This week's Torah portion discusses how critical spoken words can be. As a matter of fact, volumes could be written about the very first verse in Numbers 30! Here we see YHWH's instructions regarding the making of vows.
Numbers 30: 1 Then Moshe spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Isra'el. He said, "Here is what ADONAI has ordered: 2 when a man makes a vow to ADONAI or formally obligates himself by swearing an oath, he is not to break his word but is to do everything he said he would do.
YHWH takes oaths very seriously, especially ones that were made to Him! Today, contracts don't seem to hold any meaning anymore because, many believe contracts were made to be broken and/or re-written to suit a certain purpose. Even many couples who are married in church and pledged to stay together "unto death" demonstrate instead that they didn’t take their oath very seriously, and end up divorced.
Unbeknownst to them, the vows made before YHWH stand, regardless! YHWH doesn't care what the reasoning, whether simple carnal desire or profit of some kind. A contract is a contract. (Yes, there are certain grounds for divorce, according to Torah, but every effort must be made to restore the marriage, first.) We are to hold to our word. Scripture tells us that every word that comes from our mouth has consequences!
Remember the story about Bil'am in Numbers 22-24, who was originally hired to put a curse on Israel, but was ultimately forced to do YHWH's will, instead? Well, check out Numbers 31:8 which tells us he was killed by the sword! Bil'am was NOT a good man, and YHWH intervened to use for good what Bil'am had originally meant for evil.
Words...oaths...curses. We are told to guard our mouths and even to take every thought captive (Psalm 141:3, Proverbs 21:23, 2 Corinthians 10:5, etc).
In the remainder of chapter 30 we see that YHWH holds women to a little different standard. Her vows don't actually stand unless sanctioned by a male figure/head of the house. Although this idea would anger some women today, the fact remains, YHWH made women to be man's companion/helpmate (Genesis 2:18-25). This does not mean she is a "second-class citizen"; rather it means YHWH has a certain hierarchy for human families. Two people cannot be "head" of a family; they need to share the responsibilities, but one must be the final decision maker. YHWH has always expected males to be the "heads" of their homes. Today, with the world basically "turned upside-down" and mankind having veered from Torah, many men have allowed themselves to become the "helpmate" while the women in their lives have usurped the men's responsibilities.
Moving on to Numbers 31, we see YHWH commanding the Children of Israel to take vengeance against the Midyanites for their role in plotting the moral destruction of Israel (through the evil counsel of Bil'am (Balaam of Beor)). Led by Pinchas, 12,000 Israelite warriors (1,000 from each tribe) attacked and killed every male Midyanite - including the arch enemy Bil'am and the five kings of Midyan:
Numbers 31: 1 ADONAI said to Moshe, 2 "On behalf of the people of Isra'el, take vengeance on the Midyanim. After that, you will be gathered to your people." 3 Moshe said to the people, "Equip men from among yourselves for war. They are to go and fight Midyan, in order to carry out ADONAI's vengeance on Midyan. 4 You are to send to the war a thousand men from every one of Isra'el's tribes." 5 So out of the thousands of people in Isra'el, a thousand armed men from each tribe, 12,000 altogether, were mustered for war. 6 Moshe sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war; he sent them and Pinchas the son of El'azar the cohen to the war, with the holy utensils and the trumpets for sounding the alarm in his care.
NOTE: Although it may appear in Numbers 31:3-5 that Levites may have been counted among those who were mustered for war, we must remember in the census of Numbers 1, the Levites were NOT counted in the tally of men illegible for military service. So they did not fight against Midyan - and here is why:
If you go back and look at the census numbers in Number 26, you find that the half tribes of M'nasheh and Efrayim were counted separately. (See Numbers 26:28-37) They together totaled 85,200 men - the most of any single tribe. So it could be that the 12,000, (1,000 from each tribe [Numbers 31:5]) included 1000 from M'nasheh, and 1000 from Ephrayim....and the Levites were NOT included in the 12,000 total.
Numbers 31: 7 They fought against Midyan, as ADONAI had ordered Moshe, and killed every male. 8 They killed the kings of Midyan along with the others who were slain - Evi, Rekem, Tzur, Hur and Reva, the five kings of Midyan. They also killed Bil'am the son of B'or with the sword. 9 The people of Isra'el took captive the women of Midyan and their little ones, and they took as booty all their cattle, flocks and other goods. 10 They set fire to all their cities in the areas where they lived and all their camps. 11 They took all the booty, all the people and animals they had captured, 12 and brought the captives, booty and spoil to Moshe, El'azar the cohen and the community of Isra'el in the camp on the plains of Mo'av by the Yarden across from Yericho.
In verses 14-20, we see that Moshe was not happy about this and reprimanded the soldiers for keeping the women alive (since they were the cause of the plague on the Hebrews in the first place). He therefore ordered all the Midyanite women and boys to be executed (though the 16,000 virgin girls were made slaves). This whole scenario reveals how very adamant YHWH is about purity and morality!
The soldiers who were unclean because contact with the dead, were then required to stay outside the camp for seven days to undergo ritual purification. All of their garments and the spoils of ware were cleansed according to Eleazar the High Priest's instructions. Every garment, every vessel of hide, everything made of that which comes from goat hair, and every vessel of wood, was to be purified. Only the gold, and the silver, the copper, the iron, the tin, and the lead was to be passed through fire for purification. They were to immerse their garments on the seventh day and for purification; afterward they could enter the camp.
The spoils of war were then divided equally between the warriors and entire congregation. After their victory where not a single one of YHWH's people was killed, the soldiers contributed 1/50th of their spoils to the Levites and made an additional freewill offering at the Tabernacle.
Numbers 31:21-24 teaches the methods by which the utensils taken or bought from non-Hebrews can be made kosher. If there is no problem other than contamination, immersion in a mikveh (water cleansing) is sufficient, but utensils used in cooking and eating had to be purged of any absorbed taste or non-kosher residue still on the surface.
(As an aside, heat causes the pores of metal to expand which causes the absorption of the taste of the foods that came in contact with it. To remove what has been absorbed, the utensil must first be heated again.)
Atheists love to use scriptures such as those in Numbers 31 as proof that YHWH is a "mean God" because He ordered the Israelites to "take vengeance on the Midyanim" (Numbers 31:1-21) and ultimately, to "take all the booty, both people and animals...and divide it" (Numbers 31:25-54). Those who don't know the Torah don't realize that YHWH had a plan for His people to own what is now known as Israel, and that anyone standing in their way (i.e., the Gentiles/pagans/ungodly/those who worshipped "other gods) were nothing more than collateral damage.
In Numbers 32:13-15 we discover why YHWH keeps reiterating His commands:
Numbers 32: 13 Thus ADONAI's anger blazed against Isra'el, so that he made them wander here and there in the desert forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of ADONAI had died out. 14 Now you, another brood of sinners, have arisen in your fathers' place to increase still more the fierce anger of ADONAI toward Isra'el! 15 For if you turn away from him, he will leave them in the desert again, and thus you will cause the destruction of all these people!"
Take a look at these powerful words of the prophet Jeremiah concerning both himself and Israel:
Jeremiah 1: 1 These are the words of Yirmeyahu the son of Hilkiyahu, one of the cohanim living in 'Anatot, in the territory of Binyamin. 2 The word of ADONAI came to him during the days of Yoshiyahu the son of Amon, king of Y'hudah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. 3 It also came during the days of Y'hoyakim the son of Yoshiyahu, king of Y'hudah, continuing until the eleventh year of Tzidkiyahu the son of Yoshiyahu, king of Y'hudah, right up until the time Yerushalayim was carried away captive, in the fifth month. 4 Here is the word of ADONAI that came to me: 5 "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I separated you for myself. I have appointed you to be a prophet to the nations."
6 I said, "Oh, Adonai ELOHIM, I don't even know how to speak! I'm just a child!" 7 But ADONAI said to me, "Don't say, 'I'm just a child.' "For you will go to whomever I send you, and you will speak whatever I order you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you, says ADONAI, to rescue you." 9 Then ADONAI put out his hand and touched my mouth, and ADONAI said to me, "There! I have put my words in your mouth. 10 Today I have placed you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant." 11 The word of ADONAI came to me, asking, "Yirmeyahu, what do you see?" I answered, "I see a branch from an almond tree [Hebrew: shaked]. 12 Then ADONAI said to me, "You have seen well, because I am watching [Hebrew: shoked] to fulfill my word."
13 A second time the word of ADONAI came to me, asking, "What do you see?" I answered, "I see a caldron tilted away from the north, over a fire fanned by the wind." 14 Then ADONAI said to me, "From the north calamity will boil over onto everyone living in the land, 15 because I will summon all the families in the kingdoms of the north," says ADONAI, "and they will come and sit, each one, on his throne at the entrance to the gates of Yerushalayim, opposite its walls, all the way around, and opposite all the cities of Y'hudah. 16 I will pronounce my judgments against them for all their wickedness in abandoning me, offering incense to other gods and worshipping what their own hands made.
17 "But you, dress for action; stand up and tell them everything I order you to say. When you confront them, don't break down; or I will break you down in front of them! 18 For today, you see, I have made you into a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze against the whole land - against the kings of Y'hudah, against its princes, against its cohanim and the people of the land. 19 They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you," says ADONAI, "to rescue you."
Jeremiah 2: 1 The word of ADONAI came to me: 2 "Go and shout in the ears of Yerushalayim that this is what ADONAI says: 'I remember your devotion when you were young; how, as a bride, you loved me; how you followed me through the desert, through a land not sown. 3 "'Isra'el is set aside for ADONAI, the firstfruits of his harvest; all who devour him will incur guilt; evil will befall them," says ADONAI.