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Whereas Moses, disregarding the expected consequences of the war upon himself, gladly went into battle, Israel did not want to obey his summons to war. The people of whom Moses had on one occasion said, "They be almost ready to stone me," when they now learned that their leader Moses was to die at the end of this war, tried to evade it, saying that they preferred to forego impending victory rather than to lose their leader, and each one hid himself, so as not to be picked out for this war. God therefore bade Moses cast lots to decide their going into battle, and those whose lots were drawn had to follow the call to arms even against their will. Moses' summons to battle was as follows: "Arm ye men from among you for the war, to execute the Lord's vengeance on Midain." Moses spoke of the Lord's revenge, whereas God designated this war against Midian as Israel's revenge. For Moses said to God: "Lord of the world! If we had worshipped the stars and planets, the Midianites should not have hated us, they hate us only on account of the Torah and the commandments that Thou hast given us, hence must Thou avenge Thyself of them." [848]

Moses did not in person lead the war against Midian, for he was mindful of the proverb, "Cast no stone into the well from which thou hast drawn water," and he who as a fugitive from Egypt had sought refuge in Midian, did not wish to make war upon that land. He relinquished the leadership of the people to Phinehas, for "he that beginneth a good deed shall also complete it," and it was Phinehas who had begun God's war against the Midianites by slaying the princess Cozbi, Zimri's mistress, hence the task of completing this war fell to his lot. Phinehas, as a descendant of Joseph, had, moreover, a special reason for wishing to take revenge upon the Midianites, as those had been Midianites who had sold Joseph as a slave in Egypt. [849]

The forces under Phinehas's command consisted of thirty-six thousand men, one third to take active part in battle, one third to guard the baggage, and one third to pray, whose duty it was in the course of battle to implore God to lend victory to the warriors of Israel. Moses passed on to Phinehas not only the Holy Ark, which Israel always takes into battle, but also the Urim and Tummim, that he might, if necessary, consult God. [850] Outside of this Phinehas also received the gold plate of the mitre from the high priest's forehead, for Moses said to him: "The knave Balaam will by means of his sorceries fly into the air, and will even enable the five Midianite kings to fly with him, therefore shall ye hold up to them the plate of pure gold upon which is engraved God's name, and they will fall to earth." They did as Moses commanded, and truly Balaam and the five kings fell to earth. They then executed Balaam according to the four forms prescribed by the Jewish laws. They hanged him, kindled a fire beneath the gallows, struck off his head with a sword, and then dropped him from the gallows into the fire below. [851]
Although Israel undertook the war against Midian upon God's bidding, to take vengeance for the wrong that had been done them, still their method of warfare was most humane. They attacked the cities of the Midianites from three sides only, so as not entirely to cut off flight. Victory was on the side of Israel, into whose possession fell the cities with all their temples, idols, and palaces. The same fate overtook all the five kings of Midian. All were slain alike just as all had made a common cause of the wish to destroy Israel. Balaam who had come to Midian from his home in Mesopotamia in order to receive his reward for his counsel not to fight Israel, but to tempt them to sin, instead of a reward, met with death at the hands of the Jews. [852]

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