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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 7–12
Verses 7–12

Here is, 1. The descent which this little army of Israelites made, under the divine commission, conduct, and command, upon the country of Midian. They warred against the Midianites. It is very probable that they first published their manifesto, showing the reasons of the war, and requiring them to give up the ringleaders of the mischief to justice; for such afterwards was the law (Deut. 20:10), and such the practice, Jdg. 20:12; 13. But the Midianites justifying what they had done, and standing by those that had done it, the Israelites attacked them with fire and sword, and all the pious fury with which their zeal for God and their people inspired them. 2. The execution (the military execution) they did in this descent. (1.) They slew all the males (Num. 31:7), that is, all they met with as far as they went; they put them all to the sword, and gave no quarter. But that they did not slay all the males of the nation is certain, for we find the Midianites a powerful and formidable enemy to Israel in the days of Gideon; and they were the Midianites of this country, for they are reckoned with the children of the east, Jdg. 6:3. (2.) They slew the kings of Midian the same that are called elders of Midian (Num. 22:4), and the dukes of Sihon, Josh. 13:21. Five of these princes are here named, one of whom is Zur, probably the same Zur whose daughter Cosbi was, Num. 25:15. (3.) They slew Balaam. Many conjectures there are as to what brought Balaam among the Midianites at this time; it is probable that the Midianites, having intelligence of the march of this army of Israelites against them, hired Balaam to come and assist them with his enchantments, that if he could not prevail to act offensively in their favour, by cursing the armies of Israel, yet he might act defensively, by blessing the country of Midian. Whatever was the occasion of his being there, God’s overruling providence brought him thither, and there his just vengeance found him. Had he himself believed what he said of the happy state of Israel, he would not have herded thus with the enemies of Israel; but justly does he die the death of the wicked (though he pretended to desire that of the righteous), and go down slain to the pit with the uncircumcised, who rebelled thus against the convictions of his own conscience. The Midianites’ wiles were Balaam’s projects, it was therefore just that he should perish with them, Hos. 4:5. Now was his folly made manifest to all men, who foretold the fate of others, but foresaw not his own. (4.) They took all the women and children captives, Num. 31:9. (5.) They burnt their cities and goodly castles (Num. 31:10), not designing to inhabit them themselves (that country was out of their line), but they thus prevented those who had made their escape from sheltering themselves in their own country and settling there again. Some understand it of their idol-temples; it was fit that they should share in this vengeance. (6.) They plundered the country, and carried off all the cattle and valuable goods, and so returned to the camp of Israel laden with a very rich booty, Num. 31:9; 11, 12. Thus (as when they came out of Egypt) they were enriched with the spoils of their enemies, and furnished with stock for the good land into which God was bringing them.