Numbers 31 records Israel under God’s command attacking Midian and destroying not only men fighting against them but also Midianite women and children. When the follower of Jesus reads these words ordering the destruction of a nation, emotions of deep horror and perhaps even anger may rise up at what is directed by the Lord.
How does the follower of Jesus, who said we are to love our enemies (cf. Matthew 5:38-48), even begin to be at peace with what he or she reads there?
- The first step toward peace is to recognize we SHOULD feel horror. God wants us to feel as deeply as possible the horror of what is commanded and then carried out with precision.
But rather than letting that deep repulsion to those events drive us from the Lord, we let that emotion energize us toward a deeper understanding and humility before Him.
Emotions are vitally important in identifying our core values – what we truly believe and cherish about someone or something. The more intense the emotional gut reaction, the more importance we are applying to whatever we are seeing around us or personally experiencing. In the case of God and Numbers 31, we can feel, even before we understand, that there is something hugely important about how we see God in this passage. Because emotions can pinpoint a starting point in any decision-making, we must treat them as pointing us toward important truth, but never accept them as the whole truth.
Patrick Jinks (The Jinks Perspective) has well said, “Emotions should and do play a role in making decisions. The key is time and timing. Much like brainstorming, allow a divergence first, then a convergence. Allow the emotions to have their say and reflect on them. If the emotions are tied to core values, listen carefully to them. But don’t make the decision in the moment of maximum emotion. Give your cognitive side time to weigh in, then decide.”
So, let’s feel the horror! …as Jesus did when He wept over Jerusalem (cf. Luke 19:41-44). But then let’s reflect on that horror, letting it push us to cherished beliefs that are shaped by the larger picture where conclusions are rooted in the whole truth about God and us. If we listen only to the horror we’re likely to be carried away by it into conclusions that make us FEEL better, but leave us deceived about the truth on which our lives depend.
- The second and perhaps more important step toward peace is reflection on God’s Word.
To every passage we read, we bring a preconceived notion of God. If we do not have the bigger picture in which He is revealed as good and perfect in all His ways (cf. Deuteronomy 32:1-4), we run the danger of settling on a notion of God not based in reality. We must make ourselves aware of the larger story so that we begin to understand GOD’S perspective in those readings that trouble us. So, not only do we read back into Midianite history, but we also read forward into salvation history.
Reading backward, we read that Midian was a nation responsible for the near collapse and destruction of God’s holy people.
[For a more detailed look at this history, see video link below to Pastor Dirk Gieser’s sermon, “Who Do You Listen To?” Sermon begins at 22 minutes.]
Reading forward, we read about the death of Christ and ultimately, the eternal death in hell for those who refuse to accept God’s way of salvation (cf. John 3:16-21). Concentrating on one passage and excluding the rest is akin to the provincial or arrogant assumption that any one person can judge the whole. Trying to take in the whole of God’s Word on a matter humbles us and leads us to submit to His infinite wisdom and eternally good purposes. It’s not one chapter out of the Bible, but all the chapters that give us a more complete picture of who God is and why He does certain things.
Considering the context provided by the Bible as a whole, what conclusions help us to be at peace before God in Numbers 31?
- Numbers 31 can help us:
- to deepen our abhorrence of ANY rebellion against God and the death that it brings
- to deepen our appreciation of God’s absolute holiness and therefore our fear of God; and
- to underscore the importance of being purified of sin and the process of eliminating it before holy God.
- The killing of the Midianites is a horrific occurrence but in the larger sense so is the ending of life for anyone passing into an eternity called hell (perhaps today – by God’s choosing of course). Do we feel THAT horror, or do we shrug it off? And, do we feel the SAME horror over the death of Christ Himself as we do over Numbers 31? We should, and even more so! For, if Jesus had not been crucified WE would suffer the same condemnation as the Midianite facing execution.
- By going to great lengths to describe the purifying process for all those who killed Midianites, Numbers 31 underlines the fact that all those who died were, in the total destruction of their nation, consecrated or dedicated to God. Their lives in death should be seen as belonging to God and therefore sacred to Him. He alone gave them life, and however and whenever He decides to take it, He can. That should bring us to a deep soberness so that emotions and our minds begin to rest in the blazing fire and majesty of God’s holiness because of His mercy to us in Christ. See 1 Peter 1:13-25.
- Numbers 31, and the conquest of Canaan that followed, are unique in the annals of history. The idea to go against Midian unilaterally, at that specific time, was not Israel’s decision. The decision came from the throne of God. Midan’s removal is the removal of a people who were lost in their devotion to unholy, false gods and a threat to God’s purposes for the nation that was destined to bring forth the Messiah. Throughout the remainder of the Old Testament this unique, singular time in history is seen as an extension of the deliverance from Egypt and creation of the Messiah’s birth family, the nation of Israel. Notice how unique this was in history in the words of Moses:
Deuteronomy 4:7-8, 32-35: “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? …For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. 33 Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? 34 Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.”
Unilaterally eternal judgments, such as the decision that life must end (or a nation must end), must be left in the hands of our all-wise, holy and merciful God if we are to find true peace in this fallen world. The choice, the timing, and the results of the Numbers 31 events were all in God’s hands, by his choosing and with deep grief that these things must be (cf. Luke 19:41-44). In these considerations we can find peace with God about the events of Numbers 31.
David Ewert (Saturday, March 14, 2020)
 THE BAN. “The Midianites were under what the book of Joshua later calls “the Ban.” The Wikipedia article on The Ban is helpful in identifying its meaning: “Herem or cherem (Hebrew: חרם, ḥērem), as used in the Tanakh, means ‘devote’ or ‘destroy’ …It has been defined as ‘a mode of secluding, and rendering harmless, anything imperilling the religious life of the nation,’ or ‘the total destruction of the enemy and his goods at the conclusion of a campaign,’ or ‘uncompromising consecration of property and dedication of the property to God without possibility of recall or redemption.’” (Wikipedia) Further information about The Ban
Very Helpful Video (3/15/2020): “Who Do You Listen To?” by Pastor Dirk Gieser, Emmanuel Reformed Church [sermon begins at 22 minutes]
Inspiring Video: “I Know” by Big Daddy Weave
Additional helpful articles:
- “The Ban,” by Gary DeLashmutt
- Knowledge of the Holy, Chapter One, “Why We Must Think Rightly About God,” by A.W. Tozer
- “If God, Why Suffering?” by Vince Vitale
- “How should we respond to suffering in the world?” RZIM Resources
- “Four Tools to Help You Understand the Hard Sayings of the Bible,” by John Tweeddale
- “First A Story,” by Jill Carattini