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Numbers 31:14-18

Context
The Death of the Midianite Women

31:14 But Moses was furious with the officers of the army, the commanders over thousands and commanders over hundreds, who had come from service in the war. 31:15 Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? 1  31:16 Look, these people through the counsel of Balaam caused the Israelites to act treacherously against the Lord in the matter of Peor – which resulted in the plague among the community of the Lord! 31:17 Now therefore kill every boy, 2  and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse with a man. 3  31:18 But all the young women 4  who have not had sexual intercourse with a man 5  will be yours. 6 

1 tn The verb is the Piel perfect of the word חָיָה (khayah, “to live”). In the Piel stem it must here mean “preserve alive,” or “allow to live,” rather than make alive.

2 tn Heb “every male among the little ones.”

sn The command in holy war to kill women and children seems in modern times a terrible thing to do (and it was), and something they ought not to have done. But this criticism fails to understand the situation in the ancient world. The entire life of the ancient world was tribal warfare. God’s judgment is poured out on whole groups of people who act with moral abandonment and in sinful pursuits. See E. J. Young, My Servants, the Prophets, 24; and J. W. Wenham, The Enigma of Evil.

3 tn Heb “every woman who has known [a] man by lying with a man.”

4 tn Or “girls.” The Hebrew indicates they would be female children, making the selection easy.

5 tn Heb “who have not known [a] man by lying with a man.”

6 sn Many contemporary scholars see this story as fictitious, composed by the Jews during the captivity. According to this interpretation, the spoils of war here indicate the wealth of the Jews in captivity, which was to be given to the Levites and priests for the restoration of the sanctuary in Jerusalem. The conclusion drawn from this interpretation is that returning Jews had the same problem as the earlier ones: to gain a foothold in the land. Against this interpretation of the account is a lack of hard evidence, a lack which makes this interpretation appear contrived and subjective. If this was the intent of a later writer, he surely could have stated this more clearly than by making up such a story.



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