31:7 They fought against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses, and they killed every male. 1 31:8 They killed the kings of Midian in addition to those slain – Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba – five Midianite kings. 2 They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. 3
31:9 The Israelites took the women of Midian captives along with their little ones, and took all their herds, all their flocks, and all their goods as plunder.
31:17 Now therefore kill every boy, 4 and kill every woman who has had sexual intercourse with a man. 5 31:18 But all the young women 6 who have not had sexual intercourse with a man 7 will be yours. 8
1 sn Many modern biblical scholars assume that this passage is fictitious. The text says that they killed every male, but Judges accounts for the Midianites. The texts can be harmonized rather simply – they killed every Midianite who was in the battle. Midianite tribes and cities dotted the whole region, but that does not mean Israel went and killed every single one of them. There apparently was a core of Midianites whom Balaam had influenced to pervert Israel.
2 sn Here again we see that there was no unified empire, but Midianite tribal groups.
3 sn And what was Balaam doing among the Midianites? The implication is strong. This pagan diviner had to submit to the revealed will of God in the oracles, but he nonetheless could be hired. He had been a part of the attempt to destroy Israel that failed; he then apparently became part of the plan, if not the adviser, to destroy them with sexual immorality and pagan ritual.
4 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.
5 tn Heb “every woman who has known [a] man by lying with a man.”
6 tn Or “girls.” The Hebrew indicates they would be female children, making the selection easy.
7 tn Heb “who have not known [a] man by lying with a man.”
8 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.