In the 25th chapter of Numbers we read how the Midianites had caused the Israelites to worship their god Baal. The worship of false gods is forbidden by the Lord God Almighty and it is a very serious sin. The Midianites were coupled with the Moabites the same as they were in chapter 22.
God then commanded Moses to form an army and defeat the Midianites. These were the Midianites that lived in the area near to the Moabites. God had already told Moses that the Israelites were to oppose the Midianites and now was the right time to carry out that command from God. This would be the last time that Moses would lead God’s people into battle.
Each tribe of Israel was to choose 1000 men to fight in the war with the Midians. Some of the tribes were larger than others but each was to provide 1000 men. This would make the burden equal but Israel would be united in the effort. This war was ordained by God as He had commanded it. Therefore it was a holy war. The priest Phinehas was to lead the people into battle. Phinehas brought sacred items from God’s Tent to show that God was with His people.
A holy war had special rules that had to be followed. The Israelite army would have to kill all the male soldiers of the Midianites army. These Midianites were only the ones who lived near Moab but there were Midianites who lived in other areas. We see in later times that the Israelites and Midianites would face each other again in battle. (Judges 6-6)
The five kings of the Midianites were probably the leaders that Balak had contacted in Numbers 22:4. Zur may have been Cozbi’s father. (Numbers 25:15) The Prophet Balaam died in the war too. This was his punishment because it was he that had plotted against the Israelites. (Numbers 25) It was Balaam that had brought the Moabites and Midianites together in a plan against the Israelites. To die by the sword was not the way that Balaam had wanted, he did not wish to die in punishment. (Numbers 23:10)
The army of Israel brought complete destruction to the Midianite towns and camps. They took all their possessions and all their animals. They took captive all their women and children. They gathered it all together and took it back to their camp. They may have intended that the women would become wives to them or would work them as slaves. Or perhaps they just wanted to have relations with them.
The soldiers of Israel when they returned victorious thought that Moses would praise them. But Moses was angry with them because they had brought back the Midianite women with them. It was the very women that had caused the Israelites to sin against God and worship the Midianites god Baal. (Numbers 25:16-18) It seems that before the battle Moses had ordered that the soldiers were to kill all the people of Midian.
The soldiers did not do this and now Moses ordered them to kill all the women and their sons right away. Moses allowed the young virgin girls to live. They were not responsible for the sins committed at Peor. These girls were allowed to marry the Israelite men or they could be used as labor. They would be taught to follow the Israelites and to worship the One true God.
This may seem cruel to us now in this day but we must remember that this was a holy war and God had ordered the Israelites to punish the Midianites. The Midianites were being judged because they had persuaded the Israelites to reject God. The Israelites were God’s people and they had to keep themselves clean and holy because God is a holy God.
It is a serious sin to worship a false god and the Midianites had caused the Israelites to do this. For this the Midianites were being punished by God in a holy war. This is why the Midianite women had to die also. This was the reason for the war that they would be punished for what they did at Peor. The Israelites had been punished as well. (Numbers 25:9)
Today we must remember that Jesus taught us to love our enemies. This was the practice of Jesus that He showed love towards His enemies. An example is that from the cross He asked His Father to forgive them. Jesus did not conquer with the sword but with love. So we must not practice the rules of a holy war today. The rules of holy war ceased for the Israelites after they had taken possession of the Promised Land.
Earlier in Numbers we had read that anyone who touched a dead body was unclean. (Numbers 19:11-13) All the soldiers and their prisoners had to remain outside of the camp for seven days. On the third and seventh day the soldiers and their prisoners had to wash themselves/ they also had to wash their clothes and anything they had used during the battle. Eleazar told them to take all the metal objects and place them in the fire and then wash them with special water. This process made the object clean and after the seven day period they could enter into the camp.
It is the custom to share the spoils of war with the people and the army that won the battles. There were only 12,000 soldiers in the Israelite army but there were 601,730 men who were capable to fight as an army. (Numbers 26:51) The fighting men should and deserve to be rewarded for their sacrifices. But also the people who support them need to benefit from the war efforts as well.
God told Moses to share the spoils equally between the people and the soldiers. Also from the share of the spoils would be a portion to go to the priest and to the Levite tribe. In reality what that portion was to the priest and Levites was the portion given to God.
God’s portion was divided in this way. The priest received one five-hundredth of the portion that the soldiers received. The tribe of Levi received one fiftieth of the people’s portion. When the people and the soldiers were giving their gifts from their portion of the spoils that were expressing their tanks to God. God had helped them defeat their enemies and protected them during the conflict.
It seems here that the soldiers had kept all the gold and precious things for themselves and that which was shared with the people and the soldiers was the animals and the prisoners. But the soldiers brought to Moses all the gold and precious things they had taken. God had kept every soldier safe and not one was lost in the war. For this blessing it was essential to make a payment to God for His protection. (Exodus 30:11-16)
It was the soldiers who had fought the battles and had to kill the enemy. They were fighting under the order of God but still this act made the soldiers unclean. They had to make a special payment to God called the atonement payment. During the battle the soldiers had receive mercy from God which they did not deserve. God had allowed them to live through the war and they must make payment to show that they appreciated this.
Moses and Eleazar put this gold and precious metals in God’s Tent as a memorial. God would remember the atonement payment from the soldiers. They had spilled human blood when they killed the Midianites. But they had paid the atonement payment and now God would have mercy on the Israelites.