31:1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 31:2 “Exact vengeance for the Israelites on the Midianites—after that you will be gathered to your people.”
31:3 So Moses spoke to the people: “Arm men from among you for the war, to attack the Midianites and to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian. 31:4 You must send to the battle a thousand men from every tribe throughout all the tribes of Israel.” 31:5 So a thousand from every tribe, twelve thousand armed for battle in all, were provided out of the thousands of Israel.
Without attempting a full discussion of the issue, Wenham points out that:
In the books of Exodus and Numbers Israel was several times threatened with extinction in divine judgment for her apostasy and was spared only through Moses’ intercession for them (Exod. 32:9ff.; Num. 11; 14:11ff.).
Moses, Aaron, Miriam and all the older generation save Joshua and Caleb were sentenced to die in the wilderness for their unbelief.
Plague and fire carried off many in spectacular fashion (Exod. 32:35; Lev. 10:2; Num. 11:1; 14:37; 16:31–34, 46–49; 21:6; 25:9).
The priests and Levites guarding the tabernacle were expected to slay those who encroached on it illicitly, and twice they are recorded as slaying flagrant covenant breakers (3:10, 38; 25:7–8; Exod. 32:26–28).
Thus the same principles governed judgment within Israel and among the nations. All would perish for their sins, but for the grace of God (cf. Gen. 6:7ff.; Amos 1–2). But Israel was punished first, then it was the turn of the surrounding peoples. The New Testament endorses these principles. ‘There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek’ (Rom. 2:9). 1 Peter 4:17–18 points out that under the new covenant the church will be punished first and afterwards unbelievers. (Formatting added)
Campaign Against the Midianites
31:6 So Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from every tribe, with Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest, who was in charge of the holy articles and the signal trumpets. 31:7 They fought against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses, and they killed every male. 31:8 They killed the kings of Midian in addition to those slain—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—five Midianite kings. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
31:9 The Israelites took the women of Midian captives along with their little ones, and took all their herds, all their flocks, and all their goods as plunder. 31:10 They burned all their towns where they lived and all their encampments. 31:11 They took all the plunder and all the spoils, both people and animals. 31:12 They brought the captives and the spoils and the plunder to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the Israelite community, to the camp on the plains of Moab, along the Jordan River across from Jericho. 31:13 Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the community went out to meet them outside the camp.
The Death of the Midianite Women
31:14 But Moses was furious with the officers of the army, the commanders over thousands and commanders over hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 31:15 Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? 31:16 Look, these people through the counsel of Balaam caused the Israelites to act treacherously against the LORD in the matter of Peor—which resulted in the plague among the community of the LORD! 31:17 Now therefore kill every boy, and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse with a man. 31:18 But all the young women who have not had sexual intercourse with a man will be yours.
Purification After Battle
31:19 “Any of you who has killed anyone or touched any of the dead, remain outside the camp for seven days; purify yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day. 31:20 You must purify each garment and everything that is made of skin, everything made of goat’s hair, and everything made of wood.”
31:21 Then Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who had gone into the battle, “This is the ordinance of the law that the LORD commanded Moses: 31:22 ‘Only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, 31:23 everything that may stand the fire, you are to pass through the fire, and it will be ceremonially clean, but it must still be purified with the water of purification. Anything that cannot withstand the fire you must pass through the water.
31:24 You must wash your clothes on the seventh day, and you will be ceremonially clean, and afterward you may enter the camp.’ ”
The Distribution of Spoils
31:25 Then the LORD spoke to Moses: 31:26 “You and Eleazar the priest, and all the family leaders of the community, take the sum of the plunder that was captured, both people and animals. 31:27 Divide the plunder into two parts, one for those who took part in the war—who went out to battle—and the other for all the community.
31:28 “You must exact a tribute for the LORD from the fighting men who went out to battle: one life out of five hundred, from the people, the cattle, and from the donkeys and the sheep. 31:29 You are to take it from their half-share and give it to Eleazar the priest for a raised offering to the LORD. 31:30 From the Israelites’ half-share you are to take one portion out of fifty of the people, the cattle, the donkeys, and the sheep—from every kind of animal—and you are to give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the LORD’s tabernacle.”
31:31 So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the LORD commanded Moses. 31:32 The spoil that remained of the plunder which the fighting men had gathered was 675,000 sheep, 31:33 72,000 cattle, 31:34 61,000 donkeys, 31:35 and 32,000 young women who had never had sexual intercourse with a man.
31:36 The half-portion of those who went to war numbered 337,500 sheep; 31:37 the LORD’s tribute from the sheep was 675. 31:38 The cattle numbered 36,000; the LORD’s tribute was 72. 31:39 The donkeys were 30,500, of which the LORD’s tribute was 61. 31:40 The people were 16,000, of which the LORD’s tribute was 32 people.
31:41 So Moses gave the tribute, which was the LORD’s raised offering, to Eleazar the priest, as the LORD commanded Moses.
31:42 From the Israelites’ half-share that Moses had separated from the fighting men, 31:43 there were 337,500 sheep from the portion belonging to the community, 31:44 36,000 cattle, 31:45 30,500 donkeys, 31:46 and 16,000 people.
31:47 From the Israelites’ share Moses took one of every fifty people and animals and gave them to the Levites who were responsible for the care of the Lord’s tabernacle, just as the LORD commanded Moses.
31:48 Then the officers who were over the thousands of the army, the commanders over thousands and the commanders over hundreds, approached Moses 31:49 and said to him, “Your servants have taken a count of the men who were in the battle, who were under our authority, and not one is missing. 31:50 So we have brought as an offering for the LORD what each man found: gold ornaments, armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings, and necklaces, to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.” 31:51 Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold from them, all of it in the form of ornaments. 31:52 All the gold of the offering they offered up to the LORD from the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds weighed 16,750 shekels. 31:53 Each soldier had taken plunder for himself. 31:54 So Moses and Eleazar the priest received the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and brought it into the tent of meeting as a memorial for the Israelites before the LORD.