Scripture: Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, came near to Moses and said to Moses, “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us. And we have brought the LORD’S offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.” Numbers 31:48-50 ESV
Observation: Having granted Israel a landslide victory over the Midianites, we learn from the rest of the narrative that Israel gained an enormous booty of farm animals and articles of precious metals and jewelry from the plunder of war. Before inventorying the haul, Moses directed all the soldiers who took a life or touched the slain to purify themselves and their garments (a seven-day process). After ceremonially cleansing the men and their goods, they divided the spoils among the soldiers and the congregation in a celebratory fashion, with the tribe of Levi’s share going to Eleazar, the priest, as a contribution to the Lord.
Then, the chapter closes out with a most unexpected act of gratitude toward Yahweh. Given how he miraculously protected every life of Israel’s army (not one soldier fell in battle), the officers presented Moses with an offering to the Lord comprised of valuables each man found in the aftermath. And they note that their gifts are to make atonement for themselves before Yahweh (above verses). Our story ends with an epilogue: Moses and Eleazar placed all the gold from the articles into the tent of meeting “as a memorial for the people of Israel before the Lord” (v.54).
Takeaway: Atonement here, as theologian Ronald Allen notes, “would be an offering of expiation in gratitude to God for the gift he made of the lives of those who ordinarily would have died” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Numbers). No other place in Scripture do we read that all Israel’s soldiers survived the course of a battle of this scale. Thus, this event bookends the exodus from Egypt, when all the firstborn males of the Egyptians, and later Pharaoh and his army, supernaturally perished. Similarly, not one Israelite suffered the loss of life. So the beginning and end of Israel’s wilderness wandering mirror each other and set the tone for entering the Promised Land.
Our story also points us forward twelve centuries to the greatest act of atonement. Here, at Calvary, Christ defeated our enemy while ensuring no loss of souls for those who know and love him—present and future generations. And when Jesus returns in glory, he will gain the final victory over Satan and his army (Revelation 19), where there will be no casualties among the Son of God’s angelic forces.
Takeaway? While this story is encouraging when all is well, it is hard to feel gratitude when in the trenches. But we are not alone in our strife. Throughout biblical and church history, godly people have suffered life and limb to fight the good fight against evil. So how should we respond to our God when we struggle to feel grateful? Like Moses and Eleazar, do the groundwork. Memorialize those times we experienced God’s grace, particularly when the Cross of Christ first gripped our hearts, convicting us of how he gave his all for us sinners so that we might have a place with him in his eternal kingdom. And remind ourselves that no matter our circumstances, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 1:18 NIV). Lastly, respond with a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7) by presenting our tithes and offerings and our very lives in sacrificial worship to our Lord (Romans 12:1) as gifts for his atoning work.
Prayer: Father God, we confess we could never pay you back for the atoning gift of your Son. Would you please help us to express our gratitude ongoingly, no matter our circumstances, that we might reveal to the world the glory of his cross and the empty tomb? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling