Numbers 31:17-18 How to defend this?

17Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

18But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

How do you explain this passage to a ‘non believer’ when they throw it at you?

I am no expert at interpreting Scripture. I have consulted some commentaries on this and have not found anything that I felt worthy of posting. So here is my 2 cents.

God’s foreknowledge of how people use their free-will is something that none of us will fully grasp. But He does know all of those who will not repent. And He does know of those who will harm His people in the future. Since God knew the ones who would cause harm to His chosen people, harm such as physical, and spiritual such as leading Israel into sin, God has called for wiping out all those who will do such a thing in order to prevent it from happening. There are other places in the Bible where God has called for that.

God does allow bad things to happen when good ultimately occurs from it, such as when bad people will repent or His people will grow stronger, but if God knows that nothing good will occur from it but only physical and more importantly spiritual harm, then God will call for such measures. Since He knew that those men and women would not repent and would also lead His people into sin later on, then He called for their destruction.

I hope that helps.

While I’m not certain as to the precise nature of your question, the quote is in specific reference to the Midianite women and children who were taken captive after Israel defeated them in battle. The rationale for killing the male children is so that they don’t grow up seeking revenge. The rationale for the killing of the women was that they were the ones who had gotten Israel into the whole mess (read several verses previous):

“So you have spared all the women!” he exclaimed. "Why, they are the very ones who on Balaam’s advice prompted the unfaithfulness of the Israelites toward the Lord in the Peor affair, which began the slaughter of the Lord’s community."
Num 31: 15-16

Does this help to answer your question?

That does help. It’s one of those passages that atheists throw around to ‘prove’ that the bible promotes violence and murder. I do know that context is everything when interpreting scripture.

It has to be remembered that what we call western civilization was being born during the events in the OT.

Many of the penalties attached to various immoral acts seem extreme to us but we have to consider that the human experiences involved were to become deep seated archetypes of how we think today about them.

If we are repulsed by the thought of incest we can thank the extreme measures taken to discover it’s repulsiveness by the law of Moses. It wasn’t so repulsive before.

Perhaps the repulsive response to the enslavement of another human being would have been sufficient to prevent the violence done to it’s victims if Joshua had enforced the ban.

Perhaps the chronic problem of having to deal with an enemy population within the tribes desensitized the Hebrews damaging their sense of human dignity and in consequence perhaps our sense of human dignity is crippled and underdeveloped.

Here’s my thoughts:

Destroying entire populations in warfare was a practice that occurred throughout most of the ancient world, and by no means was limited to Israel. The Midianites, the Amorites, the Canaanites and whomever else the Lord gave license to completely destroy themselves more than likely employed the same measures against their own enemies that they conquered in war.

The whole of the law is do unto others as you would have them do unto you, if the midianites (for instance) can wipe out an entire population of their own enemies in warfare, than it is only just that the same can be done to them. An eye for an eye.

Israel is also here fighting against them because they are idolaters who turned from worshipping the true God, and this is also a means of executing punishment on them. When Israel forsook the Lord’s commandment they themselves were treated like the midianites and the people they had driven out, and were put to the sword by foreign conquerers just as they had done to others.

As unbelievers, where do they get the notion that such commands are somehow immoral?

The basis for morality is of course God, so one can hardly acknowledge Judeo-Christian morality on the one hand while condemning its source on the other.

For the theological aspect, the Book of Job provides the response.

And if you don’t mind tweaking them, try quoting General Patton.

Someone who believes that we should have played patty-cake with the Nazis has bigger problems than poor theology!

Douay Rheims explanation.

17 “Of the children”… Women and children, ordinarily speaking, were not to be killed in war, Deut. 20. 14. But the great Lord of life and death was pleased to order it otherwise in the present case, in detestation of the wickedness of this people, who by the counsel of Balaam, had sent their women among the Israelites on purpose to draw them from God.

All human life belongs to God. Therefore, God can command that lives be taken, even of women and children. The Israelites, though, were a special case in that a certain harshness was necessary to establish the Jewish Faith and people in order to prepare for a Messiah to save the whole world. Because of the sinfulness of the world at that time, and because the pagan religions did much more harm than good, it was necessary for some tribes of peoples to be destroyed by the Israelites at the command of God.

Strange how the unbelievers noticed all the killings in Numbers, but they don’t notice the sacrifice of God himself.

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