Defeat Of Midian And Pedophilia


Numbers 31


There is no way to make this look pretty. But the sinful human condition isn’t pretty.


I don’t know a lot about the Midianites. Midian was where Moses fled when he escaped from Pharaoh (Exodus 2:15). There, he worked for Jethro (also named Reuel). Jethro is described as a Priest in Midian. The language seems a little arms length, suggesting he was not himself a Midianite – he merely lived among them.


The Midianites themselves descended from Abraham (Genesis 25:2). They engaged openly in slave trading (Genesis 38:28). According to Numbers 22:4, Moab was closely aligned with the Midianites. And Midian seemed to be the more powerful nation – almost as though Moab was a fronting nation for Midianite activity. The similarities of Midianite and Moabite religious customs, the coordinated activity of the two nations in Numbers 25, and that God held Midian responsible for the ill behavior of both nations work together to suggest that Midian was the parent nation, and Moab did the dirty work on their behalf.


While Exodus 3 suggests that there was a land of the Midianites. But Numbers 31:10 suggests they were either at least partly Nomadic, or perhaps occupying Moab militarily – and that the vengeance of Numbers 31 was an attack against a local presence. Numbers 31;10 does not say that the Israelite army “burned the Midianite land and their houses”; it says they “burned all the cities where [the Midianites] dwelt, and all their forts.” In any event, even after they were destroyed in Numbers 31, they remained alive to capture Israel in Judges 6:2.


The context of 1 Corinthians 10:8 suggests that the Midianite harlotry was ceremonial. For all the surrounding verses in 1 Corinthians 10 discuss Israel’s relationship with God. It is no stretch to think that Paul might have used the word “fornication” as spiritual infidelity with regard to other gods. Hosea certainly had no problem calling spiritual infidelity “fornication.” But even if that is what Paul had meant, there was prurient physical immorality in Midian-Moab as well. For the harlotry of Numbers 25;1 happened “with women.”


God blamed the whole Moabite mess on Midian alone. (Numbers 25:17-18)


And God orders the payback in Numbers 31. God uses the word “vengeance.” With an army of 12,000, the Israelites killed the Midianite men entirely. The army captured the women and children, claimed all Midianite property for their own, and burned the cities where they dwelt, and their forts.


Most reasonable people can accept Numbers 31:1-14 as God’s judgment on a wicked nation. But Numbers 31:15-18 can be problematic. First, the adult women were ordered killed by Moses. It was against custom to kill women as part of a war effort. But Moses rightly observes that it was the seduction of the women that started this all in the first place. And lest you think there was a classic double-standard in effect, God had already judged by death 24,000 of His own men.


Kill every male – by implication, the male children. The text doesn’t say, but the boys would otherwise grow up to be Midianite men. And the battle would have accomplished nothing long term. Kill every woman who has known a man intimately. It was beyond hope that there remained a ripe woman in Midian who had not defiled the sanctity of worship.


But the virgins, keep alive for yourselves.


And this is where people start having problems: First, the army must have had to engage in perverse activity in order to identify the virgins, and second, the assumption that the only function orphaned girls could serve would be sex-slaves for the army captors. And the words “for yourselves” almost confirm that.


I am not convinced that the army had to do anything untoward in order to separate the virgins. The very young can be assumed to be virgin, and the culture in Midian-Moab wasn’t as private about matters of intimacy as the culture that surrounds us today. I suspect it was an easier task than if God commanded our army to do the same today.


And there is no need to jump to the conclusion that Moses was granting anyone a sex-slave. First, the large majority of these girls were obviously under-aged. As many things as Israel did wrong, I can’t think of one episode where God disciplined an Israelite for pedophilia. Moses didn’t sanction pedophilia; God would not have blessed pedophilia; and it seems out of character that the Israelite men would have craved pedophilia. I take “for yourselves” in Numbers 31:18 to mean to assimilate them into the Israelite people; to use their remaining years as children to nurture them in a God-fearing manner; and to replace the population that was killed in the Numbers 25 plague.


It’s still not pretty. But it’s a far cry from the nauseating and tasteless scene it is often preached to be.


© 2012, On Beyond Sunday School, All Rights Reserved.