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Numbers 31:1-6 War on Midian begins

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Vengeance on the Midianites

31 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Take vengeance against the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”

This was the final year of the sojourn, just months before the death of Moses. That means that this battle took place in late 1407 or early 1406 BC. When we read “Midian” here, we realize that the Midianites were a widespread nomadic group. Some Midianites associated with local Canaanites more than other Midianites. There were Midianites who were also called Ishmaelites (Judges 8:22,24), Moabites (Numbers 22:4,7), and even Amalekites (Judges 6:3,33). There were also Midianites who retained their ancient family tie with Ephah (Genesis 25:4; 1 Chronicles 1:33; Isaiah 60:6). In this case, the Midianite band was associated with Moab; this was God’s answer to the Moabite-Midianite coalition, spurred on by Balaam’s advice, to tempt Israel away from the Lord with the Baal of Peor (Numbers 31:16).

3 Moses spoke to the people, “Equip some of your men for combat. They will go against Midian to carry out the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. 4 Send one thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel into combat.” 5 So out of all the thousands of Israel, a military unit of a thousand was selected from each tribe—a total of twelve thousand men armed for battle. 6 Moses sent them into combat, one thousand from each tribe.

There was no need to send the whole nation and its warriors (more than half a million) into this war. Even twelve thousand would not be needed, but the Lord wanted each tribe to be represented. This was a practice-run for what was about to happen all through Canaan.

Moses sent them and Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, into combat. Things from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling were in his hand.

The “things from the sanctuary” may simply have been the trumpets mentioned in the same sentence. It is not uncommon in Hebrew or Greek for “and” to mean “in fact; even.” We see this in passages like Philemon 1:21; Mark 1:27, and the Apocryphal Addition to Esther “A “a great flood, even much water” (11:10, Latin ). Consider 1 Chronicles 21:12, where Gad the prophet says: “three days of the sword of the Lord—(that is), three days of plague in the land.” I suggest this use of “and” here because the alternatives don’t seem to work. The Ark of the Covenant would not be described as “articles.” The high priest’s Urim and Thummim had not come down to Phinehas from his father Eleazar yet. And what other “articles” from the sanctuary would he bring? Goblets? Candlesticks? Dishes for transporting coals, ashes, or roasted offerings? The trumpets themselves seem like the most likely answer, unless “articles” could possibly be a rare reference to the flint knives used for circumcisions and dispatching the sacrifices themselves (Genesis 22:6,10;  Exodus 4:25; Joshua 5:2-3).

Their army was called out and commanded to go to war. Each group of a thousand had its commander and its divisions into brigades, half-brigades, and companies. They had the promise of the Lord, and the command from the Lord. Soon they would be fighting for their land in Canaan. Today it was time to fight under the Lord’s command for vengeance on the Midianites.

In ancient times, the Lord kept his people from mixing with their pagan neighbors by destroying those neighbors who had rejected him. Today, the same destruction waits for those who reject him, but no longer through our hands. Today, he waits until the Judgment to separate the wheat from the weeds (Matthew 13:40). At the same time, he tells us to keep ourselves from their false teaching through the doctrine of Church Fellowship. Anyone who does not teach (or believe) the doctrines of the Bible should not be welcomed into our fellowship (Romans 16:17). “Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 John 1:11). And at the same time, anyone who refuses to welcome someone of our fellowship “and stops them” (3 John 1:10) should not be imitated and should be pointed out to other brothers in the church for discipline. And we should pray for each other, that we may enjoy good health, that all may go well with us, and that our spirits get along with God’s will and with one another.  Do the work given to you by God, whether it is in the church, state, business or home. Greet fellow Christians in love whenever you can, and stand fast in the true grace of God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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