Parashah #42: Mattot (Tribes) B’Midbar (Numbers) 30:2-32:42

Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue

Parashah#42: Mattot (Tribes) B’Midbar (Numbers) 30:2-32-42

Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 1:1-2:3

B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:33-37

This parashah contains three dominate themes: the laws pertaining to vows and oaths, the battle against Midian, and the unexpected request from the tribes of Gad and R’euven to remain just outside the Land and settle the recently conquered territory of the Amorite kings. We will begin with the battle against Midian.

In Moshe’s final days, he is commanded to attack the Midianites. This war was the result of the women’s enticement of the Jewish men into the sin of idolatry consistent with Ba’al worship and the gross immorality in the rituals. The Midianites were descendants of Abraham through Keturah (Gen. 25:1). They were a nomadic tribe and often raided and harassed the tribes of Israel. They conducted raids on camels, quickly attacking then escaping. The Midianites sold Joseph to Potipher (Gen 37:28, 36).  The Midianites were associated with the Amalekites and the Moabites. They were allied with Moab, under the control of Sihon who had already been defeated by Israel.

Moshe commands the people to prepare “anashim” (men) interpreted by Rashi as “righteous people.” This war is the vengeance of HaShem through the Children of Israel. Clearly Midian is to be punished for leading Israel to sin against HaShem, and for arousing His anger against His Chosen Nation. Exacting war against the very people who enticed Israel also forces Israel to confront their own sin. They must kill those with whom they morally collaborated with in Ba’al worship. To prevent any selective amnesia on the part of the Israelites, G-d’s directive to attack Midian is transmitted promptly after the Pinchas episode (Num. 25:16-18). However, the narrative account of this war appears a number of verses later in Num.31, after the census, G-d informing Moshe of his imminent death, and the legislation concerning sacrifices and vows.

Assuming the deferment reflects the execution of the war and not just the narrative is explained by some commentators as being necessary in order to take the census, which is always a good idea when preparing to go to war. However, since the tribes were ordered to send only 1,000 from each, the census was not necessary for this campaign. Furthermore, the wars against Sihon and Og had recently been waged (Num. 21:21-35) without need of a census, and those kings were the mightiest in the region.

Other commentators speculate the Midian war narrative was placed just prior to the petition of Gad and R’euven for the Trans-Jordanian territory (Num. 32) so as to highlight this request. It was Midian’s defeat and the grand amount of booty that vastly increased Israel’s livestock and secured their safety from the remaining regional forces that gave these tribes the idea for this selfish request.

What once sidetracked Lot from choosing the Land now sidetracks R’euven and Gad (Gen. 13:5-13). As firstborns, Gad and R’euven own great herds, and the desire to graze livestock sidetracks them. These tribes settled for less than the perfect will of G-d, not unlike what many of us do during our lives. Although G-d in his unmerited kindness (chesed) often allows us desires that are not in synch with His will, He often allows us to achieve or obtain them, generally resulting in our subsequent repentance and return to the King’s Highway. This may be compared to allowing a child to have a stick horse, when our intent was for them to have a real pony if they had just waited! It is a lesson the child does not easily forget. It would behoove us as the children of G-d to learn early in our lives to wait for His will to be executed and will not “pre-empt” it. This is a lot easier to learn if we have parents who follow Torah and exemplify this attribute of patience as we learn to emulate them.

Let us examine the space between the command to go to war and the narrative, the explanation of which may lie in a different approach than either of the two common lines of thinking. The chapter 25 statement expresses the command with the reason, but does not indicate that it must be imminent. It should be done at the PROPER TIME. After all, timing is everything. In the Chapter 31 narrative, G-d essentially says “do it now” and conclude your life’s work. The postponement may have been connected to HaShem’s telling Moshe he was to be gathered to his people after the war (Num. 31:1). This seems to have served as Moshe’s final marching orders, so to speak. After Midian’s deceptive and seductive ploys against Israel, Moshe’s life would not be complete without the follow-up and execution of G-d’s vengeance on this idolatrous nation; much as the execution of G-d’s vengeance described in Revelation. This war, like the war against hasatan (satan), would signify the critical importance attached to actively fighting evil and help establish the national disposition to perpetually deal with evil in any form; the final battle to be held at Har Meggido (Armageddon). The several issues that followed the war are related to entering the Promised Land and are a summary of sorts as the Book of Numbers nears a close with the last parashah addressing the stages in the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land. Similarly, Revelation closes with the establishment of true peace, the new heaven and earth, and the wedding of Israel to Yahshua. Both accounts clearly describe progressive salvation; not an instantaneous event.

This may also elude to an interesting relationship between Numbers and Deuteronomy. In the latter, Moshe set the command to blot out the remembrance of Amalek at the end of a long narrative addressing the legal code (Deut. 25:17-19), followed by several laws depicting the nation after being established in the Promised Land. These are clearly issues that conclude the book. In the Torah, Amalek and Midian represent two types of evil that must be continually confronted if we are to call ourselves lovers and followers of G-d. Amalek attacked the weak and defenseless (stragglers) of a nation passing by with no provocation. Midian used sexual enticement to seduce a nation that was passing through its region to serve its idolatry. These acts perfectly illustrate cultures that lack minimum standards of conduct, human decency, morality, or sanctity; a total disregard for G-d’s Torah. We must confront such evil with a consistent lifestyle reflecting G-d’s Torah wherever we find ourselves in our daily lives.

The word used to describe the action called for against Midian is niqmat, widely translated as “vengeance.” The biblical meaning of the root word especially when applied to G-d, is invariably related to “judgment” and “exacting retribution,” usually linked to vindication, restoring a lost honor to the victim, or to affording protection to the innocent. Regarding Babylon: “for this is niqmat HaShem, hinaquemu ba, as she has done, do to her” (Jer. 50:15b). Regarding the Philistines: “I will wreak upon them great Niqamot… and they shall know that I am HaShem when I place m niqmat upon them (Ezek. 25:17).  “G-d of Niqamot, appear; rise, Judge of the earth, render retribution to the arrogant… how long shall the wicked exult?” (Ps. 94:1-3).

Moshe became very angry when the troops returned with women captives. After all, it was the women who were used by the Midianites to seduce Israel (Num. 31:15). However, the commanders must have been somewhat confused because Moshe had not explicitly instructed them to kill everyone. Perhaps Moshe thought it common sense for the commanders to kill everyone as they had with Og (Num. 21:33). The commanders should have deduced that since the women were the perpetrators of such widespread seduction of Israel and that the men could be so easily seduced (see Num. 15:37 and the explanation of wearing tzitzit), the women should have been killed also. Subsequently, Moshe instructed them to kill all the male children and the women who had been with a man. The booty was permitted but with strict purification instructions we see only one other place in the Torah. El’azar the Cohen tells them “Zot hukat haTorah…” “This is the decree of the Torah” as to how the booty was to be purified. This phrase is only found in the account of the Parah Aduma. Fire described in the process represents testing in the above context, and the water represents the Ruach (Holy Spirit). Several particulars about the war with Midian make it quite unique:

1.     The Covenant element was highlighted by the differing, but mutually coordinated, designations. HaShem termed it “niqmat b’nai Ysra’el.”  Israel’s neqamu (Num. 31:2) while Moshe referred to it as “niqama heh” HaShem’s nequama (Num. 31:3), each party focused on and concerned for the status of the other.

2.     Y’hoshua, who shortly before had been designated to be the successor to Moshe (Num. 27:22-23), it is not mentioned in any capacity in conjunction with this campaign. This, despite the fact that he was a willing military leader who led the battle against Amalek (Ex. 17:13) and who would lead Israel in future battles. Another unusual feature of this war is that there was no specifically appointed military commander as Moshe addresses the heads of units (Num. 31:14). Indeed, HaShem was the Commander in Chief.

3.     Pinchas was sent by Moshe to accompany the army, not as a commander, but “with sacred vessels and the trumpets for sounding the blasts in his hands.” (Num. 31:6). It is thought that “Sacred vessels” refers to the Holy Ark with the tablets inside, which would directly invoke the Covenant. Others consider them to be the Urim V’Tumim, the vehicle through which Divine guidance was provided as questions were asked of G-d.  Perhaps it was all of these. This was a battle in which the sanctuary and its spiritual armaments was quite prominent.

4.     There was not one casualty mentioned from among the Israelites.

5.     The booty was of staggering proportions.

6.     None of these features were mentioned in conjunction with the wars at Shihon and Og, which occurred in the 40th year, not long before this battle.

7.     There is no mention of the war with Midian in Deuteronomy as there is of the wars with Sihon and Og (Deut. 1:4; 2:31), despite the miraculous features described. Also interesting is that after Moshe’s death, Rahab who lived in Jericho, a city in the Jordan valley close to the plains where Israel was then encamped, mentioned the battles against Sihon and Og, but not the battle against Midian (Josh. 2:10).

8.     The booty was divided equally between soldiers and people. The soldiers contributed from their share terumah to the High Priest in the ratio of 1:500 while the people contributed to the Levites, guardians of the sanctuary, in the ratio of 1:50. Terumah is a heave offering which is a type of Korban (Biblical sacrifice), which specifically means a tithe. The term heave offering refers to the fact that such offerings were heaved or lifted above the altar, as opposed to being waved around it. Interestingly, the total contributions of the tree animal species described equal 8888. This indicates that in accordance with the symbolism of the number eight, this battle and victory possess a Covenantal connection:


Booty                         50%                         1:500                   1:50
Sheep 675,000           337500                     675                           6750

Cattle   72,000             36,000                      72                             720

Donkeys 61,000          30,500                       61                             610


808,000         404,000                  808                             8080 = 8888

Eight= Sh’moneh from the root Shin Mem Nun (Shah’meyn) “to make fat,”

“cover with fat,” “to super abound.” As the number “7” represents

perfection, completion, and rest, “8” represents over and above this

perfect completion.

Haftarah: Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) 1:1-2:3

In this haftarah, we are assured as was Jeremiah, that our G-d is with us and will rescue us IF we are but obedient with heartfelt intent to G-d’s Torah (1:6-8). We are reminded that “Israel is set aside for Adonai, the first fruits of His harvest; all that devour him will incur guilt; evil will befall them.” (2:3). However, we are also reminded of how far Israel had fallen away from G-d and that He pronounce His judgments against Israelites and anyone else who abandons Him and chooses his own way.

B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:33-37

This section reiterates the importance of vows, a subject addressed at the beginning of our parashah. We must follow through with our choice to either do something we promise to do or not do that which we vowed not to do. The commentators say that vows can be used to prohibit something that is permitted, but not to make permitted, that which is prohibited. For the believer, we know that all our vows are made before G-d as we are His representatives on this earth. Yahshua takes the issue of vows to another level, teaching us that it is better not to make a vow at all, rather than making a vow that we may not keep (Ecc. 5:1-6). After all, only G-d knows what will happen to us from one second to the next. It is actually arrogant for us to make any vow. It is in our best interest to pray, study, internalize and live G-d’s Torah from day to day, making it our second nature and increasing our ability through G-d’s strength and power to live what we say we believe.

One other point of interest is that using the Hebrew numeric system of Gematria, the phrase “V’lo nifkad me’menoo ish: “and not one man was missing” (31:49) is 718. The numeric value of La’avairot (for sins) is also 718. This alludes to the idea that none of the fighters had fallen because of the sin of not trusting in YHVH Elohim.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Tamah Davis