Israel defeated the Midianites who fought them in the desert. Now, after seven days of purification, the soldiers can come back into the camp with the spoils of war they have taken. Today we'll see how the plunder is divided.
"The Lord said to Moses, 'You and Eleazar the priest and the family heads of the community are to count all the people and animals that were captured.'" (Numbers 31:25-26) An accurate inventory must be taken first.
"Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community." (Numbers 31:27) In most or all ancient cultures, the spoils would belong to the soldiers alone. But the Lord wants these men to share with their community. For the Lord's battle plan only 12,000 men were needed to fight the Midianites, so only 12,000 were chosen to go. The remainder of the people had no choice but to stay behind, and while they stayed behind they kept things running smoothly in the camp and they protected the camp. Just because they didn't wield a sword in battle doesn't mean their jobs weren't important; they had to take up the slack for the 12,000 men while they were at war and while they were undergoing the seven days of purification. Later in the Bible, King David will abide by the principle of Numbers 31:27 when some of his men become too weary and physically ill to go into battle. The men who are able to go into battle with David will not want to share the spoils with the men who had to stay behind, but David will say, "The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike." (1 Samuel 30:24)
"From the soldiers who fought in the battle, set apart as tribute for the Lord one out of every five hundred, whether people, cattle, donkeys or sheep. Take this tribute from their half share and give it to Eleazar the priest as the Lord's part. From the Israelites' half, select one out of every fifty, whether people, cattle, donkeys, sheep or other animals. Give them to the Levites, who are responsible for the care of the Lord's tabernacle." (Numbers 31:28-30) Though priests and Levites are exempt from military service and could never have been asked or expected to go to war, they too receive a share.
"So Moses and Eleazar the priest did as the Lord commanded Moses. The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man." (Numbers 31:31-35) The Midianites had been wealthy indeed and they could have kept their wealth if they had not made themselves the enemy of Israel. The women who are brought back to the camp are not the only foreigners living among the Israelites. We were told in Exodus that a "mixed multitude" came out of Egypt with the Israelites. Some of this multitude was likely made up of Egyptians who were poor and oppressed and who hoped to make a better life elsewhere. Some of this multitude was probably made up of other people who, like the Israelites, had gone to Egypt during the famine and either stayed there voluntarily afterward or were forced into slavery. The young Midianite women who are now in the camp can become the wives of Israelite men, if any of the men wish to marry them, according to Deuteronomy 21:10-14. The woman must observe a time of purification and will be given a month to observe a mourning period for her old family and her old life, then she may become the wife of a man of Israel. If her husband doesn't find himself happy with her later on, he is allowed to divorce her but he can't make her serve as a slave in his household and he can't sell her into slavery. He is to give her a certificate of divorce and she will be free to leave.
"The half share of those who fought in the battle was: '337,500 sheep, of which the tribute for the Lord was 675; 36,000 cattle, of which the tribute for the Lord was 72; 30,500 donkeys, of which the tribute for the Lord was 61; 16,000 people, of which the tribute for the Lord was 32. Moses gave the tribute to Eleazar the priest as the Lord's part, as the Lord commanded Moses." (Numbers 31:36-41) The Lord's part is one in five hundred from the soldiers and one in fifty from the rest of the citizens. Although the soldiers must share with the community, the share the soldiers are allowed to keep is greater than that of the community. This is because the soldiers bore the risk and the hardship of battle. The people who remained in the camp had their duties to perform---duties which became greater while the 12,000 men were away---but their duties weren't as difficult as that of the soldiers. The soldiers played the lead roles in this victory while the remainder of the people played supporting roles; naturally the soldiers are paid more for their part in Israel's victory over the Midianites.
"The half belonging to the Israelites, which Moses set apart from that of the fighting men---the community's half---was 337,500 sheep, 36,000 cattle, 30,500 donkeys and 16,000 people. From the Israelite's half, Moses selected one out of every fifty people and animals, as the Lord commanded him, and gave them to the Levites, who were responsible for the care of the Lord's tabernacle." (Numbers 31:42-47) The Levites have families to provide for just like the men of all the other tribes. They stayed behind and protected the Lord's house. They stayed behind and helped the priests so the priests could perform the many duties of the Lord's house day and night. Though 12,000 men were away at war, everything at the tabernacle remained exactly the same, and that's because none of these men left their posts.
Israel did not lose a single soldier in the battle and the army commanders come with a thankful offering, donated by all the soldiers, of precious metal from the plunder they took. "Then the officers who were over the units of the army---the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds---went to Moses and said to him, 'Your servants have counted the soldiers under our command, and not one is missing. So we have brought as an offering to the Lord the gold articles each of us acquired---armlets, bracelets, signet rings, earrings and necklaces---to make atonement for ourselves before the Lord.' Moses and Eleazar the priest accepted from them the gold---all the crafted articles. All the gold from the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds that Moses and Eleazar presented as a gift to the Lord weighed 16,750 shekels." (Numbers 31:48-52) This is approximately 420 pounds of gold. According to the price of an ounce of gold in March 2021, in today's money this gold would be worth $11,660,544!
From the text it appears that every soldier gave all the gold he had taken. The Bible does not indicate that any man kept back any gold for himself. When plundering the Midianites, the soldiers may have intended to keep the gold for themselves, which is their right. It has always been the rule that the spoils of war go to the victor and these men risked their lives in battle and spent time away from their families. They could have kept part or all of the gold and no one would have challenged their right to do so, but in thankfulness to the Lord for preserving their lives they want to give it all to Him. These men returned to their families safely. They will be able to go on living their lives and providing for their wives and children and serving the Lord. This means much more to them than gold. They expected victory in battle but they did not expect to win the battle with no casualties. Because of the Lord's mighty hand of protection over them, they want to give back to Him and their attitude is commendable.
The Lord gives many victories to you and to me. When we are rejoicing over the great things (the plunder) the Lord has blessed us with, and when we are feeling relieved about receiving good news or about having troubling circumstances turned around, we must follow the example of the soldiers of Israel. We may not have hundreds of pounds of gold to give to the Lord but we do have praise. We can thank Him for His blessings and we can testify to others about His goodness. We ought to give to our churches and to reputable charities, and we ought to do good deeds for others, but we must never neglect thanking our God for the victories He gives us in this life.