Numbers 31

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! Our movie reviews are done for now, so we’re going to be going back to looking at topics that are discussed in the blogosphere in debates that Christians have with atheists. One common complaint brought up against the Bible are the conquests that take place in the Old Testament. If there is any that is pointed to more than others however, it is Numbers 31. In reading atheists on the topic of “genocide in the Bible” I expect it. I am not disappointed.

The whole chapter is about conquering the people of Midian. What happens is that Moses commands the Israelites to go and put the people to death. They are to kill everyone save the women who have not slept with a man. Obviously, this was just bloodthirsty murder and the women had to undergo an embarrassing physical examination to be determined if they would die or be kept as rape objects for the Israelites.

Or maybe not….

To begin with, the start of the chapter says that this is an act of vengeance. That means that we have to look for something earlier that will tell us what this is in response to. Fortunately, we don’t have to go too far. The incident that this is a response to is found in Numbers 25.

Israel had already defeated the Amorites putting Balak in a tough position getting him to contact Balaam to curse Israel. The plan didn’t work, but Balaam knew another way to get Israel to lose their blessing. All that needed to be done was to get Israel to violate their covenant with YHWH. What better way to do that than sex?

Not that sex is wrong of course, but that sex would be the lure. Adultery of course was wrong and that would be the start. Suddenly one day, Moabite women show up in town. They are working in conjunction with the Midianites, the Midianites taking the more authoritative role. The idea is to lure the men away and then in doing so get them to start worshiping other gods.

This was quite a trip, as these women would have come a long distance and left behind any family duties while away and their purpose was to come and have sex with the Israelites and lead them astray. Thus, Midian was really the aggressor in this case and Israel was in the defensive position.

As a result of what happened, a plague came upon Israel that killed 24,000 people. This event was a mark of shame to Israel later on. In Numbers 31, the time for vengeance has come.

Now what of the embarrassing physical examination for the women? No need at all. Why? Children were highly valued and one needed to know whose child one was talking about. Virgins then were identified by special clothing and/or markings as could non-virgins be. The reality is that no one would have needed to do an examination to know who was a virgin. It would have been easy to tell.

Well obviously they were kept for sex purposes. Not likely. Israel was condemned for many things. Pedophilia was not one of them. Most likely, these young women would have been kept as household servants in Israelite families. There is no mention of rape in the text and that was already condemned by YHWH.

Well what about the deaths anyway?

Of course, this is said in a society where government aid is available and social programs to care for the deprived. In reality, most of the time, people were driven out. Only the diehards would stay behind wanting to fight Israel. Children left behind would simply be eaten by beasts. Am I saying this is ideal? No. I’m saying however, that there were not many other options available.

Still, this is a favorite that is often used. The sad reality is that few atheists seem to study Numbers 31. It seems to be a pattern of criticizing things in theology without studying them.