Lent Devotion for March 4, Third Sunday in Lent
Reader: "Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites.”
Response: “After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
SCRIPTURE: Numbers 31:1–18
1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people.”
3 So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the Lord’s vengeance on them. 4 Send into battle a thousand men from each of the tribes of Israel.” 5 So twelve thousand men armed for battle, a thousand from each tribe, were supplied from the clans of Israel. 6 Moses sent them into battle, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar, the priest, who took with him articles from the sanctuary and the trumpets for signaling.
7 They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. 8 Among their victims were Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur and Reba—the five kings of Midian. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 9 The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. 10 They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps. 11 They took all the plunder and spoils, including the people and animals, 12 and brought the captives, spoils and plunder to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the Israelite assembly at their camp on the plains of Moab, by the Jordan across from Jericho.
13 Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. 14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle.
15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
Reader: "The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
This is a fascinating passage on many fronts! We’ll work our way through section by section. God speaks to Moses and announces judgment on the Midianites. They had led the people of Israel astray through vile, immoral pagan worship. Their elders had also joined Balak in hiring Balaam to curse Israel. The consequences of drawing God’s people into sin and idolatry had arrived. They were to be destroyed. But then, the Lord does something for Moses He seldom does for anyone; He tells him that after the battle he is going to die and join his ancestors! In this phrase “join your ancestors” we have the word of the Lord that there is life after death. Moses will not go into oblivion. He will join Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The truth of life after death occurs throughout the Scriptures. Here is another example. Moses followed God’s instruction and amassed an army with each tribe being equally represented with 1,000 warriors. Their leader was Phineas! Remember him? He was the son of the high priest, Eleazar, son of Aaron who had died earlier. You’ll recall he was the one who zealously speared the Israelite man and Midianite woman who brazenly defied God’s Law and Moses in front of all the people. For Phineas, who later became the high priest upon the death of his father, rebelling against God was to be taken very seriously and leading others into sin demanded retribution. You can imagine his zeal in leading the troops into battle! These Midianites were responsible for leading Israel astray. It is likely the Israelites carried the Ark of the Covenant into battle. The trumpets were used for signaling in war. The Israelite army attacked and wiped out the Midianites. Not a single Israelite soldier was lost in God’s battle. Also among those killed was Balaam, the weaseling diviner who was hired to curse Israel. (Apparently, his donkey was saved as 61,000 donkeys were part of the plunder!! My guess is the donkey spoke up and said, “I didn’t do it!”...maybe not!) The towns were burned to the ground, and thus the names of the towns, often named after pagan gods, were extinguished from memory. The massive plunder of the battle was women and children and livestock. When the leaders returned from battle, Moses and Eleazar were furious that the women were allowed to live, since they were primarily responsible in leading Israel into idolatry. All the boys (future soldiers against Israel) and the women who had had intercourse with a man, part of the pagan worship, were killed. The young virgin girls were allowed to live since they had not taken part in the orgy at Baal-peor. They would serve as servant girls. Have you noticed the Bible does not color things beautifully, but tells the truth about how people lived and acted, warts and all? C.S. Lewis once commented that the raw truth of the Bible confirms in his mind of the authority and accuracy of Scripture. It is not a sanitized book where everything turns out wonderful all the time. Live this day with the zeal of Phineas!
"How Deep the Father’s Love for Us" by Fernando Ortega (Watch on YouTube)
O Lord God, Thou art my protecting arm, fortress, refuge, shield, buckler. Fight for me and my foes must flee; uphold me and I cannot fall; strengthen me and I stand unmoved, immoveable; equip me and I shall receive no wound; stand by me and Satan will depart; anoint my lips with a song of salvation and I shall shout thy victory; give me abhorred of all evil, as a vile monster that defies thy law, casts off thy yoke, defiles my nature, spreads misery. May I discern the deadly viper in its real malignity, tear it with holy indignation from my breast, resolutely turn from its every snare, refuse to hold polluting dalliance with it. Then may I cling more closely to thy broken self, adhere to thee with firmer faith, be devoted to thee with total being, detest sin as strongly as thy love to me is strong, and my holiness is the atmosphere in which I live.
- from The Valley of Vision, p.100