How can a loving God…?
Our story today can be a major stumbling block to many people. It also is at the heart of language that discusses the “God of the Old Testament” vs. the “God of the New Testament.” This God appears to be ruthless, uncaring, unloving, where the one we grew to know through Jesus was forgiving and peaceful.
So, let’s back up and get at the heart of our repulsion to this situation.
1. People die. We don’t like it that people die, especially when it is us or our loved ones, but generally, we understand that it is something that is going to happen and we accept it.
2. God is in control of everything. To believe in an all powerful, all knowing, sovereign God is to also believe that God is in control. Nothing happens that God does not allow. God also has the power to stop anything and everything. If God chose to have someone live to be 120 or 969 years old, they would live to that age. That is what being in complete control means – the power over life and death.
3. If people die and God is in control then God is in control of life and death. Here is where we start losing some people with a concept of a really small God. They want a god who is in charge of “good things”, but “bad things” are just a matter of chance – outside of god’s control. (I switched to small “g” because that does not describe the God of scriptures.)
4. Women and children die. Again, not something we really like, but we understand that if everyone dies, it is going to include women and children and God is in charge of that, too.
5. Large numbers of people can die at the same time. Plagues, earthquakes, natural disasters, flooding, tornados, tsunami. None of these are things we like and understand (from a how it fits in God’s design point), but we generally accept that they happen and, if we also believe God is in control, then God allows them to happen.
6. In times of war, people kill other people. Again, not something we like or look forward to, but we generally accept it as fact and the definition of war.
When we look hard at Numbers 31-36, our issue with the Midianites is not that they died (people die) or that women and children died (that happens to) or that large numbers of people died. At heart, it isn’t even that God allowed them to die, because that has been happening ever since Adam and Eve. It isn’t even that they died on that die because we can and do accept that, for each of us, there is a day and time that our life will end (again, and a sovereign God has control over that moment).
Let’s back up a second. God didn’t need the Israelite involvement to have the Midianite people die on this particular day. He could have done it with a plague (like those he allowed in the Israelite camp). He could have opened the earth (Korath). He could have rained down fire and brimstone (Sodom) He could have used any of the plagues of Egypt, starvation, drought. He could have chosen another conquering army to come in or even an internal coup.
God did not need the Israelites to deal with the Midianites. And, let’s look at the Midianites. These were a people who pimped out their women, their wives, mothers and daughters, to another nation (Moab) to use to seduce the Israelite men. These were a people who openly worship Baal and gave safe harbor to Balaam. These are also people who had Jethro as a priest and Moses’ wife and sons as kinsmen. These are people who had the opportunity to learn about God and worship the one true God but they chose to reject Him and breed idolatry, sorcery and hate for God’s people. The sins and choices of one generation can carry forward and infect generations to come.
God’s people were moving in to this land and they were going to conquer it. They weren’t co-habitating it. They weren’t moving in next door to friendly neighbors. They were conquering the land and taking possession of it. The people were going away, one way or the other – and, they weren’t going away willingly.
So, our complaint isn’t that there was a war, or that the Midianites died, or even that they died on this day, or even that they died on this day in large numbers or even that they died on this day in large numbers which included women and children.
Our complaint is that people, men like you and me, were used by God to carry out this action. Why is it that we can be ok with their death and even be ok with their death with God in control but we are repulsed by it being done at the hand of men? I think there are two reasons:
1. We don’t trust our fellow man. We have grave concern that some delusional person will see this historic event as some justification for taking action themselves. We see it as justification by other religious groups for their heinous actions because, well, the Jews did it.
2. We are afraid that God would/could/might ask us, as zealous believers, to do the same thing.
I think both are fully rational reasons to be concerned and repulsed, but, let’s face it – neither of them is an indictment against God. If you “can’t believe in a God…”, that statement isn’t about God it is about yourself and your fellow man.
Also, that was then. It is not a precedent, it is an isolated event at a specific time in ancient history. It was then – this is now. None of us are part of the 12 tribes of Israel freed from Egypt to move in to the promised land.
I lack trust in the crazies in the world as well – the ones who believe that their religious zeal gives them the right to behead people and set them on fire or kill or mutilate them in various ways. That is not this passage and it is not truth. I, too, have certainty they do not share my faith in God.
Jesus did not abolish the law, but He did fulfill it. God is God. The God who created the Universe is the one alive today. If you have an issue with God, take the time to truly examine your complaint. Is it really against God or, actually, is it against your fellow, fallen man? If it is the latter, then accept and embrace God – He is our only source of power and protection against the wicked in this world.
I went long on this part but I wanted to mention one item about the Reubenites and Gadites. Did you notice what it says in Number 32:1 – “They saw.” Isn’t this, over and over again, at the heart of our problems and disobedience. We put more faith in the sensory of our eyes than we do in the promise and faith of our heart. We put seeing over believing. As a result we settle for far less than what God has in store for us. We are pulled into sin. We doubt what we can’t see. We have wandering eyes leading to impure thoughts.
Where in your life are you putting your faith in your sight rather than in God? Where are you allowing your eyes to lead you into a state where you risk being a “brood of sinners”?
God is just, so, yes. The Midianites harbored Balaam. They worshipped idols including baal.
God could have simply wipe them out for their sin. However, he chose to allow the Israelites to do the battle to teach them, show them His strength and theirs and to test them on their obedience.
They had lots of flocks and saw the land was suitable for livestock – “do not make us cross the jordan” (sounds like still a bit of victim mentality)
No. He thought they were shirking their responsibility to the nation – “a brood of sinners”
They agreed to go into battle, “go ahead of the Israelites” but leave their women, children and livestock in place.
Historic reference. It was the history of God shaping this nation, not unlike recording birthdays or height on a door post.
weddings, mission trips, commitments to help missions, teaching occassions, application of gifts, joining organizations, churches
To ensure there is not vigilante-ism but justice. Gave time for witnesses to gather to tell truth instead of rushed judgment