“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Avenge the children of Israel of the Midianites: afterward shalt thou be gathered unto thy people.” (Numbers 31:1-2)
According to Genesis 25, the Midianites were descendants of Abraham by his wife Keturah. They were closely allied to Ishmael’s descendants, as we learn from Genesis 37. Moses’ father-in-law was a priest of Midian and seems to have known the Lord.
When Balak and the Moabites induced Israel to sexual sin and idolatry in Numbers 25, the Midianites played a major part in the seduction. As a result, “…the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Vex the Midianites, and smite them: For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor's sake.”(Numbers 25:16-18). Twenty four thousand Israelites died as a result of the sin.
“And Moses spake unto the people, saying, Arm some of yourselves unto the war, and let them go against the Midianites, and avenge the LORD of Midian. Of every tribe a thousand, throughout all the tribes of Israel, shall ye send to the war.
So there were delivered out of the thousands of Israel, a thousand of every tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand.
And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. And they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian: Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.” (Numbers 31:3-8)
Twelve thousand Israelites, accompanied by Phineas, Aaron’s grandson, attacked the Midianites and killed the men, including five of their kings. The prophet, Balaam was slain for his part in it, because he disobeyed God and gave Balak the information he needed to bring Israel into judgment.
“And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods. And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire. And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts. And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho.” (Numbers 31:9-12)
Israel looted the villages, taking all the livestock and belongings of the Midianites, including the women and children back to the Israelite camp, They burned the villages and forts.
We find frequent warnings against causing others to sin in the Bible. Romans 14 stresses that even the standards we set for ourselves can cause others to sin. Romans 14:14:13 commands, “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” We are responsible to ensure that our standards and actions do not cause others to be tempted unnecessarily.
“And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp.
And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
And do ye abide without the camp seven days: whosoever hath killed any person, and whosoever hath touched any slain, purify both yourselves and your captives on the third day, and on the seventh day. And purify all your raiment, and all that is made of skins, and all work of goats' hair, and all things made of wood.” (Numbers 31:13-20)
It was getting sexually involved with the Midianite and Moabite women that had led to the deaths of twenty four thousand Jews. Bringing them into the camp might well lead to further judgment. Moses ordered the death of all the boys among the captives, as well as of all the women who had been sexually active, but those who had not been sexually active could be kept, as they were unlikely to spread sexually transmitted diseases.
There is an emotional bonding that takes place as a result of sexual activity. I Corinthians 6:16 refers to this bonding, relating it to the marriage as described in Genesis 2. “What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.” In Matthew 19:6 Jesus makes it clear God causes this bonding. Promiscuity interferes with proper development of that bond. Those who have been sexually involved with more than one person often find it hard to put the memories out of mind and be satisfied with the one they are with.
Many of the health, psychological and social problems in today’s society stem from the modern acceptance of promiscuity as normal or even desirable. Executing those who had had sexual relations with others reduced emotional stress and the likelihood of sexual infidelity, as well as preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and illegitimate births.
Everyone who might have been exposed to deadly disease by touching a dead body or killing someone was to be quarantined for the requisite seven days, including all the captives. Everything that might harbor dangerous organisms was to be disinfected to prevent the spread of plague.
“And Eleazar the priest said unto the men of war which went to the battle, This is the ordinance of the law which the LORD commanded Moses; Only the gold, and the silver, the brass, the iron, the tin, and the lead, Every thing that may abide the fire, ye shall make it go through the fire, and it shall be clean: nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of separation: and all that abideth not the fire ye shall make go through the water. And ye shall wash your clothes on the seventh day, and ye shall be clean, and afterward ye shall come into the camp.” (Numbers 31:21-24)
Things that would not be destroyed by heat were to be heated to a temperature that would kill any pathogens, but they were still to be disinfected. Things that could not stand the heat were to be soaked in disinfectant and all their clothing washed on the seventh day, before they were allowed to come into the camp. Every effort was taken to prevent spread of disease.