Why did God command the Israelites to kill the Midianite women and boys,1 if He is a God of love?
The background of God’s command:
- Balak, king of the Moabites, conferred with the Midianites to get the prophet Balaam to curse Israel.2 God did not allow Balaam to curse the Israelites, but only to bless them.3
- Revelation 2:14 tells us that Balaam advised Balak to entice the Israelites to immorality and idolatry (an immoral physical relationship causes a man to defect from God). It worked. God was furious and He sent a plague that killed 24,000 Israelites.4
- The Israelites were in a covenant relationship with God who warned them not to follow the example of the nations in Canaan. They knew God wanted to protect them against immorality and idolatry that defile the land so that it vomits out its inhabitants.5
- How did Balaam know about God and His decrees, because he lived far from Egypt 6 and Canaan,7 in Pethor near the River Euphrates? The God of the Israelites, and His power was well known.
- God’s reaction to the Midianites’ attempt to seduce the Israelites was to tell His people to treat them as enemies. 8 God always protects His people.
- Moses commanded 12,000 soldiers to exact vengeance on the Midianites. That tells us it must have been only a local tribe, since we meet the Midianites again as a big force in Judges 6.
Why different treatment for women who have slept with a man, boys and virgins?
- The women who have slept with a man were the ones who seduced the Israelites and caused God’s curse on His people. The women could also be pregnant and so bring Midianite enemies into the Israelite camp.
- Were the boys who had to be killed 1 year olds, or adventurous teenagers who could not resist the excitement of war? The problem was that since the male was regarded as the head of the family, leaving the boys to grow up, would raise a generation of Midianites inside the Israelite camp.
- Why were the virgins not killed? The Israelite men could marry them, teach them about God and assimilate them into the nation. Atheists taunt that God advocates rape. They obviously have never read Deuteronomy 21:10-14 that clearly teaches Israelite men how to treat a captive woman they wish to marry.
- The Midianites deliberately set out to alienate the Israelites from God.
- Opposing God will always lead to destruction, after a period of grace. Nothing prevented the Midianites from accepting God as their king instead of trying to destroy His people.
- Numbers 31:1-6
- Numbers 22:1-6
- Numbers 22-24
- Numbers 25:6-15
- Leviticus 18:24-29
- God miraculously led about 3 million Israelites out of slavery, Exodus 7-11
- God miraculously helped the Israelites to take in various main cities, Joshua 5-13
- Numbers 25:16
The God of the Bible is a God of love, forgiveness and care. Yet there are passages that show a part of Him we would not associate with a God of love and compassion. More than once He tells the Israelites, ‘Kill them all.’ We want to discuss those examples to understand them better:
- The Amalekites: ‘Write this on a scroll… because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ 1
- The Canaanites: ‘My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out.’ 2
- The Midianites: “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites.” 3 After the campaign, Moses told the Israelites to kill all the married women and boys. 4
When we read these passages superficially, they seem strange. Did the same God not send Jonah to preach to the wicked city of Nineve? 5 Did He not save that city from annihilation when they repented and changed their ways? Why did God want these nations annihilated instead of calling them to repentance?
It is God’s judgement on these nations that causes His enemies, under the leadership of the devil, to deride and ridicule Him. For example, someone as notorious as Richard Dawkins (notorious for his lack of Bible insight), says about God, ‘The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: …unjust, unforgiving control-freak, vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser, …racist, infanticidal, genocidal …capriciously malevolent bully.’ 6
Can we, as believers, vindicate God’s honour? Can we justify His actions? Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is the Book of Truth.7 There is no way we can try to skirt around these Bible passages and give some vague answers. We need to examine them critically and come to a conclusion. It is important because the enemies of Christ, like Dawkins, insist that they have God in a fix. He is guilty of genocide and that makes Him a cosmic tyrant who does not deserve loyalty or worship.
We will discuss the three nations chronologically as they appear in the Bible in the next few weeks. There are interesting facts that are often overlooked in the Bible’s account. This will lead us to some startling conclusions that are completely opposite to what people might think.
- Exodus 17:14
- Exodus 23:23; Deuteronomy 7:1-5
- Numbers 31:1
- Numbers 31:17-18
- Jonah 1:1
- Richard Dawkins, The God Hypothesis, Bantam Press, 2006, p 31
- Daniel 10:21
Most people are disgusted by the Islamic group Boko Haram that abducted over 200 school girls. One can imagine what is happening to them. A similar accusation is regularly hurled against God: He commanded the Israelites to rape the women of the conquered nations. That is such a juicy story, the enemies of God revel in it, but let us look at the issue.
In Numbers 25 we read how Moabite and Midianite women seduced Israelite men and invited them to sacrifice to their idols. That was a clear violation of God’s command, so He disciplined them with a plague that killed 24,000 people. Then, in Numbers 31, God commanded Moses to take revenge on the Midianites. Eventually only the virgins and livestock were saved, and they were divided among the Israelites. This is where imagination (Godcondoned the raping of women) takes over from Scriptural facts. The facts are as follows:
- God demanded that captive women be treated with respect and dignity. ‘When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and make her shave her head [a rite of renunciation and purification], trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month [a humanitarian way to help her adjust to new surroundings], then you may go to her and be her husband, and she will be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonoured her.’ 1 That doesn’t sound like a command to rape the girls. Contrary to what usually happens to captive women in war, God’s commands reflect His concern that they should be treated decently. The Israelites were never allowed to indiscriminately rape and abuse captive women. God’s commands were to be obeyed.
- Jesus will never override any person’s wishes. There is another reason why God would never condone rape. God the Son, Jesus, came to earth to begin the process of getting a Bride (made up of the saved). This is entirely voluntary. Jesus is not going to ‘rape’ people to become His followers. He will not override any person’s wishes.
Why are people so anxious to accuse God of any possible mishaps? It is because we are in the middle of a vicious war against God and His Word. In this war the opposition side (whose commander in chief is the devil) negates honesty and integrity. Every bit of information that might impugn God is used, even if it is devoid of truth or facts.
Cherry picking certain passages in the Bible or distorting the real facts is propagandainstigated by the devil. Since we live in the midst of a war against the Bible, we can expect that distortions and lies will be spread about the wonderful God.
1. Deuteronomy 21:10-14