by Rev Jason Phua
Readings: Numbers 30:1-31:54; Proverbs 12:1
READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Numbers 31:17-18 “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.”
Numbers 31:17-18 are two verses which delighted the sceptics of Christianity and caused much confusion among Christians. We cannot understand why our God of love can be so cruel as to command the massacre of children and keeping the virgins for the Israelites. To understand these two verses, the context of Numbers 25 is important as well as Deuteronomy. Those to be massacred were the children of the Midianites and Midianite women who could tempt Israel into idolatry like how the Moabites did in Numbers 25. According to Deuteronomy chapters 9 and 14, the Midianites were among a group of nations that were considered extremely evil by the Lord. Hence, Israel was to destroy them as the chosen nation to bring forth the holiness of the Lord.
As challenging as it is to do so, we need to surrender to the wisdom of the all-knowing God; that sparing the children of the Midianites would have resulted in causing more harm to themselves and to Israel. It could be that given the wicked ways of the Midianites, these male children will anyway be raised in a cruel manner and be taught to seek vengeance when they grow up. As for the Midianite women, it was common practice in post-war situations where the women of the combatants were given the right to be spared the sword to become slaves. Yet, the Midianite women whom the Lord knew would lead Israel into idolatry had to forfeit that right according to the judgement of God; so only those who have yet to lie with men could be spared. Again in the book of Numbers, we witness how God’s holiness and foresight prevailed in the sea of human wickedness.
For us “moderns” who could never quite understand in full the cultural context of the ancients; we find it challenging to accept these two verses. Yet, in reflection, i have this question for myself: “Am i a person who is more comfortable with certain characteristics of God such as His steadfast love, being slow to anger and generosity on providing for our needs; but try not to think too much about His other characteristics such as holiness, being a covenant-keeper as well as being just?”
In my younger days of being in the faith, I have had such a disease. The disease of being double minded about who God truly is. Such double-mindedness is partly due to my ignorance of the least favourite parts of the Bible; partly due to my desire to mould an idea of God according to my fancies. It was also partly of how I tried to read my own experiences to the interpretation of the Word; a common act in Christendom which tends to give rise to all sorts of problems.
Yet, the God who confronted our humanity and sinfulness is a God who knew it all through His act of redemption on the Cross. He need not pretend. He need not inspire the authors of the Bible to do away with what seem to be unpopular with the people. He surely would not conform to our own idea of who He is. God is God. He is who He is. Either we surrender to Him in full or none at all. He detests double-mindedness because that only feed our own desires to actually want to be “God” or at least want to have a kind of God we can accept.
Lord our God, teach us to have faith in who You truly are and not trying to “bend” you into our own idea of who You should be. Amen.