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And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.” (Numbers 31:1,2.)

Did this imply what Moses ordered after the war?

“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately.” (Numbers 31:17.)

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  • Yes, the text clearly says that.
    – Michael16
    Mar 25, 2022 at 6:23
  • @dottard thanks for commenting!! I would’ve worded a bit differently myself as well, but the question (as I understand it) is whether the commandment in the first verse cited warranted the directive that Moses ultimately gave (killing every male and many women), given that God’s commandment was a vague “take vengeance.” I found this question because I was reading through this passage and was unsure of whether the slaughter Moses commanded was actually from God. Mar 26, 2022 at 15:10
  • If you have any thoughts to share, I’d love to hear them!! Mar 26, 2022 at 15:11

3 Answers 3

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The way I read it the "take vengeance" part includes both the battle and the removal of all of the followers of Balaam son of Beor just as it is written.

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  • I am quoting from the exact same chapter that the thread poster mentioned - Exodus 31. Ah. Forgive me for assuming that the people reading this thread would have actually read the material prior to making comment.
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+50

Here in Num 31, as in most places, I am sure we do not have a complete record of everything that God said to Moses and what Moses said to the army.

I note in passing that this was to be Moses' final battle in earth before dying (V2).

All that we do have is the following:

  • V2 - the Israelites were to take vengeance on the Midianites [Again, I am sure that the instructions to the army were much more detailed that this simple phrase but are not recorded.]
  • The army of 12,000 killed all adult males, five kings, and the prophet Balaam.

However, the army then behaved like other surrounding nations and kept the adult women (V9). It was this act that made Moses angry (V14, 15). The fact that he was angry suggests that this was against his instructions to the army in the first place. It is true that the adult women were the cause of Israels sin at Peor and should have been killed with the adult males (V16).

Note that the act of vengeance (V2) was specifically in retaliation for the sin at Peor and the acts of the Midianite women! This point cannot be ignored. Why seek vengeance without inflicting vengeance? The women should have been the first to be slain!

Therefore, I suggest that as part of the unrecorded detailed instructions to the Israelite army, Moses would have made these things clear (on instruction from God) as confirmed by his disappointment and anger.

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  • That was helpful, thank you @dottard! Mar 30, 2022 at 3:06
  • @Gremosa - an honor to be of some service.
    – Dottard
    Mar 30, 2022 at 6:01
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“Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the congregation went out to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. And Moses said to them, ‘Have you spared all the women? Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.”

Moses and his company went out to meet the soldiers when they returned from battle. This was necessary if Moses were to obtain timely information about how the battle went. It was necessary that Moses go out to meet them rather than waiting for the commanders to come and report to him because the soldiers could not enter the camp until after they had gone through the process of purification.

No previous instructions were given to the commanders of the army regarding the taking of prisoners. In all their previous campaigns, there is never any mention of them taking prisoners. In this instance, they decided to spare the women and children. Moses was most unhappy about this.

“Moses and Eleazar the priest and all the leaders of the congregation went out to meet them outside the camp. Moses was angry with the officers of the army, the captains of thousands and the captains of hundreds, who had come from service in the war. And Moses said to them, ‘Have you spared all the women? Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.”

The logic behind the order is obvious. These women had enticed Israel to sin at Baal-peor, and if allowed to live, may attempt to do so again. Killing them eliminated that possible danger.

It is interesting that the other sons of Abraham were to have no inheritance with Isaac,

“but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living, and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward to the land of the east;” Genesis 25:6.

Yet, through Hobab, the descendants of Midian, the son of Abraham by Keturah, were amalgamated into the twelve tribes. Here, the female remnants of Midian were given to the twelve tribes as well. The female children were spared. Being brought up among the Israelites and under the Law of Moses, they would not pose a danger in tempting Israel to fall into idolatry. No male heir of Midian survived out of the five Midianite kings, not even of the children; And this seems to have had the approval of the Lord.

In the future campaigns of Israel this would not necessarily be the customary practice. In Deuteronomy 20:10-18, the Lord will give instructions regarding how Israel was to regard prisoners of war depending on who they were.

“When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you,"

[Bear in mind, this was only for those nations that lay outside the boundaries of the Canaanites.]

"then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and hall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women, the children, the animals, and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the Lord your God has given you. Thus, you shall do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not of the cities of these nations nearby. Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so, that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God.”

Israel would be permitted to keep as slaves the virgin women and children captured in battle from far away nations. They were even permitted to marry those women according to Deuteronomy 21:10-14,

“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her, and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that, you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.”

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