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War against Midian


The L ord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Avenge the Israelites on the Midianites; afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” 3So Moses said to the people, “Arm some of your number for the war, so that they may go against Midian, to execute the L ord’s vengeance on Midian. 4You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.” 5So out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe were conscripted, twelve thousand armed for battle. 6Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, along with Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for sounding the alarm in his hand. 7They did battle against Midian, as the L ord had commanded Moses, and killed every male. 8They killed the kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian, in addition to others who were slain by them; and they also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 9The Israelites took the women of Midian and their little ones captive; and they took all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods as booty. 10All their towns where they had settled, and all their encampments, they burned, 11but they took all the spoil and all the booty, both people and animals. 12Then they brought the captives and the booty and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the Israelites, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.

Return from the War

13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. 14Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 15Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? 16These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the L ord in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the L ord. 17Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. 18But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves. 19Camp outside the camp seven days; whoever of you has killed any person or touched a corpse, purify yourselves and your captives on the third and on the seventh day. 20You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, everything made of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.”

21 Eleazar the priest said to the troops who had gone to battle: “This is the statute of the law that the L ord has commanded Moses: 22gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, and lead— 23everything that can withstand fire, shall be passed through fire, and it shall be clean. Nevertheless it shall also be purified with the water for purification; and whatever cannot withstand fire, shall be passed through the water. 24You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean; afterward you may come into the camp.”

Disposition of Captives and Booty

25 The L ord spoke to Moses, saying, 26“You and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the ancestral houses of the congregation make an inventory of the booty captured, both human and animal. 27Divide the booty into two parts, between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. 28From the share of the warriors who went out to battle, set aside as tribute for the L ord, one item out of every five hundred, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats. 29Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as an offering to the L ord. 30But from the Israelites’ half you shall take one out of every fifty, whether persons, oxen, donkeys, sheep, or goats—all the animals—and give them to the Levites who have charge of the tabernacle of the L ord.”

31 Then Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the L ord had commanded Moses:

32 The booty remaining from the spoil that the troops had taken totaled six hundred seventy-five thousand sheep, 33seventy-two thousand oxen, 34sixty-one thousand donkeys, 35and thirty-two thousand persons in all, women who had not known a man by sleeping with him.

36 The half-share, the portion of those who had gone out to war, was in number three hundred thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep and goats, 37and the L ord’s tribute of sheep and goats was six hundred seventy-five. 38The oxen were thirty-six thousand, of which the L ord’s tribute was seventy-two. 39The donkeys were thirty thousand five hundred, of which the L ord’s tribute was sixty-one. 40The persons were sixteen thousand, of which the L ord’s tribute was thirty-two persons. 41Moses gave the tribute, the offering for the L ord, to Eleazar the priest, as the L ord had commanded Moses.

42 As for the Israelites’ half, which Moses separated from that of the troops, 43the congregation’s half was three hundred thirty-seven thousand five hundred sheep and goats, 44thirty-six thousand oxen, 45thirty thousand five hundred donkeys, 46and sixteen thousand persons. 47From the Israelites’ half Moses took one of every fifty, both of persons and of animals, and gave them to the Levites who had charge of the tabernacle of the L ord; as the L ord had commanded Moses.

48 Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, approached Moses, 49and said to Moses, “Your servants have counted the warriors who are under our command, and not one of us is missing. 50And we have brought the L ord’s offering, what each of us found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and pendants, to make atonement for ourselves before the L ord.” 51Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from them, all in the form of crafted articles. 52And all the gold of the offering that they offered to the L ord, from the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, was sixteen thousand seven hundred fifty shekels. 53(The troops had all taken plunder for themselves.) 54So Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, and brought it into the tent of meeting as a memorial for the Israelites before the L ord.

1. And the Lord spake unto Moses. Amongst the other prerogatives which God conferred upon His Church, this one is celebrated, that He armed the godly “to execute vengeance upon the heathen, — to execute upon them the judgment that is written,” (Psalm 149:7-9) and although the Spirit declares that this should happen under the kingdom of Christ, still He refers to ancient examples, one of which, well worthy of remembrance, is here recorded. The Midianites had organized a wicked conspiracy for the destruction of God’s people: and God, in undertaking to punish this cruel act of theirs, gave a striking proof of His paternal favor towards the Israelites; whilst this grace is doubled by His constituting them the ministers of his judgment. This passage, therefore, shews us how anxious God was for the welfare of His elect people, when He so set Himself against their enemies, as if He would make common cause in all respects with them. At the same time we must observe this additional favor towards them, that although the Israelites themselves were not without blame, He still deigned to appoint them as judges of the Midianites. Inasmuch, however, as He everywhere prohibits His people from indulging the lust of vengeance, we must not forget the distinction between men’s vengeance and His own. He would have His servants, by patiently bearing injuries, overcome evil with good; while, at the same time, He by no means abdicates His own power, but still reserves to Himself the right of inflicting punishment. Nay, Paul, desiring to exhort believers to long-suffering, recalls them to the principle, that God takes upon Himself the office of avenging. 203203     The reference here, both in Lat. and Fr., is to Romans 13:4, though I presume it ought to be to Romans 12:19, — the former citation being transferred to what follows. Since, then, God is at liberty to execute vengeance, not only by Himself, but also by His ministers, as we have already seen, these two things are not inconsistent with each other, that the passions of the godly are laid under restraint by the Word, that they should not, when injured, seek for vengeance, or retaliate the evils they have received, and still that they are the just and legitimate executioners of God’s vengeance, when the sword is put into their hands. It remains, that whosoever is called to this office, should punish crime with honest zeal, as the minister of God, and not as acting in his own private cause. God here intrusted the office of vengeance upon His people, but by no means in order that they might indulge the lust of their nature: for their feeling ought to have been this, that they should have been ready to pardon the Midianites, 204204     Added in Fr., “s’il les eust voulu laisser impunis:” if He had been willing to leave them unpunished. and still that they should heartily bestir themselves to inflict punishment upon them.

That, whilst God so severely judged the Midianites, he spared the Moabites, was for the sake of Lot, who was the founder of their race. But I have already frequently reminded my readers that, when God’s judgments surpass our understanding, we should, in sober humility, give glory to His secret, and to us incomprehensible, wisdom: for those who, in this respect, seek to know more than is fitting, elevate themselves too high, in order to plunge with head-long audacity into a profound abyss, in which, at length, all their senses must be overwhelmed. Why was He not at liberty to remit the punishment of the Moabites, and at the same time to repay to the Midianites the recompense which was their due? Besides, it was only for a time that he pardoned the Moabites, until their obstinacy should render them inexcusable, after they had not only abused his forbearance, but tyrannically afflicted their brethren, by whom they had been treated with kindness.

Moreover, God desired, whilst Moses was still alive, again to testify by this final act His love towards His people, in order that they might more cheerfully advance to the possession of the promised land: for this was no feeble encouragement, when they saw that God spontaneously put Himself forward to avenge them. At the same time it was expedient for Moses that, at the very moment of his death, he should feel, by a fresh instance, what care God took for the welfare of the people. For he was able joyfully to leave them in God’s keeping, whose hand he had so recently seen put forth to fulfill to the utmost His gracious purposes towards them. To the same effect were the words, “Thou shalt be gathered unto thy people,” which were undoubtedly spoken as a consolation in death. It was also a reason for making haste; for if the dearth of the holy Prophet had been waited for, perhaps the Israelites would not have dared to attack, with arms in their hands, a peaceful nation, from whom there was no peril or inconvenience impending. But so great was the authority of Moses over them, that they were more ready to obey his bidding than that of any other person.

Although it is said indifferently of the reprobate as well as believers, that they are gathered or congregated to their fathers by death, still this expression shews that men are born for immortality; for it would not be appropriate to say this of the brute animals, whose death is their final destruction, inasmuch as they are without the hope of another life.

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