.
We now come upon this interesting scene beginning in verse 19 whereby a purification process must take place. Back in verse 13, we are told that Moses and Eleazar the High Priest LEFT the camp of Israel to go out and greet the returning army. This greeting was not so much to honor the victors but to keep defilement from entering into the Israelite camp.
The soldiers were now unclean because they touched death; they had killed, and even if the soldiers hadn’t, they undoubtedly had come into contact with a corpse and at the very least stood in the middle of a field full of dead bodies.
Further, the people that had been captured were unclean (because they weren’t Hebrews and because, by definition, polluted with other gods) and they couldn’t just be allowed to walk into the camp.
So we find a standard 7-day period of cleansing ordered; the troops had to stay outside the camp and be sprinkled with ashes of the Red Heifer (the unique God-ordained concoction that was used primarily to cleanse the defilement of death) twice on the 3rd day and the 7th.
Further their clothes washed, and other objects that they had come into contact with were ritually cleansed. All this was in agreement with the Levitical Laws.
In verse 22 begins a list of metals confiscated from Midian that must also be purified in order to be brought into the camp. All objects taken from the Midianites must be purified but notice there is no mention of earthenware vessels and pots (of which there must have been thousands); this is because earthenware is porous and therefore cannot be cleansed so it must instead be destroyed.
The purification process for the confiscated items means passing them through fire. However, for items that would burn or too quickly melt (like glass), they could just be purified with water.
This segment on the purification of various objects has since been expanded and codified by the Rabbis such that any cooking vessel must be heated until it is white-hot to be purified; silverware must be scalded; but glass, which is non-porous, can just be soaked in cold water. Most traditional Jewish households will follow this procedure to this day for Passover and the Feast of Matza.
Now that the disposition of the captives has been fulfilled and the purification of people and objects is done the all-important distribution of the spoils of war occurs.
Division Of The Plunder
Every soldier expected (and was entitled to) some of the spoils, but it was up to the leaders to decide just how the spoils were to be divided. And here is how it was to be done:
The 12,0000 soldiers who did the fighting got to keep 1/2 of all the booty; the other half was given to the remaining 3 million Israelites.
Interesting isn’t it that the soldiers got the lions share of the spoils while the civilians received a little something, but it was orders of magnitude less than the actual combatants’ reward. I say interesting because in our day the soldiers are typically among the poorest paid in the government, and yet it is they who make the biggest sacrifice.
Civilians who stay safe at home and in America often spend their time protesting against our soldiers who are out putting their lives on the line get the greatest benefit of the soldiers’ bravery, while the soldier gets the least. Go figure.
But, as usual, in Israel everything gained in Holy War was the Lord’s property and so a prescribed portion was to go to Him. With the establishment of the priesthood that meant that the Priests (and in some cases the ordinary Levites) were to be the recipients of whatever was the Lord’s portion.
- Notice that of the half of the spoils that the soldiers received they only had to “tithe” (so to speak) 1/500th of their share (a mere 2/10ths of 1 percent).
- On the other hand, all the civilians of Israel had to “tithe” 1/50th, 2% of what they received.
Unlike what it appears to be, this is not so much a penalty for the civilians (or a reward to the soldiers) as it is a well-established system based on practicality. It is well documented that a priestly order of 10 Levites was established for each priest serving at the Temple (this was the norm). That is there was a 10 to 1 ratio of Levites to priests.
Recall now that Levites were NOT all priests. Most Levites were the blue-collar workers around the Temple. Only Priests could officiate sacrifices and rituals, never ordinary Levites.
So notice that the Levites (as a whole) got ten times as much as the Priests (the 1/50th tithe for the Levites, versus a 1/500th tithe for the Priests). But since there were ten times as many Levites as priests, by the time each man got his portion in essence every priest, and every Levite received the same amount. Another interesting point, I think, in God’s economy as opposed to how men think.
In Christian ministry, a salary hierarchy is always established with the senior minister getting the most by far, and then each of the more junior ministers getting progressively less. Sometimes the difference is not too big, at other times it is enormous. Perhaps that needs to be rethought in light of the Biblical example.
A lengthy inventory of the plunder of livestock is listed, and the numbers are startlingly huge: large enough that most scholars say that this is not possible. Now, I can’t say if that’s the case or not: but I can say that of all the places where such numbers of livestock WERE possible, it’s right where this all took place.
The upper Trans-Jordan is exceedingly good pasture. In fact, by next chapter, we’re going to find that a couple of the 12 tribes want to stay there and not go on into Canaan, for that very reason.
As many noble and selfless leaders, there are probably at least as many out for personal fame and fortune. Here in the last seven verses of Numbers 31, we get a genuinely heart-tugging example of Godly leadership.
All of the commanders of the various levels of troops from the sergeants up to the top man gave to the Lord all the gold and silver jewelry they had taken as their spoils of war. When the fighting was over, they had (as standard procedure) made a census and found that, miraculously, not ONE Israelite soldier was killed or missing.
So thankful were these brave leaders and recognizing the Lord’s hand upon them that they turned over their entire personal portion to the priesthood in gratitude for the lives of their men. The regular foot soldier was allowed to keep his whole share.
As a memorial for this day, the priests took the precious metals these commanders gave and formed all sorts of ritual objects for use in the Tabernacle.
I emphasized the attitude and action of the leaders of Israel because we see this growing understanding in them of what the Lord expects FROM them.
And I have no doubt that it is a least partially as a result of a committed and faithful Israelite leadership that we will soon see Israel cross the Jordan River into Canaan, and win battle after battle, with few losses, and in lightening fashion.
God expects much of human leaders; He expects even more of the human leaders who serve Him.
Question Of The Day!
After the battle, why was a portion of the spoils given to Eleazer and the Levites?
What does this say about the victory of Israel’s army?
Please leave your comments below. Have a blessed day!