The children of Israel were encamped near the Jordan River, in the midst of other nations living in the land of Moab. This is the area, where the leader Balak had tried to convince Balaam to curse the Israelites. He would not curse them, because an angel had visited him and told him only to say those things that were put into his mouth. Instead he blessed Israel, and promised destruction to those nations around them. I believe, that he also told Balak what the weaknesses of the Israelites may have been, in order to gain some prestige with the leader. Balak in turn, led some of the Midianites to tempt the Israelites, in an attempt to weaken this great people. This had led to the falling away and destruction of a portion of the children of Israel, who fell into temptation and committed sins of idolatry and immorality. It had also brought a plague to the Israelites, which took the lives of many. Some point after that, the content of this chapter occurred. It begins:
1 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.
3 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.
4 Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.
5 So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.
6 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.
7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.
8 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.
9 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.
10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.
12 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 Lord commanded Moses to lead the people against the Midianites, before he was to leave them. Moses commanded the people to gather their arms for battle against the Midianites. One thousand men from each tribe were to fight. Phinehas, a levite, was called to go with them to blow a trumpet. The Israelites followed the commands of the Lord, and killed all the males, the five kings of Midian, and Balaam. The women and children were taken captive, and the Israelites took the spoil of their herds, flocks, and other goods. The cities and camps were burned, and they brought all that they had gained back towards their encampment.
13 And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16 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.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
19 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.
20 And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats’ hair, and all things made of wood.
The army was met by the leaders of the Israelites, just outside the camp. Moses was angry with the army officers and captains for bringing the women back who had tempted the Israelites to sin, and brought so much death among them. The army had brought temptation right to their door. Moses commanded them to kill all the boys and girls or women who had ever been with a man. The rest were allowed to live. All those who had had to kill anyone in the battle or touched any of the dead, was to stay outside of the camp for seven days, and purify themselves on the third and seventh day. They were also to purify their clothing and other belongings.
21 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;
22 Only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead,
23 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.
24 And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.
All of the spoil that could handle fire, was to be cleaned with fire and then purified with water of separation. Anything that could not able to be burnt by fire, was to be cleaned with the water of separation. When they had washed their clothing on the seventh day, they would be clean and allowed to enter the camp.
25 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
26 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:
27 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:
28 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:
29 Take it of their half, and give it unto Eleazar the priest, for an heave offering of the Lord.
30 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.
31 And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses.
32 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,
33 And threescore and twelve thousand beeves,
34 And threescore and one thousand asses,
35 And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him.
36 And the half, which was the portion of them that went out to war, was in number three hundred thousand and seven and thirty thousand and five hundred sheep:
37 And the Lord’s tribute of the sheep was six hundred and threescore and fifteen.
38 And the beeves were thirty and six thousand; of which the Lord’s tribute was threescore and twelve.
39 And the asses were thirty thousand and five hundred; of which the Lord’s tribute was threescore and one.
40 And the persons were sixteen thousand; of which the Lord’s tribute was thirty and two persons.
41 And Moses gave the tribute, which was the Lord’s heave offering, unto Eleazar the priest, as the Lord commanded Moses.
42 And of the children of Israel’s half, which Moses divided from the men that warred,
43 (Now the half that pertained unto the congregation was three hundred thousand and thirty thousand and seven thousand and five hundred sheep,
44 And thirty and six thousand beeves,
45 And thirty thousand asses and five hundred,
46 And sixteen thousand persons;)
47 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.
The spoil was to be divided among the people. Half was to go to those who had fought in the battle, and the other half was to go to the remainder of the Israelites. One of every five hundred items or people taken from the Midianites, which had been given to those who had fought, was to be given as a tribute heave offering. One of every fifty items or people taken from the Midianties, given to the rest of the camp of Israel, was to be given to the Levites for their service in the tabernacle. This division was made among the Israelites, just as the Lord commanded.
48 And the officers which were over thousands of the host, the captains of thousands, and captains of hundreds, came near unto Moses:
49 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.
50 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.
51 And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold of them, even all wrought jewels.
52 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.
53 (For the men of war had taken spoil, every man for himself.)
54 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.
Not one of the Israelite men who had gone to war, had been lost in the fight. In gratitude, they brought an offering for atonement of their souls, much like a tithing of what they had earned from the fight. The treasure was taken by the priest, Eleazar, and was used as a memorial for the Lord keeping them safe in battle against their enemies. This reminds me of the army of Helaman, who fought with no experience in battle, but with great faith in the Lord. They came out of battle victorious and having not lost one soul on their side. This is such an amazing blessing of protection from the Lord.
This step in ridding the land of those who had brought evil to the people of the Lord, was necessary to prevent a great falling away in the future. They were going to live among these pagan nations for many years to come. Others needed to know that these were a people protected by the Lord. The Israelites needed to know that destruction would come to the wicked, so they would be less tempted to commit those horrible sins. I’m not one for appreciating war or fighting much, if at all. But I recognize that every person who chooses to stand with the Lord, is fighting in a great war every single day. There will come a day when the destruction will be great and the wicked will not prevail. It will effect the whole earth. I have hope for the outcome which is promised in the scriptures, that the earth will be prepared or purified through this destruction and the Lord will then be able to rule and reign here.