In Numbers 25, the Israelites fall into sexual sin with the Midianite, in a place called Peor.
6 chapters later, God tells Moses to take "full" vengeance on the Midianites because they had tempted Israel into sexual sin. The following quote is long, but the part about killing children for the sake of convenience is found in v. 15-18:
1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,Most Christians are justifiably scared of this biblical bullshit, and quickly change the subject by talking about how the new covenant in Christ is one of Grace and we are not commanded to kill each other any more, etc. Many Christians personally hate the OT. We grant the concession of defeat.
2 "Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered to your people."
3 Moses spoke to the people, saying, "Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD'S vengeance on Midian.
4 "A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war."
5 So there were furnished from the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.
6 Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war with them, and the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand.
7 So they made war against Midian, just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed every male.
8 They killed the kings of Midian along with the rest of their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.
9 The sons of Israel captured the women of Midian and their little ones; and all their cattle and all their flocks and all their goods they plundered.
10 Then they burned all their cities where they lived and all their camps with fire.
11 They took all the spoil and all the prey, both of man and of beast.
12 They brought the captives and the prey and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest and to the congregation of the sons of Israel, to the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan opposite Jericho.
13 Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the congregation went out to meet them outside the camp.
14 Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who had come from service in the war.
15 And Moses said to them, "Have you spared all the women?
16 "Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD. 17 "Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately.
18 "But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.
19 "And you, camp outside the camp seven days; whoever has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves, you and your captives, on the third day and on the seventh (Num. 31:1-19 NAU)
But some Christians are die-hard apologists and would rather be slowly burned alive, than admit their bible-god was an unconscionably barbaric petulant asshole. They will split hairs all day long like a jailhouse lawyer, just to get away from the obvious meaning of a biblical text. Jesus is not found in scripture, he is found in playing word-games, and telling yourself that splitting hairs about what should be inferred or not inferred from what God didn't say, is what the seriously Holy Spirit filled Christians spend most of their daily lives doing.
Two such apologists would be Matthew Flannagan and Paul Copan, evangelical Christian philosophers and co-authors of Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (2014, Baker Books).
In that book, Flannagan wastes the readers time with some trifling sophistry in the effort to arrive at the conclusion that the actions of Moses in Numbers 31 were more more barbaric than God had intended. I reply to these absurd trifles in point-by-point fashion:
Then maybe you missed the word "full" in Numbers 31:2? Was that a superfluous word?The third example Morriston cites to make his point is the defeat of Midian as recorded in Numbers 31. The Israelites fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man (v. 7). After the battle, however, Moses commanded Israel to kill all the boys and every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. Morriston says Yahweh was angered by the fact that some young Israelite men had worshiped Baal alongside their new Midianite brides, writing, “Not only must the Israelites be punished, but the Midianites must be punished for causing the Israelites to be punished.” God’s stated reasons, according to Morriston’s thinking, are inadequate.But Morriston appears to have misread the text. First, consider his claim that the text explicitly states that God’s reason for commanding the killing of the Midianite women and boys was “spiritual infection” because “some young Israelite men had worshiped Baal alongside their new Midianite brides.” There are several problems with this.First is the fact that, in the text Morriston cites (Num. 31:17-18), God himself does not explicitly command Israel to kill all the Midianite women and boys. God’s command to Moses regarding the Midianites is actually recorded in Numbers 25:17-18 and 31:1-2. God explicitly commands Israel to respond to the Midianites’ spiritual subterfuge by fighting against the Midianites and defeating them. The reasons why Israel is to obey isn’t the spiritual infection of women as Morriston says, but rather the fact that Midian has been hostile toward and deceived Israel.The Numbers 31 text does not explicitly attribute the command to kill the women and boys to God, but to Moses.
Morriston acknowledges this, but suggests three reasons why this observation doesn’t come to much. (1) Moses is regularly characterized as being very close to Yahweh, faithfully obeying his instructions most of the time; (2) Yahweh expresses no disapproval of anything Moses does in this story; and (3) Yahweh himself is the principal instigator of the attack on Midian.I can give a better reason: first, the "full" in 31:2, as already argued. Second, the fact that the Midianites successfully enticed the Israelites into sexual sin, just proves the Midianites were not one of the far away nations for whom Mose' rules of warfare allowed to be spared/enslaved, rather the Midianites were one of those "nearby" nations that must, under Moses' rules of war, be "totally" destroyed, since they proved to achieve the sin-enticement result that the mass-annihilation commanded was intended to preempt:
10 "When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace.Since the Midianites certainly did teach the Israelites to commit idolatry and other sexual sins, only a fool would trifle that because "Midian" isn't specified in the war-book's list of condemned nations, Moses "should have known" that 99% extinction of the Midianites was more than what God wanted.
11 "If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you.
12 "However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it.
13 "When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword.
14 "Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you.
15 "Thus you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby.
16 "Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes.
17 "But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the LORD your God has commanded you,
18 so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the LORD your God. (Deut. 20:10-18 NAU)
The fact that a woman is the mother of a 3 year old girl doesn't necessarily mean she loves the girl, but we are reasonable to presume this would usually be the case and require viewing of good evidence before we are obligated to think that any specific mother/daughter case is an exception.These responses, however, are inadequate. Consider the last point first. The fact that someone is the “principal instigator” of an attack doesn’t entail that he approves of every single action that takes place within the battle in question.
But the lack of approval also doesn't entail disapproval. If you wish to claim God disapproved of the higher level of slaughter Moses called for, that is your burden to prove. Your view of the text is hardly a priori.Similarly with 2: the lack of explicit disapproval in the text does not entail approval.
31:2 has God saying Moses should take "full" vengeance on the Midianites. If the result of the war comports nicely with "full" vengeance, then the burden of proof is on the apologist to argue that the the way Moses carried out the attack order was "too full".
There is no reason, other than fear of one's god looking stupid and sadistic, for pretending the "full" of 31:2 meant something less than the full-scale destruction Moses actually carried out.Morriston’s argument is an appeal to ignorance; absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
But the burden of showing the way Moses carried out this command of God was more extensive and sinful than God wanted, is on YOU.It is not uncommon in biblical narratives for authors to describe sinful behavior without expressing explicit disapproval.
In most cases, no doubt, the author expects the reader to know certain actions are right and wrong.
Finally, regarding 1, the fact that someone is portrayed in the text as close to God or faithful to him does not mean that every action he is recorded as doing is commanded or endorsed by God. Consider David, or Abraham.
A second instance of Morriston misreading the text is that not only does he attribute Moses’s reasons to God; he also misstates the reasons Moses does give in the context. The real issue is that the Midianite women had been following the devious advice of the pagan seer, Balaam, who had been explicitly commanded by God not to curse Israel. Balaam had led the Israelites into acting treacherously at Baal-Peor. This is the clearly stated issue (31:16). What occurs, when the background is taken into account, is not that some Israelites marry Midianite women, but rather these women use sex to seduce Israel into violating the terms of their covenant with God—an event that threatened Israel’s very national identity, calling, and destiny. This act was in fact deliberate.
So Morriston’s comments are far off the mark when he insists that the Midianites could not have been trying to harm the Israelites by inviting them to participate in the worship of a god in whom they obviously believed. The whole point of the exercise was to get God to curse Israel so that a military attack could be launched by Moab and Midian. The picture isn’t one of innocent Midianite brides, but acts tantamount to treason and treacherous double agents carrying on wicked subterfuge.
Didn't the Israelites manifest the same observation of corporate solidarity when willing to spare anybody that might come under Rahab's roof (Josh 2:12-14; 6:22-25)?
Didn't the god Moses served decree that the sin of Adam and Eve should inflict all of their descendants?
Didn't this god visit the iniquity of the fathers up to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 20:5,6)?
Why should anybody think the killing of the babies in 31:17 was against the will of a god who routinely killed babies for other people's sins?
13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." And Nathan said to David, "The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.There are solid reasons for saying Moses' actions in Numbers 31 didn't inflict more death than God intended in 31:2:
14 "However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die."
15 So Nathan went to his house. Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. (2 Sam. 12:13-15 NAU)
- Christians automatically presume the sinful human leader correctly conveys God's sentiments, always placing the burden on those who would cry for an exception (i.e., Flannagan blindly presumes just whatever the biblical prophets credited to God, really was from God, and requires liberals or skeptics to overcome that presumption). So Flannagan cannot coherently pretend that an assumption of Moses' consistency with God is too speculative.
- Moses' god routinely killed children for the sins of their parents, so the call to take "full" vengeance, without further qualification, would naturally be taken to mean the children shall share in the guilt of the parents.
- Moses himself adhered to corporate solidarity. God should have specified this case was exceptional and limited, if He didn't want somebody who believed in corporate solidarity to get the wrong impression about how extensive the vengeance should be.
- God obviously wanted the Midianite men to die, since he called for battle despite knowing the Midianite men would rise to the defense of their nation.
- it would be stupid and foolish to suggest maybe God only wanted the guilty adult Midianites killed, and the Hebrews should just walk away from their war victory leaving the orphaned Midianite kids to fend for themselves
- God obviously wanted the death of the adult women who were personally guilty of the sexual sin at issue. If he didn't what sense would it make to say God wanted Moses to make war with the Midianite men, but not the women who were instrumental in causing the idolatry to take place?
- God or Moses was the author of a war-book that included instructions on how to justify impregnating the female war captives (Deut. 21:10-14). Moses' sparing of the virgin girls was in harmony with what Moses or God allowed elsewhere.
- God obviously wanted the male Midianite children to be killed, since a) raising them as foster children would likely give rise to possible blood-feud after they grew up (an excuse many Christian apologists hide under), and b) God never makes good on his promises, therefore, God's promises that kids will not depart from proper Jewish teaching if they are raised in it (Proverbs 22:6) could not possibly be taken seriously by anybody faced with such a foster care situation.
Therefore, the inerrantist who compares Moses' actions in Numbers 31 to everything else that can be known about him, his god, and his ideas about just war, has no other option but to admit the massacre of innocent children and babies in this dreadful story was the will of God.