Israel's Progress
Numbers 31:1-12
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,…

It is instructive to compare this warfare of the children of Israel with their earlier battles. There are many points of difference between them. In Egypt, when surrounded by their enemies, they were not called to fight. They were quite unprepared for war; but God fought for them, and they were still, and held their peace. Then again, subsequently they were attacked by the Amalekites. They did not begin the encounter, but only repelled the attacks; whereas on this occasion Moses said unto the people (ver. 3). Their earlier encounters were all in self-defence — their later ones were aggressive. Here, then, we cannot but discern a mark of progress in Israel's history. At first, when they were weak, and without experience of God's power and unchanging love, they were more passive. Now that they had been formed into a more compact body, and trained to arms, and still more, had experienced the power and faithfulness of God, they were called to be aggressive, to attack and destroy the enemies of God. Now, we think, that this progress in Israel's history is typical in the Christian life. In the first beginnings of the spiritual life the young Christian's mind is chiefly passive. God's work is to show him his own needs and what are his enemies. The very spirit of the gospel is aggressive, not in a worldly sense, nor indeed in the sense in which it was true of Israel, but in a higher and holier sense; for it is a spirit of faith in God-a spirit of holy jealousy for God's glory — a spirit of deep compassion for perishing souls. Do you ever ask yourselves, What progress is my soul making? There are many signs; and it is safer not to try ourselves by one only. If you are living near to God you will be growing more and more dead to the world. But note another mark. When Moses sent them into the battle, a thousand of every tribe, he sent Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, with them, and the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand. What these holy instruments were we are not informed, but doubtless they were meant to be symbols of God's presence with His people. The priest, and holy instruments, and silver trumpets, were as needful as their weapons of war. These were a practical warning against a spirit of revenge, and an encouragement to depend wholly on God. They must have served to impress most powerfully on the minds of the Israelites that this war was a great moral act, and that in engaging in it they should depend wholly on God. And these accompaniments of war showed also progress in Israel's history. Their earlier battles were always acts of faith; but then no priest went forth with their army, no holy instruments were carried forth, or trumpets blown; for it was subsequently that they were brought into covenant with God at Sinai, and had still brighter tokens of His presence — subsequently, that the two silver trumpets were appointed to carry terror into the hearts of their enemies, and to make them realise that they were remembered before Jehovah. And this may suggest to us one point of difference between the earlier and later conflicts of a Christian. When he is young and inexperienced in conflict, there is generally too much confidence in self. But when God has taught him deeper lessons in the work of war, he has lees confidence in self and more in God. Then it is not his own courage or skill, not his own strength or perseverance, but Christ his eternal and ever-present Priest, the holy instruments of the sanctuary, and the silver trumpet of the gospel, which are his great and only hope of victory. But there is still another point of progress discernible in this part of Israel's history, and that is in the use that was made of the spoils of the Midianites. Jehovah gave them this victory. They all felt it. It was in His name that they went forth, and in His name that they triumphed. Here we find that they "brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, to Moses and Eleazar, the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel" (ver. 12). And then a division of the booty took place. It was divided into two equal parts, one of which was given to those who went into the battle, and the other belonged to those who remained in the camp. Those who encountered the Midianites being but a small part of Israel, only twelve thousand men, had in reality the largest share; and this was but right, as they had been exposed to the dangers of war. But this was not the whole of the arrangement. The most important part remains to be mentioned. After this division had taken place, a part was to be consecrated to God. Of that which belonged to the warriors themselves one five-hundredth part was offered unto the Lord as a heave-offering, as we are expressly told, "And Moses gave the tribute which was the Lord's heave-offering unto Eleazar the priest" (ver. 4). This portion, then, came to the priests. Of the other part, which belonged to those who did not go into battle, one-fiftieth part was consecrated to God, "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, and of all manner of beasts" (ver. 30). This portion belonged to the Levites. And so, if we compare together the portion of the priests with that of the Levites, we find that was as one to ten. But even this is not all. When those who went into battle were numbered, it was found that there "lacked not one man," not one was lost. This was a wonderful proof of God's care and protection. No less than twenty-four thousand fell by the plague, and not even one in the war with a powerful people. This produced a strong impression on the minds of the officers. They were thankful, as well they might be, for God's goodness; and they showed their gratitude by making an additional freewill-offering to God. "We have, therefore," they say, "brought an oblation for the Lord, what every man hath gotten, of jewels, of gold, chains and bracelets, rings, ear-rings, and tablets, to make an atonement for our souls before the Lord" (ver. 50); and this offering was brought by Moses and Eleazar the priest into the tabernacle of the congregation, for a " memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord." Now in all this we can discern progress in Israel's history. In the earlier part of it we do not meet with any such arrangement, but when brought into immediate covenant union with God, He taught them practically that they themselves, and all that they had, belonged to Himself. He trained them to a spirit of self-denial. This is an important lesson which this history impresses upon us. If we were asked, "What are the two graces in which Christians are most wanting?" we should answer, "charity" and "self-denial"; that charity which bears long, which covers a multitude of sins, and that spirit of self-denial which leads us habitually to crucify the old man, and to place God's glory before our own comfort, ease, and pleasure. There are many Christians who are sound in doctrine, and who seem to glory that they are free from this and that error, but there is much self-indulgence in their lives.

(G. Wagner.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,

Balaam's Death
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