We have here the distribution of the spoil which was taken in this expedition against Midian. God himself directed how it should be distributed, and Moses and Eleazar did according to the directions, and thus unhappy contests among themselves were prevented and the victory was made to turn to the common benefit. It was fit that he who gave them the prey should order the disposal of it. All we have is from God, and therefore must be subject to his will.
I. The prey is ordered to be divided into two parts, one for the 12,000 men that undertook the war, and the other for the congregation. The prey that was divided seems to have been only the captives and the cattle; as for the plate, and jewels, and other goods, every man kept what he took, as is intimated, Num. 31:50-53. That only was distributed which would be of use for the stocking of that good land into which they were going. Now observe, 1. That the one half of the prey was given to the whole congregation, Moses allotting to each tribe its share, and then leaving it to the heads of the tribes to divide their respective shares among themselves, according to their families. The war was undertaken on the behalf of the whole congregation; they would all have been ready to go to the help of the Lord against the mighty, if they had been so ordered, and they did help, it is likely, by their prayers; and therefore God appoints that those that tarried at home should divide the spoil, Ps. 68:12. David, in his time, made it a statute and an ordinance for Israel, that, as his part is that goes down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff, 1 Sam. 30:24; 25. Those that are employed in public trusts must not think to benefit themselves only by their toils and hazards, but must aim at the advantage of the community. 2. That yet the 12,000 that went to the battle had as much for their share as the whole congregation (which were fifty times as many) had for theirs; so that the particular persons of the soldiery had a much better share than any of their brethren that tarried at home: and good reason they should. The greater pains we take, and the greater hazards we run, in the service of God and our generation, the greater will our recompence be at last; for God is not unrighteous to forget the work and labour of love.
II. God was to have a tribute out of it, as an acknowledgment of his sovereignty over them in general, and that he was their king to whom tribute was due, and particularly of his interest in this war and the gains of it, he having given them their success; and that the priests, the Lord’s receivers, might have something added to the provision made for their maintenance. Note, Whatever we have, God must have his dues out of it. And here (as before) the soldiers are favoured above the rest of the congregation, for out of the people’s share God required one in fifty, but out of the soldier’s share only one in 500, because the people got theirs easily, without any peril or fatigue. The less opportunity we have of honouring God with our personal services the more it is expected we should honour him with our substance. The tribute out of the soldiers’ half was given to the priests (Num. 31:29), that out of the people’s half was given to the Levites, Num. 31:30. For the priests were taken from among the Levites, as these soldiers from among the people, for special and hazardous service, and their pay was proportioned accordingly.