The Truth About What Actually Happened In Numbers 31?

Numbers 31: The Extermination Of Midian

An esteemed 19th-century Christian scholar named G.B. Gray calls Numbers chapter 31, “the extermination of the Midianites.” That sounds pretty harsh and direct, but in fact, that is precisely what Numbers 31 is all about.


In my last blog post we took a quick stroll as an overview of Numbers 31, and this week we’ll look a little closer.


However, Tom Bradford would like to begin by addressing a concern that some dear friends of his, and perhaps you who are listening have as well, with the Old Testament in general. And the concern is that there is a tremendous amount of killing and bloodshed and that much of it ordered by the God of Israel upon Israel’s (and therefore God’s) enemies.


Tom Bradford’s Message Of Numbers 31

Tom Bradford - Numbers 31I know a few highly educated folks (including Jewish, Christian scholars, writers, rabbis and pastors) who forthrightly say that they cannot square the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New. They cannot fathom a God who leads Israel in conquering nations versus a God who sacrifices Himself, meekly, for all nations.


No one denies that we see both of these attributes of God in our Bible. Our problem then is not one of intelligence it is one of faith; we want the God that our human sensibilities would prefer to have, instead of the One who is.


So we unilaterally declare that the God of the Old Testament has morphed into the God of the New Testament; not because that’s what the Word of God says but because we’re more comfortable with that. And this tendency of Christians is both the cause and the definition of the word idolatry.


An idol is the physical image of a god that comes from the minds of men, molded, shaped and ascribed attributes according to human philosophies, characteristics, and desires.


When we worship those attributes and characteristics instead of the God of the Holy Scriptures, as He is, that is idol worship. There is no way around this and giving it some nice Christian name doesn’t make it OK.


There are many books with Christian-sounding themes making the rounds today, and I’m thinking of one very popular new book in particular that I shall not name, which goes to great length to attempt to degrade God by finding various ways of humanizing Him.


Yes, to humanize God is to lower and defile His gloriousness. A human is a rather significantly lesser being than Yehoveh. In fact, we’re not even in the same cosmic ballpark. So to attempt to equate Him with us is an insult of gargantuan proportions to His matchless divine essence.


But this attempt to humanize God is only the next New Age step in returning to the old world of Gnosticism; the first move was to take humans down a notch (to dehumanize humankind) so as to be more equated with animals.


And this has been thoroughly accomplished nearly universally by demanding that Darwinian Evolutionism taught and accepted as undisputed fact. The notion being that we were not created by God, but merely evolved from animals and thus we are nothing more than another species of animal.


So look at the pattern that these deceptive books try to foist upon us: God is above humans, and humans are above animals according to our Holy Texts. But the New Age movement makes a mockery of that by seeking to make God approximately equal to humans, and humans roughly equal to animals.


And Churches and Pastors all over the world have fallen for this deception from Hell. Thinking it is a way for their congregations to get a warmer and fuzzier feeling about God; seeing Him more as a kindly grandfather and friend, and less as the Mighty Creator and King who stands above all things and demands our faithfulness and obedience to Him.


Folks, this is modern age idolatry. It is no different than molding little figurines of god or gods and bowing down to them. It is making God in OUR image for our convenience. The idols and pictures we read about in the Bible were either people or animals, weren’t they? All the gods were ascribed human attributes;


  • They partied,
  • Drank,
  • Had sex and procreated,
  • Worried,
  • Could be killed,
  • Needed to eat food,
  • Could be tricked, and
  • Loved to be flattered.


And if you’ve succumbed to this hidden New Age nonsense disguised as Christian literature, then you need to think again. Put down those books and pick up your Bibles. Lay aside those novels and publications full of short and sweet prose and half-truths that make you think it will draw you closer to the Lord when in fact it merely pulls you away by flirting with your emotions and distorting the truth.


So many folks do this (I think) because they see the Bible as being over their heads; you CAN understand the Bible. It was made for normal, everyday humans to understand.


But more than comprehending the Word of God we are to believe and follow the Word of God. And we are to take God as He is, not how we would rather He might be.


ArmagedonSo I find it amusing if not mind-numbingly irrational that the same people who despair and apologize over the slaughter of the Midianites here in Numbers will cheer and raise their voices in song over the coming of Armageddon but who will not submit to God.


Here’s the thing to understand:


  1. First, whether Torah or the Gospels, this is the same God with the same attributes demonstrating the same principles.
  2. Second, at all times in history, Yehoveh has chosen moments to slay those who aren’t times for divine retribution, and at other occasions sacrificing them for the sake of those who are His.
  3. And third, the worst and most horrific slaughtering and blood letting of His foes are YET to happen; it’s not recorded in the Old Testament it is in our future.


Milder forms of His wrath and divine vengeance happened soon after Adam and Eve, it happened on a global scale at the Great Flood, it happened during the era of the Patriarchs, it happened the night of Passover in Egypt, and it is going on here in Numbers with the Midianites.


Later on, in the Bible much God-ordained killing will happen as Israel invades Canaan; then still as David expands his kingdom. We will eventually read of nearly 1/4 million Assyrian soldiers dying overnight as they planned to overthrow the Holy City of Jerusalem, killed at the hand of Yehoveh.


We of the 20th and 21st centuries have watched as nations who sought to bring the Jewish people to extinction finally were laid low as the Lord gave might to the nations who tried to stop such a thing.


And we read in our New Testament book of Revelation that our “mild and meek Savior” returns as a ravenous lion and leads the armies of God. Sword in hand, as an invincible warrior chief railing against the enemies of God in a final war to end all wars, where the amount of blood letting will be so enormous as to stagger the imagination.


We do not have a God who joyfully kills; we are told that it is His will that ALL would be saved. But He does and will continue to destroy human beings who He deems as wicked to achieve His purposes, and among those purposes is to save Israel and to protect all those who are His.


But here’s the thing we must not lose sight of the Lord always deals FIRST with His people, and THEN with those outsiders who persecute His people.


In other words, the same foundational God-principles governed Israel as did ALL the nations of the earth, and the chief of those principles is that ALL will perish for their sins IF they do NOT accept the grace of God as an escape route.


We have already read of thousands upon thousands of Israelites being killed by the Lord for rebelling against Him, just as we have read of thousands of gentiles being put to death by the Lord for rebelling against Him.


The large-scale destruction of Hebrew and Gentile sinners is not an OT principle that has somehow been abandoned with the advent of Christ. God’s justice did not end at the foot of the Cross-.


Romans 2 (for example) goes to great length to explain that the Lord will treat Jew and Gentile the same, and subject them to the same standard both in grace and in destruction.


But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. ~Romans 2:2-10 NAS


So as pertains to today’s lesson: let’s recall what we’ve just read in a couple of previous chapters, that the Hebrew men (God’s set apart people) accepted the offer of the Moabite and Midianite women to mix with them; to engage in immoral sex and idolatry. The crime here, however, in the eyes of the Lord is adultery; the Lord God is Israel’s husband, but the bride is having an affair with another god.


The Law says that the consequences of adultery are death; so God’s justice demanded that more than 24,000 Israelites died of a divine plague due to their adultery with Chemosh, the god of Moab.


As is the God-principle, after the Lord finished dealing with His people He then turned to those who are NOT His people to deal with them in like manner. That is our context for the account of Numbers 31, the extermination of Midian. Midian is a people who are NOT God’s people, and who have intentionally drawn God’s people away from Him.


The first couple of verses of chapter 31 bring to light that indeed the war against Midian is the Lord’s vengeance, and it is Israel who is to carry out this punishment on behalf of Yehoveh. Therefore, they are to accomplish this Holy War precisely as He orders it.


  1. First, the Lord ordered that the army will NOT do battle using all 600,000 men of Israel; rather this group is only to consist of 12,000 handpicked soldiers; 1,000 from each of the 12 tribes.
  2. Second, the Lord ordered that Phinehas, son of Eleazar, the High Priest, is to be the War Priest in this campaign.


In every battle of ancient cultures, each side brought priests as representatives of their gods; Israel was no different. Along with these priests went various ritual objects including shofars for sounding the various battle instructions the way we’ve all seen Buglers do in the movies.


Phinehas was NOT leading the Israelite army; he was the chaplain, there only to do priestly service. But it is intended that we notice that it was Phinehas who went with the 12,000; because it was Phinehas who speared the Midianite woman who was having sex with a Hebrew man (killing them both), and thus ending the plague that Yehoveh had brought upon Israel for their adultery.


As is so unique with the Scriptures apart from all ancient literature, we find no detailed description of the battle; no interesting accounts of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat, and no tales of individual heroism.


Verse 7 simply states that the Israelites took the field against Midian and annihilated them; they slew every last Midianite man. Period. The outcome was never in doubt; the Lord went ahead of them, it was His army, so it was a sealed victory before they ever picked up a spear or a sword, or looked a Midianite opponent in the eye.


See, there is a principle here that is quickly enough grasped, but hard for us to believe and internalize: it is that when the Lord sends His armies into battle, it’s not a contest with a range of possible outcomes like it is with secular soldiers. It’s not a situation whereby strategies and tactics or even the size of the armies determine the results.


When the Lord sends His troops into the battle, and they behave as He has ordered, it is really for the sake of humans to directly witness what Yehoveh has already decided and for His Glory to be demonstrated to both sides. By no means is it a fair fight in which the other side has an opportunity to win.


Issue For Review


Why were the Midianites such a significant threat to Israel?


Don’t forget to leave your comment in the answer below. Have a blessed day!





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