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Numbers 31:1-5

Context
The Midianite War

31:1 1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 31:2 “Exact vengeance 2  for the Israelites on the Midianites 3  – after that you will be gathered to your people.” 4 

31:3 So Moses spoke to the people: “Arm 5  men from among you for the war, to attack the Midianites and to execute 6  the Lord’s vengeance on Midian. 31:4 You must send to the battle a thousand men from every tribe throughout all the tribes of Israel.” 7  31:5 So a thousand from every tribe, twelve thousand armed for battle in all, were provided out of the thousands of Israel.

1 sn This lengthy chapter records the mobilization of the troops (vv. 1-5), the war itself (vv. 6-13), the death of the captive women (vv. 14-18), the purification of the nations (vv. 19-24), and the distribution of the spoils (vv. 25-54). For more detail, see G. W. Coats, “Moses in Midian,” JBL 92 (1973): 3-10; and W. J. Dumbrell, “Midian – a Land or a League?” VT 25 (1975): 323-37.

2 tn The imperative is followed by its cognate accusative to stress this vengeance. The Midianites had attempted to destroy Israel with their corrupt pagan practices, and now will be judged. The accounts indicate that the effort by Midian was calculated and evil.

3 sn The war was commanded by the Lord and was to be divine vengeance on the Midianites. So it was holy war. No Israelites then could take spoils in this – it was not a time for plunder and aggrandizement. It was part of the judgment of God upon those who would destroy or pervert his plan and his people.

4 sn This would be the last major enterprise that Moses would have to undertake. He would soon die and “be gathered to his people” as Aaron was.

5 tn The Niphal imperative, literally “arm yourselves,” is the call to mobilize the nation for war. It is followed by the jussive, “and they will be,” which would then be subordinated to say “that they may be.” The versions changed the verb to a Hiphil, but that is unnecessary: “arm some of yourselves.”

6 tn Heb “give.”

7 sn Some commentators argue that given the size of the nation (which they reject) the small number for the army is a sign of the unrealistic character of the story. The number is a round number, but it is also a holy war, and God would give them the victory. They are beginning to learn here, and at Jericho, and later against these Midianites under Gideon, that God does not want or need a large army in order to obtain victory.



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