Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary, 1859 edition.

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NUMBERS - Chapter 31

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Numbers xxxi.

Notes & Commentary:

Ver. 2. Madianites. The five princes, (ver. 8,) had joined Sehon, in his attack upon the Hebrews, Josue 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, ver. 5. (Haydock) --- 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, Josue vi. 1., and 1 Kings iv. 5. Priests always sounded the trumpet, Deuteronomy xx. 2. Phinees was appointed general of this expedition to reward him for his zeal against the fornicators. (Calmet) --- 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. (Calmet) --- All the five had been, perhaps, tributary to Sehon, Josue xiii. 21. (Haydock) --- Sur, the wretched parent of Cozbi, chap. xxv. 15. (Calmet) --- 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, chap. xxiv. 25. (Haydock) --- Probably he was busy with his incantations; for this sort of men is generally cowardly. He had no sword, chap. xxii. 29. (Salien)

Ver. 9. Possessions. Literally, "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, Judges vi. 1.

Ver. 10. Castles. Hebrew tiroth, means also, "palaces, or shepherds' huts." (Calmet)

Ver. 13. Camp. They had sent news of their victory, and of the plunder which they were bringing to the camp, (Haydock) 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, ver. 19. (Calmet)

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, (Calmet) and the sight of them raised the just indignation of Moses, who was afraid lest their manners should corrupt the victors. (Haydock)

Ver. 16. The sin of Phogor. The sin committed in the worship of Beelphegor. (Challoner) --- Many of the prostitutes had returned home, being terrified at the slaughter of their queen, Cozbi. (Haydock)

Ver. 17. Of children. Women and children, ordinarily speaking, were not to be killed in war, Deuteronomy 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. (Challoner) --- 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 (ver. 3,) upon the rest. (Haydock)

Ver. 19. Shall be. Hebrew, "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., chap xix. 14.

Ver. 23. Expiation, with which even the vessels which had been through the fire, were to be purified, or washed, as the Hebrew, Septuagint, &c., observe. (Calmet) --- Moses perhaps gave this ordinance by word of mouth, on this occasion, (Menochius) though something similar be prescribed before, Leviticus vi. 28., xi. 33, and 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 Kings xxx. 24., and 2 Machabees viii. 28. The Rabbins assign the greatest share to the king, (Selden, 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 Paralipomenon xxvi. 26. See Exodus xv. 9. (Calmet)

Ver. 32. Spoil. Hebrew, "the remains of the spoil," which had not been consumed by the 12,000. (Calmet)

Ver. 41. Fruits. Hebrew, "a heave-offering to," &c., ver. 29.

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

Ver. 50. Garters. Septuagint, "bracelets," put on the arm, 2 Kings i. 10. Sometimes the Eastern nations wore large precious rings on their legs. --- Tablets. Hebrew tsamid, an ornament of the hand, Genesis xxiv. 22. The armillę, or virilię, were worn by men near the shoulder. --- Bracelets, (dextralia) for the right hand, Ecclesiasticus xxi. 14. Hebrew hagil, means an ear-ring, Ezechiel xvi. 12. --- Chains of gold and silver interlaced, worn round the neck. (St. Jerome, ep. ad Marcel.) The Madianites went to battle in their richest attire, (Judges vi. 21,) as did also the Persians; (Bellon. 2,) and the Turks do so still, (Calmet) being descended from Ismael, the half brother of Madian, who both settled in Arabia. (Haydock)

Ver. 50[53]. 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. (Calmet) --- 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. (Du Hamel)

Bible Text & Cross-references:

The Madianites are slain, for having drawn the people of Israel into sin. The dividing of the booty.

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses,* saying:

2 Revenge first the children of Israel on the Madianites, and so thou shalt be gathered to thy people.

3 And Moses forthwith said: *Arm of you men to fight, who may take the revenge of the Lord on the Madianites.

4 Let a thousand men be chosen out of every tribe of Israel, to be sent to the war.

5 And they gave a thousand of every tribe, that is to say, twelve thousand men, well appointed for battle:

6 And Moses sent them with Phinees, the son of Eleazar the priest, and he delivered to him the holy vessels, and the trumpets to sound.

7 And when they had fought against the Madianites and had overcome them, they slew all the men,

8 *And their kings Evi, and Recem, and Sur, and Hur, and Rebe, five princes of the nation: Balaam also, the son of Beor, they killed with the sword.

9 And they took their women, and their children captives, and all their cattle, and all their goods: and all their possessions they plundered:

10 And all their cities, and their villages, and their castles, they burned.

11 And they carried away the booty, and all that they had taken, both of men and of beasts:

12 And they brought them to Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and to all the multitude of the children of Israel. But the rest of the things for use they carried to the camp, on the plains of Moab, beside the Jordan, over-against Jericho.

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

14 And Moses being angry with the chief officers of the army, the tribunes, and the centurions, that were come from the battle,

15 Said: Why have you saved the women?

16 *Are not these they that deceived the children of Israel by the counsel of Balaam, and made you transgress against the Lord by the sin of Phogor, for which also the people was punished?

17 *Therefore kill all that are of the male sex, even of the children: and put to death the women that have carnally known men.

18 But the girls, and all the women that are virgins, save for yourselves:

19 And stay without the camp seven days. He that hath killed a man, or touched one that is killed, shall be purified the third day and the seventh day.

20 And of all the spoil, every garment, or vessel, or any thing made for use, of the skins, or hair of goats, or of wood, shall be purified.

21 Eleazar also, the priest, spoke to the men of the army that had fought, in this manner: This is the ordinance of the law,* which the Lord hath commanded Moses:

22 Gold, and silver, and brass, and iron, and lead, and tin,

23 And all that may pass through the fire, shall be purified by fire; but whatsoever cannot abide the fire, shall be sanctified with the water of expiation:

24 And you shall wash your garments the seventh day, and being purified, you shall afterwards enter into the camp.

25 And the Lord said to Moses:

26 Take the sum of the things that were taken, both of man and beast, thou, and Eleazar the priest, and the princes of the multitude:

27 And thou shalt divide the spoil equally, between them that fought and went out to the war, and between the rest of the multitude.

28 And thou shalt separate a portion to the Lord from them that fought and were in the battle, one soul of five hundred, as well of persons as of oxen and asses and sheep,

29 And thou shalt give it to Eleazar the priest, because they are the first-fruits of the Lord.

30 Out of the moiety also of the children of Israel, thou shalt take the fiftieth head of persons, and of oxen, and asses, and sheep, and of all beasts, and thou shalt give them to the Levites, that watch in the charge of the tabernacle of the Lord.

31 And Moses and Eleazar did as the Lord had commanded.

32 And the spoil which the army had taken, was six hundred seventy-five thousand sheep,

33 Seventy-two thousand oxen,

34 Sixty-one thousand asses:

35 And thirty-two thousand persons of the female sex, that had not known men.

36 And one half was given to them that had been in the battle, to wit, three hundred thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep:

37 Out of which, for the portion of the Lord, were reckoned six hundred seventy-five sheep.

38 And out of the thirty-six thousand oxen, seventy-two oxen:

39 Out of the thirty thousand asses, sixty-one asses:

40 Out of the sixteen thousand persons, there fell to the portion of the Lord, thirty-two souls.

41 And Moses delivered the number of the first-fruits of the Lord to Eleazar the priest, as had been commanded him,

42 Out of the half of the children of Israel, which he had separated for them that had been in the battle.

43 But out of the half that fell to the rest of the multitude, that is to say, out of the three hundred thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep,

44 And out of the thirty-six thousand oxen,

45 And out of the thirty thousand five hundred asses,

46 And out of the sixteen thousand persons,

47 Moses took the fiftieth head, and gave it to the Levites that watched in the tabernacle of the Lord, as the Lord had commanded.

48 And when the commanders of the army, and the tribunes, and centurions were come to Moses, they said:

49 We, thy servants, have reckoned up the number of the fighting men, whom we had under our hand, and not so much as one was wanting.

50 Therefore we offer as gifts to the Lord, what gold every one of us could find in the booty, in garters and tablets, rings and bracelets, and chains, that thou mayst pray to the Lord for us.

51 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, received all the gold in divers kinds,

52 In weight sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty sicles, from the tribunes and from the centurions.

53 For that which every one had taken in the booty was his own.

54 And that which was received, they brought into the tabernacle of the testimony, for a memorial of the children of Israel before the Lord.



1: Year of the World 2553, Year before Christ 1451.

3: Numbers xxv. 17.

8: Josue xiii. 21.

16: Numbers xxv. 18.

17: Judges xxi. 12.

21: Leviticus vi. 28. and xi. 33. and xv. 11.