Numbers 31:1-3 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 and to carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them.
Numbers 31 is a difficult chapter. Verse 31 is a very helpful reminder to us that Israel’s brutal killing of the occupants of the Promised Land must be understood in terms of the holy LORD God’s rightful judgment on human wickedness (which is justified and appropriate), and not in terms of human vindictiveness and depravity (which is never justified or appropriate): “So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.”
Perhaps the reason these accounts play a significant role in God’s revelation of himself in Old Testament history is as a warning to every generation of what the situation will be when Jesus returns as God’s rightful Lord and King. At least when he pours out his patient, stored-up wrath against sinful mankind on the Last Day no one will be able to say that they weren’t warned about exactly what it would be like! “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of ungodly men. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (cf 2 Peter 3:3-10).
It is interesting that after this declaration, Peter challenges us, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives …”, And surely, in the light of what it will be like for all who have not taken refuge in Jesus, who has borne the full impact of God’s wrath on the Cross in our place, our ‘godly’ living will include taking every opportunity to tell others the Good New of Salvation! So, as I struggle through difficult passages like Numbers 31, I try to keep this in mind.
– Bruce Christian