Saturday, January 1, 2011

God is a Meanie (Numbers 31; Genocide and Sexual Slavery)

Moab leads Israel into sin, as in Numbers 25:1...

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Another tactic of Atheists is to point to the times that God in His divine wrath judges people in the Bible.  They suggest that God is misogynistic, homicidal, genocidal, tyrant.  One of favorite passages of the Bible for many atheists is Numbers 31.  In this passage the Israelites God commands, "Execute vengeance... against the Midianites."  The Israelite men of war attack this tribe of Midianites kill the men and capture the women and children.  Moses becomes upset because they have allowed the women to live.  He orders the execution of all the women and male children.  The female children are allowed to live.  I have often been told that if you ask someone their favorite passage you can learn a lot about a person.  I am not saying this applies in this case as an atheist does not believe, but it does give pause to think.

My first question to the Atheist would be, why so much vehemence against this ancient text?  I have read several translated ancient texts and have come across stories much more violent and much more unjust than this one appears.  Why so much energy into a fictional story about a mythical God and a people who probably never did any of this anyway?  The only explanations that makes sense to me is either they have doubts about their atheism and pointing to passages like this makes them feel better, they wish to win converts to their way of thinking (faith), or they are engaged in religious like indoctrination of other young atheists. On the last one it is a control technique to create cognitive dissonance through some emotional appeal, then resolve that dissonance by saying you have the answer.  In short this argument is an emotional one more than a rational one.

Now if you ever catch an atheist willing to talk about their favorite passage you will find they are not interested in understanding the background of this passage and only want to judge it on the surface.  Their conclusion is that the passage describes genocide and the sexual slavery of women.  Yet when you try to help them to greater understanding of the passage they will not be bothered by details.  For "free thinkers" they are very narrow-minded.  In case you might find yourself in a discussion about atheists favorite passage, let's take a look at these two claims, but first a little background to the story. 

God told Moses to "Execute vengeance."  For what?  What had the Midianite people done that was so evil that God felt the need to command vengeance?    There is a clue in the passage. 

Yet they are the ones who, at Balaam's advice, incited the Israelites to unfaithfulness against the Lord in the Peor incident, so that the plague came against the Lord's community.
Numbers 31:16 (HCSB)

There are many clues really.  Who is Balaam?  What was his advice? And what was the Peor incident?  Who is Baal Peor?  If we can understand these questions then we can have a better understanding of the events that lead to the execution of this group of people.  I would add one more question "Who are the Midianites?"

Who is Balaam?

Balaam was a man who had a gift of prophecy.  Balak the King of Moab at the time when to Balaam when the Israelites came up out of Egypt (Numbers 22:5).  He desired that the Prophet would curse the Israelites for him, because he felt threatened by them (Numbers 22:6).  Balaam heard from God that he could not curse the Israelites because God had blessed them (Numbers 22:12).  After several attempts by Balak and tempted by the promise of riches Balaam decided to go (2 Peter 2:15).  There is some misunderstanding of Numbers 22:20-22 (NASB) in that it seems as though God gives permission and then becomes angry with Balaam.  The permission to go was given conditionally.  God says "If the men come to call you, rise up and go."  However, Balaam the next morning "Arose and saddle his donkey.."  It seems that Balaam was all too eager to go with them and did not wait on them to call him.  Instead his heart was in to going with them to curse the Israelites and receive his reward.  God Judges Balaam's heart and is angry.

So then Balaam goes to Balak to curse the people of Israel.  He cannot do this since God has blessed them.  In the end Balaam also blesses Israel and curses the kingdoms of Canaan including the Moabites (Numbers 24:17). 

What was his advice?

There is no record of what Balaam said to Balak in Numbers.  However, in the traditional view, explained in Revelation 2:14, Balaam not being able to curse them (being restrained by God) suggested that if the Balak could convince the people to prostitute themselves to the men of Israel and get them to worship foreign gods that they would be able to subvert the will of God.  

What was the  Peor incident?

The plan worked.  The women prostituted themselves (Numbers 25:1) and the Israelites began to align themselves with Baal (God) of Peor (Numbers 25:2-3).  This was a serious matter and had it been unchallenged it could have altered the course of history.  If the Isaelites (God's chosen people) had followed after Baal, God's final plan of redemption would have been thwarted.  So Moses acted swiftly and had those that converted to Baal of Peor killed (Numbers 25:5). 

Who is Baal Peor

Baal Peor is "The Lord of the Opening."  Baal Peor was worshiped with prostitution and other unclean activities involving the openings of the human body (avoiding becoming graphic).  It seems that if you were to pick out a perfect deity to carry out this plan this would be the one.  The warriors (wives and daughters) would be worshiping the deity by giving their bodies in this way.  The men of Israel would be enticed away from God by their sexual appetites. 

Who are the Midianites?

At first it seems confusing; Balak the king of the Moabites and the women of Moab perpetrated this incident.  However, as we dig a little deeper we discover that the Midianites were also aligned with Balak and his plan (Numbers 22:4, 7; Numbers 25:17-18).  However, we cannot say that all Midianites were involved in this plan.

One problem is that Moses was married to a Midianite.  His father-in-law was a Midianite priest (Exodus 2:16, 3:1).  Another problem is that Moses killed every male (Numbers 31:7) and yet about 200 years in future Midian subdued Israel for seven years (Judges 6:1).  How can this be?  The most reasonable explanation is that Moses did not intend for the Israelites to kill all the Midianites (which would have included his own household), but rather the Midianites responsible for the Peor incident.  In fact the passage says as much (Numbers 31:16). 


So in summary Balak goes to the Midianite kings and says we have to get rid of these people they are a threat to us.  He attempts to get a local prophet to pronounce a curse against them because he does not foresee a military victory.  This not being successful they come up with a plan to have women go to seduce the men of Israel and lead them to follow the Baal of Peor.  Presumably the Midianites send a caravan of 5 kings, soldiers along with their wives, daughters, and children.  The wives and daughters, who are old enough, go to the Israelites and entice them to have sex with them.   The plan works and some men of Israel converted to Baal of Peor (Lord of the Opening).  Moses then orders the execution of the men of Israel drawn into this cult.  Later on God commands Moses to tell the Israelites to take retribution against the Midianite caravan that perpetrated this plan. 

Now that we have the background let's take a look at the claim that this was a genocide or taking of sexual slaves.  

The claim that the women spared became sexual slaves makes little sense.  It would seem that all the women of age involved in the plan to entice the men of Israel were executed for their part in this plan.  If the intent was to take sexual slaves then it would not make sense to kill the very women who were willing to give their bodies sexually.  What is more if the women of age (old enough to have sex) were killed that would only leave very young girls.  This would make the claim even more outrageous saying that the Israelites took to pedophilia with little girls.  This claim is outrageous given the restrictions that are clearly laid out in the Bible.  The Jews (because of the Law of God) were very conservative sexually.  Pedophilia does not make sense and is a stretch and perverts the text in Numbers 31.

The claim of Genocide also not make sense.  Moses was close to the Midianite people through marriage.  He did not kill all Midianites as they show up later in the Bible.  It is more likely that Midianites from five cities with five kings agreed to take part with Balak in the plan to perform sexual warfare against the Jews.  And the killing of these Midianites was in the context of the war started by Balak and his Midianite allies. 

In terms of moral responsibility for the children.  I do not want to get into a debate of whether it was right or wrong to kill.  In war the right to kill is clouded by the right to defend oneself.  There have been many men, women, and children killed by warfare.  But to think that these Midianite parents took their children into a war seems outrageous.  They even pressed their adolescent daughters into service as sexual warriors.  It seems that if you are looking for moral high ground siding with the Midianites in this case makes little sense. 

Of course in most cases you will not get someone using this argument to look at the evidence of their claims against God, but at least now you know the whole story. 

God Bless You

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