Numbers 29-32: Harvest festival, massacre of Midianites, sex slavery

Detailed rules on how to observe Sukkot, the harvest festival, on the 10th day of the 7th month.  For example, on the first day the priests must sacrifice as a burnt offering a bull, a ram, 7 lambs, and meal offering.  In addition, they must sacrifice a goat for a purification offering.  The number and type of sacrifices are then given for all 8 days of the festival.  The LORD then turns to the matter of vows.  When males make a vow, they must fulfill it.  When females make a vow, they do not have to keep it if their father or husband object on the day they find out.  If they find out and don’t object on that day, they must keep the vow.

The LORD commands Moses to defeat the Midianites.  Moses organizes a military expedition, taking 1000 from each tribe.  The expedition kills all the males, but spares the females.  Moses is angry that they spared the females and orders all of them to be killed, except for the virgins, who are to become slaves.  Following the LORD’s orders, the 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 asses, and 32,000 girls are split equally between the combatants and the other Israelites, with some dedicated to the sanctuary.

The Reubenites and the Gadites ask to settle on land to the east of the Jordan, which had just been conquered.  Moses agrees, but on the condition that they fight with the other Israelites to conquer Canaan before settling on the land.

Commentary:

  • Even though 29:12 says that Sukkot lasts 7 days, 29:35 begins with “on the eighth day…”  This contradiction has caused much confusion in Jewish legal texts
  • The Priestly source, who describes the defeat of the Midianites, reveals its view of military campaigns.  Specifically, the priests have a key role to play, men and non-virgin women must be killed, and virgin women may be kept as sex slaves.  After the war, the combatants must cleanse themselves and all objects (31:19-23).  Some booty must be reserved for the Levites and the sanctuary.
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