Numbers 31:15
And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
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(15) Have ye saved all the women alive?—It was the women, as is expressed in the following verse, who had been the cause, at the instigation of Balaam, of the apostacy of the Israelites; and consequently the command to “avenge the Lord of Midiani” implied the punishment of those who had been the instruments employed in the seduction of the Israelites.

31:13-18 The sword of war should spare women and children; but the sword of justice should know no distinction, but that of guilty or not guilty. This war was the execution of a righteous sentence upon a guilty nation, in which the women were the worst criminals. The female children were spared, who, being brought up among the Israelites, would not tempt them to idolatry. The whole history shows the hatefulness of sin, and the guilt of tempting others; it teaches us to avoid all occasions of evil, and to give no quarter to inward lusts. The women and children were not kept for sinful purposes, but for slaves, a custom every where practised in former times, as to captives. In the course of providence, when famine and plagues visit a nation for sin, children suffer in the common calamity. In this case parents are punished in their children; and for children dying before actual sin, full provision is made as to their eternal happiness, by the mercy of God in Christ.The "prey" refers to the captives and live-stock: the "spoil" to the ornaments and other effects. 14-18. And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host—The displeasure of the great leader, though it appears the ebullition of a fierce and sanguinary temper, arose in reality from a pious and enlightened regard to the best interests of Israel. No order had been given for the slaughter of the women, and in ancient war they were commonly reserved for slaves. By their antecedent conduct, however, the Midianitish women had forfeited all claims to mild or merciful treatment; and the sacred character, the avowed object of the war (Nu 31:2, 3), made their slaughter necessary without any special order. But why "kill every male among the little ones"? It was designed to be a war of extermination, such as God Himself had ordered against the people of Canaan, whom the Midianites equalled in the enormity of their wickedness. No text from Poole on this verse.

And Moses said unto them, have ye saved all the women alive? Which either had been reported to him, or he concluded, by seeing so many with them; and this question is put, not for information, but by way of reproof, and as chiding them for what they had done; for they might have received orders from him to put them to death, when he sent them out; and if so, there was the more reason to be angry with them; or he might conclude they would have done this of themselves, knowing what instruments of mischief these women had been to Israel. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the {e} women alive?

(e) As though he said, you should have spared none.

15–18. Commands to complete the destruction of the enemy. All male children and all women who are not virgins are to be killed in cold blood. This cruel command ascribed to Moses dates from an age when the Jews were approaching their narrowest and hardest state of exclusiveness, when piety consisted in rigid separateness from everything foreign. It need cause no difficulty to Christians who have received the command ‘Love your enemies.’

Numbers 31:15Treatment of the Prisoners. - When Moses went out to the front of the camp with Eleazar and the princes of the congregation to meet the returning warriors, he was angry with the commanders, because they had left all the women alive, since it was they who had been the cause, at Balaam's instigation, of the falling away of the Israelites from Jehovah to worship Peor; and he commanded all the male children to be slain, and every woman who had lain with a man, and only the young girls who had hitherto had no connection with a man to be left alive. החיל פּקוּדי, lit., the appointed persons, i.e., the officers of the army, who were then divided into princes (captains) over thousands and hundreds. - "Which came from the battle," i.e., who had returned. The question in Numbers 31:15, "Have ye left all the women alive?" is an expression of dissatisfaction, and reproof for their having done this. למסר־מעל...היוּ, "they have become to the Israelites to work unfaithfulness towards Jehovah," i.e., they have induced them to commit an act of unfaithfulness towards Jehovah. The word מסר, which only occurs in this chapter, viz., in Numbers 31:5 and Numbers 31:16, appears to be used in the sense of giving, delivering, and then, like נתן, doing, making, effecting. On the fact itself, see Numbers 25:6. The object of the command to put all the male children to death, was to exterminate the whole nation, as it could not be perpetuated in the women. Of the female sex, all were to be put to death who had known the lying with a man, and therefore might possibly have been engaged in the licentious worship of Peor (Numbers 25:2), to preserve the congregation from all contamination from that abominable idolatry.
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