Messianic Education Trust
(Num 30:2(1) - 36:13)

B'Midbar/Numbers 31:27   And you shall divide the spoil between those who handled the battle - the ones who went out to the army - and between all the assembly.

View whole verse and interlinear translation ...

Who Is ...

Abraham Ibn Ezra: (1089-1167 CE), born in Tudela, Spain; died in the South of France after wandering all around the shores of the Mediterranean and England; a philosopher, astronomer, doctor, poet and linguist; wrote a Hebrew grammar and a commentary on the Bible
Ibn Ezra tells us that the word - a noun derived from the root , to take, so "that which is to be taken" and here translated 'spoil' - is being used here as a catchall term; it refers to everything taken from the battle: spoil, plunder, booty. Gunther Plaut, on the other hand, claims that "this applied only to captured women and cattle, not to other booty, such as food, clothing and trinkets, which the soldiers would keep". He cites verses 31:50-53 where the officers brought all the gold and jewelry that they had collected during the battle as an atonement offering for their lives as none had been lost during the fighting with the kings of Midian, while the individual soldiers "in the ranks, everyone kept his booty for himself" (31:53, JPS). Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch adds that this includes: "all those who have taken in hand the settling of this war. It comprises all those who were in the army, no difference to be made between officers and men".

The spoil is to be divided between those who went out to fight - the phrase , is unique, from the root , to lay hold of, seize or grasp (Davidson), meaning literally "those grasping the battle", which Jacob_Milgrom says is synonymous with the phrase in verse 21, but seems to have a much more graphic image - and the rest of the assembly of Israel. The commentators are concerned about this: why should the non-combatants have a share in the spoils of war when they didn't go out and fight for it? Shouldn't this have been the prerogative of those who risked their lives in the army: a physical reward for their courage and effort? Ovadiah Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno explains that "since this battle was one of vengeance (in retaliation) for what had been done to all of them, (G-d) wanted the promise 'enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy' (D'varim 20:14, JPS) to be fulfilled". The Midianite/Moabite attack planned by Balak and Balaam had been intended to threaten the entire people, so all the people should receive recompense for the effect that the threat had upon their lives. Don Who Is ...

Abravanel: Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508 CE), Statesman and biblical commentator; born in Lisbon, died in Venice; wrote commentaries on the whole of the Hebrew Scriptures
Abravanel offers the inspiring comment that "the tribes who selected the warriors and prayed for their safe return were also entitled to a share"; those who stayed at home and prayed also took part in the real battle, even if they were not part of the physical battle.

Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi offers a typically cryptic comment - "half of it to these and half of it to these", which What Is ...

Sefer Zikaron: A super-commentary to Rashi, written in Tunis by the Spanish rabbi Avraham Lévy-Bakrat in 1507 after being expelled from Spain during the Spanish Explusion of 1492
Sefer Zikaron expands to "you shall divide it in half, not you shall divide it in equal portions". That is to say, The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem is not telling Moshe to divide it into lots of individual equally sized portions for every soldier and every member of the community; rather, he is to split it in half and let the two groups allocate their portion between themselves.

In the stories of David's wilderness years, one narrative block (1 Sam 30) relates an occasion when the Amalekites raided and plundered Ziklag, the city where David and his men were living. David and his men pursued the Amalekites and destroyed them, retaking all the plunder and more. Some of David's men did not want those who had stayed behind to have any of the plunder, save what was returned to them as their own, but David insisted that "The share of those who remain with the baggage shall be the same as the share of those who go down to battle; they shall share alike" (1 Samuel 30:24, JPS) and although Plaut correctly observes that "no mention is made of the Torah law", the text records that "from that day on it was made a fixed rule for Israel, continuing to the present day" (v. 25, JPS).

The ancient rabbis found another case of shared labour and reward: the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar. They noticed that in his final blessings to his sons (B'resheet 49), Ya'akov blesses Zebulun before Issachar, even though their birth order makes Issachar the older: "Zebulun shall dwell at the shore of the sea; he shall become a haven for ships, and his border shall be at Sidon. Issachar is a strong donkey, crouching between the sheepfolds" (B'resheet 49:13-14, ESV), which is then repeated by Moshe: "Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out, and Issachar, in your tents" (D'varim 33:18, ESV). In the Midrash, they concluded that "Zebulun engaged in commerce while Issachar studied the Torah, and Zebulun came and provided him with sustenance ... Issachar gathered [knowledge] while Zebulun brought [merchandise] in ships, sold it, and provided him with all his needs" (B'resheet Rabbah 99:9). Quoting "She is a tree of life to them that uphold her" (Proverbs 3:18), they deduce that Zebulun - who "engaged in commerce and supported Issachar, who was devoted to Torah" (B'resheet Rabbah 98:12) - would share in the rewards of Issachar's study and learning: "Zebulun with his merchandise, and Issachar with his learning, partners together in this world and in the World to Come" (B'resheet Rabbah 97).

Yeshua looks towards the same understanding when He says, "The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward" (Matthew 10:41, ESV). If someone helps a prophet or a righteous person in their labours, they will receive the same reward as that prophet or righteous person does for that work. This is a principle much employed by missionary organisations, who encourage their supporters to 'partner' with them in the work: the supporter enables or funds the work, the mission worker does the work and both are rewarded as both are necessary for the task to be performed. Similarly, those who provide prayer support rather than financial support: they too 'partner' in the work and so receive a reward as well as the person or organisation that actually carries out the vision.

Although some would object to the idea of seeking a reward for serving Yeshua, His people or the Body of Messiah, it is nevertheless apparent that the Scriptures do promote both the existence and the appropriate seeking of reward. Yeshua says, "Pay attention! I am coming soon, and My rewards are with Me to give to each person according to what he has done" (Revelation 22:12, CJB), while the parable of the sheep and the goats hinges precisely on what the two groups of people have, or have not, done. Rav Sha'ul, writing to the believers in Corinth told them, "Let each one be careful how he builds ... some will use gold, silver or precious stones in building on this foundation; while others will use wood, grass or straw" (1 Corinthians 3:10,12, CJB). Everything will be tested by fire, but "if the work someone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward; if it is burned up, he will have to bear the loss: he will still escape with his life, but it will be like escaping through a fire" (vv. 14-15, Bibl(CJB)). While some Christian commentators say that this is the reward of grace, the reward of inheritance and none other than the gift of eternal life, others protest that eternal life is indivisible - one either has or does not have it, not a half or fraction of it - so Sha'ul must be talking about something else: a positive reward over and above eternal life to be enjoyed by those who have built well and earned it. This approach matches Yeshua's parable of the talents: those who have doubled their original investment not only keep the talents, but are placed in charge of a proportionate number of cities.

So whether you are one who is on the front-line, fighting on a daily basis to extend the borders of the Kingdom of G-d, or whether you are second-line logistics and support, helping to finance, train, supply or resource those who are grappling with the warfare; whether an intercessor, daily bringing the peoples of G-d, their needs and missions before the throne of Grace to beg or demand divine action on their behalf; whether a researcher, developing models, proving texts or documenting events to provide a firm foundation upon which the battle may be joined; or whether you are in leadership - command and control - helping to discern G-d's strategic directions and implement them in this world, everyone has a vital part to play and everyone gets to share in the rewards of serving the King. Every team member - from the humblest foot-soldier, chair-arranger or floor-sweeper, through the ranks of officers, leaders, administrators and back-room boffins, right up to the generals directing strategy and leading whole movements - is looking for the reward of hearing the Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into your Master's joy!" (Matthew 25:23).

Further Study: Isaiah 62:10-12; Matthew 24:45-47

Application: How can you fully play your part today in the enterprise of the kingdom, knowing that you are critical to the endeavour and yet free to willingly serve the King?

© Jonathan Allen, 2014

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