The Morality of God in the Old Testament part 2: Would a Moral God Condone Genocide and Rape?

The Morality of God in the Old Testament part 2Intro

Welcome to part 2 in a series of posts on the morality of God in the Old Testament. In this post we will discuss the Israelite conflict with the Midianites.

Numbers 31 tells of God speaking to Moses with instructions that the Israelites should:

2 “Avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”

What was so bad about the Midianites?

Vengeance may, at face value, seem like a concept outside of God’s character; however, the commands given to Moses did not stop at vengeance.

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.

This is where this chapter of Numbers really gets a lot of questions. The two most frequent questions I see are as follows:

  1. Does this account go so far as to constitute genocide?
  2. Does God really give instructions to the Israelites to keep the virgin girls for themselves for the purposes of rape?

Before we address these two questions we should likely first answer the question: What was so bad about the Midianites?

Numbers 25 tells us:

1While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods

In this case, the people of Moab and Midian specifically sought to curse the Israelites at the direction of Balak. Instead, however, of direct assault against the Israelites the daughters of Moab and Midian were used to seduce Israelite men into committing acts of sexual immorality, and worshipping pagan Gods. Considering this type of behavior is in direct conflict of the laws given to the Israelites by the Lord through Moses. This was the gist of why the Lord was angry with both the Israelites and the Midianites.

Equal Opportunity

Prior to the Lord striking the Midianites through use of the Israelites the Israelite transgressors were first dealt with – the leaders of the transgression more severely, and the remainder with a plague that took the lives of 24,000 Israelites. Of course, no one today should be surprised that the Lord disciplined His chosen people. After all, Hebrews 12:5-6 tells us “… “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives”.

The discipline of the Israelites did not, however, mean that the Midianites would not have to pay a price for purposefully leading the Israelites into sin.

Back to the Questions

  • Does this account go so far as to constitute geonocide?

The short answer is, no. Dictionary.com defines genocide as “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group”. Thus, by definition this event does not constitute genocide, as a portion of the Midianites were spared. Certainly this event is not akin to the Holocaust.

  • Does God really give instructions to the Israelites to keep the virgin girls for themselves for the purposes of rape?

To be fair, the text has no indication that God gave a specific command to rape the Midianite virgins. Secondly, God commands those who were in battle, and any spoils from that battle to remain outside the camp for seven days to go through a purification prior to reintegrating with the camp (Numbers 31 19-20).

 19 Encamp outside the camp seven days. Whoever of you has killed any person and whoever has touched any slain, purify yourselves and your captives on the third day and on the seventh day. 20 You shall purify every garment, every article of skin, all work of goats’ hair, and every article of wood.

Sexual relations with any of the women captured would have caused further impurity thus disallowing the soldiers back into the camp for an extended period of time. The text makes no reference of such instances. Clearly, no evidence exists to assume the Midianite girls were kept for the purposes of rape. One may ask why only the virgins were kept. Logically, the virgin Midianite girls could not have been part of the plot to curse the Israelites through seduction since those girls had not laid with any man. As such, these girls were spared punishment.

Still, was all of this really morally correct?

The difference between God’s anger or vengeance and our anger or vengeance is God is always just. Our anger more often then not stems from our sin nature, and is therefore not righteous anger. Furthermore, God is omniscient. He knows all outcomes, everything that was and everything that will be. God is in the ultimate position to make decisions involving human life. We owe God everything, yet He owes us nothing. In the case of the Midianites we had a people attempting to corrupt another group of people in a very specific manner. We can hardly attempt to consider the Midianites innocent in this matter. Certainly the Israelites that fell victim should have had the fortitude to turn away from Sin; however, despite being the chosen people of God the Israelites were still human. As humans we will sin. This is not an excuse for the Israelites – just a statement of fact.

The bottom line? God is just. God is morality. God is good.

And I am believinforareason.

15 thoughts on “The Morality of God in the Old Testament part 2: Would a Moral God Condone Genocide and Rape?

  1. Whatever happened to free will? Are we to assume that God can violate the free will of His creation? And what about morality? If morality defines goodness (right vs wrong) and God is by nature good then he could not act otherwise. The alternative is that the Ten Commandments are just the whim of God (he might change his mind tomorrow) and do not reflect true morality. However, the larger question for me has always been this: Just what kind of a God are we worshipping anyway? Are we suppose to tell our children that God says to do as he says and not as he does? After all, children grow up emulating their parents and role models. Perhaps that’s why there has been more people killed in wars in the name of God than for any other reason. I am not believin for a reason.

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    • Thank you for the comment. I welcome any discussion that is presented in a respectful fashion. In the case of the Israelites and the Midianites God never violated the human gift of free will. Note that God did not prevent the daughters of Moab from seducing the Israelites, nor did God prevent the transgressions of the Israelites. In this event, as in any decision made in life, both the Midianites and Israelites ultimately had to face the consequences of their decisions. I contend that individuals from any given worldview would agree that actions yield consequences. God would not violate free will, as His desire is for us to love Him. Love cannot be forced, but only given, and love can only be given if one has the freedom to give it.
      On the point of God not being able to act immorally we are in agreement. Considering the very foundation for objective moral truths and values are based in God, who is without immorality, we can be confident that God would not act contrary to His nature of perfect goodness.
      Finally, we should tell our children to shape their lives in as close congruence to Jesus as possible. At the same time we should instill an understanding that God is omniscient, and omnipresent, which places God in the unique position to make decisions with a clear understanding of all possible outcomes and repercussions. As humans our knowledge and understanding is quite finite. Thus, we are not in a position to make perfect decisions. Thus, while we should raise our children to emulate Jesus we should also ensure our children understand our sin nature will prevent us from being perfect, as Jesus was. This is a wedge that was driven by the fall of man stemming from the Garden of Eden. Striving live as Jesus lived means understanding how deeply imperfect we are, working to improve with the help of God, and structuring our lives in a way that is pleasing to God.

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      • Out of curiosity, does God’s omniscience combined with God’s omnipotence and the idea that some will spend eternity in hell make God responsible for those people’s damnation? Grr my comment keeps disappearing hold on.If this isn’t the place

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      • Sacredstruggler, God is responsible for people’s damnation only insomuch as He allows events to occur and decisions to be made that lead to said damnation. Of course this allowance is due to God’s gift to us of free will. With that said, however, only the person who ends up in hell is truly responsible for his or her damnation. After all, we are free to choose. God provides us with all of the necessary information to make decisions that lead to a relationship with God. The ultimate choice is up to us. I think at this point I should define my understanding of the purpose of hell. Hell is not a place God sends individuals to be punished, per se. Hell is really the fruit of a desire not to have a relationship with God. God obliges the individual with this desire by severing the relationship with that individual and God for all eternity. To clarify, I see hell as a place one goes basis the choices he or she makes, not a place where one is sent.

        Excellent discussion. Thank you very much for your perspective!

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      • sacredstruggler says:

        I love your perspective on hell. It’s a fascinating idea. I’ve been intrigued lately what people think about theodicy type issues. I always want to ask why people think God created the people who would be sent to hell knowing full well they would go there. There is a certain level of predestination there. I like the idea that you pose that Hell is more almost a frame of mind than a place of banishment. Correct me if I’ve read you wrong.

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      • Looks like I was a bit unclear. I do think Hell is a place insomuch as Heaven is a place. My intent was that God does not send people to hell to be punished. People lose the privilege of having a relationship with God basis decisions they made in life. One might argue that people opt to go to hell (I know I am taking a great deal of liberty with this statement). I often wonder about this when I think about what drives people to be atheists. I have heard it said that if Christians are incorrect about the fact that God exists, no biggie, but if atheists are incorrect… bummer. Back to the issue at hand though. While I believe God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent I would not classify myself a Calvinist. I would refer back to a concept I have posted about in the past regarding how God allows, or permits things to occur, but does not (generally speaking) cause things to occur. For example, I do not think God specifically causes a child to be born. He knows the child will be born – the time, the weight, the length, the gender, and so forth – but He does not directly cause the child to be born. He does, however, permit the child to be born just as he permits us to have free will. Thus, while He knows who will, and who will not have a relationship with Him, He does not create people how He knows will be sent to hell. He simply permits people to be born who He later permits to make decisions of free will that may or may not be pleasing to God… at least that is my belief based on my understanding to date.

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      • sacredstruggler says:

        Interesting. But if God created people knowing that they would eventually sin and knowing that they would then end up in hell, and again correct me if I’m wrong, which is a place of torture ie. wailing and gnashing of teeth and flames and all that. Wouldn’t God be directly responsible for the whole affair. I mean if you could predict the future with 100% percent accuracy and knew that you were about to create a device which would torture millions of people and still choose to create it though you would not be the one actually torturing the people wouldn’t you still be responsible and if not responsible then at least not omnibenevolent.
        Thoroughly enjoying this discussion by the way.

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      • In my view it all comes down to how much value we place on our gift of free will. If God prevented babies from being born that would not eventually grow into a relationship with Him then what would the point of all of this be? We would, after all, know our inevitable outcome. Furthermore, love for God would be diminished if no one was allowed to exist who would not love God (somewhat akin to forcing someone to love you). Furthermore, it is the responsibility of Christians to witness to nonbelievers in an effort to ensure hell stays well below capacity. 🙂 I will again circle back to the point that God is not in the business of creating people who will inevitably go to hell. Rather, God permits us to have free will without interference. I view this as two very different concepts.

        I am also thoroughly enjoying our conversation. Good stuff!

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      • sacredstruggler says:

        But knowing that even one of the people you love so dearly would go to hell why follow through. Does God really need something to worship Him regardless of the future of the created? And we do believe we were created right? And that God being omniscient knows where the person will end up. Or do you believe in a God who has taken God hands of the world post creation as it were?

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      • I believe God has given us all of the tools and knowledge we need to be seekers and believers. Keeping our brothers, sisters, friends, family, acquaintances out of hell is really on us. I think this is where he two schools of thought tend to diverge. The way I see it, if I mash my finger with a hammer I cannot blame the person who created the hammer. I was fully aware of the safety concerns and repercussions if I become complacent, yet I mashed my finger nonetheless. If more Christians spent time witnessing (myself included) perhaps God, in His omniscience, would know that more people would be saved.

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  2. I believe the comment between atheism and Christianity is that (forgive my slang) if Christians are right, atheists will fry. And if atheists are right, oh well we’ll just cease to exist. My mother in law uses this as an evangelism technique. hehe.

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