Destruction of MIDIAN | Numbers 31; Balaam’s donkey; Vengeance on the Midianites and Moabites

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Army of God, ancient history, Bible history, war history, military history, Destruction of Midian, Numbers 31

Bible Battle #9 – C. 1407 BC

Army of God, ancient history, Bible history, war history, military history, Destruction of Midian, Numbers 31

ANCIENT HISTORY before the Destruction of Midian

The events leading up to the war on Midian (Numbers 22-30) are actually complex and take up quite a narrative in Scripture.

Bible Prophecy – BALAAM’S DONKEY

After the campaign east of the Jordan King Balak’s kingdom was the last obstacle before the Promised Land. They were terrorized by the Hebrews due to their victories and their sheer numbers. Balak sent for Balaam, a Midianite sorcerer to put a curse on Israel. Prophets for hire was quite common in antiquity. Whether in house or from outside, these men were brought in for regents to understand the will of their own gods and to curse enemies, particularly treaty breakers. God showed up to Balaam in the middle of this process and persuaded him not to and to bless them instead.

Paradoxically, Balaam can be considered a true prophet in the traditional Biblical sense despite his initial intentions.

Balaam's donkey
In a series of messages Balaam then prophecies the destruction of: Moab, Sheth, Edom, Seir, Amalek, the Kenites by Ashur. He also predicted invasion by powers from the Mediteranean sea which would at first be victorious against Ashur and Eber, but which would eventually also be defeated.

It seemed God was showing that whoever settled in this promised land would be destroyed by

(a) Israel,

(b) by each other or

(c) by forces from far away lands.

The land of Canaan was reserved, set aside, holy, (and wholly) for the Hebrews and so it would be. As Israel was poised to finally invade Canaan, the future boundaries for the land were determined (Deuteronomy 3:8-29).

 ancient Israel borders

With these reports from Balaam, King Balak returned home.


While in Shittim, The Israelites returned to the depravity of worshiping Baal and sexual sin. They were in sin with the Midianite women which were sent by Balaam. The sexual contact was a point of contact for Satan in the guise of Baal of Peor (the local deity). Another point of contact was the eating of meat sacrificed and dedicated to that deity. The spiritual rebellion resulted in Moses purging of a great part of the camp and then a plague that killed off 24,000 people.

God then instructed Moses to recruit fighters against Midian in holy revenge because they had shown themselves to be enemies. The instructions were specific to wipe them out.


The Army was ready and better than ever its strength in number was maintained while its fighting ability was no doubt better. The previous generation had come running out of Egypt.

This generation had come fighting into the wilderness which had served as an anvil to forge a formidable fighting force. This, however, was not a testament to the success of the people but only to God’s grace. The previous generation was to take Canaan with minimal force but cowered under bad reports from spies (Hormah). This generation was worthy for War because the destiny ahead of it was war, but this was not God’s preferred destiny.

Nevertheless, here they were and the last bastions before Canaan was ready to be toppled.

  CONFLICT BACKGROUND leading to the Destruction of Midian

The Midianites were in alliance with the Moabites against the Hebrews for fear of invasion. God commanded Moses to gather 1000 fighers from each tribe of Israel. This was an impressive force. It was the equivalent of two legions of the future Roman army. More impressive was the fact that the people of Israel were by this time far north, ready to cross over to the Promised Land and Moses instructed, what can only be described, at this stage, as an expeditionary force, to march hundreds of kilometres back south to deal with this enemy.
Phinehas son of Eleazar was put in charge of holy vessels and the signalling bugles. Archaeologist Tudor Parfitt suggests that these holy vessels may refer to portable versions of the Ark of the Covenant that were used in battle while the golden ark remained in the tabernacle.

  MILITARY HISTORY of the Destruction of Midian

The attack on Midian went on with unprecedented fury. Every single enemy soldier was killed including their kings Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba and the sorcerer Balaam.

The towns were burned and the women and children were spared as plunder, against Moses’ instructions.

In return to their camp on the eastern bank of the River Jordan, Moses admonished the officers for having spared the women, responsible for leading the people into sexual sin as directed by Balaam. Moses reiterated the order to kill all women, specifying the ones who had slept with men and leaving the virgins alive.

The priest Eleazar instructed the men to clean themselves before returning to the camp following the provisions in Leviticus.


Moses told the people to split the plunder they had taken from the Midianites. The wealth was to be distributed to the people and soldiers. A portion to be turned over to Eleazar as a tax to God and another part to the Levites, who were the priests in charge of the Tabernacle and, altar, the temple.

The plunder taken by the Israelites was: 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys  and 32,000 virgins women. This was the last main task God had for Moses before his death. Moses was loyal until the end. Even after his great letdown of being barred from Canaan and God having refused his further pleas, Moses was still obedient to the end. Moses died and was buried at Mount Nebo.

One of the general rules of war is that one wins by destroying the enemy, not by taking territory. Taking enemy positions are only valuable insofar as they serve to ultimately accomplish the final destruction of one’s enemy.

Disregarding the Lord’s instructions, the people failed to destroy all the Midianites at first but then settled on killing all the Midianite women who had slept with the Hebrew men. The rest they were allowed to keep for themselves. This was not God’s initial wish. The fact that Israel had control of the land did not matter in the long run as Midian would continue to be a thorn in nation’s flesh years later.

After the battle a tithe from the huge plunder collected from the officers and brought into the tent.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE in the Destruction of Midian

The Hebrews had not even invaded Canaan, they had not even began their official history, and we already see this pattern where, at some point after a victory, they go back to where they had come from.

Proverbs 26:11: As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

42 years earlier they had been at the entry point to the promised land, where God had originally intended for them to invade, and they grumbled and wanted to return to Egypt. Now, after the resulting 42 years sojourn in the wilderness, they were again at another entry point into Canaan. God wanted them to clear their past before moving forward.The people were seduced by the Midianite worshippers, partially because of Balaam but it was always their choice. This happened during a period when they were being edified by further instruction which God was proclaiming through Moses. It was, in a way, a period of repentance. Just as they crawled out of the last hole they willingly went into, Satan, relentlessly led the Hebrews into sexual depravity. When God works on one end, Satan often works on the other, especially when he knows that the people can be turned, as was unfortunately often the case with the Hebrews. If only the people had not given into their flesh the Devil would never win.


After the cleaning of the camp by Moses’ there was disease that attacked the people. It seems like those who did not keep holy had to die before entering the Promised Land.This had happened before the wilderness, when the spies had been sent out. When the people had rebelled they had to die out
in the wilderness before the new generation was allowed into the promised land.Before that, in Egypt, the people that did not show themselves ready for the exodus and disregarded Moses’ instruction regarding the Angel of Death also suffered.It is clear that while God does not send calamity on to his people, He Will not take them into the next level if they do not show themselves approved and are not prepared for it. The Midianites were very far south and far away from even the future frontiers of Israel. Their existence could not, militarily, consistute an enemy threat behind the lines. The fact that God had the clear intention in wiping out Midian shows His great priority in keeping any unholiness far from his chosen people


On looking at the results of the second census, it is remarkable to see that there is but a negative 0.3% change in total. The Levis were not counted. Perhaps if they were the change may have even been 0%. This statistic is a testament to God’s grace. In the natural it would be impossible to appreciate these results any other way. God effectively waited until the number of people were replenished to the original level that was intended to cross into Canaan.The leadership too did not remain vacant. Since Moses had disqualified himself from entering into the land (because of the Waters of Meribah), God made sure the new generation had a new leader in Joshua.God’s promises cannot be reversed. He will wait as long as it takes for them to come to pass, even if we are the reason they don’t. He has all the time in the world. He created time. If a person does not take up the mantle given to them God always finds someone who does. In this case He found an entire new generation to replace the previous one and a new leader for it. God looks at the heart, not at the outside (1 Samuel 16:7). He prioritizes faith, not people (Romans 2:11).


God  could have ordered the destruction of the Midianites at any point but He didn’t. It was not until they proved a real threat to His people that he commanded them to attack. God does not condone excess of zeal in conquest but He will not tolerate the pollution of the holiness He has commanded His people to keep by an outside population under the influence of Satan through Baal.

It is said that there is no such thing as half a battle won. By not eradicating the Midianites completely, Israel once again left the door open to social and military grief later in their history. Half obedience is disobedience. This was the same attitude King Saul later had which was an early sign of his downfall.The men had fought their enemy, Midian. Many had fought for victory. By not carrying through with the completion of their strategic objective the survivors had dishonoured:

(a) The Lord their God.

(b) Their fallen comrades.

(c) Their country.

Moses was great military leader because he followed orders. He used his natural abilities the best way he knew but he had always left the overall strategy to the Father.


As Christians we fully expect God to return to us what we give. Our own offering is a part of the blessing we have inherited from Abraham because it:(a) affirms that we are in the blessing and(b) initiates the process by sowing seed.  We had nothing to give God in return for his sacrifice of Jesus except our worst: our sin. God loved us so much that he gave his only son for nothing except for us. The application is that we should give to God what is precious to us. When we do that we trust God and we have faith. For someone with $10 to give $5 is precious. Incidentally, although giving up a habitual sin is not an offering the principle is similar. We give up a sin trusting God that we will have something fart better in return.

BIBLE BATTLE on LOCATION around theDestruction of Midian

Wilderness of Paran facing East. Mount Seir range visible, beyond which the Israelites marched southward to attack the Midianites.

outpost near Jordanian border just north of Eilat. A few kilometres beyond the plateau was Joshua’s axis of advance

Port of Aqaba in Saudi Arabia (Midian) with oil tanks visible beyond the first mountain range.



WORLD HISTORY TIMELINE at the Destruction of Midian

Events in History

Below is a history of the World timeline pertaining to the Ancient Middle East joined with the history of the Bible.

bible timeline, world history timeline, ancient history, Bible history, religious wars, military history

This world history timeline shows ancient calendars dates prior to 664 BC based on Rohl’s New Chronology. For a detailed explanation on the coherence of the Bible history timeline with other ancient history events please refer to our chapter “Chronological Discrepancies” for clarification.


[next Bible battle: “Occupation of Gilead“;  main INDEX]
Occupation of GILEAD | Numbers 32; Vengeance on Midianites and Moabites; Preparing Invasion of Canaan
Battle of EDREI - King Sihon - King Og - Giants in the Bible

2 Comments on “Destruction of MIDIAN | Numbers 31; Balaam’s donkey; Vengeance on the Midianites and Moabites”

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