Can somebody explain the time gap between Numbers 25, which goes into detail about how the Moabite/Midianite coalition enticed the Israelites into sinning, resulting in about 24,000 deaths and concluding with God's call to avenge them, and Numbers 31, where the avenging of the Israelites actually take place via war against Midian?

I honestly do not understand why, with 24,000 Israelite deaths, Moses (and God) seems to procrastinate in warring against Midian.

  • It goes to show, doesn’t it, that the Israelites were only allowed to act if God allowed it. And God asked them to do battle and execute the Lord’s vengeance, in His time, so that Israel could be avenged. If it were up to them they’d have certainly done it sooner. Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 3:07
  • But at the end of Numbers 25, God literally calls on Moses to prepare for a war against Midian. Is it possible that Moses didn't feel like it at the time so God respected his wishes and only brought it up again when Moses could see that these Midianite criminals were hardened? Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 3:48
  • It says that first they were to vex/harass them and then strike them. Those are two separate actions. If anything they were being obedient on both accounts Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 10:18
  • Separate actions like as in separate events in Numbers 25 and 31? Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 10:31
  • Right, to harass someone is different than to going to war and annihilating them. One is a form of annoyance the other is termination of life. Those are two different things. So they first vexed them and when God said it was time they went to war. I guess that was the strategy God had. Commented Jun 1, 2019 at 11:10

2 Answers 2


For perspective, it is interesting to remember a few facts about the land of Midian.

  1. Midian was the refuge to which Moses fled when escaping Egypt, and he had spent 40 years in Midian as a shepherd prior to leading the Israelites out from Egypt. (See Exodus 2:15.)

  2. Moses' wife and father-in-law were Midianites, the latter being a priest and prince of Midian who worshiped God. (See Exodus 3:1.)

  3. The Midianites were descendants of Abraham. (See Genesis 25:1-2.)

It is also helpful to realize what the Midianites had actually accomplished with the people of Israel.

Balaam had prophesied:

He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them. (Numbers 23:21, KJV)

It was because of this lack of "iniquity" that Israel was protected by God--and the king of Moab and Balaam were quick to catch on to this. So Balaam, in order to secure a promising reward, suggested a means by which Israel might be enticed to sin.

The Israelites, for their part, innocently and naively walked straight into the trap--for they knew that Balaam was a prophet of God, and they trusted him.

At the Moabite festival to which Israel was invited, there was a great feast, and plenty of wine to drink. The wine clouded their judgment, and the men fancied the beauty of the vestals. The Moabite women played a crucial role in debasing these Israelites, reducing them to flagrant immorality.

Having already violated their conscience, the Israelites were next led to idolatry, and joined in the idolatrous rites of the Midianites.

It was at this point that Moses was alerted to the trouble; and he was incensed--as was God. Judgments in Israel came swiftly, and the plague killed tens of thousands in Israel (see Numbers 25:9). As the people realized the magnitude of their sin, they felt the judgments to have been fair, and came with tears of repentance to the sanctuary to seek God's pardon.

While this was happening--the judgments still falling, and the people still crying and seeking a restoration of God's favor, Zimri, the son of one of the princes in Israel (see Numbers 25:14), came into the camp boldly leading one of the Midianite harlots to his tent. The woman, Cozbi, was the daughter of a well-respected leader in Midian (see vs. 15). As the Bible says: "And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand; And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel" (verses 7-8).

Only after God's favor was restored to Israel could they have hoped to succeed in avenging themselves on Midian.

And this was speedily done.

Phinehas, the one whose actions had ended the plague, himself helped to organize the companies of soldiers to war against Midian under Moses' direction.

The account of this starts with taking a census of each of the tribes, and tallying the men of war. The census ends with the remarkable detail that of all those remaining, the only two adults left from the original multitude which left Egypt under Moses, were Caleb and Joshua. The forty years were ended.

64 But among these there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest numbered, when they numbered the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai.

65 For the LORD had said of them, They shall surely die in the wilderness. And there was not left a man of them, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun. (Numbers 26:64-65, KJV)

Having numbered the people, God settled a few matters with the people of Israel with respect to how they were supposed to worship Him (in contrast to the idolatry from which they had just repented), including the type of festival for the LORD which they were to conduct, as well as the manner in which they were to keep their promises to God. This instruction surely did not take very long: even with several chapters allocated for this, it may have been completed within a day or two.

The very next thing to occur is the war against Midian, in which Balaam is also slain.

And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand. (Numbers 31:6, KJV)


The judgment against Midian actually did come swiftly. It was not delayed for any unnecessary reason. As soon as the people had regained God's favor, they were commissioned to go up against Midian. Midian was the very first nation against which Israel warred after the 40 years in the wilderness were completed--having been its most dangerous enemy.


Just a comment.

This area of the Exodus story is very farfetched. On one side, Midian is a legendary son of Abraham. From another, Moses escapes from Egypt after killing an Egyptian and knows that Midianites are relatives. How so? After 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Plus, the Midianites themselves would remember the Hebrews.

In the second part of the story, the Hebrews attack the Midianites because of their sinfulness. Didn't Moses know about it in his 40 years living with them? And in Judges, Gideon destroys them completely. Again, were they not relatives somehow?

  • Welcome. It looks like an interesting explanation. Please consider adding some quotes so that people can follow your reasoning. Commented Jan 21 at 2:03
  • Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 21 at 2:03
  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Commented Jan 21 at 4:26
  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 24 at 3:08
  • Moses and his followers were anti-sin and sought to destroy it. It didn't matter if they were part of his group, like with the Golden Calf massacre, or they were related like the Midianites. In fact, those who were "closer" to God and his people were judged more severely, according to Matthew 11:20-24. Commented Jan 31 at 4:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.