Skip Heitzig - Numbers 30-31
Father, we are reading the very text that was the Bible for Jesus and Peter and James and John in the early church. It's all they knew in terms of Scripture is what we call the Old Testament. And so it behooves us to have at least a basic understanding of it, hopefully even a working knowledge of it. And I thank you, Lord, that you've afforded us the time and the place to go through a couple of chapters at a time, and to understand the bigger picture, the swath of truth that is cut out and laid out for us. I thank you, Father, for this wonderful group of people that love not only you, but they love what you have said and the lessons that can be learned. And so, Father, we submit this time as well as our very soul, our hearts, our innermost being. In your presence we submit ourselves to you for you to work. Do a deep work, Lord. Help us to understand in our mind, but be motivated in our action those broad, overarching principles that we glean from your truth, your Word of truth. And so, Lord, reiterate what your Son prayed in the garden or on that same night, "Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth". Do that, Lord, grow us up. Make us holy. Make us fit and sharp tools for your use, in Jesus' name, amen.
Chapters 30 and 31 could be summed up by three words: vows, vengeance, and victory. Those three words encapsulate and cover the lessons in these next two chapters: vows, vengeance, victory. Promises are made, those are vows. Plans are made for war, that's the vengeance part. Victory is given by God in their obedience to his truth. So we move from the personal to the national. We move from the private to the public in this chapter. Beginning with the vow, something internal and private and in the company of a few, to something that is on a national and international level, as war is waged against another nation in chapter 31. A word about vows and a vow is an oath, a promise. Oaths or vows were given based on two criteria, two things that compelled people to make oaths: number one, the recognition of human nature; and number two, the response to the divine nature.
Allow me to explain: oaths were often given and still are given to this day because we recognize human nature has a tendency toward lying, toward not telling the truth or stretching the truth, or not following through on a promise or an intention. And so because we know human nature, certain things must be ratified by an oath, or in our day and age, a contract. And so we recognize that about human nature. There's a tendency toward straying away from the truth. It was some movie I saw one time where this gangster leaned across the table and he said to another man, "You have my word". And the man smiled and he said, "Oh great, I have the word of a gangster," recognizing, "You've given me your word, but I don't know that I can trust it. I have to take it a step further to fortify your promise".
Here's the second reason that an oath was given, a second criterion; and that is, a response to the divine nature: "I recognize human nature and the need to fortify a promise by some kind of contractual agreement or public binding oath, but I also realize and respond to God's nature toward me. He has been so good to me". And so often we want to respond back, because God has been and is so good to us. And so David cried out in Psalm 116, "What shall I render to the Lord for all of his benefits toward me"? Have you ever thought about that or asked that question? "Oh, the Lord has filled my life; what could I do for him"? And sometimes oaths were given: "Lord, I promise I'm going to do this or do that". Something that is important, and you'll see it as we get into this chapter, and that is, that oaths, promises, vows, were never commanded by God to make. You don't have to make them. He not saying, "Make this vow". But if you do make the vow, then you need to keep it, and we're going to see that.
Most of the vows in ancient times were verbal oaths given in the presence of a witness or two witnesses. But sometimes the verbal oath, the need for accountability was supplemented by something else, the raising of a hand, or the mentioning of a monarch, a king who ruled that country. So when you do that, the oath is now a little more binding, a little more solemn. The raising of the hand, we do that in a courtroom today: "Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear..."? That's the kind of a verbal oath that was given even in ancient times. Now today, because we know the tendency of man to negate a vow, you have to sign on a dotted line. When you want to buy a car, you can't just say, "Well, you know what? I'll take the car and I promise I'll pay you".
That's not usually good enough for the people you're buying it from. They want you to sign a contract and prove that you are able to make those payments. A house, the same thing. A marriage, the same thing. Oh you're going to say vows publicly, but that's part of it. You have to sign on the dotted line in the presence of witnesses, and those oaths are made even today. We know from looking at the Bible that Abraham made oaths, Jacob made oaths. David and Jonathan together made a pact or oaths together. When we get to the New Testament, twice Paul the apostle called God to be his witness. "As God is my witness," Paul said, and he gave a formal, binding, verbal oath. Even the Lord Jesus Christ said words such as, "Verily, verily, I say unto you," or translated, "Most assuredly, I say unto you".
It's a solemn kind of an oath. It's a weightier, heavier thing to say. By the way, even God himself... did you know that? God himself, God the Father himself made an oath in Genesis 22. Listen to it: "I swear by myself, says the Lord". And the New Testament author says, "God swore by himself, because there's nobody greater to swear by". So even God enters into a solemn oath and one wonders, "Well, why would God need to make an oath like that"? The Bible says, "God is not a man, that he should lie, nor the Son of Man," so, so why would God say, "I swear by myself"? Well, he doesn't do it to produce credibility, but to produce our loyalty. He knows that we as humans have a problem with belief, with faith. Just like we don't trust one another all that much and demand an oath or a contract to be written, God knows that's a part of human nature and so I see it as God condescending to that lower human level for our benefit.
So when God says, "I swear by myself," the person, the recipient will go, "Oh, wow! If God's going to make that kind of a statement swearing by himself, this is pretty solemn. I can trust him". So in chapter 30, verse 1, "Then Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes concerning the children of Israel, saying, 'This is the thing which the Lord has commanded,'" now notice, "'If a man makes [an oath or] a vow,'" doesn't say you have to. The word is conditional, "if". If you do that. "'If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.'"
So once again, notice no requirement is given, but if you make it, now you keep it. You may remember Ecclesiastes, chapter 5, where the third king of Israel, Solomon, said, "If a man enters into an oath or makes an oath, he must not delay or defer in keeping that oath". Remember the parable Jesus gave of the two sons? He said, "There were two sons, a father had two sons, and he said to one of his sons, 'Son, go out and work in my vineyard today.' And the son said, 'No! I don't want to go.' But later on he changed his mind and he went. And he said to his second son, 'Son, go out and work in my vineyard today.' And he said, 'I go, sir.' but he did not go". Jesus asked a simple question: "Which one did his father's will"? Well, the one who changed his mind, said, "No," but he went. He had a change of heart. The one who made a vow, a promise, an oath, it was just an oath. It was just something he said but he didn't do. That's the worst kind. He made a vow he should have kept.
Verse 3, "'Or if a woman makes a vow to the Lord, and binds herself, by some agreement while in her father's house in her youth,'" so she's at home under the covering or the authority of dad still, but she makes a vow in her youth. "'And her father hears her vow and the agreement by which she has bound herself, and her father holds his peace, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement with which he bound herself shall stand. But if her father overrules her on the day that he hears, then none of her vows nor her agreements by which she has bound herself shall stand; and the Lord will release her because her father has overruled her.'"
There could have been a problem. And the problem is that when a woman under the authority here of a father, in the next few verses the authority of a husband, makes some promise, some binding agreement, it could indenture her father or her husband. They would be liable for the promise that she made. Hence, the father in this case has the authority to annul it or to overrule it, because he is the authority in that structure. He is the head in that home. And so he could have the opportunity to annul it. But if he knows about it, if he hears it, but he's passive, he doesn't really want to get involved, then has to be kept, even if he is indentured by it. So vows were very, very important. Promises are holy, sacred.
Now the Bible does tell us of some unfortunate vows, I mean, sad vows. There was the vow in Judges 11 that one of the judges, the warrior-ruler named Jephthah made. He was fighting against the Ammonites and it was a prolonged battle. And as they were camped out before they went to battle with the people of Ammon, he made this crazy ridiculous promise: "Lord, if you give me the victory, I will sacrifice to you whatever comes out of my house first". Stupid thing to say. He didn't need to say it. Sometimes people in the heat of a battle or the heat of a moment will make a rash promise. The guy sliding down the roof cries, "O, God, save me! Save me, please! Please! I promise I'll give my life to you and I'll go to church and I'll do whatever you want". Suddenly a nail catches him as he's sliding down the roof and he stops and he's stunned. And then he looks up and he goes, "Never mind, Lord, the nail caught me".
So Jephthah makes this stupid vow: "Lord, whatever comes out of the house first I'll sacrifice to you". And it was horrible, it was horrific, because the first thing that came out of his house after he won the battle was his young daughter. Ridiculous, foolish, foolhardy thing to say. Then there was this vow that King Saul made. You remember the story. Saul was the king of Israel, King Saul, but he was a weak leader. His son Jonathan an armorbearer had just a lot more chutzpah, a lot more guts, a lot more trusting in the Lord. And they woke up one day in a battle against the enemy, the Midianite enemy, and Jonathan had this, like, crazy idea.
He says to his armorbearer, "You know, we're fighting the enemy, and if the Lord wants, if the Lord wants, he could deliver the entire enemy army into our hands. And I mean just you and me, buddy, if you wanted to. If it's the Lord, he doesn't require an army to go against our enemy. If it's the Lord, just two of us could do it. The Lord could save by many or by few. So let's just you and I see if the Lord's in this. Let's go to the enemy camp. And if the enemy says, 'Come up here, we want to show you something,' we know this is the Lord. He's going to deliver them into our hands. If they say, 'Stay there, we're going to come down to you and we want to show you something,' then we know the Lord isn't in this. We better hightail it out of here".
So they scramble early in the morning to the enemy's camp, and as they're getting close somebody shouts out in the enemy camp, "Hey, come up here, we want to show you guys something". So Jonathan looked at his armorbearer and said, "The Lord has given us the victory". So they go in and the Lord routes them and starts delivering the enemies into Israel's hands. Well, Saul wakes up in the camp, King Saul and his army wake up and they see, you know, the dust of these two guys out in the enemy camp getting the victory, cleaning the clocks of their enemies. And he said, "Well, who is that? What's going on"? They said, "That's your son and his buddy and the Lord's given him the victory". And so he stands up and he says, "Cursed is anyone who eats anything at all today until we have been given the total victory".
Well, first of all, it's just a dumb thing to say, to curse someone until you've gotten the victory. You're just sort of there, dude, watching it. You're, like, doing nothing anyway, you're making all the vows. And it's also dumb to tell an army who needs food for energy to fight battles, "Cursed is the one who eats anything". Well, his son Jonathan wasn't even around when that vow was made. So he comes along and sees some honey, wild honey in the road and eats it and gets energy and it gives him strength. And his dad finds out and goes, "I made a vow, we gotta kill you". Stupid, lame, bogus, crazy oath. Fortunately, his army came and said, "Not going to happen. The Lord gave us a victory today, not through you, but through your son". The crazy vow. So if a vow in a home is made and dad hears about it, he can say, "Uh-uh, that's not going to happen". He can overrule.
Verse 6, "If she takes a husband", so now a husband would be the head of the wife as Paul said in Ephesians. She's in a different situation. "If she takes a husband, while bound by her vows or by a rash utterance from her lips which she has bound herself, and if her husband hears it, and makes no response on her or to her on the day that he hears, then her vow shall stand, and her agreements by which he bound herself shall stand. But if her husband overrules her on the day that he hears, he shall make void her vow which she took and which was uttered with her lips, by which she bound herself, and the Lord will release her. Also any vow of a widow or a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her".
She is responsible. She has no, in that sense, covering. "If she vowed in her husband's house, or bound herself by an agreement with an oath and her husband heard it and made no response to her and did not overrule her, then all her vows shall stand, and every agreement by which she bound herself it shall stand. But if her husband truly made them void on the day that he heard them, then whatever proceeded from her lips concerning her vows or concerning the agreement binding her, it shall not stand; her husband has made them void, and the Lord will release her. Every vow, every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void".
The Lord is saying it's more important that that young woman obey her father or that a wife obey her husband than she fulfill any self-imposed promise that was made without their covering or their agreeing to it. "Now if her husband makes no response whatever to her from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or all the agreements that bind her; he confirms them, because he made no response to her on the day that he heard them. But if he does make them void after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt".
Now I believe that what we have just read helps us, at least a little bit more, understand what happened back in Genesis chapter 3 with the fall in the garden. Essentially, the wife of Adam, namely, Eve, made a rash choice, if you will, a rash vow that I believe Adam was privy to, was in his presence. She saw, she was tempted by the tempter, and she ate, and then Adam also ate. She did it first, but Adam ate. Now Adam is held responsible in the Scripture. She was deceived, but he made a choice. And, essentially, his silence to what was going on in what she said to the tempter makes him culpable. That's why God slams him with responsibility. And I believe that this principle and that text dovetail, they correspond, and it helps us to understand that in that culture, and this biblical mandate helps us understand Genesis chapter 3 a little bit.
Okay, fast-forward to the New Testament. In the New Testament there were also oaths. The rabbis called some oaths "binding oaths," other oaths, "nonbinding oaths". And there were formulas, and get this, the formula became in some situations more important than the promise itself. So people would swear: "I swear by my head," or "I swear by thy life," or "I swear by the hairs on your head". If you swear by your head, it's more binding than if you swear by the hairs on your head, because you may be losing those day by day. Some swore by heaven or swore by earth or swore by the temple. These crazy formulas that you and I had when we were kids, right? "I promise". "Cross your heart"? "Yeah, cross my heart". "Hope to die"? "Okay, hope to die". "Cross it twice". And when we were little kids, we got more interested in the formula than even the promise. And these spiritual infants in Jerusalem did the same thing in their oath keeping with one another.
I'm going to turn to a text, and just let me read it to you in Matthew, chapter 5. This is the Sermon on the Mount. It'll be familiar to you. "Again you have heard from those of old", listen to Jesus' reference now, "'You shall not swear falsely, but you shall perform your oaths to the Lord.'" What he's saying is, "You know what I'm saying to you is true. You have a Jewish background, I'm quoting the Old Testament, you know about this. You were taught that". "But I say unto you," Jesus continues, "Do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair black or white". Of course, today we can. That's besides the point. Here's the crux of it: "But let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' be 'No.' For whatever is more than these is from the evil one".
It's simply a call to verbal integrity: "Be a person of your word. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you make a promise, follow through with it. Just say yes, and when you say yes, be the kind of a person that when you say yes, people say, "It's gonna happen. I can count on it. She said, "Yes". He said, "Yes". "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No' be 'No.'" But you don't need to reinforce it with some kind of formula of oath taking to let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be "no".
Now I do need to say, to explain what we read, this is in the Sermon on the Mount, by the way. I'm reading out of Matthew 5 if you want to make a reference to it later. Did you know that those of the Quaker religion, the Quaker persuasion, (that branch of Christianity that call themselves the Friends or the Quakers), believe that because of the text that I just read in Matthew by Jesus Christ, that that forbids oath taking in any form, even in a court of law. So they don't even want to go into court and make a solemn declaration or swearing. And I feel that's very legalistic and wrong, because even Christ himself responded to a formal oath when the high priest was interrogating him and Jesus was saying nothing, saying nothing, saying nothing. Finally, the high priest said, "I adjure thee," or "I place you under a solemn oath," my translation says. "Are you the Christ, the Son of God"? And Jesus responded to that formal oath taking and he said, "You said it," or, "Right on. I am the Christ. I am the Son of God," and he affirmed it, he responded to it.
So a promise is holy. If you tell your brother or sister tonight after church and you hear of some sad or pressing thing in their life, and you say, "Hey, I'll pray for you," pray for them. Don't say, "I'll pray for you" or "Praying for you," or "Praying," you know, sometimes we text or Instagram, "Praying," stop and pray or you're making a promise that you're not keeping. In fact, because of that I made it my rule when somebody says, "Hey, I need prayer on this", I'm going to forget later on. I know me. Just like we know human nature and we have to have oaths, I know my human nature, and so I pray on the spot. "You want me to pray about it? Let's do it right here, right now". I think that's always the best when somebody says, "Hey, would you pray with us"? "Let's do it now".
Now, of course there's certain exclusions to that. If you're driving with somebody and you're in the passenger seat, they're in the driver seat, and they say, "Oh, sure, let's pray about it right now". You know, use wisdom. Here's another oath that people make: "I do. I do, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part". Don't make that vow unless you keep it. "I can't keep it, there's extenuating circumstances". Can God help you keep it? It's a holy vow, promise is holy. "Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and let your 'No' be 'No.'" So back to Numbers. Of course, you're already back in Numbers, I was the one who turned. So Numbers 31, "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Take vengeance,'" or avenge, as some translations put it, avenge the Midianites. Or "'Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.'"
Now that was already commanded. We have already read that. When we were back in chapter 25, the Lord commanded the children of Israel through Moses to harass the Midianites because of what happened at Baal Peor. But here's what's interesting to me: Moses is going to die. He saw the Promised Land, but he's not going to cross over into it. He just got to see it. He's old and the Lord says to this old man, "You're not dying yet". "'Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you will be gathered to your people.'" Do you know that you're going to fight battles till the very end? Do you know, I just want to just burst your bubble, if you happen to have one, otherwise you'll be so disillusioned in your Christian life later on.
You think, "I just can't wait till I get to this certain age or this certain level of maturity or this certain place in my life where I can just kind of let it go and let it ride and relax and be under the spout where the glory comes out. It's all gonna be good. It's all gonna be wonderful". I'm sorry, you're describing heaven, that's what you're describing. And you won't have heaven till you get to heaven. Until then there are battles to fight. Learn how to fight them well, because I think they get harder sometimes when you get older. We don't see the enemy coming. David was a warrior, but he approached a time in his life where he just sort of took his ease in Jerusalem, and that's when he fell.
So, the Lord says, "Take vengeance," and we're puzzled by this. Here is God saying, "Take vengeance," but it is God's command and it is not a political battle, understand it is a spiritual battle. It is because of what the Midianites did with the Moabites in bringing them into their scheme at the direction of that false prophet named Balaam who told those women to go into the camp of Israel and invite the young men into their tents and tantalize them. And they committed sexual immorality with them and idolatry with them. And because of that 24,000 Israelites fell in one day. There was a plague that came. And so now the Lord says, "'Take vengeance... and then afterwards you will be gathered to your people.' So Moses spoke to the children of Israel, saying, 'Arm some of yourselves for war, and let them go up against the Midianites to take vengeance for the Lord on Midian.'"
In the New Testament Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers". You and I are called to be peacemakers. He didn't say, "Blessed are the warmongers," he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers". However, for the last 1,600 years there has been a position that the majority of the Christian church has followed called the "just war tradition," that there are certain times, certain circumstances that justify a nation in going to war. The Lord certainly instructed Abraham to go to war, told David to go to war. They were fighting the Lord's battles. And so let, this may help: between the second century and the fourth century AD Christians in the Roman Empire were nonmilitary. They didn't get involved at all in anything military with the Roman government, and for this reason, it's not because they were total pacifist, but they were seemed, they were deemed as such. But they avoided Roman military activity, because to be in the Roman military meant that you had to get involved in idolatrous activity. It was part and parcel of Roman military system. You couldn't be in the army without an adherence to the worship system, the pantheistic worship system and the Caesar worship of that day. It was impossible.
So Christians refrained from that. When the barbarians sacked Rome, this didn't bode well for the Christians. They were accused because of their nonactivity militarily, their pacifistic stance, that they didn't get involved, they didn't support their government, they didn't support their military, that they helped the enemy in the fall of Rome. So because of that one of the thinkers in North Africa named Augustine wrote a response to that. And Augustine and a guy later on named Aquinas developed the just war theory that I mentioned for the last hundreds and hundreds of years, 1,600 some-odd years, 1,400 to 1,600 years has been the thinking of Christians. There has to be, for us to fight, certain criteria. We don't want to fight, we want to be peacemakers. So here's my position: I love peace. I love peace. But I love peace enough to fight for it, if need be.
Now I did bring with me, fortunately, just happened to bring with me the criterion that Augustine and others suggested. And this is what today governments hold to as their theory for the just war, even our own:
Number one, there has to be, before you go to war, a just cause, a just cause. Those attacked deserve to be attacked to get justice or to remedy an injustice perpetrated by a foreign government.
Number two and they all have to be present. Number two, there must be a just intention, not purely for the sake of revenge or conquest, but to secure peace for all involved.
Number three, it has to be a last resort effort only entered upon when all negotiations have been tried and have failed.
Number four, there must be a formal declaration of war. It's the prerogative of governments to make that, not private groups or individuals.
Number five, there must be limited objectives, so not the total destruction of a people group or of a nation's economy or politics.
Number six, there must be a proportionate means, the force is limited to repel aggression and secure peace.
And number seven, noncombatant immunity; that is, we're there to protect the innocent in this war. We don't want to go after them or hold them hostage or use them as human shields, but we want to get those who are the power mongers. It's an official act of government against another government. So I mentioned Abraham. I mentioned David. In the book of Judges, you see judge after judge, and a judge in those days wasn't a guy in a black robe sitting behind court bench, a judge was a warrior who went to deliver God's people Israel. God raised up judges, warriors, and they went to battle. And it's a bloody and difficult book sometimes to read. When we get to the New Testament, we have a centurion, an army officer, and Jesus says of him, "I have not found so great a faith, not even in all of Israel, as I have with this military centurion". So he was commended.
So there are different positions within the Christian community. Some are total pacifists. I just want you to know for the record it's not, you know somebody says, "What is the position of Calvary"? There is no official position of Calvary. I can just tell you my position: I am not a pacifist. I'm a peacemaker. I try to be a pacifist, but even Paul said listen to this, "If it is possible, be at peace with all men". You know, sometimes it's not possible, because they won't have it. And if they meet this criteria, and I think certain wars are justifiable battles. So that's the theory of the just war.
Francis Schaeffer said, "I am not a pacifist, because to be a pacifist in this fallen world means I desert the very people that need my love and protection the most". And the example he uses is you're out at Starbucks, let's just say. Okay, I don't know why I keep using Starbucks. You can tell where I have my alternate worship service from time to time. But let's say you're in line at Starbucks and you see some big ole guy picking on a 12-year-old girl. He starts yelling at her and he starts kicking her, and she starts crying and screaming. What do you? Well, you could negotiate: "Sir, that's horrible. That's unusual. That's wrong. You ought not to do that. Would you please stop". Okay, what if he goes, "Oh, you're right. I don't know what came over me". Great, that's all you need. But what if he keeping kicking and he keeps hurting and he pulls out an implement to do damage to her, even to kill her? What does loving that child mean to you at that moment? If need be, you must use force to enforce the peace. That's the whole idea behind military, behind police, and behind the just war tradition.
So anyway, here you have something a little bit different in that God is commanding because of the incredible curse that came upon the children of Israel in idolatry and sexual and spiritual seduction by the women and the men complicity that they be dealt with. So, a thousand men from each tribe were recruited in the next few verses. Twelve thousand men all together went to war. Notice verse 6, "Moses sent them to war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest". So, you have a PK going out, a priest's kid. Phinehas was also in the priesthood. So the priest "went out with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand".
Do you remember Phinehas? When the Moabite and Midianite women seduced the children of Israel, and one woman and Israelite fella came into the camp, to the tabernacle, and she was making amorous gestures. And they were getting sloppy right out there by the tabernacle, and then they ran into their tent. Phinehas took his spear, he wanted to make a point, and he made a point right through both of them. And he was zealous for the Lord and the Lord stopped the plague, because he had enough sense to stop the cancer before everybody got killed in this plague. And this is that Phinehas. So it's a spiritual component in this battle, a man of God, a spiritual man goes out to battle. "And they warred against the Midianites, just as the Lord commanded Moses, and they killed the males". Verse 8, "And they killed the kings of Midian with the rest of those who were killed: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, Reba, the five kings Midian. Balaam the son of Beor they also killed with the sword".
So now Balaam the false prophet himself is killed. Now think back to what he said in chapter 23 when he got his first glimpse of Israel and he prophesied. You remember what he said at the end of his first prophecy? He said, "Let me die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like his"! It didn't happen. God didn't grant his request that he could die like them, and die the death of the righteous. Because if you don't live the life of the righteous, you can't expect to die the death of the righteous. So he was killed in this battle. "And the children of Israel took the women of Midian captive, with their little ones, and took as spoil all their cattle, their flocks, all their goods". Go down to verse 14, "Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, who had come from the battle. And Moses said to them: 'Have you kept all the women alive?'"
Now you're going, "Wait, wait, wait. This doesn't bode well. Why would he say that about the women like he's angry at the women"? Well, who are the ones that caused the children of Israel to be seduced? Who were the ones that caused the children of Israel to get involved in immorality? It was these women. So he asked them. They were the ones that had more culpability. "'Look, These women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against to Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and every woman who has known a man intimately. But keep alive for yourselves the young girls who have not known a man intimately.'"
We have great difficulty with passages like this. I have great difficulty. We have difficulty in reading the book of Joshua; don't you, when God says you know, "You're in this land, now get rid of all the Canaanites". Part of the answer we've already given a couple of times in this series, so I don't want to belabor the whole prophecy that God gave in Genesis about "the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full". And God gave them hundreds and hundreds of years to repent and they refused to do it. So God expunged them and used Israel as the rod. We went through that. But still we have difficulty with the extermination of a race. What you don't know that causes you concern it's because you don't know the lowest level of immorality they were operating at, the Canaanite civilizations and this group in particular.
In their worship system, their worship system was heterosexual sexual activity with prostitutes of temples, homosexuality, bestiality, and the sacrifice of their babies into open fires. They were at such a low level that one commentator, one source that I read said it would have been impossible for their civilization to continue to survive anyway with just their practices. Hundreds of years God was patient until "the iniquity of the Amorites," as we read in Genesis, "was full," and then God moved. He did the same in the flood. The whole world was destroyed in the flood, save eight people. And now he uses or would use the children of Israel as his rod in the land of Canaan.
Verse 19, "'And as for you, remain outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person, whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. Purify every garment, everything made of leather, everything woven of goats' hair, everything made of wood.'" The warriors needed to be purified. They would have become defiled in touching the dead, the corpses that they created. But they would be defiled nonetheless, and thus necessitated ritual purification. But watch this: "Then Eleazar the priest," verse 21, "said to the men of war who had gone to the battle, 'This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord commanded Moses:" "'Only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can endure fire, you shall put through the fire, and it shall be clean; it shall be purified with the water of purification. But all that cannot endure the fire it shall be put through the water. And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day and be clean, and afterwards you may come into the camp.'"
So they're taking now the spoils of war, what is called in this chapter "the booty". And I prefer, for obvious reasons, to call it "spoils of war". And they purify these spoils. Anything that is noncombustible is put through the fire; anything that is combustible is purified by water. Probably, and this is the only example that we have of it in all the Scripture, purification by fire. But probably this is due to corpse contamination and the prevalence of disease. And to stop the spread of disease these extra measures were put into place. "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 'Count the plunder that was taken...of man and of beast...and you and Eleazar the priest and the chief of the fathers of the congregation; and divide the plunder into two parts.'"
So they take the spoils of war, let me just sum up the next few verses, and they divide it equally between those who went to battle and those who stayed behind. And most people stayed behind. So the warriors didn't get a special status and more goods, they divided it equally. You know that is a principle, by the way, that we will read later on when King David goes against the town of Ziklag. Remember Ziklag? Some of you are looking at me like, huh? Ziklag, First Samuel 30, David wars against Ziklag. And warriors go out to battle, but some of them are so exhausted, some of the warriors can't even make crossing the river and they just sort of stay behind and they rest. And so the chosen, fit warriors finish the battle.
When David comes back and restores all the goods, some of these scoundrels in his army, but good fighters, said, "Well, we're not going to share anything with these guys who flaked out in the battle. We're going to take their share". David goes, "No, no, no. As the spoil is for those who went, so shall the spoil be for those who stayed behind with the encampments". Or with the stuff or with the victuals. So it will be divided. There was equity in the land. "The Lord has given us the battle. He's restored it. Don't be selfish. Don't be stingy". So it was divided up, a portion of it was given, however, to the priests. In verse 28, one five-hundredth that was the tribute or the spoils of war that belonged to the warriors, one five-hundredth was given to Eleazar and the priesthood. In verse 30, one-fiftieth of what belonged to all of the people was given to the Levites for their support, even though they obviously stayed behind. The number of animals is tallied up, totaled up, the number of things that were taken, the spoils of war.
Verse 48, "Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the captains of the thousands, the captains of hundreds, came near to Moses; and they said to Moses, 'Your servants have taken a count of the men of war who are under our command, and not a man of us is missing.'" Can you imagine? That's music to the ear of any commanding officer: "We went out to battle and not one man in our army died in the war". Now you read that and go, "Wait a minute, that's not even possible, is it? That's highly unusual. It's not natural". Well, that's sort of the whole point. This is supernatural. It's a supernatural battle. I mean, let me ask you: How would you explain Jericho to somebody involved in modern warfare? Was that the brilliance of the Israeli army? They walked around the city and blew horns; that's the extent of their involvement. God gave them the victory.
So there are certain things that can only be explained by the Lord's hand on it. He told them to go, not one was missing. It was a total victory. Also you should know that the Midianites themselves were not warring people. They were nomadic tribes. They were not used to warfare. So, "'Not a man is missing. Therefore we have brought an offering for the Lord, what every man found of the ornaments of gold: armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings, necklaces, to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.'" Midianite traders were fond of these kinds of pieces of jewelry. They were known for it. They collected them. These were some of the spoils of war. These men wanted to make an offering to the Lord and so they did.
"So Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from them, all the fashioned ornaments, all the gold of the offering, and they offered it to the Lord, from the captains of thousands, the captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels. (And the men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.) And Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the captains of the thousands and the hundreds, and brought it to the tabernacle of meeting as a memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord". So, vows, vengeance, and victory. Vows, your word is sacred, or it should be; a promise is holy, or it should be. You've heard the word "sincere". "He's so the sincere. I know he lied, but he's so sincere".
Well, then he's not sincere. "Sincere" is an English word that comes from two Latin words: sine, cera. Sine cera, sincere: sine, without; cera, wax. Sincere means to be without wax. Where did that word come from? In ancient times when they would make porcelain or they would have statue makers, the great artists prided themselves in doing a work of art without flaws, without cracks. Many times many of them had such integrity that if there was a crack in their work, they threw the thing away. But there were always those dishonest dealers who would take the work, the crack. and fill it in with wax and powdered marble to cover it up so you could never see the flaw. It was flawed, you just couldn't see the flaw. It was flawed, but it wasn't sincere. It had wax.
These dishonest dealers would sell their wares and you thought you got a good deal until you took it out in the sun in July and presented that statue to your husband. It was commissioned. You commissioned it, a likeness of him. You go, "Oh, look how it looks just like him". And then the sun hits it and the fella's nose starts running down his face. "Doesn't really look a lot like him anymore. What happened"? So the honest dealers started certifying their work, making a vow. "This," they said, "is sine cera. This work of mine has no wax. It's pure. It's the real deal". Let your words be without wax, sine cera. You don't have to make a vow, but if you make a vow, keep it. Be a man or woman of your word. Say yes and no and let that stand. Vengeance, that's the Lord's business, not yours.
"'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord. 'I will repay.'" Let the Lord handle the people that you want to take, and I've got my own list. But you know what? I've discovered something: God's much better at it than I am. If I do it, it won't be nearly as complete nor as fun as watching the Lord handle it. And if the Lord doesn't want to handle it and wants to humble me, then so be it. But vengeance is not my business, it's God's business. Vows, vengeance, victory. You'll walk in the victory. God will give you the victory as you obey him in these areas. And all of the victory that God gives you in your life is for one reason: that you, like them, might come back and render him praise and glorify him as they did at the tabernacle.
Father, we thank you for your Word. Thank you for these principles that were true and are true, some of them that transcend time and that are true in every culture. May your Spirit continue to do his work in our lives as you grow us up. We know that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God," so may our faith be bolstered, and may your people gathered here in this place find peace and rest as they place their confidence, their trust in you, in your bank, making that deposit of their trust into you personally, in Jesus' name we pray, amen.