The original question was:
How can you believe in the Old Testament God who would order young girls raped in Numbers 31? Why don’t you at least replace him with the much nicer New Testament Jesus!
Answer by John Mackay
Let’s just check what Numbers 31 says first selecting from verses1-18
31:1 … the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 Avenge the children of Israel against the Midianites: …
6 And Moses sent them to the war, … 7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. 8 And they slew the kings of Midian, ….and Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.
9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods…..
14 And Moses was angry with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, who returned from the battle.
15 And Moses said to them, Why have you saved all the women alive? 16 These caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to sin against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.
17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that has known man by lying with him. 18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Now For the Serious Questions
As this question has only ever been publically asked us by atheists or skeptics who claim to have enough moral standing to accuse whatever god/God/ethnic leader who ordered this, of breaking so many of our modern rules about the rights of women, therefore this god should be castigated, cast away and replaced with our more enlightened morality of the 21st century, or alternatively … replace the savage Old Testament (OT) God with the more compassionate Jesus of the New Testament (NT). So let’s ask the following questions:
Is this ‘the savage God of the Old Testament (OT) vs a loving New Testament (NT) Jesus issue? Who were the Midianites? What is the background history here? What about the rape claim? And what is the real issue?
Savage Old Testament God vs New Testament Jesus?
Surprisingly we find this same issue raised again by Jesus Christ when he warned the New Testament Christian church to not behave like Balaam who was at the center of the OT dispute in Numbers 31. We read in the final book of the Bible where Jesus instructs the aging apostle John to advise one of the churches in Asia Minor of the following:
“… to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; …. 14 … I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” (Revelation 2:12-14)
In the same text Jesus describes himself as anything but meek or mild: “These things says he which has the sharp sword with two edges.” (Revelation 2:12) This Jesus is the sword wielding warrior King who actually ordered Moses to do battle with the Midianites, and who is coming again to judge all the earth with the sword as conquering King!
So scratch out the OT vs NT claim!
Who were the Midianites?
Their ancestor Midian first appears in Genesis 25:1-4 which informs us that after Sarah died, “Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. 2 She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. …. 4 The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida and Eldaah. (See also 1 Chronicles 1:32 ff) Abraham gave Midian and his brothers gifts when the left to go into “the east country” (Genesis 25:6). So the Midianites were Abraham’s descendants, and therefore relatives of the Israelites led by Moses some 4-500 years later when this clash occurred.
What caused these relatives to clash?
As you continue to read though the Old Testament you discover the first recorded mention of a tribe labelled under Midian’s name is their defeat by Hadad, king of Edom” in the field of Moab.” (1 Chronicles 1:46).
Joseph was sold by his brothers to Midianite traders who on-sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery (Genesis 37:25ff).
Centuries pass and we discover that after murdering the Egyptian, Moses fled to the land of Midian where he spent the next 40 years. Moses then married the Midianite woman, Zipporah who was the daughter of Jethro priest of Midian (Exodus 2:15,21).
In Midian Moses received his commission to lead Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 4:19).
The Midianites were friendly enough to act as guides through the desert for the children of Israel. (Numbers 10:29 ff).
After that, any friendly relations between Israel and Midian seem to have ceased and the elders of Midian joined with the Moabites to persuade the pagan prophet Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22:4-7).
When this failed, Balaam gave the Moabites and Midianites very clever advice on how to get the Israelites to sin against God by committing idolatry and sexual immorality. The Israelites fell for this and began to worship Idols and commit sexual sin with the women. (Numbers 25:1-5)
God punished Israel for this rebellion with a plague which killed 24000 people. The issue was brought to a head when Zimri the son of an Israelite leader, openly brought a Midianite woman into the camp as his wife, in complete disregard for what God was doing at the time. Phinehas killed them both and God called the plague off. (Numbers 25:6)
Numbers 25:16-18 records God advising Moses, to “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came.” All this happened as a result of the Israelite’s worship of Baal Peor, the pagan god associated with the mountain Balaam was on when we first encountered him.(Num 25:1-5)
Moses was ordered by God to lead a punishing war against the Midianites in which five of their chiefs perished; all adult males were slain, and the pagan prophet Balaam was put to death (Nu 25:15,17; 31:2 ff).
Later Moses instructed the Israelites to kill every Midianite male child as well as every woman who has slept with a man (31:17), but to take for themselves the 32,000 young girls who have never slept with a man.
Which is where we can stop the history lesson as this event is what this question is about.
So how would the 32,000 unmarried virgins have been treated? What would have happened to them? Could have been raped, or become servants, concubines or wives? Did the same God who told Moses to destroy the Midianites, give the Israelites rules about rape and or how to undertake the marriage of captive women?
Rape vs Marriage
One factor is obviously ignored: the word rape is never mentioned in this account. It is true that rape is well known as a form of abuse and oppression in human warfare down to the present day, so Atheist Russian invaders in Germany in World War 2 raped women to death as revenge on German soldiers having done the same when they invaded Russia. African refugees I have spoken to report women in their districts having been repeatedly raped by Muslim invaders during the last decade, and history abounds with reports of Catholic Crusaders using the same techniques. Yet no act that could be called rape is ever described in Numbers 31.
Yet the God who ordered Moses to war, who did allow soldiers to take captive women as wives, also gave rules for marriage to such captive women. Deuteronomy 21:10 records Moses informing the people that: “When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord thy God delivers them into your hands, and you take them captive, 11 And you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her, that you would have her as a wife; 12 Then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; 13 And she shall put the clothing of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month: and after that you may go into her, and be her husband, and she shall be you wife.”
A little checking will show you that these Midianite girls got a far better deal than any captured Israelite women would have gotten from the Moabites and their allies the Midianites. Secondly, and note very well; these 32,000 captured women were never raped. Instead they entered into a legal relationship with their captor/husband, which gave them enduring rights and privileges. Thirdly, few of us 21st century westerners would choose such a method of getting married if we had the choice, but these girls would have had no more choice in their original Midianite culture where marriage was organised by tribal leaders regardless of whether you liked the guy or not. Finally, the last century or two provides a good selection of cases where westerners particularly in India faced the same option: forced marriage after the sultan beat your army. The choice was apparently easy to make given the alternative was dead!
Compassion For Cousins?
This instance gives us a brief flip side view of the usually portrayal of the OT God as savage since He has now allowed young virgins descended from Abraham, to be reunited with their Abrahamic family after a long separation. The point is very simple, the God of the old and the New Testament is the same Being, compassionate to the ignorant. Provider to the needy, Compeller to the truly seeking, yet terrifying to all who tout open rebellion.
So, what is the real issue here?
The modern atheist mind wants to use modern their definition of rape as an absolute, such that a woman both before and after marriage is an autonomous being who has rights to resist any man including the man she married, and if he insists on sex, then that is rape and the male is legally guilty of a crime. One atheist University student we discussed this with was shocked to find such a definition did not exist even 20 years ago. Before that in most a western cultures, a married woman could not be raped by her husband since they were one flesh – a very biblical concept. Since the Biblical concept of love makes love not a feeling, but a choice which benefits another, then the Godly man has already figured out if she has a headache coming on, and such compassion means that she never needs to use sex as a weapon, or a legal threat, because a Godly woman is wise enough to never deny her husband to the point where she is forcing him to go elsewhere.
What’s the real issue then? As we repeatedly tell the atheists, ‘If they were god we would be impressed by their rules about sex ad rape and marriage, but since they are not god, and had nothing to do with the origin of sex, nor why it works so well, we defer to the real God who actually did create man and woman, and sex, and has the right to tell us what is wrong!’ Their atheism which uses evolution to justify their rejection of the Creator God, provides them with no durable moral basis for any rules, including what is or is not rape!
Now for one helpful last point about how to deal with claims about how cruel it was to kill all the Midianites including the boy children. Just ask them again if they believe in a woman’s rights over her own body, then move on to the right to abortion on demand, then subtly bring up how many children they have put to death in the last decade…and the answer is millions. Then politely tell them they are gross hypocrites!
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