Numbers 31:15
And Moses said to them, Have you 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.’Of the campaign itself, the results are all that is recorded. No doubt it terminated with a great battle, in which the Midianites were taken unawares and completely routed. As it was a war of vengeance of Jehovah, the victors slew all the males, i.e., all the adult males, as the sequel shows, without quarter; and "upon those that were slain," i.e., in addition to them, the five Midianitsh kings and Balaam, who first advised the Midianites, according to Numbers 31:16, to tempt the Israelites to idolatry. The five kings were chiefs of the larger or more powerful of the Midianitish tribes, as Zur is expressly said to have been in Numbers 25:15. In Joshua 13:21 they are called "vassals of Sihon," because Sihon had subjugated them and made them tributary when he first conquered the land. The women and children of the Midianites were led away prisoners; and their cattle (behemah, beasts of draft and burden, as in Exodus 20:10), and their flocks, and their goods taken away as spoil. The towns in their dwellings, and all their villages (tiroth, tent-villages, as in Genesis 25:16), were burnt down. The expression "towns in their dwellings" leads to the conclusion that the towns were not the property of the Midianites themselves, who were a nomad people, but that they originally belonged in all probability to the Moabites, and had been taken possession of by the Amorites under Sihon. This is confirmed by Joshua 13:21, according to which these five Midianitish vassals of Sihon dwelt in the land, i.e., in the kingdom of Sihon. This also serves to explain why the conquest on their country is not mentioned in the account before us, although it is stated in Joshua (l.c.), that it was allotted to the Reubenites with the kingdom of Sihon.
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