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Numbers 31:7-17

Context
31:7 They fought against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses, and they killed every male. 1  31:8 They killed the kings of Midian in addition to those slain – Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba – five Midianite kings. 2  They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 3 

31:9 The Israelites took the women of Midian captives along with their little ones, and took all their herds, all their flocks, and all their goods as plunder. 31:10 They burned 4  all their towns 5  where they lived and all their encampments. 31:11 They took all the plunder and all the spoils, both people and animals. 31:12 They brought the captives and the spoils and the plunder to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the Israelite community, to the camp on the plains 6  of Moab, along the Jordan River 7  across from Jericho. 8  31:13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the community went out to meet them outside the camp.

The Death of the Midianite Women

31:14 But Moses was furious with the officers of the army, the commanders over thousands and commanders over hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 31:15 Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? 9  31:16 Look, these people through the counsel of Balaam caused the Israelites to act treacherously against the Lord in the matter of Peor – which resulted in the plague among the community of the Lord! 31:17 Now therefore kill every boy, 10  and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse with a man. 11 

1 sn Many modern biblical scholars assume that this passage is fictitious. The text says that they killed every male, but Judges accounts for the Midianites. The texts can be harmonized rather simply – they killed every Midianite who was in the battle. Midianite tribes and cities dotted the whole region, but that does not mean Israel went and killed every single one of them. There apparently was a core of Midianites whom Balaam had influenced to pervert Israel.

2 sn Here again we see that there was no unified empire, but Midianite tribal groups.

3 sn And what was Balaam doing among the Midianites? The implication is strong. This pagan diviner had to submit to the revealed will of God in the oracles, but he nonetheless could be hired. He had been a part of the attempt to destroy Israel that failed; he then apparently became part of the plan, if not the adviser, to destroy them with sexual immorality and pagan ritual.

4 tn Heb “burned with fire.”

5 tn The ban applied to the encampments and forts of this group of Midianite tribes living in the region of Moab.

6 tn Or “steppes.”

7 tn The word “River” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

8 tn Again this expression, “the Jordan of Jericho,” is used. It describes the intended location along the Jordan River, the Jordan next to or across from Jericho.

map For the location of Jericho see Map5 B2; Map6 E1; Map7 E1; Map8 E3; Map10 A2; Map11 A1.

9 tn The verb is the Piel perfect of the word חָיָה (khayah, “to live”). In the Piel stem it must here mean “preserve alive,” or “allow to live,” rather than make alive.

10 tn Heb “every male among the little ones.”

sn The command in holy war to kill women and children seems in modern times a terrible thing to do (and it was), and something they ought not to have done. But this criticism fails to understand the situation in the ancient world. The entire life of the ancient world was tribal warfare. God’s judgment is poured out on whole groups of people who act with moral abandonment and in sinful pursuits. See E. J. Young, My Servants, the Prophets, 24; and J. W. Wenham, The Enigma of Evil.

11 tn Heb “every woman who has known [a] man by lying with a man.”



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