Then the Lord said to Moses, “On behalf of the people of Israel, take revenge on the Midianites for leading them into idolatry. After that, you will die and join your ancestors.”
So Moses said to the people, “Choose some men, and arm them to fight the Lord’s war of revenge against Midian. From each tribe of Israel, send 1,000 men into battle.” So they chose 1,000 men from each tribe of Israel, a total of 12,000 men armed for battle. Then Moses sent them out, 1,000 men from each tribe, and Phinehas son of Eleazar the priest led them into battle. They carried along the holy objects of the sanctuary and the trumpets for sounding the charge. They attacked Midian as the Lord had commanded Moses, and they killed all the men. All five of the Midianite kings—Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba—died in the battle. They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.
Then the Israelite army captured the Midianite women and children and seized their cattle and flocks and all their wealth as plunder. They burned all the towns and villages where the Midianites had lived. After they had gathered the plunder and captives, both people and animals, they brought them all to Moses and Eleazar the priest, and to the whole community of Israel, which was camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho. Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was furious with all the generals and captains who had returned from the battle.
“Why have you let all the women live?” he demanded. “These are the very ones who followed Balaam’s advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the Lord at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the Lord’s people.”
The Midianites were a nomadic people who had descended from Abraham and his second wife, Keturah. The land of Midian lay far to the south of Canaan, but large bands of Midianites roamed many miles from their homeland, searching for grazing areas for their flocks. Such a group was near the Promised Land when the Israelites arrived. When Moses fled from Egypt (Exodus 2), he took refuge in the land of Midian. His wife and father-in-law were Midianites. Despite this alliance, the Israelites and Midianites were always bitter enemies.
Balaam’s story (Numbers 22:1–24:25), taken alone, could lead us to believe that Balaam was an honest and God-fearing man. But here is the first of much biblical evidence that he was not the good man he might appear to be.
Because Midianites were responsible for enticing Israel into Baal worship, God commanded Israel to destroy them (Numbers 25:16-18). But Israel took the women as captives, rather than killing them, possibly because of the tempting enticements of the Midianites’ sinful lifestyle. When we discover sin in our lives, we must get rid of it completely. When the Israelites later entered the Promised Land, their indifference toward sin eventually ruined them. By contrast, Moses here dealt with Israel’s sin promptly and completely.
When God points out sin, move quickly to remove it from your life.