Numbers 31—How can it be morally right for the Israelites to totally destroy the Midianites?

Problem: According to the record of events in Numbers 31, Moses commanded the Israelites to utterly destroy the Midianites. Verse 7 states that they killed every Midianite male. Verse 9 records that they took all the women and children as captives, and verse 10 states that the Israelites burned all the cities and camps of the Midianites. Again, in verse 17, Moses commanded the people to kill every male child of the Midianites and every Midianite woman who had intercourse with a man, leaving only the female children and young virgins. How can such a total destruction be morally justified?

Solution: First of all, it must be remembered that it was the Midianites who corrupted God’s people by leading them into idolatry at Baal-Peor so that 24,000 Israelites died in the plague (Num. 25:9). It was necessary to totally eliminate this evil influence from Israel.

Further, it was not on the authority of Moses that Israel performed this destruction. Rather, it was at the direct command of God. Verse 2 records God’s command to Moses to carry out the Lord’s vengeance upon the Midianites. The abominable nature of the influence which the Midianites had upon Israel in leading them into idolatry merited the destructive judgment of God. God dealt severely and decisively with this cancer. The moral justification for this action is found in the fact that God has the right to give and take life. Since the wages of sin is death, and the Midianites engaged in a terrible sin, they justly reaped the consequences of God’s vengeance (see comments on Joshua 6:21).

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