Keep Your Word – Numbers 30-31

Posted: June 26, 2008 in Numbers

Ever make a “pie crust promise” – one that’s easily made & easily broken? Israel had apparently gotten pretty good at it – both with each other & the Lord. Barely 40 years after swearing themselves to live in covenant relationship with God Almighty (at the giving of the 10 Commandments), the nation had broken their promise time & time again. Even after one entire generation of Israelites had died off in the wilderness, the new army (sabotaged by the advice of Balaam) started worshipping false gods as the Lord Himself was preparing to move them to the Promised Land. Not good, to say the least!

Thus God underscores the importance of keeping one’s word. In Ch 30, with regard to vows made to God and agreements made with man; in Ch 31 with regard to preventing them from being broken in the 1st place.

Numbers 30 (NKJV)
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: 2 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.

A. Cuts straight to the chase here. Don’t know what necessarily brought on the commandment from God; perhaps it was another instance that popped up (re: the daughters of Zelophehad)… The idea is simple enough: if you said it; stick to it. …

a. Jesus basically said the same thing. We don’t need to be making vows left & right, but we DO need to be true to what we say… Matthew 5:34-37 (34) But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; (35) nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. (36) Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. (37) But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. []

b. Over & over again the Scripture puts forth the idea of personal responsibility – which is something that our own culture has lost…

B. BTW, why is it so important that we not break our word? Because God doesn’t! He’s faithful…even when we are not (Lam 3:23)! He IS the Truth (John 14:6)! [] God’s rules are always based upon His character & nature…

a. When we’re true to our word, then that’s a reflection back on God…and when we’re not, that ALSO reflects on Him as well. Part of us being witnesses (Acts 1:8) is that we’re always witnesses: for good or bad. …

– Slightly different rules for women…

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, 4 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 she has bound herself shall stand. 5 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 overruled her. [father can overrule…]

6 “If indeed she takes a husband, while bound by her vows or by a rash utterance from her lips by which she bound herself, 7 and her husband hears it, and makes no response to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her agreements by which she bound herself shall stand. 8 But if her husband overrules her on the day that he hears it, he shall make void her vow which she took and what she uttered with her lips, by which she bound herself, and the Lord will release her. [husband can overrule…]

9 “Also any vow of a widow or a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her. 10 “If she vowed in her husband’s house, or bound herself by an agreement with an oath, 11 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 shall stand. [widows/divorcees accountable for their own vows] 12 But if her husband truly made them void on the day 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. [not accountable if their husband overruled…]

13 Every vow and every binding oath to afflict her soul, her husband may confirm it, or her husband may make it void.

A. Summary to the previous verses…

B. Why does God take the time to spell this out in the Scripture? Is He saying that a women’s word is not as valuable as a man’s? No! Both Adam & Eve fell in the garden (and Eve was the only one who was honest about it)… Acknowledgement of the prevailing cultural attitude, but more than that, this affirms that the order of the household is that a wife would submit to her own husband (Eph 5…)

a. Ultimately this is a picture of Christ & the church. We are all His bride; and He is the head of all the church. We had bound ourselves to sin, but through the work and word of our Bridegroom, we have been released! We are not bound to that which Christ has freed us!

b. Goes back to the idea that as Christians we don’t HAVE to give into sin. So often we buy into the lie that we have no choice when tempted… But you’ve been freed from the power of sin & death; you’ve been given liberty in Christ to serve Him!

14 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. 15 But if he does make them void after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.”

A. The husband can’t weasel out of it after the fact. If he’s going to act, he needs to act promptly… Of course in Christ, we never have to worry about this.

16 These are the statutes which the Lord commanded Moses, between a man and his wife, and between a father and his daughter in her youth in her father’s house.

A. Summary…

Numbers 31 (NKJV)
1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”

A. [Review context] From Ch 22-24, Balaam tried & failed to curse the Hebrews… In Ch 25, he got them to curse themselves by falling into idolatry because of the women of Midian… Got so bad that one of the leaders was brazenly fornicating in front of the door of the Tabernacle…Phinehas ran him (and the woman) through with a javelin, causing God to stop the plague that was running through the camp.

B. Because of this, God tells Moses to take vengeance on the Midianites. Take vengeance for the Lord? Can we do that? (Vengeance is the Lord’s – Rom 12:19) Because it’s the Lord’s, He can exact it through whatever means He so pleases. Uses the pagan Babylonians to discipline His children in the captivity…chooses to use Israel for this purpose. [] Technically speaking, God Himself will still be the one to take vengeance as He goes before the army of Israel & gives them a miraculous victory.

a. Keep in mind vengeance isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s bad in the hands of man because it’ll never truly be just. But in the hands of our righteous God, we know it’s ALWAYS just. The very fact that God would take vengeance shows just how righteous He is because sin is punished everywhere it is found. (Which gives us even more reason to praise God that Jesus took our wrath upon Himself!)

C. Moses is going to die after this event…God doesn’t give an exact timeframe. We know that after this point, Moses dictates (or transcribes) the Book of Deuteronomy. But the point is clear; this will be the last major battle that Moses will give leadership to. The next battles to be fought are to take Israel into the Promised Land – and that must happen through Joshua.

a. Keeps the picture intact: the law (Moses) doesn’t save; it prepares us to be saved through Joshua/Yeshua/Jesus! (John 1:17)

3 So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm some of yourselves for war, and let them go against the Midianites to take vengeance for the Lord on Midian. 4 A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.” 5 So there were recruited from the divisions of Israel one thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.

A. Relatively speaking, this is a fairly small number for the Israelite army. Joshua will cross the Jordan with 40K+ for battle. As with Gideon’s 300 men, the point isn’t the numeric strength of Israel, but that the Lord will be fighting for them. God is providing a witness to every one of the 12 tribes of Israel by choosing to use a small representative of them.

6 Then Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to the war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand.

A. Note that the army was not led by Joshua; but by Phinehas. This was a holy war… What did the “holy articles” include? Possibly the Ark, even though not mentioned by name [not everyone agrees here]. The idea is that GOD Himself was leading the way.

B. When we fight our battles against sin, the flesh, and temptation, the worst thing we could do is attempt to fight it in our own power! On our own, we have no strength – as Peter found out when he boldly proclaimed he would “never” deny Jesus (Mark 14:31). On his own he failed; but things were dramatically different after he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2-4)!

i. There’s a reason God calls us to “stand” in battle (Eph 6:13)…so that we would get out of the way & rely on God to fight for us! We don’t go in our power; we go forth in His!

ii. When was the last time you asked God to fill you anew with the Holy Spirit? We need that power every day!

7 And they warred against the Midianites, just as the Lord commanded Moses, and they killed all the males. 8 They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of those who were killed— Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. Balaam the son of Beor they also killed with the sword.

A. Every male killed & every king killed… The sad thing is that this wasn’t even necessary. ‘Midian’ could have been a grouping of different tribes & this branch was associated with Moab; or it was a region of people to the south. Either way, this wasn’t going to be part of the initial conquest…but they forced the issue when they tried to undermine God & His people.

B. Note who else? Balaam! [] How sad that Balaam died in his sin & rebellion! Here’s a man who was blessed and privileged to prophesy for the Lord despite his motives and background…yet he still fought against the Lord & the Lord’s people till the end. []

a. Underscores the importance of repentance… If we simply come to God as a ‘miracle worker’ or for ‘blessing’ we don’t really have a clue that what we most need is salvation. Our pride/ego/self has to die in order that we might be born again…

9 And the children of Israel took the women of Midian captive, with their little ones, and took as spoil all their cattle, all their flocks, and all their goods.

A. This is going to get them into trouble! We don’t have the wording in Scripture, but God’s implication from “vengeance” was that all of the nation would be destroyed in righteous judgment.

10 They also burned with fire all the cities where they dwelt, and all their forts. 11 And they took all the spoil and all the booty—of man and beast. [complete victory]

12 Then they brought the captives, the booty, and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the children of Israel, to the camp in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. 13 And Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation, went to meet them outside the camp. 14 But Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, who had come from the battle.

A. [RECAP] Probably not the reception they expected!

15 And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? 16 Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. 17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately.

A. Before we pass 21st century judgment, we need to try to understand this from Moses’ point of view. These women were the very SAME women who had caused Israel to sin against the Lord, resulting in the death of at least 24K Hebrews. And yet somehow the Hebrew army thought it’d be ok to bring them into the camp… [] They were setting themselves up for another failure!

a. FLEE sexual immorality! Do whatever it takes to stay away from it. It will take you down…

b. Whatever the temptation, beware! We don’t want to get cocky & think that we’ve forever conquered its hold in our life. (WE didn’t conquer anything; Jesus did!) 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 (12) Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (13) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. [] There’s always a way of escape…even if it’s running out the door naked like Joseph! (Gen 39)

18 But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately.

A. Cruelty? Chauvinism? Or mercy? Mercy! Any woman who had not been with a man was provably innocent of the crime of Balaam. Since they didn’t participate, Moses is sparing their lives.

19 And as for you, remain outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person, and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. 20 Purify every garment, everything made of leather, everything woven of goats’ hair, and everything made of wood.”

A. The war may have been commanded, but that doesn’t mean purification wasn’t needed. Remember death is a picture of the result of sin & that must be dealt with before coming to God in worship…

a. It’s no different with us. If there’s sin between us & a brother, we need to leave our gift at the altar (so to speak) & be reconciled 1st (Matt 5:24). If there’s unconfessed sin between you & God; that’s the 1st thing that needs to be addressed before worshipping Him (Ps 32:3-5).

21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who had gone to the battle, “This is the ordinance of the law which the Lord commanded Moses: 22 “Only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, 23 everything that can endure fire, you shall put through the fire, and it shall be clean; and it shall be purified with the water of purification. But all that cannot endure fire you shall put through water. 24 And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day and be clean, and afterward you may come into the camp.”

A. Practical aspect: sanitary issues. Israelites had very specific cleanliness guidelines – but the pagan Midianites did not. Thus whatever could be sanitized or washed needed to be.

B. Spiritual aspect! Israel’s guidelines for cleanliness weren’t merely for their health; it was a demonstration of being set apart by God for His purpose. Purified by:

a. Fire: Our God is a consuming fire & the sheer power of His righteousness burns away impurities in our life.

b. Water: We’re washed by the water of His word…the Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to continually cleanse us and transform us by the renewing of our minds…

25 Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 26 “Count up the plunder that was taken—of man and beast—you and Eleazar the priest and the chief fathers of the congregation; 27 and divide the plunder into two parts, between those who took part in the war, who went out to battle, and all the congregation. 28 And levy a tribute for the Lord on the men of war who went out to battle: one of every five hundred of the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep; 29 take it from their half, and give it to Eleazar the priest as a heave offering to the Lord. 30 And from the children of Israel’s half you shall take one of every fifty, drawn from the persons, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep, from all the livestock, and give them to the Levites who keep charge of the tabernacle of the Lord.”

A. Note the spoil was split into two equal parts; but with a far different distribution. ½ the spoil to the soldiers; ½ the spoil to everyone in the camp. Yet only 12K went to war & 2M+ stayed behind…

a. Everyone takes part in the benefit! When we send missionaries to the field, every single soul that is saved is someone WE were blessed to take part in sharing the gospel with…

b. The ones who go are always the ones most blessed. We don’t share the gospel to be blessed, but it’s impossible NOT to be blessed as we do it… Every teacher learns more of the Scripture as he prepares; every missionary is blessed (even in persecution) as they rely on the Holy Spirit on the field…

c. We don’t do it for a reward; but there IS a reward to consider. (The Bema Seat) 2 Corinthians 5:9-11 (9) Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. (10) For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (11) Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences. []

B. Out of each half, part of the spoil was given to the Lord as an offering…which is only logical since He’s the one Who fought the battle for them.

a. In everything we do, we can give God the “sacrifice of praise” (Heb 13:15) because every thing we have is due to Him! (From the breath we breathed this morning to the gift of everlasting life!)

31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses. 32 The booty remaining from the plunder, which the men of war had taken, was six hundred and seventy-five thousand sheep, 33 seventy-two thousand cattle, 34 sixty-one thousand donkeys, 35 and thirty-two thousand persons in all, of women who had not known a man intimately. [total figures]

36 And the half, the portion for those who had gone out to war, was in number three hundred and thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep; 37 and the Lord’s tribute of the sheep was six hundred and seventy-five. 38 The cattle were thirty-six thousand, of which the Lord’s tribute was seventy-two. 39 The donkeys were thirty thousand five hundred, of which the Lord’s tribute was sixty-one. 40 The persons were sixteen thousand, of which the Lord’s tribute was thirty-two persons. 41 So Moses gave the tribute which was the Lord’s heave offering to Eleazar the priest, as the Lord commanded Moses.

A. The portion for the soldiers & for the Lord….

B. What would the Lord do with the people (the young women)? Probably use them as servants along with the Levites…

a. Did you catch the outpouring of grace here? It’d be easy to look at these women as unwilling slaves to the Levites; but understand what just happened – the descendents of Gentiles who had tried to destroy the Hebrew nation have now been brought into the service of the worship of the Lord!

42 And from the children of Israel’s half, which Moses separated from the men who fought— 43 now the half belonging to the congregation was three hundred and thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep, 44 thirty-six thousand cattle, 45 thirty thousand five hundred donkeys, 46 and sixteen thousand persons— 47 and from the children of Israel’s half Moses took one of every fifty, drawn from man and beast, and gave them to the Levites, who kept charge of the tabernacle of the Lord, as the Lord commanded Moses.

A. The portion from the nation & for the Lord…

48 Then the officers who were over thousands of the army, the captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, came near to Moses; 49 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. 50 Therefore we have brought an offering for the Lord, what every man found of ornaments of gold: armlets and bracelets and signet rings and earrings and necklaces, to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.”

A. Note this was not an offering commanded by the Lord; this was a freewill offering from the army officers. They recognized God’s miraculous hand on them as not 1 man’s life was lost in battle – thus they gave even more of the spoil (over and above what was required) to the Lord…

B. It seems they recognized their sin in taking the women back with them & they wanted to atone for it. Obviously God cannot be bought off; He had already made provision for them through Moses…but at this point, the army is just grateful to God.

51 So Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from them, all the fashioned ornaments. 52 And all the gold of the offering that they offered to the Lord, from the captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels. 53 (The men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.) 54 And Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tabernacle of meeting as a memorial for the children of Israel before the Lord.

A. Big offering! Price of gold today is $886.19/oz. 16,750 shekels ~ $28.4M!

B. Remember where this came from: armlets, bracelets, etc…much of which was probably used in pagan worship. Now this was redeemed for the Lord’s work…


Christian, the victory we have in Christ is FAR greater than what the Hebrews experienced against Midian. Jesus didn’t simply pay the wages of sin at the cross; He utterly defeated death the grave through the Resurrection! He completely frees us from the power of sin in our life & we are never backed into a corner and forced to break our word (either to man or God). There’s always a way of escape – either from the trial or through the trial by enduring it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Are you making vows to the Lord you can’t keep? “Lord, I’ll never fail in this again!” Don’t set yourself up for sin or live in failure; live in the freedom that Christ offers through the Cross, Resurrection, and Spirit of God!


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