Numbers 31:8
And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) And they slew the kings of Midian . . . —Those persons who are here described as kings appear to have been chiefs of the more powerful Midianitish tribes, just in the same way as Zur is represented in Numbers 25:15. They are described in Joshua 13:21 as “princes” or “chiefs,” and as “dukes” or “princes” of Sihon, by which expression it appears that they were his vassals.

Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.—The death of Balaam by the sword of the Israelites presents a strange and instructive contrast to the prayer which he uttered that he might die the death of the righteous (Numbers 23:10). Few of the ancient prophecies are more remarkable, as Bishop Wordsworth has observed, than those of Balaam for “spirituality of conception and sublimity of expression.” And if, as some think, we are to understand Micah 6:8 as containing the actual words which were addressed by Balaam to Balak, few men possessed a clearer perception of moral truth than that which is expressed in the words, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? “And yet, notwithstanding the light which Balaam possessed, the sublimity of the prophecies which he uttered, and the purity of the motives by which he professed to be actuated, he “loved the wages of unrighteousness,” and gave himself up to do Satan’s bidding in “casting a stumbling-block before the children of Israel,” and miserably perished amongst the enemies of God and of His people. Bishop Wordsworth draws a striking and instructive contrast between Balaam and Moses, both of whom had visions of Christ and prophesied of Him, whilst one loved the wages of unrighteousness, and the other did all for God’s glory.

Numbers

AN UNFULFILLED DESIRE

Numbers 23:10
. - Numbers 31:8.

Ponder these two pictures. Take the first scene. A prophet, who knows God and His will, is standing on the mountain top, and as he looks down over the valley beneath him, with its acacia-trees and swift river, there spread the tents of Israel. He sees them, and knows that they are ‘a people whom the Lord hath blessed.’ Brought there to curse, ‘he blesses them altogether’; and as he gazes upon their ordered ranks and sees somewhat of the wondrous future that lay before them, his mind is filled with the thought of all the blessedness of that righteous nation, and the sigh of longing comes to his lips, ‘May I be with them in life and death; may I have no higher honour, no calmer end, than to lie down and die as one of the chosen people, with memories of a divine hand that has protected me all through the past, and quiet hopes of the same hand holding me up in the great darkness!’ A devout aspiration, a worthy desire!

Look at the other picture. Midian has seduced Israel to idolatry and its constant companion, sensual sin. The old lawgiver has for his last achievement to punish the idolater. ‘Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites, afterwards thou shalt be gathered to thy people.’ So each tribe gives its contingent to the fight, and under the fierce and prompt Phinehas, whose javelin had already smitten one of the chief offenders, they go forth. Fire and sword, devastation and victory, mark their track. The princes of Midian fall before the swift rush of the desert-born invaders. And-sad, strange company!-among them is the ‘man who saw the vision of the Almighty, and knew the knowledge of the Most High’ ! he who had taught Moab the purest lessons of morality, and Midian, alas! the practice of the vilest profligacy; he who saw from afar ‘the sceptre arise out of Israel and the Star from Jacob’; he who longed to ‘die the death of the righteous’ ! The onset of the avenging host, with the ‘shout of a king’ in their midst; the terror of the flight, the riot of havoc and bloodshed, and, finally, the quick thrust of the sharp Israelite sword in some strong hand, and the grey hairs all dabbled with his blood-these were what the man came to who had once breathed the honest desire, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his’ !

I. There is surely a solemn lesson for us all here-as touching the danger of mere vague religious desires and convictions which we do not allow to determine our conduct.

Balaam had evidently much knowledge. Look at these points-

{a} His knowledge of the covenant-name of God.

{b} His knowledge of a pure morality and a spiritual worship far beyond sacrificial notions, and in some respects higher than the then Old Testament standpoint.

{c} The knowledge {which is implied in the text} of a future state, which had gone far into the background, even if it had not been altogether lost, among the Israelites. Is it not remarkable that the religious ideas of this man were in advance of Israel’s at this time; that there seems to have lingered among these ‘outsiders’ more of a pure faith than in Israel itself?

What a lesson here as to the souls led by God and enlightened by Him beyond the pale of Judaism!

But all this knowledge, of what use was it to Balaam? He knows about God: does he seek to serve Him? He preaches morality to Moab, and he teaches Midian to ‘teach the children of Israel to commit fornication.’ He knows something of the blessedness of a ‘righteous man’ s’ death, and perhaps sees faintly the shining gates beyond-but how does it all end? What a gulf between knowledge and life!

What is the use of correct ideas about God? They may be the foundations of holy thoughts, and they are meant to be so. I am not setting up emotion above principle, or fancying that there can be religion without theology; but for what are all our thoughts about God given us?

{a} That they may influence our hearts.

{b} That they may subdue our wills.

{c} That they may mould our practical life.

If they do not do that-then what do they do?

They constitute a positive hindrance-like the dead lava-blocks that choke the mouth of a crater, or the two deposits on the bottom of a boiler, soot outside and crust inside, which keep the fire from getting at the water. They have lost their power because they are so familiar. They are weakened by not being practised. The very organs of intelligence are, as it were, ossified. Self-complacency lays hold on the possession of these ideas and shields itself against all appeals with the fact of possessing them. Many a man mistakes, in his own case, the knowledge of the truth for obedience to the truth. All this is seen in everyday life, and with reference to all manner of convictions, but it is most apparent and most fatal about Christian truth. I appeal to the many who hear and know all about ‘the word,’ What more is needed? That you should do what you know {‘Be not hearers only’}; that you should yield your whole being to Christ, the living Word.

II. Balaam is an example of convictions which remain inefficacious.

It was not without some sense of his own character, and some forebodings of what was possibly brooding over him, that he uttered these words of the text. But they were transitory emotions, and they passed away.

I suppose that every man who hears the gospel proclaimed is, at some time or other, conscious of dawning thoughts which, if followed, would lead him to decision for Christ. I suppose that every man among us is conscious of thoughts visiting him many a time when he least expects them, which, if honestly obeyed, would work an entire revolution in his life.

I do not wish to speak as if unbelieving men were the only people who were unfaithful to their consciences, but rather to deal with what is a besetting sin of us all, though it reaches its highest aggravation in reference to the gospel.

Such stings of conviction come to us all, but how are they deadened?

{a} By simple neglect. Pay no attention to them; do not do anything in consequence, and they will gradually disappear. The voice unheard will cease to speak. Non-obedience to conscience will in the end almost throttle conscience.

{b} By angry rejection.

{c} By busy occupation with the outer world.

{d} By sinful occupation with it.

Then consider that such dealing with our convictions leaves us far worse men than before, and if continued will end in utter insensibility.

What should we do with such convictions? Reverently follow them. And in so doing they will grow and increase, and lead us at last to God and peace.

Special application of all this to our attitude towards Christian truth.

III. Balaam is an instance of wishes that are never fulfilled.

He wished to die ‘as the righteous.’ How did he die? miserably; and why?

{1} Because his wish was deficient in character.

It was one among a great many, feeble and not predominant, occasioned by circumstances, and so fading when these disappeared. Like many men’s relation to the gospel who would like to be Christians, and are not. These vagrant wishes are nothing; mere ‘catspaws’ of wind, not a breeze. They are not real, even while they last, and so they come to nothing.

{2} Because it was partially wrong in its object.

He was willing to die the death, but not to live the life, of the righteous; like many men who would be very glad to ‘go to heaven when they die,’ but who will not be Christians while they live.

Now, God forbid that I should say that his wish was wrong! But only it was not enough. Such a wish led to no action.

Now, God hears the faintest wish; He does not require that we should will strongly, but He does require that we should desire, and that we should act according to our desires.

Let the close be a brief picture of a righteous death. And oh! if you feel that it is blessed, then let that desire lead you to Christ, and all will be well. Remember that Bunyan saw a byway to hell at the door of the celestial city. Remember how Balaam ended, and stands gibbeted in the New Testament as an evil man, and the type of false teachers. Finally, beware of knowledge which is not operative in conduct, of convictions which are neglected and pass away, of vague desires which come to nought.31:7-12 The Israelites slew the Kings of Midian. They slew Balaam. God's overruling providence brought him thither, and their just vengeance found him. Had he himself rightly believed what he had said of the happy state of Israel, he would not have thus herded with the enemies of Israel. The Midianites' wicked wiles were Balaam's projects: it was just that he should perish with them, Ho 4:5. They took the women and children captives. They burnt their cities and castles, and returned to the camp.And they slew ... were slain ... - Render: And the kings of Midian they put to death, beside those that fell in the battle; namely, etc. From which it would seem that beside these five, put to death after the battle, there were other Midianite kings who perished fighting. The five chieftains here mentioned were vassals of Sihon the Amorite Joshua 13:21. 8. the kings of Midian—so called, because each was possessed of absolute power within his own city or district; called also dukes or princes of Sihon (Jos 13:21), having been probably subject to that Amorite ruler, as it is not uncommon in the East to find a number of governors or pachas tributary to one great king.

Zur—father of Cozbi (Nu 25:15).

Balaam also … they slew with the sword—This unprincipled man, on his dismissal from Balak, set out for his home in Mesopotamia (Nu 24:25). But, either diverging from his way to tamper with the Midianites, he remained among them without proceeding farther, to incite them against Israel and to watch the effects of his wicked counsel; or, learning in his own country that the Israelites had fallen into the snare which he had laid and which he doubted not would lead to their ruin, he had, under the impulse of insatiable greed, returned to demand his reward from the Midianites. He was an object of merited vengeance. In the immense slaughter of the Midianitish people—in the capture of their women, children, and property and in the destruction of all their places of refuge—the severity of a righteous God fell heavily on that base and corrupt race. But, more than all others, Balaam deserved and got the just reward of his deeds. His conduct had been atrociously sinful, considering the knowledge he possessed, and the revelations he had received, of the will of God. For any one in his circumstances to attempt defeating the prophecies he had himself been the organ of uttering, and plotting to deprive the chosen people of the divine favor and protection, was an act of desperate wickedness, which no language can adequately characterize.

The kings, called dukes or princes of Sihon, Joshua 13:21, because they were subject to him while he lived, but upon his death they resumed their kingly power.

Zur, the father of Cozbi, Numbers 25:15.

Balaam also.

Object. He was gone and returned to his own place, Numbers 24:25, which was Aram or Mesopotamia, Numbers 23:7.

Answ. Either he did go thitherward, but in his journey made some stay in Midian, where he was overtaken by Divine vengeance; or understanding the success of his wicked counsel left with Balaam, in the sin and slaughter of the Israelites, he returned, partly to enjoy the reputation and reward of his counsel which he had lost before, and partly to employ his hellish arts against Israel, now they were, as he thought, forsaken by their God, and exposed to his malice. Here Balaam dies the death of the wicked, and not of the righteous, as he desired, Numbers 23:10. And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain,.... Besides the males of the common people, they slew their kings, who were petty kings or princes, perhaps under the king of Moab, or had reassumed their titles and government after the death of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who, in his time, were called dukes of Sihon, Joshua 13:21, namely:

Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian; the Targum of Jonathan says of Zur, this is Balak, which is not probable; it is more likely, what Aben Ezra observes, that he was the father of Cosbi, whom Phinehas slew, Numbers 25:15.

Balaam also, the son of Beor, they slew with the sword; so that he died not a natural death, but a violent one, not such an one as he desired, the death of the righteous, but of bloody and deceitful men, who do not live out half their days; for if the Jewish writers (c) are to be credited, he was but thirty four years of age when he was slain, which is not quite half the age of man, that being seventy, Psalm 90:10, it appears by this that he was among the Midianites at the time of this war; either he stayed here till this time, when he went from Balak with an intention to go into his own country; or he had returned hither, being either sent for, by the princes of Midian, on this occasion; or, as some say, as Aben Ezra observes, that he came to Midian after he returned to his place, on hearing the plague that came upon Israel through his counsel, to receive the money of the elders of Midian for it; and so Chaskuni.

(c) Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 7. 2.

And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: {c} Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.

(c) The false prophet who gave counsel how to cause the Israelites to offend their God.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
8. The five names of the kings may have been derived from an historical kernel of the story. They occur in the same order in Joshua 13:21; but there the tradition is different, since they are not only ‘princes of Midian’ but ‘chiefs of Sihon,’ who were slain in the battle against Sihon. There, as here, Balaam is mentioned in conjunction with them.

Zur] is mentioned in Numbers 25:15 as the head of a Midianite family.

Balaam also] See on Numbers 25:6.Verse 8. - They slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain. This is more accurately rendered by the Septuagint, τοῦς βασιλεὶς., ἀπέκτειναν ἅμα τοῖς τραυματίαις: "they put to death (הָרַג) the kings, in addition to those who fell in battle" (from חָלַל, to pierce, or wound). These five kings, who are mentioned here as having been slain in cold blood after the battle, are said in Joshua 13:21 to have been vassals (נְסִיכֵי) of the Amoritish king Sihon, and to have dwelt "in the country." From this it has been concluded by some that the Midianites at this time destroyed included only certain tribes which had settled down within the territory afterwards assigned to Reuben, and had become tributary to Sihon. This would account for the fact that the present victory was so easy and so complete, and also for the otherwise inexplicable fact that the Midianites appear again as a formidable power some two centuries later. Zur. The father of Cozbi (Numbers 25:15). Balsam also... they slew with the sword. Not in battle, but, as the context implies, by way of judicial execution (see on Numbers 24:25; Joshua 13:22). The Campaign. - After the people of Israel had been mustered as the army of Jehovah, and their future relation to the Lord had been firmly established by the order of sacrifice that was given to them immediately afterwards, the Lord commanded Moses to carry out that hostility to the Midianites which had already been commanded in Numbers 25:16-18. Moses was to revenge (i.e., to execute) the revenge of the children of Israel upon the Midianites, and then to be gathered to his people, i.e., to die, as had already been revealed to him (Numbers 27:13). "The revenge of the children of Israel" was revenge for the wickedness which the tribes of the Midianites who dwelt on the east of Moab (see at Numbers 22:4) had practised upon the Israelites, by seducing them to the idolatrous worship of Baal Peor. This revenge is called the "revenge of Jehovah" in Numbers 31:3, because the seduction had violated the divinity and honour of Jehovah. The daughters of Moab had also taken part in the seduction (Numbers 25:1-2); but they had done so at the instigation of the Midianites, and not of their own accord, and therefore the Midianites only were to atone for the wickedness.
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