Matthew Poole's Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,God commanded Moses, before he die, to avenge Israel of the Midianites, Numbers 31:1,2. he chooses twelve thousand men, and Phineas: the kings of Midian and Balaam slain, Numbers 31:3-8. Their women and cattle taken; and cities burnt: they bring the spoil to Moses and Eleazar, Numbers 31:9-12. Moses is wroth with the officers for saving the women alive; commands them to kill every male child, and woman that had known man; the rest saved alive; and to purify themselves and the captives. Numbers 31:13-21. A law for dividing the booty; executed; and the sum of the booty, Numbers 31:25-40. The tribute. offering of the Lord given to the priests and Levites, Numbers 31:41-47. The captains make an offering to the Lord; which is laid up in the tabernacle for a memorial, Numbers 31:48-54.
No text from Poole on this verse.
Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.Of the Midianites, for their malicious designs and practices against Israel, both by hiring Balaam to curse them, and by sending their women to enslave them. The Moabites also were guilty, but God out of his own good pleasure, and in kindness to Lot, was pleased to spare them, the rather, because the measure of their iniquity was not yet full.
And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the LORD of Midian.For the affront and injury which they offered to God, partly by their own idolatry and lewdness, and partly by seducing God’s people into rebellion against him. God’s great care was to
avenge the Israelites, Numbers 31:2, and Moses’s chief desire was to avenge God rather than himself or the people. Withal he doth hereby insinuate, that God and his people have the same cause, the same friends and enemies.
Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.No text from Poole on this verse.
So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.A thousand of every tribe, to prevent emulations or divisions. God would send no more, though it is apparent that the Midianites were numerous and strong, because he would try and exercise their trust in him, and because he would hereby give them an earnest of their Canaanitish conquests.
And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand.Phinehas had the charge not of the army, as general, (an office never committed to any priest in all the Old Testament,) but of
the holy instruments, & c. as is here expressed, and was also sent to encourage, and quicken, and confirm them in their good enterprise. It is not here mentioned who was the general, whether Joshua, as some think, because he is not named amongst those who went out to meet the returning host, though that might be for other reasons, or some other prince, nor is it worth while to determine. The holy instruments; either,
1. The ark, with the things belonging to it, which before the building of the temple they did sometimes carry into the war for the encouragement of their army. See Numbers 14:44 Joshua 6:9 1 Samuel 4:4 14:18. But why then is it thus ambiguously expressed, seeing in all the other places it is called by its proper name? Nor is the ark ever so called in Scripture. Or,
2. The trumpets, as it here follows, the words being thus to be read, the holy instruments that is, the trumpets; for and is ofttimes put exegetically for that is, or to wit, as Genesis 13:15 1 Chronicles 21:12, compared with 2 Samuel 24:13 Zechariah 1:4 9:9, &c. Or rather,
3. The holy breastplate, wherein was the Urim and Thummim, which was easily carried and used, and very useful in war upon many emergent occasions. See 1 Samuel 23:9 30:7.
And the trumpets, which were to be used in war as well as in the service of the tabernacle. See Numbers 10:9 2 Chronicles 13:12.
And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.Namely, all whom they took in that war, or all who lived in those parts; for it is probable (and was then very usual) some colonies of them were sent forth to remoter places, which therefore had no hand either in their former sin, or ill this present ruin, of whom we read after this, Jud 6. And herein they did according to God’s own order concerning such people, Deu 20:13; only their fault was, that they did not consider the special reason and great obligation which they had to involve the women in the destruction, for which reason Moses blames them afterward, Numbers 31:15,16.
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.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.
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 the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.No text from Poole on this verse.
And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.Partly, to blot out the name and memory of so lewd and vile a people; partly, lest any of the Israelites should be tempted to settle there, and so be discouraged in their progress to Canaan; and partly, lest they should be possessed by other people who might prove as bad neighbours to them as these would have been.
And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.No text from Poole on this verse.
And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.Partly to put respect upon them, and congratulate with them for their happy success; and partly to prevent the pollution of the camp by the untimely entrance of the warriors into it.
And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.Because they had spared those who were most criminal, and who by the law of God and of nature were worthy of death.
And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?No text from Poole on this verse.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.Among the little ones, which they were forbidden to do to other people, Deu 20:14, except the Canaanites, to whom this people had equalled themselves by their horrid crimes; and therefore it is not strange, nor unjust, that God, the supreme Lord of all men’s lives, who as he gives them, so may take them away when he pleaseth, did equal them in the punishment.
Every woman that hath known man; partly for punishment, because the guilt was general, and though some of them only did prostitute themselves to the Israelites, yet the rest made themselves accessory by their consent, or concurrence, or approbation; and partly for prevention of the like mischief from such an adulterous generation.
But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.Not known a man, to wit, carnally: See Poole "Ge 4:1 19:8 Leviticus 18:22.
Keep alive for yourselves; either to sell them as slaves to others, or to use them as servants to yourselves, or to marry them, when you have prepared and instructed them.
And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day.Seven days; according to the law, Leviticus 15:13 Numbers 19:11,12.
Purify with the water of sprinkling, Numbers 19:9.
And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats' hair, and all things made of wood.All your raiment, to wit, your spoil and prey. See Leviticus 8:15 14:49. All these things had contracted some ceremonial uncleanness, either from the dead bodies which wore them, or the tents or houses where they were, in which such dead bodies lay, or from the touch of the Israelitish soldiers, who were legally defiled by the slaughters they made.
And Eleazar the priest said unto the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD commanded Moses;No text from Poole on this verse.
Only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead,No text from Poole on this verse.
Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water.No text from Poole on this verse.
And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
Take the sum of the prey that was taken, both of man and of beast, thou, and Eleazar the priest, and the chief fathers of the congregation:No text from Poole on this verse.
And divide the prey into two parts; between them that took the war upon them, who went out to battle, and between all the congregation:The congregation hath some share, because the warriors went in the name of all, and because all having been injured by the Midianites, all were to have some share in the reparations; but the warriors, who were but 12,000, have a far greater share than others of their brethren, because they underwent greater pains and dangers.
And levy a tribute unto the LORD of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep:One soul, i.e. one person, as it follows here and Numbers 31:30.
Take it of their half, and give it unto Eleazar the priest, for an heave offering of the LORD.No text from Poole on this verse.
And of the children of Israel's half, thou shalt take one portion of fifty, of the persons, of the beeves, of the asses, and of the flocks, of all manner of beasts, and give them unto the Levites, which keep the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD.One portion of fifty; whereas the former part was one of five hundred: the reason of the difference is, partly because this was taken out of the people’s portion, whose hazards being less than the others, their gains also in all reason were to be less; partly because this was to be distributed into more hands, the Levites being now numerous, when the priests were but few.
And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the booty, being the rest of the prey which the men of war had caught, was six hundred thousand and seventy thousand and five thousand sheep,The rest of the prey; all which was now left of the prey. It is so expressed because they took more, but some of the persons were since killed, Numbers 31:17, and some of the cattle was spent for the necessary provisions of the army.
And threescore and twelve thousand beeves,No text from Poole on this verse.
And threescore and one thousand asses,No text from Poole on this verse.
And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the half, which was the portion of them that went out to war, was in number three hundred thousand and seven and thirty thousand and five hundred sheep:No text from Poole on this verse.
And the LORD'S tribute of the sheep was six hundred and threescore and fifteen.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the beeves were thirty and six thousand; of which the LORD'S tribute was threescore and twelve.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the asses were thirty thousand and five hundred; of which the LORD'S tribute was threescore and one.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the persons were sixteen thousand; of which the LORD'S tribute was thirty and two persons.No text from Poole on this verse.
And Moses gave the tribute, which was the LORD'S heave offering, unto Eleazar the priest, as the LORD commanded Moses.Either now upon his consulting of God in the case, or formerly in general rules and laws for such occasions, such as Numbers 18:8.
And of the children of Israel's half, which Moses divided from the men that warred,No text from Poole on this verse.
(Now the half that pertained unto the congregation was three hundred thousand and thirty thousand and seven thousand and five hundred sheep,No text from Poole on this verse.
And thirty and six thousand beeves,No text from Poole on this verse.
And thirty thousand asses and five hundred,No text from Poole on this verse.
And sixteen thousand persons;)No text from Poole on this verse.
Even of the children of Israel's half, Moses took one portion of fifty, both of man and of beast, and gave them unto the Levites, which kept the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD; as the LORD commanded Moses.No text from Poole on this verse.
And the officers which were over thousands of the host, the captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, came near unto Moses:No text from Poole on this verse.
And they said unto Moses, Thy servants have taken the sum of the men of war which are under our charge, and there lacketh not one man of us.No text from Poole on this verse.
We have therefore brought an oblation for the LORD, what every man hath gotten, of jewels of gold, chains, and bracelets, rings, earrings, and tablets, to make an atonement for our souls before the LORD.For their error, noted, Numbers 31:14-16, and withal
for a memorial, as it is said Numbers 31:54, or by way of gratitude for such a stupendous assistance and deliverance, as appears from the word therefore in the beginning of this verse, and from Numbers 31:49.
And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of them, even all wrought jewels.No text from Poole on this verse.
And all the gold of the offering that they offered up to the LORD, of the captains of thousands, and of the captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels.No text from Poole on this verse.
(For the men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.)No text from Poole on this verse.
And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tabernacle of the congregation, for a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD.No text from Poole on this verse.