Numbers 31 tells the account of the Lord ordering vengeance on Midian for their attacks on and infiltration of the Israelite people. 12,000 Israelites went out with Phinehas the priest, along with all the vessels of the sanctuary and trumpets for the alarm. They inflicted great blows on the Midianites and, against the orders of Moses, brought back many Midianite women and children. Many of the women were killed as a result and the ones who were too young found homes among the Israelites.
The rest of the gold, silver, bronze, and other loot was purified and distributed, and a specific amount set aside for the Lord as an offering. In the following chapter, the people of Reuben and Gad are looking to settle on one side of the near side of Jordan as the rest of their brethren were preparing to cross the river and take possession of the Promise Land. Moses rebukes them, telling them that the rest of Israel will lose heart and be discouraged if they are fragmented before the land is theirs. Reuben and Gad swear that, if they settle in place, they will send their fighting men along with Israel to help with the fighting that is to come.
The vengeance of the Lord is not something to consider lightly. It is vital to recall that each command given by the Lord has moral justification, even if it is not readily available to the 21st century reader. The people of Midian had deliberately wounded Israel when they came out of Egypt, had conspired to have them cursed, and let them astray into all sorts of idolatry and debauchery. These were wilful acts of evil purported on a very impressionable Israel. The Lord did not let the Israelites off for walking away so blatantly, and the Midianites were called to account as well.
It is important to note that the Israelite warriors were not supposed to bring back the women and children. They were supposed to drive them out and take their possessions, and it is easy to see that the Midianite people represented a creeping sin that would soon overtake the weak will of the Israelites, and that bringing them home was a bad idea. It fell to a hot-headed Moses who, apparently giving orders without consulting God first, took matters into his own hands.
The Israelites were led into battle by the priests and all the fixings of the sanctuary, presumably the ark as well. The Lord personally led the way as the Israelites embarked on a limited campaign of Divine Judgement to drive out the evil in the land, yet the Israelites used this as an opportunity for overreaching and greed, the result of which was more judgement. Indeed, when Moses is talking to Gad and Reuben in the next chapter he says, regarding their obligation to the Lord, “But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out,” (Num. 32:23).
We are in a daily struggle against our own sin, though as Christians we can be sure that this battle has been won by the death of Christ and that we are given his righteousness. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have ongoing issues to deal with, sins to kill. Like the Israelites we have the Lord going before us, directing the way and giving us the will and the strength to conquer sin as He sanctifies us. The Son of God Almighty gave His life that we may be free!
It is with that in mind that we are urged to take no prisoners in our fight against sin – do not slay the greater sin yet tolerate the lesser. “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:15) The Israelites saw that the Midianite women were beautiful and surely could not pose a threat to the life for which God had freed them, yet we have seen and will see again in later reading that the seductive words of idolatry are as deadly as any sword.
Remember, the Lord is fighting with us, and in Him we are more than conquerors. Let us strive to remove any stain of sin – to confess, repent, and always fight the good fight so that we may be the light of Christ to all who look our way.
Application question –
As we settle into the Lenten season, what are some areas in which you need light shone? Is there anything that you have been holding onto that needs to be surrendered to Christ?
Lord God, we thank you for paying the price of our sin on the cross and that we are hidden in Christ. We pray that we are vigilant in our walk with you, careful of the way we live, and surrender each part of our heart to you, our loving and forgiving Father. Thank you that we can always come to you for help, direction, and guidance as we walk this narrow path.
Song - His Mercy is More - Matt Boswell and Boyce College Choir
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.