Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.
And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the LORD of Midian.
avenge the Lord
It was God's quarrel, not their own, that they were now to take up. These people were idolaters, and had seduced the Israelites to practise the same abominations. Idolatry is an offence against God; and the civil power has no authority to meddle with what belongs to Him, without especial directions, certified, as in this case, in the most unequivocal manner. Private revenge, ambition, or avarice were to have no place in this business: Jehovah is to be avenged; and through Him, the children of Israel, (ver. 2,) because they were nearly ruined by their idolatries. If Jehovah, instead of punishing sinners by earthquakes, pestilence, or famine,is pleased expressly to command any person or people to avenge his cause, this commission justifies, nay sanctifies, war, massacre, or devastation. Though none at present shew such a commission, yet the Israelites could; and it is therefore absurd to censure Moses, Joshua, and Israel, for the dreadful slaughter made by them. God himself passed sentence of condemnation, and employed them merely as ministers of his vengeance; and unless it could be proved that the criminals did not deserve their doom, or that God had no right to punish his rebellious creatures, such objectors only shew their enmity to God by becoming the unsolicited advocates of his enemies.
Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.
Of every tribe a thousand
Heb. A thousand of a tribe, a thousand of a tribe. a thousand.
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.
Twelve thousand in all--a small number in proportion to all Israel, or to the forces which they had to encounter. As they were under the conduct of captains of thousands and hundreds, they probably had no general; for Phinehas seems to have accompanied them simply to take charge of "the holy instruments;" probably the ark and silver trumpets.
the holy instruments
And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.
And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.
the plains of Moab
And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
without the camp
And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
Heb. host of war.
And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
in the matter
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
kill every male
The sword of war should spare women and children, as incapable of resisting; but the sword of justice knows no distinction, except that of guilty or not guilty, or more or less guilty. This was the execution of a righteous sentence upon a guilty nation, in which the women were the greatest criminals; and it may safely be said, that their lives were forfeited by their personal transgressions. With respect to the execution of the male infants, who cannot be supposed to have been guilty, God, the author and supporter of life, who has a right to dispose of it when and how he thinks proper, commanded it; and "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
Heb. a male.
But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
keep alive for yourselves
It has been groundlessly asserted, that Moses here authorised the Israelites to make concubines of the whole number of female children; and an insidious objection against his writings has been grounded upon this monstrous supposition. But the whole tenor of the law, and especially a statute recorded in De 21:10-14, proves most decisively to the contrary. They were merely permitted to possess them as female slaves, educating them in their families, and employing them as domestics; for the laws concerning fornication, concubinage, and marriage, were in full force, and prohibited an Israelite even from marrying a captive, without delays and previous formalities; and if he afterwards divorced her, he was to set here at liberty, "because he had humbled her."
And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day.
Though the Israelites had acted by the commission of God, yet they had contracted pollution by touching the dead; and the spoil having been used by idolaters, must also be purified in the prescribed manner.
And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats' hair, and all things made of wood.
that is made
Heb. instrument, or, vessel.
And Eleazar the priest said unto the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD commanded Moses;
Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water.
it shall be purified
ye shall make
And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.
Take the sum of the prey that was taken, both of man and of beast, thou, and Eleazar the priest, and the chief fathers of the congregation:
that was taken
Heb. of the captivity.
And divide the prey into two parts; between them that took the war upon them, who went out to battle, and between all the congregation:
And levy a tribute unto the LORD of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves, and of the asses, and of the sheep:
Take it of their half, and give it unto Eleazar the priest, for an heave offering of the LORD.
And of the children of Israel's half, thou shalt take one portion of fifty, of the persons, of the beeves, of the asses, and of the flocks, of all manner of beasts, and give them unto the Levites, which keep the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD.
flocks, or, goats
And the booty, being the rest of the prey which the men of war had caught, was six hundred thousand and seventy thousand and five thousand sheep,
It appears from the enumeration here, that the Israelites, in this war with the Midianites, took 32,000 female prisoners, 61,000 asses, 72,000 beeves, and 675,000 sheep and small cattle; besides the immense number of males who fell in battle, and the women and children who were slain by the divine command. (ver. 17.) This booty was divided into equal parts, by which partition a far larger share was justly given to the warriors employed on the expedition, who were only 12,000, than to those, who being equally willing to go, were ordered to stay in the camp. Each party was to give a certain proportion to Jehovah, as their sovereign, in grateful acknowledgement that to him they owed their success. The soldiers to give to the Lord one out of every five hundred persons, beeves, asses, and sheep, (ver. 28,) and the people, who by staying at home risked nothing, and had no fatigue, were to give one out of fifty of each of the above to the Levites, who were far more numerous than the priests. (ver. 30.) The booty, its division among the soldiers and people, and the proportion given by each to the Lord and to the Levites, will be seen at one view by the following table:--
And Moses gave the tribute, which was the LORD'S heave offering, unto Eleazar the priest, as the LORD commanded Moses.
Even of the children of Israel's half, Moses took one portion of fifty, both of man and of beast, and gave them unto the Levites, which kept the charge of the tabernacle of the LORD; as the LORD commanded Moses.
kept the charge
And they said unto Moses, Thy servants have taken the sum of the men of war which are under our charge, and there lacketh not one man of us.
Heb. hand. lacketh.
We have therefore brought an oblation for the LORD, what every man hath gotten, of jewels of gold, chains, and bracelets, rings, earrings, and tablets, to make an atonement for our souls before the LORD.
The officers of the army having mustered their men, found they had not lost a man in the contest with Midian! Penetrated with gratitude for this most remarkable interposition of Providence in their favour, they now offer to Jehovah the golden jewels which they had found among the spoil, to the amount of 16,750 shekels, equal to £37,869 16s. 5d. of our money.
Heb. found. an atonement.
And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of them, even all wrought jewels.
And all the gold of the offering that they offered up to the LORD, of the captains of thousands, and of the captains of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred and fifty shekels.
(For the men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.)
And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of the captains of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tabernacle of the congregation, for a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD.