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Why was Moses ordered to keep the virgins alive but kill all non-virgins and males in Numbers 31:17-18.

Is it equal to genocide, gendercide, and/or sexual slavery?

Please explain from all aspects.

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Does not the Hebrew of v. 18 refer to all female children and women, regardless of age, who hadn't yet laid with a man? As to sexual slavery, would that not depend on the intent or marital status, or both, of the slave owner? (What would a Jewish wife had said about her husband using captured virgins as sex slaves?) IMO, Moses was ordered to keep alive--perhaps for future use as house servants (cooks, handmaidens, laundrywomen, and the like)--all females who had not yet indulged in sexual activities. –  Pat Ferguson Aug 15 '13 at 16:22
@RageshDAntony-the women were going to be incorporated into the Hebrew tribe through marriage, to adopt the ways of their husbands –  Hello Dec 1 '14 at 18:42
@RageshDAntony - virgin was another way of saying unmarried woman, so therefore eligible for marriage. –  Hello Dec 1 '14 at 18:43

3 Answers 3

The children of Moab comprised a smaller tribe within the larger federation of tribes referred to as Midianites, or simply Midian. Earlier in the book of Numbers, we learn that the Israelites "began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab" (25:1). Moreover, the Israelites attended the sacrifices of the Moabites, they ate among the Moabites (perhaps partaking of foods God had declared unclean), and they bowed down to the Moabites' gods, including Baal (25:2,3). God judged Israel for her harlotry, both spiritual and literal, with a plague in which 24,000 Israelites died (25:9).

As the Jewish Encyclopedia says,

"It is commonly held that this form of Ba'al-worship especially called for sensual indulgence. The context seems to favor this view, on account of the shameful licentiousness into which many of the Israelites were there enticed. But all Ba'al-worship encouraged this sin; and Peor may not have been worse than many other shrines in this respect, though the evil there was certainly flagrant."

The Midianite virgins you refer to (31:18) were young girls who obviously were not involved in the licentiousness and immorality associated with Baal worship. They were therefore not implicated along with the adult men and women. These virgins grew up and were given in marriage to men in Israel.

As for why the young boys of Midian were not spared, I can only guess. Remember, the nation of Israel at this time in their history lived in an age of tribal warfare. The males of the nations around them were, of course, the warriors who made life difficult for Israel. Perhaps the boys were not spared because had they been allowed to grow up they would have sought vengeance for the deaths of their family members at the hands of Israel.

YHWH is not by nature a vengeful God who strikes out capriciously and randomly at whatever people-group He feels like killing off. YHWH does not take pleasure in the death of any man or woman, boy or girl. He is longsuffering and slow to anger, plenteous in mercy. He even provided for the acceptance of sojourners and strangers into the fold of Israel if they were willing to join Israel in the worship of the one true God, YHWH.

While He may visit the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generations of those who do evil (Nu 14:18 ff.; De 5:9), He also shows "lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love [Him] and keep [His] commandments" (De 5:10).

Moreover, He waited for hundreds of years to liberate His chosen people, Israel, from bondage in Israel because "the iniquity of the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure" (Ge 15:16). When it did, it was a stench in the nostrils of a holy God, not to mention a blot on humanity.

We need not go into detail on the depths of depravity into which the polytheistic peoples of Palestine had sunk by the time their iniquity had reached its full measure. Suffice it to say, that "full measure" was unimaginably depraved and likely included such aberrant behavior as child-sacrifice, cult prostitution, bestiality, pedophilia, and more, making Sodom and Gomorrah look like a Sunday school picnic!

The immorality of the human race became so egregious in the days of Noah, that God chose to wipe out humanity, save for Noah and the seven members of his family. Was God "justified" in doing so? Here's what the Bible says about humanity in the days of Noah:

"Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Ge 6:5 NIV, my emphasis).

This verse is not hyperbole, but is a succinct summation of the depths to which humanity can go if left unchecked and without a moral compass. Utter annihilation of even a people guilty of heinous sins may seem to us today to be unthinkably cruel, but to a holy God it may in fact be an act of mercy and a way to purge the human race of unmitigated evil and thus safeguard succeeding generations.

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The first part of this addresses the question, but from "We must remember" onwards it seems to be a personal interpretation/sermon/riff jumping off from, but not really tied to, this question. I have proposed (in chat) deleting the portions of this that don't answer the question. It would be better if you could see your way clear to focusing your answer on your own so that others don't have to take action. –  Gone Quiet Aug 9 '13 at 21:04
I sensed in the OP's question a common train of thought and "sticking point": a cause of stumbling for many people who want to believe in God but cannot get past the notion that God is cruel, sadistic, vengeful, and perhaps even arbitrary in His judgments. Since the OP asked specifically, "Please explain from all aspects," I attempted to do so by contextualizing 1) the slaughter of Midian in Nu 31, going back to its roots in Nu 25; and 2) God's earlier judgments during Israel's conquest of Canaan and earlier still on all humanity in the days of Noah. –  rhetorician Aug 10 '13 at 0:58
Contextualizing is at the heart of hermeneutics. My approach to contextualizing may seem to you to be mere sermonizing, riffing, or projecting my personal interpretation on a text, but I assure you it is none of the above. Having been a believer for 56 years; having read the Bible cover to cover numerous times; having sat under the tutelage of gifted biblical scholars (in person and via books and journals) for most of my life; and being of a bent to see the big picture--this concatenation of factors informs my approach to biblical hermeneutics. Edit away, if you feel you "have to." –  rhetorician Aug 10 '13 at 1:22
My 2c: this is just the sort of answer we need on this site, it starts from the text and where the question leaves off, building conclusions logically and with support. I've made an edit to add references (please check you are happy with them) and adjusted the language slightly, but +1 from me regardless. –  Jack Douglas Aug 10 '13 at 8:54
@JackDouglas: Thank you for your encouragement and for adding references. While my answers may seem at times to wax on and on, ad infinitum, there is a method to my madness. I subscribe to the notion of "the analogy of Scripture," according to which the cardinal sin to avoid is eisegesis. Scripture is its own best interpreter, and troublesome passages (e.g., Nu 31:17,18) become more understandable (though not necessarily more palatable to our sensibilities) when interpreted in the largest possible context: all of Scripture! Would to God I knew the Scriptures better. –  rhetorician Aug 10 '13 at 19:44

He killed them because of medical reasons, God is not just a spiritual being, he is a logical and intelligent being. The debauchery and sexually promiscuous acts meant that every man, teenage boy and woman had dangerous sexually transmitted diseases that they would have spread to the Israelites. He spared women, virgins and children who were disease free and so could be assimilated into the Hebrew community. It was an act of necessity not one he enjoyed.

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Which diseases please? –  fdb Aug 27 '14 at 17:06
Biblical Hermeneutics Beta encourages answerers to provide proof to back up their statements. That proof may come from either biblical and/or extra-biblical sources. OPs and readers alike find citations helpful, particularly in the form of hyperlinks, particularly if they want to follow up on (or even check out!) your answer. Intelligent opinions, guesses, and hypotheses are welcome, but again, you need either to back them up with respected authorities or simply identify them as opinions, best guesses, and hypotheses. Even then, they should be backed up by logical proof. Best wishes! Don –  rhetorician Aug 28 '14 at 1:15
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God ordered moses to take vengeance on the Midianites, but he NEVER told moses to kill any of the children. Moses stepped beyond the letter of the command. The male children were innocent, and so should have been spared along with the female children.

In going beyond the letter of Gods command, Moses effectively became a mass murderer. I say this as a Christian....Moses became a war criminal.

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To make this assertion, you need to support your argument. Granted the passage in Num 31 is vague (what does God mean by "vengeance," or as some translations state, "full vengeance," v.2)? But Dt 20:16 is an instance where God clearly stated everyone (including all children) were to be destroyed from among those peoples listed in v.17 (especially compare to v.14, where of some nations, children were to be spared). This was so they would not corrupt Israel (v.18). There is a parallel the issue referenced in Num 31:16. –  ScottS Jun 11 '14 at 14:06

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