Numbers 31:16
Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
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Numbers 31:16. Through the counsel of Balaam — Since the Moabites and their associates were taught by Balaam to acknowledge Jehovah to be a very powerful deity, even superior to the gods of other nations, (Numbers 23:19; Numbers 24:16,) is it not strange that they should have been induced, by Balaam’s persuasion, rather to entice the Israelites to their idolatry, than with them to embrace the worship of the true God? But the case appears to be that those idolaters considered the God of the Hebrews, not as the supreme God of the universe, but as a mere local deity, who might indeed be superior to other gods, but still was but the tutelary god of the Jews. Now with respect to those tutelary deities, their opinion was, that they required a certain form and manner of worship from their own people, which neglected, they incurred their grievous displeasure. Thus, as the Moabites and their confederates were under a persuasion that they could bring anger upon Israel from Jehovah, by seducing them from his instituted worship, so they might think themselves no less liable to the resentment of Chemosh, Peor, or some other of their own gods, had they adopted the Jewish modes and object of worship, and abandoned their own.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.Caused ... to commit trespass - More literally, "became to the children of Israel for a cause (or, incitement) of treachery to the Lord." 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. Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam,.... Who advised the Midianites to send their women into the camp of Israel, and allure them to uncleanness, and so draw them into idolatry, which counsel they followed and it succeeded; for, by this means, they were brought

to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor; by worshipping Baalpeor, the god of the Moabites and Midianites; whereby they transgressed the commandment of God, which forbid them having and worshipping any other gods besides him, and is a sin highly offensive to him, being greatly derogatory to his honour and glory:

and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord; for that sin; and in that plague died 24,000 persons, Numbers 25:9.

Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD {f} in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

(f) For worshipping of Peor.

16. The wording of this verse is obscure in the Heb., but the R.V. gives the general sense. The rendering ‘to commit trespass’ is obtained by adopting a probable emendation, לִמְעֹל, for the late and difficult word לִמְסר ‘to deliver’ (see Numbers 31:5).

through the counsel of Balaam] Perhaps better in the matter of Balaam. This is a reference to an incident which is now lost, but which probably preceded Numbers 25:6 (see note there).

with regard to the matter of Peor] The writer refers in this clause to the quite distinct narrative in Numbers 25:1-5. In Revelation 2:14 reference is made to the enticement by Balaam both to idolatry and to immorality.Verse 16. - To commit trespass. לִמְסָר־מַעַל See on verse 5. The word מסר seems to be used here much as the English word "levy" is used in such a phrase as "levying" war against a person. 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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