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14. And Moses was wroth with the officers. A successful issue usually obtains pardon for any errors in performance, nay, in a manner covers them, so that they are not taken into account; but, although the army brought with it many causes of congratulation, still Moses does not forbear from severely reproving their single fault. By this example we are taught that, whilst we give praise to virtuous actions, we are not to approve of anything which deserves reprehension. The anger of Moses might appear to us inhumane, when he severely reproves his soldiers because they had not treated the female sex with the greatest cruelty; but it is not our business to canvass the judgments of God, before whose tribunal we must all hereafter stand. Although, therefore, they may be repugnant to our own feelings, still we must rest assured that, even where they may seem to be excessive, He nevertheless tempers the most severe punishments with the most perfect equity; yea, that although He may for a time overlook, or at any rate not so severely punish, the same sin in the Moabites which He sorely avenged upon the Midiantes, there is still a most just cause for this distinction, although it may be hidden in His own breast. It is not our part to murmur against Him, lest He should absolve Himself by condemning our blasphemous audacity and temerity.

The Israelites sinned, in that, when they were only the ministers of God’s vengeance, it rested not in their own discretion to relax any part of it. And this is worthy of observation, that those who are armed with the sword, must not go out of the way on either side one tittle, but faithfully execute whatever God prescribes. By the praise which: is given to the anger of Moses, the imagination of the Stoics is refuted, with whom indifference f207 (ajpa>qeia) is the highest of virtues. But rather are we to labor that all our affections should proceed from a good motive, and that they should be kept under such restraint, that they may contain no ebullition of carnal passion, but that spiritual zeal may preside in them. Moses, however, gives the reason why the women were no more to be spared than the men, viz., because they had prostituted themselves in order to lay deadly snares for the Israelites. As regards the little ones, the same reasoa did not affect them, inasmuch as they were guilty of no crime; yet is it not doubtful but that God justly desired that the very name of this wicked and irrecoverable nation should be utterly blotted out; just as He afterwards gave over to destruction the nations of Canaan, together with their offspring. The question, however, arises by what means the women, who “had not known a man,” were to be distinguished from virgins. The Jews, according to their custom, invent a fable f208 in reply, whereas it is probable that the decision was only come to on the ground of their age.



19. And do ye abide without the camp seven days. We have elsewhere seen, f209 that, if any one had touched a dead body, he was accounted unclean. Moses, by now extending the ceremony of expiation to lawful homicide, intimates how carefully we ought to abstain from shedding human blood. It was required of the Israelites that they should strenuously advance through the midst of carnage; but, inasmuch as it is in a manner contrary to the order of nature that men should be killed by men, as if they were raging against their own bowels, God would have some vestiges of humanity preserved even in just punishments, so as to put a restraint upon all cruelty in the abstract. Nor is it without cause that Scripture, even in commending heroic bravery, uses this form of expression, that “they have polluted their hands with blood,” who have slain any of their enemies, i.e., in order that we may abhor all acts of homicide, as being repugnant to the preservation of the human race. Although, therefore, the Israelites had slain the Midianites not only justly, but by God’s command, still, lest they should accustom themselves to the indiscriminate shedding of blood, they are commanded to purify themselves on the third and the seventh day, before they returned to the camp, so that their pollution should not infect the people. The reason for purifying the booty was different, viz., because the uncleanness of their vessels indicated how detestable was this people, whose very utensils, until they were purified either by fire or water, defiled every one by the mere touch. Lest, however, the soldiers should refuse to obey, or should comply unwillingly, Eleazar reminds them that nothing more was required of them than the observance of an old injunction. Nor is it to be doubted but that Moses designedly resigned the office of teaching to his nephew, because the interpretation of the law was hereafter to be sought from the mouth of the priest

25. And the Lord spake unto Moses. A most equitable distribution of the booty is here described, in which the law of proportion was so well observed that, whilst the soldiers were not defrauded of the reward of their labor, at the same time some advantage accrued to the rest of the people in whose name the war was carried on. The share of the multitude was indeed small, for the same proportion was awarded to the 12,000 as to the remaining 600,000. But, since the booty had been already won by the soldiers in right of their victory, it ought not to have been a cause of complaint to the people who had not borne arms, that they received an honorary gift, although it might be of little value. And assuredly it would have been a shame that those who remained in the camp should be altogether without any part of the spoil, as if they had been convicted of cowardice, whereas it did not depend on themselves that they had not taken part with their brethren in the conquest of the enemy. For it was from no want of courage that they had escaped the burden and the perils of war, but they had modestly allowed the general glory to be appropriated by a few, because it had so pleased God. But, whilst it was just that some of the fruits of the victory should be communicated to all, so it. was no less right that the fuller and more liberal reward should be received by those who had borne the whole brunt of the war.

It appears to some that David pursued the same rule, when he distributed the spoil equally amongst his followers who had gone down to the battle, and those who had stood by the baggage. (<093024>1 Samuel 30:24.) In my opinion, however, what David then decided was very different; for if the portion of those who remained with the baggage had been equal with that of those who were actually engaged, it would have been far more advantageous to remain out of the reach of the weapons. For, when a battle is fought, only a few men out of a large army are generally left with the baggage, and thus half the booty would have accrued to a few idlers. The partition, therefore, which is there mentioned, must have been an equal distribution to each individual; and very justly did David enjoin that those who remained stationed in the camp should have a full share of the spoil, lest f210 the condition of those should be dissimilar who were under the operation of the same rule. But in this case the actual warriors are justly rewarded above those who quietly attended to their own domestic cares.



28. And levy a tribute unto the Lord. God now requires a tribute, or holy oblation, out of the spoil from both parties, but in unequal portions, the people paying ten times more than the soldiers. There was a twofold reason and object for this tribute; for it was not fair that the Levites alone should be sent away empty, as if their condition were worse than that of the rest, because they were occupied in the service of God, and in taking care of the holy things. But the part which He assigns to them, God commands to be offered to Himself, that men may not only regard equity amongst each other, but that religion may stand in the foremost place; for nothing can be more unreasonable than that the rights of men should be maintained inviolate, whilst God himself is overlooked. In order, then, to testify their piety, the offering was enjoined, as if God claimed for Himself the glory of the victory in taking this fiftieth and five-hundredth portion. But, inasmuch as He has no want of anything, having full satisfaction in Himself alone, the Levites are substituted in His stead, that they may receive some reward for their ministry.

Again, we perceive that God dealt more liberally with the soldiers than with the rest of the multitude; nor is this a matter of surprise, for, since He had laid a greater burden upon them, it was just that they should be enriched by more fruits of the victory, for He heaps blessings upon blessings according to His pleasure.



From this distribution we also gather that it depends upon His ordinance that some should be richer than others; for, if there were no such thing as property, there would be no test of justice and integrity.

37. And the Lord’s tribute of the sheep. The greatness of the victory is shewn by the result, since such an abundance of cattle could only have been collected from a wide and populous country. It is probable that it was not very fertile, and consequently only live stock, and not corn and wine, are enumerated as amongst their wealth. Still, we may conjecture that it was famous for pastures, since barren mountains could not have fed so many oxen, and goats, and sheep, and camels; besides, it is most evident, from the number of young women, that the men who were slain were more in number than their conquerors who had been sent to the battle; for suppose they each of them had an unmarried daughter, they would have almost three times outnumbered the 12,000 Israelites. Hence, again, it is manifest that the victory was effected by Divine power. It may, however, seem strange that, although the nation was almost destroyed, nevertheless their posterity existed some little time afterwards, as if new Midianites had been begotten from the ashes of their sires. For it was not a very long time that elapsed between this slaughter and the time of Gideon, when they again dared voluntarily to attack the Israelites, and in reliance on their multitude, to rush into the very heart of Canaan; nay, they had already brought all the neighboring nations into subjection. How this could have happened, since the Scriptures do not inform us, it only remains for us to make the conjecture, that many of them, as is often the case in a season of confusion, fled elsewhere, and soon afterwards returned into the land, which was now unoccupied. For the sudden irruption of the Israelites was like a storm which soon passed away; nor was flight a difficult thing for this unsettled and wandering nation. It might also have been the case, that many immigrants from various quarters flowed into the land, when stripped of its inhabitants; or even that the Israelites, having performed their work but slackly, sounded the recall sooner than they ought, and that God afterwards punished their remissness. At any rate, we are taught by this example that the wicked sprout up like foul and noxious weeds, so that, though often cut down, they soon cover the ground again.

48. And the officers which were over the thousands. We have here an example of signal gratitude, that the leaders of the army, when they saw that none of their men were lost, consecrated their spoils of gold and silver to the Lord. By the offering of the first-fruits, they had already sufficiently testified their piety and obedience; nor, indeed, after they had faithfully complied with God’s command, could anything more have been expected from them; hence does their liberality deserve so much the more praise, when they lay themselves under the obligation of a new and extraordinary vow. At the same time, Moses magnifies God’s special blessing in bringing them all back safely to a man from this great battle. Surely, since their spoils must have been driven from many villages, it was strange that some few of them at least had not been slain in their very passage from one place to another. Hence, therefore, it was more than ever manifest that the war was thus successfully concluded under the guidance of God, who had protected the 12,000 men. Hence the incredible goodness of God towards his people is here celebrated, as well as the pious profession of the officers, when it is expressly stated that, having mustered their forces, they had found them all safe, so that there could be no doubt nor question about the grace of God. In acknowledgment, therefore, of His wondrous power in the preservation of the soldiers, they offer as the price of their redemption whatever gold and silver they had taken among the spoils. Moses records the sum, so that it may more clearly appear that, in the performance of this act of homage, it was no trifling amount of gain that they despised, for its amount is more than 10,500 livres of French money. f211

But what becomes of the soldiers? whilst these vows are being paid for their safety, they quietly enjoy their plunder: for there is an implied comparison here, when Moses, after having praised the centurions and tribunes, presently adds the exception, that “the spoil which each man had taken was his own.” It is, indeed, amazing that the soldiers, as if they had conquered by themselves, and for themselves alone, should have been so ill-conditioned and mean, as not to imitate this laudable example. And, in truth, it often happens, that the multitude indulges its meanness without shame, as well because it is ignorant of what true nobility is, as because the crowd conceals the disgrace. Meanwhile, those in office are reminded to take care, that the higher the dignity may be to which they are called, the more eminent should their virtues be.



51. And Moses and Eleazar the priest took the gold. It was fitting that this should be added, lest any should suppose that Eleazar made a profit by the liberality of others. Moses, therefore, relates, that whatever gold was offered, was faithfully laid up as an ornament for the sanctuary. When it is said, “for a memorial for the children of Israel,” it may be taken either actively or passively; viz., either that the gift may be a monument of their gratitude, or that it might conciliate favor for the people in the eyes of God; as if that offering of expiation brought before God, and represented, all those who thus professed themselves to be preserved by His grace. I prefer the latter sense myself, i.e., that this memorial was set before His eyes, in order that God might hereafter also be favorable to His people.



Numbers 32



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