Haydock Catholic Bible Commentary
Madianites. The five princes, (ver. 8) had joined Sehon, in his attack upon the Hebrews, Josue xiii. 21. They had united with the Moabites against them, and had been most active in perverting the people of God. They had even the wicked Balaam still among them, who was bent upon destruction; so that God saw the measure of their crimes was full, their provocations unsufferable, and he was pleased to let Moses be witness of their just punishment. This he would effect with a very small force, ver. 5. (Haydock) --- This war of religion was terminated about a month before the death of Moses.
Trumpets. These are the holy vessels just specified, though some believe that he carried the ark, which was done in some wars, Josue vi. 1., and 1 Kings iv. 5. Priests always sounded the trumpet, Deuteronomy xx. 2. Phinees was appointed general of this expedition to reward him for his zeal against the fornicators. (Calmet) --- Or Josue headed the army, as he did on other occasions, though his name be not here specified. The tribe of Levi was not obliged to go to battle, and therefore only twelve tribes send each 1000. Josue had been elected general by God, so that it was not necessary to mention his name. (Salien)
Recem; by which name Petra, the capital of Arabia Petrea, is known. This petty king probably took his title from this city, over which he presided. (Calmet) --- All the five had been, perhaps, tributary to Sehon, Josue xiii. 21. (Haydock) --- Sur, the wretched parent of Cozbi, chap. xxv. 15. (Calmet) --- Balaam. Some think he was a native of Madian, though he had resided in Mesopotamia. He had either stopped in this country, or hearing of the calamities of the Hebrews, had returned to receive the reward of his pernicious counsel. Thus he was overtaken by God's just judgment, and he fell into the pit which his avarice had dug for him, chap. xxiv. 25. (Haydock) --- Probably he was busy with his incantations; for this sort of men is generally cowardly. He had no sword, chap. xxii. 29. (Salien)
Possessions. Literally, "all that they could, they plundered." It seems they did not advance very far into the country; or many saved themselves by flight; for we find the Madianites soon powerful enough to enslave the Hebrews, Judges vi. 1.
Castles. Hebrew tiroth, means also, "palaces, or shepherds' huts." (Calmet)
Camp. They had sent news of their victory, and of the plunder which they were bringing to the camp, (Haydock) to be divided equally among their fellow soldiers, when they were met by Moses, &c., who came to congratulate with them, and to examine how they executed their commission, as well as to admonish them to be purified before they entered the camp, ver. 19. (Calmet)
Women. They had received no positive orders respecting them, and it was customary to spare their lives. But these dissolute women had rendered themselves unworthy of such indulgence, (Calmet) and the sight of them raised the just indignation of Moses, who was afraid lest their manners should corrupt the victors. (Haydock)
The sin of Phogor. The sin committed in the worship of Beelphegor. (Challoner) --- Many of the prostitutes had returned home, being terrified at the slaughter of their queen, Cozbi. (Haydock)
Of children. Women and children, ordinarily speaking, were not to be killed in war, Deuteronomy xx. 14. But the great lord of life and death was pleased to order it otherwise in the present case, in detestation of the wickedness of this people, who by the counsel of Balaam, had sent their women amongst the Israelites on purpose to draw them from God. (Challoner) --- Only those who were under twelve would be thus reserved; and as their tender minds might yet receive the impressions of virtue, by a proper education, they might, one day, be married by some of the Hebrews. The boys were all slain, either because they might be inclined to resent the injury done to their relations, or because they were all consecrated to Beelphegor; the first-born to be his priests, the rest to be victims, if necessary, to avert any evil. For "the heathens in cold blood," says Paine, "offered their children in sacrifice to Baalpeor." It was on this account, that the killing of all the first-born in Egypt, was felt so terribly, as the people could not lawfully approach their gods. (Forbes) --- Moses did not reserve the girls for the purpose of debauchery, as Paine ignorantly pretends; for that was contrary to his own laws, nor did he wantonly kill the innocent, which he also strictly forbade, and which he would have been still more afraid to do, if he had been an impostor. But he preserved the lives of those girls who might be presumed innocent, and who might live to do good, while he took the revenge of the Lord (ver. 3,) upon the rest. (Haydock)
Shall be. Hebrew, "purify yourselves and your captives on the," &c. The girls, and all the booty, might probably be rendered unclean by the presence of a corpse, &c., chap xix. 14.
Expiation, with which even the vessels which had been through the fire, were to be purified, or washed, as the Hebrew, Septuagint, &c., observe. (Calmet) --- Moses perhaps gave this ordinance by word of mouth, on this occasion, (Menochius) though something similar be prescribed before, Leviticus vi. 28., xi. 33, and xv. 12.
Equally. Those who had been in battle, had about a 50th part more than the rest. They gave the first-fruits to the priests, while those in the camp presented theirs to the Levites. Other rules were afterwards observed. See 1 Kings xxx. 24., and 2 Machabees viii. 28. The Rabbins assign the greatest share to the king, (Selden, Jur. vi. 16,) and Homer gives the largest portion to the general; after which the rest was equally divided, and even the absent partook. The gods were not forgotten. So also among the Hebrews, Syrians, &c., the general make an equal division. David assigns a part of the booty for sacred uses, 1 Paralipomenon xxvi. 26. See Exodus xv. 9. (Calmet)
Spoil. Hebrew, "the remains of the spoil," which had not been consumed by the 12,000. (Calmet)
Fruits. Hebrew, "a heave-offering to," &c., ver. 29.
Wanting. Septuagint, "all were unanimous," (Origen,) and "all answered to their names." Thus God was pleased to shew, that his Providence had directed the battle. (Haydock)
Garters. Septuagint, "bracelets," put on the arm, 2 Kings i. 10. Sometimes the Eastern nations wore large precious rings on their legs. --- Tablets. Hebrew tsamid, an ornament of the hand, Genesis xxiv. 22. The armillæ, or viriliæ, were worn by men near the shoulder. --- Bracelets, (dextralia) for the right hand, Ecclesiasticus xxi. 14. Hebrew hagil, means an ear-ring, Ezechiel xvi. 12. --- Chains of gold and silver interlaced, worn round the neck. (St. Jerome, ep. ad Marcel.) The Madianites went to battle in their richest attire, (Judges vi. 21,) as did also the Persians; (Bellon. 2,) and the Turks do so still, (Calmet) being descended from Ismael, the half brother of Madian, who both settled in Arabia. (Haydock)
His own. Gold, and such ornaments as might easily be concealed by the soldiers, where not required to be brought to the common stock to be equally divided. (Calmet) --- There were 840,000 head of living creatures, including the 32,000 virgins, which were distributed. The gold, which was voluntarily presented to the Lord, amounted to above five talents. (Salien, B.C. 1470.) --- The princes made a voluntary offering of their gold, but the common soldiers retained what each man had gotten. (Du Hamel)