Israel declares war on Midian
Israel attacks and destroys Midian territory1 The LORD told Moses, 2 “Attack the people of Midian for what they did to the Israelites. After that, you’ll be joining your ancestors in death.” 3 Moses told the Israelites. “We’re going to war against Midian. We’re going to execute the LORD’s judgment on those people. Arm your men for battle. 4 Select a thousand men from each tribe. They’re going to war.” 5 So, the Israelites selected 12,000 men and armed them for battle. 6 Moses sent them off to war, a thousand from each tribe. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, went with them. They took with them some sacred objects from the worship center. They took trumpets to signal warriors during the battle. 7 Israelites attacked the people of Midian, just as the LORD told Moses they should do. Israelites killed every man they caught. 8 They killed all five kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba. They also took a sword to Balaam, son of Beor. They killed him, too.
Israelites capture women and children9 Warriors took women and children captive. Then they took everything else they wanted—all the Midian property. That included the Midian livestock—herds of cattle along with the flocks. 10 Israelites then burned the cities and camps. 11 So, the spoils of war went to the Israelites: Midian’s women and children, property, and livestock. 12 Israelite warriors took all of this to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the people of Israel. The Israelites were still camped in the plains of Moab, across the Jordan River from Jericho.
Israelites kill mothers and boys13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and other Israelite leaders left the camp to meet the returning army. 14 Moses was furious with the commanders of each 1,000-man tribal corps and with their squad commanders of 100 men. 15 Moses said, “What have you done? Why did you spare these women? 16 They’re the ones who took Balaam’s advice. They lured our men away from the LORD at Peor. Have you forgotten the plague that killed the LORD’s people? 17 Kill every boy you captured. Kill every woman who has been with a man. 18 You can keep the virgins.
Getting ritually pure again19 I want all of you to stay outside our camp for seven days—those of you who have killed a person or touched a dead body. You need to purify yourselves and your captives. Wash yourselves on the third day and the seventh. 20 Wash every piece of fabric and everything made of leather, goat hair, or wood.” 21 Then Eleazar the priest addressed the men who fought in the battle. He said, “This is the law that the LORD gave Moses: 22 Take everything you have that can withstand fire: gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, and lead. 23 Pass them through a fire. After that, wash them. Then they’ll be ritually purified. For anything else, which would get destroyed in a fire, use water alone to purify it. 24 On the seventh day, wash your clothes. Then you’ll be ritually clean again and welcome back into the camp.
Dividing spoils of war25 The LORD told Moses: 26 “I want you, Eleazar the priest, and the tribal leaders to count every living thing the men brought back from the war. Count the people and the livestock. 27 I want you to divide it two ways. Half will go to the men who fought the battle. The other half will go to the rest of the Israelites. 28 Both groups need to share with the LORD. Tax the warriors at 1/500th. They should give the LORD one of every 500 captives or livestock: cattle, donkeys, sheep. 29 Tell them to take their tax to Eleazar the priest. That will be their offering to the LORD. 30 Tax the rest of the people at 1/50th. They should give the LORD one of every 50 captives or livestock: cattle, donkeys, sheep. Tell them to take their tax to the Levites who work for the LORD at the tent worship center.” 31 Moses and Eleazar the priest did what the LORD told Moses to do. 32 Israel’s warriors took from the Midianites 675,000 sheep and goats. 33 They took 72,000 cattle. 34 They seized 61,000 donkeys. 35 And they captured 32,000 virgin women and girls. 36 Men who went to war divided among themselves 337,500 sheep. 37 The LORD’s share of the sheep was 675. 38 Warriors got 36,000 head of cattle. The LORD got 72. 39 Warriors got 30,500 donkeys. The LORD got 61. 40 Warriors got 16,000 captive virgins. The LORD got 32 virgins. 41 Moses presented the LORD’s share to Eleazar the priest, as the LORD told him to do. This was the taxed offering that the warriors gave to the LORD. 42 Moses had separated the warriors’ half of the seized property from the half that went to the Israelite community. 43 The people’s share of the sheep and goats was 337,500. 44 They also got 36,000 head of cattle. 45 They got 30,500 donkeys. 46 And they got 16,000 captive virgins. 47 Moses took one of every 50 of these—people and livestock—and gave them to the Levite tribe, just as the LORD told him to do. Levites helped operate and maintain the tent worship center.
Report: No casualties of war48 Commanders of the army reported to Moses. These were commanders of each 1,000-man tribal corps and their squad commanders of 100 men. 49 They told Moses, “We counted the men who came back from the war, and we want you to know that we didn’t lose anyone. No one is missing. 50 So we wanted to bring to the LORD an offering from gold articles we seized: arm bands, bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and necklaces. We’re bringing these to atone for our sins and to get us on good terms with the LORD.” 51 Moses and Eleazar the priest collected the gold—all kinds of articles crafted by artisans. 52 Everything together weighed 420 pounds. This donation from the warriors was presented by commanders of each 1,000-man tribal corps and their squad commanders of 100 men. 53 Men who fought in the battle each took Midianite valuables for themselves and their families, as perks of war. 54 Moses and Eleazar the priest took the donations from commanders of each 1,000-man tribal corps and from their squad commanders of 100 men. These gifts for the LORD went to the tent worship center, as a reminder for the Israelites of what happened.
Midian was a nation along the northeast bank of the Red Sea, in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia. The King of Moab may have called in these people because of connections he had with them or their southland nation. Or maybe he wanted to join forces against the Israelites. But some scholars today suggest someone edited in the name.
What some of the Midian women did was to lure Israelite men into sex sins and idolatry. This order to attack the people picks up from the background story in Numbers 25, which ends with God telling Moses, “Attack the people of Midian” (verse 17).
These likely included their most sacred object: the gold-covered box that held the Ten Commandments. The box is also known as the Ark of the Covenant. Philistines later captured it during a battle Israel lost (1 Samuel 4:11). They returned it later.
Silver trumpets, described in Numbers 10 as instruments of war.
Oddly, this is the seer who refused to curse Israel, but who repeatedly blessed them instead (Numbers 23-24). But he also seems to have played a role in getting the women of Midian to lure Israelite men into sex rituals and idolatry.
Mount Peor’s location is unknown. But it sounds as though it was another summit on Moab’s plateau, overlooking the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and Canaan in the west along with the desert to the east. Peor was a mountain in Moab where people worshiped Baal, the main Canaanite god.
Touching a corpse makes an Israelite ritually unclean (Leviticus 5:2). A person ritually unclean was not supposed to touch another person or go to the worship center because they ritually defiled whatever they touched. Israelites were able to get ritually clean again by following a set of procedures that included bathing, washing their clothes, getting sprinkled with “water of purification” (Numbers 19), and waiting for a stretch of time, often seven days.
They may have considered the census itself to be a sin. Taking a census without God’s approval could spark a plague, according to Exodus 30:12. It’s unknown why a census would warrant a plague. But that’s exactly what happened when King David took a census (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21). Some scholars guess that it has to do with pride and with counting an army to see how strong the people are. Given that God has been the one doing all the heavy lifting during the Exodus, it might seem insulting for the people of Israel to count the men who could fight in the army, when God was doing the fighting for them.
That’s 191 kilograms. The ancient Hebrew weight was 16,750 shekels.
Earlier, Israelites did the same thing with incense pans from 250 men burned to death during a revolt against Moses. They hammered them into a plating for the altar “as reminder and a warning to the people” (16:38).
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