Opening Prayer

In those times when I don’t understand you, sovereign Lord, help me to trust you.

Read NUMBERS 31:1-24

Vengeance on the Midianites

31 The Lord said to Moses, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”

So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them. Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.” So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling.

They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.

13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.

15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

19 “Anyone who has killed someone or touched someone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days. On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives. 20 Purify every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.”

21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the soldiers who had gone into battle, “This is what is required by the law that the Lord gave Moses: 22 Gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, lead 23 and anything else that can withstand fire must be put through the fire, and then it will be clean. But it must also be purified with the water of cleansing. And whatever cannot withstand fire must be put through that water. 24 On the seventh day wash your clothes and you will be clean. Then you may come into the camp.”

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New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Think about what God says he wants: ‘I want justice – oceans of it. I want fairness – rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.’1

Think Further

In modern legal systems, bringing a wrongdoer to justice involves several parties: a prosecutor brings charges against the accused; a judge decides questions of law; a jury determines questions of fact; and, for capital punishment, an executioner carries out the sentence.

Today’s passage is hard and horrifying, but recognizing that Israel is not practicing vigilante justice may mitigate our feelings. God is both prosecutor and judge, Israel merely the executioner. Midian and Moab had joined forces to thwart God’s purposes, first by hiring Balaam to curse God’s people, then by seducing them to sin. As prosecutor, the Lord accused them of deceiving the Israelites in the Peor incident (v 16); as judge, he weighed the evidence, found them guilty, and delivered his verdict: ‘Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them.’2

Today’s passage focuses on the executioner charged with carrying out this sentence (vs 2,3) and obliged to do so exactly ‘as the Lord commanded’ (v 7). Therefore, sparing the women is not regarded as an act of mercy but as dangerous disobedience (vs 15–18) because the Midianites might again become a ‘snare’ among God’s people, enticing them to sin.3 But God’s favor toward his people is never favoritism. They themselves must stand before the same holy judge: later, foreign nations like Assyria and Babylon would serve as executioners of God’s judgment. God reminds Israel, ‘It is not because of your righteousness … that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations.’4 Even Moses was not exempt; his disobedience at Meribah had been judged5 and God’s sentence would soon be carried out (v 2).


Take to heart Peter’s warning: ‘…don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.’6

Closing prayer

Lord God, I know my daily need of a Savior. Thank you for Jesus and for my redemption in him. May my life be a testimony for your great grace and mercy.

Last Updated on August 25, 2023 by kingstar

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