WAS THE GOD OF THE OLD TESTAMENT HOMICIDAL? PART 3- CONCERNING THE MIDIANITES AND THE MOABITE WOMEN
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”
So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm some of yourselves for war, and let them go against the Midianites to take vengeance for the Lord on Midian. A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.”
So there were recruited from the divisions of Israel one thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. Then Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to the war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand. And they warred against the Midianites, just as the Lord commanded Moses, and they killed all the males. They killed the kings of Midian with the rest of those who were killed — Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba, the five kings of Midian. Balaam the son of Beor they also killed with the sword.
And the children of Israel took the women of Midian captive, with their little ones, and took as spoil all their cattle, all their flocks, and all their goods. They also burned with fire all the cities where they dwelt, and all their forts. And they took all the spoil and all the booty — of man and beast.
Then they brought the captives, the booty, and the spoil to Moses, to Eleazar the priest, and to the congregation of the children of Israel, to the camp in the plains of Moab by the Jordan, across from Jericho. And Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the congregation, went to meet them outside the camp. But Moses was angry with the officers of the army, with the captains over thousands and captains over hundreds, who had come from the battle.
And Moses said to them: “Have you kept all the women alive? Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately. But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately.” (Numbers 31:1–17)
A number of perspectives on this verse. First off it sounds violent, which it is. But again, is this violence unjustified? Was this an order for Israel to fight against a civilisation which was just minding its own business?
Notice the verse begins with God instructing Moses to “take vengeance” on Midian. This shows that God had an axe to grind with these people. What was the axe?
A while back, we read of an account involving Balaam, a prophet who was hired by Balak, king of Moab, after consultation with the elders of Midian to curse the people of Israel. Balaam however, could only bless them in all instances (Numbers 23–24). The very next verse after this episode, we read,
“Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel” (Numbers 25:1–3).
All of a sudden, due to the infiltration of these Moabite women, the same God who had jealously guarded Israel the whole time in the matter of Balaam turned against them and there was a plague in the camp. All the offenders were put to death. It is until Numbers 31:16 we learn that Balaam was the brain behind this operation. He counselled the Moabites to send in women to seduce the Israelites both to commit fornication and to sacrifice to pagan gods in blatant contravention of God’s first law: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
It is in this context God commanded Moses to wage war on Midian and put the Moabite women who were not virgins to death. The idea is the non-virgin Moabite women among them would have been the same women who seduced and fornicated with Israelite men thus luring them away from the worship of God to the worship of idols. The virgin women would have been innocent in all of this.
Now the second part of this question concerns the below verse,
“…But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not known a man intimately”
Is God, through Moses, placing a stamp of approval on sex slavery here?
Again Islamic apologists (while turning a blind eye to Muhammad’s Quranic command to his followers to have sex with their female captives while their husbands were still very much alive in Sunan An’ Nasai book 26 Hadith 138) and atheists like Sam Harris (who said this is for “reasons better imagined than said”) would latch on to this to state that the Bible promotes sex slavery.
A word of scripture that perfectly encapsulates this state of affairs,
“ To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled”
The reason they would often arrive at this conclusion is because of their own perverted minds rather than the text of scripture. Nothing at all authorised the children of Israel to rape these women or keep them as sex slaves. As a matter of fact, not long after this incident, the law of a female captive is given,
“When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her.”
Remember the whole of Deuteronomy was written on the day of Moses death and the saga with the Midianites was his last mission before his death. Hence it follows they could not be that far apart.
The idea, even for a female captive was if you desire her, marry her (in 21st century parlance, if you like it, put a ring on it!). She becomes yours to take care of as a wife and you are not allowed to sell her on in future. How could the same God who, through the same Moses, gave this law have authorised the Moabite women to be raped?
In conclusion, Midian and Moab colluded to cause the people of Israel to sin in turning away from the Lord their God by sending women to seduce them into fornication and idolatry. For this reason, God declared war on the Midianites, Moses commanded the Moabite women who were part of the scheme to be killed and the virgin women to be kept alive due to their innocence in all of this. The “keep for yourselves the virgins” was not an invitation to rape them as shown by the law of the female captives which bound Israelite men to marry female captives if they desired them.