Good afternoon Father Angelo,
As I have noticed that you have already given wise and exhaustive answers to plenty of users, I cannot resist asking you a question that has been distressing me for a long time.
Could you please explain to me the meaning of Num 31:31–40? Why does God request for Himself sixteen women who had been captured as prisoners of war? The sacred writer states exactly how many animals and how many girls fell as tax to the Lord… but what should God do with these tributes, especially with the virgins who had been spared from slaughter?
Thank you in advance for your helpfulness,
1. The booty of war was to be divided giving priority to the warriors who went out to battle.
Sure enough, it was fair that those who had supported the weight and the dangers of war should get a larger part of the booty.
2. However, it was also fair that part of the booty was divided among the rest of the people, because victory was gained thanks to the intervention of the Lord, King of Israel. Therefore, the booty was divided evenly, giving half of it to the warriors and the other half to the populace.
3. Besides, from the share of the warriors one item out of five hundred had to be set aside and given to the Lord, namely to priests. And from Israel’s half one item out of fifty was assigned to the Levites.
4. Among the spoils of that war there were also sixteen thousand female captives who had not known a man. These women had to be allocated to warriors so that they could become their wives or slaves. One captive out of five hundred, that is to say thirty-two women, was allocated to the Lord, namely to priests.
5. As you can see, the explanation is very simple. To understand this, it is sufficient to read the pericope before the one you mentioned, that encompasses verses 25–30, especially the following:
With the help of the priest Eleazar and of the heads of the ancestral houses, count up all the human captives and the beasts that have been taken; then divide them evenly, giving half to those who took active part in the war by going out to combat, and half to the rest of the community. You shall levy a tax for the Lord on the warriors who went out to combat: one out of every five hundred persons, oxen, asses and sheep in their half of the spoil you shall turn over to the priest Eleazar as a contribution to the Lord (Num 31:26–29).
Giving a contribution to the Lord means giving it to the priest Eleazar.
6. Everything is clear, then.
This equivalence is meaningful: giving a contribution to priests for reasons of faith is the same as giving it to the Lord.
I bless you and I entrust you to the Lord