King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Numbers 31

War with Midian. (1-6) Balaam slain. (7-12) Those slain who caused sin. (13-38) Purification of the Israelites. (39-24) Division of the spoil. (25-47) Offerings. (48-54)

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War with Midian

1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.

3 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.

4 Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.

5 So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.

6 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.

Balaam slain

7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

8 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.

9 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.

10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.

11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.

12 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.

Those slain who caused sin

13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.

14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.

15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?

16 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.

17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

19 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.

20 And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats’ hair, and all things made of wood.

21 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;

22 Only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead,

23 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.

24 And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.

Division of the spoil

25 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

26 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:

27 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:

28 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:

29 Take it of their half, and give it unto Eleazar the priest, for an heave offering of the LORD.

30 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.

31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses.

32 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,

33 And threescore and twelve thousand beeves,

34 And threescore and one thousand asses,

35 And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him.

36 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:

37 And the LORD’S tribute of the sheep was six hundred and threescore and fifteen.

38 And the beeves were thirty and six thousand; of which the LORD’S tribute was threescore and twelve.

Purification of the Israelites

39 And the asses were thirty thousand and five hundred; of which the LORD’S tribute was threescore and one.

40 And the persons were sixteen thousand; of which the LORD’S tribute was thirty and two persons.

41 And Moses gave the tribute, which was the LORD’S heave offering, unto Eleazar the priest, as the LORD commanded Moses.

42 And of the children of Israel’s half, which Moses divided from the men that warred,

43 (Now the half that pertained unto the congregation was three hundred thousand and thirty thousand and seven thousand and five hundred sheep,

44 And thirty and six thousand beeves,

45 And thirty thousand asses and five hundred,

46 And sixteen thousand persons;)

47 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.


48 And the officers which were over thousands of the host, the captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, came near unto Moses:

49 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.

50 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.

51 And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of them, even all wrought jewels.

52 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.

53 (For the men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.)

54 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.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 2. Madianites. The five princes, (v. 8) had joined Sehon, in his attack upon the Hebrews. Jos. xiii. 21. They had united with the Moabites against them, and had been most active in perverting the people of God. They had even the wicked Balaam still among them, who was bent upon destruction; so that God saw the measure of their crimes was full, their provocations unsufferable, and he was pleased to let Moses be witness of their just punishment. This he would effect with a very small force, v. 5. H. — This war of religion was terminated about a month before the death of Moses.

Ver. 6. Trumpets. These are the holy vessels just specified, though some believe that he carried the ark, which was done in some wars. Jos. vi. 1. 1 K. iv. 5. Priests always sounded the trumpet. Deut. xx. 2. Phinees was appointed general of this expedition to reward him for his zeal against the fornicators. C. — Or Josue headed the army, as he did on other occasions, though his name be not here specified. The tribe of Levi was not obliged to go to battle, and therefore only twelve tribes send each 1000. Josue had been elected general by God, so that it was not necessary to mention his name. Salien.

Ver. 8. Recem; by which name Petra, the capital of Arabia Petrea, is known. This petty king probably took his title from this city, over which he presided. C. — All the five had been, perhaps, tributary to Sehon. Jos. xiii. 21. H. — Sur, the wretched parent of Cozbi. C. xxv. 15. C. — Balaam. Some think he was a native of Madian, though he had resided in Mesopotamia. He had either stopped in this country, or hearing of the calamities of the Hebrews, had returned to receive the reward of his pernicious counsel. Thus he was overtaken by God’s just judgment, and he fell into the pit which his avarice had dug for him. C. xxiv. 25. H. — Probably he was busy with his incantations; for this sort of men is generally cowardly. He had no sword. C. xxii. 29. Salien.

Ver. 9. Possessions. Lit. “all that they could, they plundered.” It seems they did not advance very far into the country; or many saved themselves by flight; for we find the Madianites soon powerful enough to enslave the Hebrews. Judg. vi. 1.

Ver. 10. Castles. Heb. tiroth, means also, “palaces, or shepherds’ huts.” C.

Ver. 13. Camp. They had sent news of their victory, and of the plunder which they were bringing to the camp, (H.) to be divided equally among their fellow soldiers, when they were met by Moses, &c. who came to congratulate with them, and to examine how they executed their commission, as well as to admonish them to be purified before they entered the camp, v. 19. C.

Ver. 15. Women. They had received no positive orders respecting them, and it was customary to spare their lives. But these dissolute women had rendered themselves unworthy of such indulgence, (C.) and the sight of them raised the just indignation of Moses, who was afraid lest their manners should corrupt the victors. H.

Ver. 16. The sin of Phogor. The sin committed in the worship of Beelphegor. Ch. — Many of the prostitutes had returned home, being terrified at the slaughter of their queen, Cozbi. H.

Ver. 17. Of children. Women and children, ordinarily speaking, were not to be killed in war. Deut. xx. 14. But the great lord of life and death was pleased to order it otherwise in the present case, in detestation of the wickedness of this people, who by the counsel of Balaam, had sent their women amongst the Israelites on purpose to draw them from God. Ch. — Only those who were under twelve would be thus reserved; and as their tender minds might yet receive the impressions of virtue, by a proper education, they might, one day, be married by some of the Hebrews. The boys were all slain, either because they might be inclined to resent the injury done to their relations, or because they were all consecrated to Beelphegor; the first-born to be his priests, the rest to be victims, if necessary, to avert any evil. For “the heathens in cold blood,” says Paine, “offered their children in sacrifice to Baalpeor.” It was on this account, that the killing of all the first-born in Egypt, was felt so terribly, as the people could not lawfully approach their gods. Forbes. — Moses did not reserve the girls for the purpose of debauchery, as Paine ignorantly pretends; for that was contrary to his own laws, nor did he wantonly kill the innocent, which he also strictly forbade, and which he would have been still more afraid to do, if he had been an impostor. But he preserved the lives of those girls who might be presumed innocent, and who might live to do good, while he took the revenge of the Lord (v. 3,) upon the rest. H.

Ver. 19. Shall be. Heb. “purify yourselves and your captives on the,” &c. The girls, and all the booty, might probably be rendered unclean by the presence of a corpse, &c. C. xix. 14.

Ver. 23. Expiation, with which even the vessels which had been through the fire, were to be purified, or washed, as the Heb. Sept. &c. observe. C. — Moses perhaps gave this ordinance by word of mouth, on this occasion, (M.) though something similar be prescribed before. Lev. vi. 28. xi. 33. xv. 12.

Ver. 27. Equally. Those who had been in battle, had about a 50th part more than the rest. They gave the first-fruits to the priests, while those in the camp presented theirs to the Levites. Other rules were afterwards observed. See 1 K. xxx. 24. 2 Mac. viii. 28. The Rabbins assign the greatest share to the king, (Seld. Jur. vi. 16,) and Homer gives the largest portion to the general; after which the rest was equally divided, and even the absent partook. The gods were not forgotten. So also among the Hebrews, Syrians, &c. the general make an equal division. David assigns a part of the booty for sacred uses, 1 Par. xxvi. 26. See Ex. xv. 9. C.

Ver. 32. Spoil. Heb. “the remains of the spoil,” which had not been consumed by the 12,000. C.

Ver. 41. Fruits. Heb. “a heave-offering to,” &c. v. 29.

Ver. 49. Wanting. Sept. “all were unanimous,” (Origen,) and “all answered to their names.” Thus God was pleased to shew, that his Providence had directed the battle. H.

Ver. 50. Garters. Sept. “bracelets,” put on the arm, 2 K. i. 10. Sometimes the Eastern nations wore large precious rings on their legs. — Tablets. Heb. tsamid, an ornament of the hand. Gen. xxiv. 22. The armill√¶, or virili√¶, were worn by men near the shoulder. — Bracelets, (dextralia) for the right hand. Eccli. xxi. 14. Heb. hagil, means an ear-ring, Ezec. xvi. 12. — Chains of gold and silver interlaced, worn round the neck. S. Jerom, ep. ad Marcel. The Madianites went to battle in their richest attire, (Judg. vi. 21,) as did also the Persians; (Bellon. 2,) and the Turks do so still, (C.) being descended from Ismael, the half brother of Madian, who both settled in Arabia. H.

Ver. 50. His own. Gold, and such ornaments as might easily be concealed by the soldiers, where not required to be brought to the common stock to be equally divided. C. — There were 840,000 head of living creatures, including the 32,000 virgins, which were distributed. The gold, which was voluntarily presented to the Lord, amounted to above five talents. Salien. B.C. 1470. — The princes made a voluntary offering of their gold, but the common soldiers retained what each man had gotten. D.