In yesterday's study we found the Israelites being victorious in battle over the Midianites. They killed every Midianite soldier who came against them, burned the cities and towns of the Midianites, and took everyone and everything as plunder that had belonged to the Midianites.
Moses is displeased with a certain category of these spoils of war. "Moses, Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the community went to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army---the commanders of thousands and the commanders of hundreds---who returned from the battle. 'Have you allowed all the women to live?' he asked them." (Numbers 31:15) I said yesterday that we might find some of today's content disturbing. Moses is shocked to realize the soldiers took all the Midianite women captive and did not kill them instead. Had he told them to kill the women? Or did he issue no specific order regarding this because, to him, it went without saying that the soldiers should kill the women? We don't know for sure, although many scholars believe that while relaying the Lord's battle plan to the men, Moses would have made certain they knew exactly what to do and what not to do. The fact that he's angry indicates he believes the men knew better than to bring all these women home with them.
Why does he feel the men have done wrong? He says, "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord's people." (Numbers 31:16) A unknown number of Midianite women managed to entice at least 24,000 Israelite men into idolatry by seducing them sexually. If Midianite women living outside the camp of Israel were able to do so much damage, how much more damage can Midianite women do while living inside the Israelite camp? Moses is saying something like, "These women almost destroyed us while they lived at a distance from us. And now you've brought them into our very house. Have you so quickly forgotten the grief we've endured? Why would you risk such a thing happening again? If it happens again it will happen on a much larger scale if these pagan seductresses are allowed to live in our very midst."
Moses now issues orders that may offend our sensibilities but we will talk about why he had no choice but to issue these orders. "Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man." (Numbers 31:17-18)
After defeating the Midianites, the Israelite soldiers took captive all the women and children. We don't know at what age the Midianite males could enter the army but in Israel it was the age of twenty. So we can assume that roughly half the Midianites under the age of 20 were male and would be among those captives whom Moses refers to as "boys". They might be anywhere from the infant stage to the age of nineteen. Moses orders them all killed. Why? Because in ancient times a male was honor-bound to avenge the death of his relatives. We don't know how many under-army-age males are in the group of captives, but at some point in the future they all would be under oath to attack Israel. The males who are old enough to remember the battle in which their older male relatives died will be especially eager to kill as many Israelites as possible at the first opportunity. Moses orders them killed so Israel will be protected from them in the future.
Remember, the Midianites made themselves the enemies of Israel, not the other way around. The Midianites knew about the one true God but rejected Him and rejected fellowship with His people Israel. (We know the Midianites knew about the Lord because Moses' Midianite father-in-law was a priest of the Lord and we must assume he was not the only godly man among them. In addition, Moses himself lived among the Midianites for forty years and no doubt testified to them about the Lord and provided a godly example for them.) Not only have the Midianites rejected God, but they've also tried to turn the Israelites away from God, and I believe that in the Lord's eyes there is no more serious crime than interfering with the eternal destiny of someone's soul.
The Lord is dealing with the Midianites so harshly because the Midianites not only wanted the Israelites wiped off the map, but their method of trying to get the Israelites wiped off the map would have separated the Israelites spiritually from God. Drawing the Israelites into idolatry was intended to remove the Lord's protection from them in battle, but in falling into idolatry the Israelites would have been rejecting the Lord, and this means their eternal souls were at stake. In the judgment I doubt any group of people will be judged more harshly than those who, throughout time, have tried to keep others from knowing and serving the Lord. The Midianites are just one example of people who have attempted to keep others from the knowledge and salvation of the Lord.
The minor-aged females are to be left alive along with the young adult females who have never had sexual relations with a man. If they have not had sexual relations with a man, this means they are not from the group who seduced some of the Israelite men. This is why Moses says, "Save for yourselves every girl who has not slept with a man." In Deuteronomy we'll learn that if an Israelite soldier wanted to marry one of these women, he could. Women such as this are referred to as "concubines" in the Bible. They are legal wives but do not have the same legal rights and societal standing as Israelite wives. They are not free citizens like Israelite women. A son of a concubine is usually not the man's primary heir unless he has no male children by an Israelite wife. A concubine was supposed to convert to the God of Israel and raise the children up in the religion of their Israelite father. When these rules regarding religion are not followed, we'll find the husbands falling into idolatry and we'll find the children of the household being influenced by idolatry. Even King Solomon failed to follow these rules and built pagan altars to please his foreign wives and as a result the Bible says these sad words about him, "As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been." (1 Kings 11:4)
It understandably troubles our hearts to think of the Lord allowing the soldiers to kill so many of the captive people of Midian. But we need to keep in mind that this doesn't mean that the Lord doesn't love every person or that the Lord doesn't consider every soul valuable. What it does mean is that the Lord protects those who belong to Him from those who don't belong to Him. For example, you and I would both say we believe every person matters and that every person's soul is equally important. But we'd protect a person who belongs to us from a person who doesn't belong to us. You'd protect your child from someone who is not your child, right? This doesn't mean you don't consider the other person's life valuable, but if that person was causing bodily harm to your child you'd take immediate action to save your child from injuries or death. The Lord is the same way. In our text today, the Israelites are the Lord's children. They belong to Him. The Midianites are not the Lord's children because they do not love or serve Him. The Midianites want to kill the Lord's children physically and spiritually. The Lord, like any loving father, takes action. As much as He loves and cares about the Midianites and wishes they were His children, they are not. They have rejected Him and made themselves His enemy. They have made themselves His children's enemy. He can't allow them to hurt His children. I believe it grieves the Lord deeply when He allows the soldiers to kill so many of the captives. But if He does not allow this, Israel will come to harm. The women who previously seduced men into idolatry would keep on working their wiles and separate Israel spiritually from God. The male Midianites would, in time, rise up violently against the Israelites. The order given to kill these people was a difficult order to make and carry out but it was necessary within the cultural and religious context of the time period.