The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. You shall send a thousand from each of the tribes of Israel to the war.” So there were provided, out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand from each tribe, together with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the vessels of the sanctuary and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand. They warred against Midian, as the LORD commanded Moses, and killed every male. They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of their slain, Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. And they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword. And the people of Israel took captive the women of Midian and their little ones, and they took as plunder all their cattle, their flocks, and all their goods. All their cities in the places where they lived, and all their encampments, they burned with fire, and took all the spoil and all the plunder, both of man and of beast. Then they brought the captives and the plunder and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the people of Israel, at the camp on the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho.
Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the chiefs of the congregation went to meet them outside the camp. And Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live? Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves. Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.”
Then Eleazar the priest said to the men in the army who had gone to battle: “This is the statute of the law that the LORD has commanded Moses: only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can stand the fire, you shall pass through the fire, and it shall be clean. Nevertheless, it shall also be purified with the water for impurity. And whatever cannot stand the fire, you shall pass through the water. You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you shall be clean. And afterward you may come into the camp.”
The LORD said to Moses, “Take the count of the plunder that was taken, both of man and of beast, you and Eleazar the priest and the heads of the fathers’ houses of the congregation, and divide the plunder into two parts between the warriors who went out to battle and all the congregation. And levy for the LORD a tribute from the men of war who went out to battle, one out of five hundred, of the people and of the oxen and of the donkeys and of the flocks. Take it from their half and give it to Eleazar the priest as a contribution to the LORD. And from the people of Israel’s half you shall take one drawn out of every fifty, of the people, of the oxen, of the donkeys, and of the flocks, of all the cattle, and give them to the Levites who keep guard over the tabernacle of the LORD.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses…
Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds, came near to Moses and said to Moses, “Your servants have counted the men of war who are under our command, and there is not a man missing from us. And we have brought the LORD’s offering, what each man found, articles of gold, armlets and bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and beads, to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.” And Moses and Eleazar the priest received from them the gold, all crafted articles. (Numbers 31:1-51 ESV)
Because Midian, at Balaam’s instruction, used their women to lead Israel into idolatry, Yahweh sends 12,000 of the army against them. They kill all the men, including Balaam, but are enticed again by the women and keep them alive. Moses instructs them to kill all the women who have been with a man and then explains how the rest of the spoils of war are to be distributed, some to the people who stayed back in camp and some to the Priests and the Levites.
The soldiers decide to bring an offering of gold from their plunder to atone for their sin in keeping the women alive. They note that remarkably not one Israelite was killed in the battle, a sure sign that Yahweh was fighting for them and giving unusual protection.
Even when our motives are not the best God often graciously exceeds what we wanted to see happen. It is important for us to recognize our wrong motives and give honor to Him for his goodness and grace toward us.
We undoubtedly struggle with Yahweh’s determination to kill all the other captives besides the immature females. This is the unusual judgment He gives concerning the Canaanites and, in this case, the Midianites, because of their unnecessary desire to destroy Israel. Only God has the right to determine who lives and dies and it was His judgment that this was the case for this particular enemy. Their temptation of Israel would continue to exist and perhaps lead Israel astray.
We must deal decisively with temptation. Jesus spoke in exaggerated terms when he said if your hand offends you cut it off (Matthew 5:30). Nothing is more important than staying in relationship to God and following His commands. They are the path to life away from destruction.