Moses said to them, “Have you let all the women live?16 Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.18 But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves. (Nu 31:15-18 ESV)
Here is an example of a passage that some use as reason why the God of the Bible (particularly of the Old Testament) is harsh or even evil. Moses orders the killing of women and babies. But it is not so simple as that. Theologically, this falls into a very different stage of God’s redemptive plan than we live in today. This is not normative or instructive behavior for us today. The people Moses ordered killed are part of a people that sought to destroy Israel. They were enemies of the work of God. Additionally, the nations dispossessed from the Promised Land were destroyed because their sin was complete (cf Ge 15:16). This is a picture of the final judgment, past the time of repentance. In the case of killing woman and babies there are parameters there too that contribute to understanding. It is not all women but only those who have slept with a man. The reason the women were killed is that they were part of the plat to drag Israel into whoring after Baal. Not all babies were killed either, but only the boys. Commentators Keil and Delitzsch explain this to be a way of wiping out the future of this nation. Women still available for marriage would come under the headship umbrella of Israel and essentially become Israelites. Without men, the people would be wiped out.
We must never approach the Bible in a way that strips parts away from the broader context and this text is a prime example of why.
What do you think this passage teaches us about God and judgment?
Chronological Reading Plan plus Psalms: Num 31-32, Ps 67