Weekly Parashah Articles

Matot

Matot begins with oath decrees, and then describes the revenge that God commands to take over the Midianites. “Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gatherd to your people.

”Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’S vengeance on Midian (Num 31:2-3).[1] 

Full Vengeance for the Sons Equals the LORD’S Vengeance  

It is striking how the revenge or vengeance is described in the text. In verse two Moses speaks about the revenge for the sons of Israel, whereas in verse three this revenge is called "the vengeance of the LORD." Zechariah’s prophecy explains this phenomenon,

For thus says the LORD of hosts, “After glory He has sent Me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye… (Zech 2:8).

The text quoted above informs us that God avenges His people, as if it were the revenge for Him. The Book of Numbers uses the phrases “vengeance for the sons of Israel” and “the LORD’S vengeance” as synonyms, while Zechariah reinforces this idea by talking about touching the apple of His eye. A similar idea is also found in Deuteronomy,

“For the LORD’S portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance.

“He found him in a desert land, And in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye… Deut 32:9-10.

A heartfelt request of king David alludes to this concept as well,

Keep me as the apple of the eye;
Hide me in the shadow of Your wings (Ps 17:8).

It is convenient to justify religious anti-Semitism by adopting the replacement theology. It is pleasant to believe that God rejected the Jews and chose Christians instead. However, God cannot change and cannot have two opinions. Considering that Paul categorically rejects the replacement theology in his letter to Romans, we can be sure that God did not abandon His covenant with the children of Abraham. Therefore, every Christian sooner or later faces the question of the attitude toward Israel. The texts which we have studied are very serious to be neglected, “for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye…”

Reasons for the Revenge

In order to understand God’s plans, one should answer a question, "for which sin did the Israelites took the revenge over the Midianites?"

The answer can be found in Moses’ speech to the officers of the army,

And Moses said to them, “Have you spared all the women?

“Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD (Num 31:15-16).

The women seduced the Israelites and invited them to worship their idols. Thus, these fornication and idolatry were punished.

The biblical text also tells us that Phinehas, the son of the priest, went to war. Why was he sent to war? Phinehas was sent because he previously punished the rebels who campaigned against God.

When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked (Num 25:7-8).

Phinehas did justice, because the Israelite and the Midian lady not only decided to get married as soon as possible without asking parental consent but in addition to that their act was a serious manifestation of the rebellion and denial of the religion established by God in His society. As it was mentioned above, through the women, it was planned to destroy the order of worship established by God and thus destroy the chosen people. The enemies of Israel knew about close connections of the welfare of Israel with the worship of God, and therefore their goal was to terminate this connection. And it was partially achieved since,

Those who died by the plague were 24,000 (Num 25:9).

Because of that God commanded to “be hostile to the Midianites and strike them” (verse 25). This commanded hostility was none other than a punishment for Midianite’s hostility, thus the “measure for measure” principle was implemented.

When the Israelites took the revenge, “they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword” (Num 31:8). This interesting detail provokes a question, “Did Israelites kill Balaam by chance or on purpose?”

The text of Num 31:16 reads “Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD…” therefore the children of Israel knew who had to be punished.

How did Moses know about Balaam's advice? In the absence of news, intelligence and modern technologies for obtaining information, this seems impossible. I suggest that the following principle worked here,

For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light (Mark 4:22).

All Balaam’s negotiations, his cruel plans, and sophisticated schemes became known to Moses and the God’s people. This is very similar to the revelation that Elisha, the prophet of Israel, received from God:

Now the heart of the king of Aram was enraged over this thing; and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you tell me which of us is for the king of Israel?”

One of his servants said, “No, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom” (Kgs 6:11-12).

Contemporary Significance

There are at least two important spiritual lessons which we should learnt from this story.

First Lesson. initially, Balaam, being attracted by the wicked plans of Balak, had to curse Israel. Instead, he blesses God's people. Then, as it becomes clear from the Scriptures, he gave his advice to Balak: and

“…kept teaching [him] to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality” (Rev. 2:14).

Both curse and advice are words, however Balaam deserved the capital punishment for those words. These words were said against God's people, and as we noted at the beginning, against God Himself. For these words the false prophet was severely punished. Have we ever thought that for some words spoken against God and His people one may be punished like Balaam? Today it is difficult to believe in that, and indeed, we live today in a different society. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to remember the words of Messiah,

But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment (Matt 12:36).

Second Lesson. Solomon says,

Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, So a curse without cause does not alight (Prov 26:2).

God has kept, keeps, and will keep those who love Him regardless of attempts of evil individuals to destroy them.

 

Daniel Gordan

 

[1]. Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. www.Lockman.org.

Image: Balaam Prophesies the Glory of Israel by James Tissot. Public domain.