Today's devotion from Numbers 31.
It would be easy to get confused or discouraged by Numbers 31. Only in the movies can one root for war. Very rarely are the sides so clearly cut and drawn out in black and white. In real life, innocents are always hurt. It is difficult to deal with the sections of God-sanctioned war in the Old Testament because we know His heart for all people, but it is exactly this compassion for all people that causes Him to take action against some.
For example, Moses was furious when he found out that the Israelite soldiers had spared the Midianite women. That's not because Moses was trying to obliterate an entire people or take women captive. In the Midianite attack, it was the women who proved to be the enemy. Instead of using the usual weapons of war to attack physically, they used their bodies to attack spiritually.
In all of this, I think that it is very telling that the chapter deals more with the after-action behavior of Israel than the actual act of battle. There is a right way to handle this victory, and it is vital that Israel understands this. God must be honored. If this simply became a matter for Israel, then the victory was actually a defeat. This reminds me of a quote from the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis. I think it was Ronnie Floyd that said, "If Satan can't get you to do the wrong things, he will try to get you to the right things wrong. Both are sin."
There are times that God decreed war was the right punishment for sin. Israel didn't go looking for this war, but God used them as an instrument to deliver justice. I think this is the reason that we see so much of the post-war affairs in Israel. It is never a joyous occasion when men and women die, even if they were enemies. However, God sought not only to punish the iniquity of the Midianites, but to protect His plan of redemption.
In this way, it was His compassion for the eternal restoration of mankind that led Him to take action against this specific group at this specific time. He desired the salvation of man so much that He would protect His plan even from man himself.