These Caused the Sons of Israel … to Trespass against the LORD (Numbers 31:15-18)

And Moses said to them, “Have you spared all the women? Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, you may keep alive.”

Numbers 31:15-18

These verses come after God commands Moses to wreak bloody vengeance on Midian before he (Moses) is “gathered to his people;” dies. I find two things odd about this on the surface. One, Moses’ wife is a Midianite. Two, God orders one last military action under Moses before Moses dies, things are not done according to Hoyle, and Moses has to set things right with regard to what can be kept as plunder. Cattle? Check. Precious metals? Check. Fine clothes? Check. Women? Only if they’re virgins. Wha’…? I’m sure that there are cultural reasons for this and all sorts of hygienic reasons to boot (some of those ancient pagan cultures were nasty — temple prostitutes, anyone?), but it still seems odd at a glance.

Being male, I learned how much sway a woman can have over me. It was a lesson that took God years to hammer through my thick skull, and not from any lack of trying on His part. I find it interesting what the criteria are for sparing a girl’s life: she has to not have known a man intimately — I think this gives a bit of a hint about just what kind of “trespass against the LORD” was perpetrated. There is something about a woman that leaves many a man susceptible to temptations he would otherwise never consider. Most straight men I know are likely to squirm a bit at the notion of having to kill the women (chivalry isn’t dead quite yet), but would see the need of removing women who had seduced men into transgression of some stripe. Those of us who are honest about our weaknesses know how imperative it is that we remove the things against which we are weak.

I also find this passage interesting because there are bound to be all of the following (and more) reactions to what is said from the fairer sex. I’m sure that some women would be indignant that Moses asks about the women being spared. The implication is that they should have been killed. Some women, and a few men, would quail at this. Others would be upset that anyone was spared. Some women I’ve known would have a total war policy on other members of their own sex. Survivors? Nope. Then there would be the “sexually liberated” women who would be indignant that only the women who have never known a man intimately — viz., virgins — were spared. There would be a tirade about the double-standards and such. This group might be mollified by the fact that all of the men died, but I think it unlikely.

So … application? The application, for me, is as follows. There are things that entice me; seduce me into transgression. Wherever possible, I need to utterly destroy the presence of these things in my life. Where they cannot be destroyed, I need to put in place safeguards. This has been and is an on-going process in my life — movies, music, books, and other things that seed wrong thoughts in my head all have to go. Late nights after long and taxing weeks also bring the siren song of temptations that can be too much for me to resist. Whatever it is that seduces me; lures me into transgression needs to go. Some good things may go along with the bad. It’s a price must be paid. The wrong is not worth whatever marginal good might come of the “good” thing that is attached to the thing that seduces me into transgression.


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