Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered to your people.”
The first time I read this, I was confused. Moses had been sheltered by the Midianites in the house of Jethro. The last time I read about him, it seemed like he was helping Moses and the Israelites out. Moses had married a Midianite woman, Zipporah, and had children with her. The last I read of her, she was traveling with her father and her sons to meet with Moses. This was back in Exodus 18 … and Exodus is 40 chapters long. With regard to the timeline, this was a short time after Moses and the Israelites had passed through the sea on dry land. Over 40 years have gone by between the last time The Bible recorded Jethro and the vengeance on Midian.
But, more recently in the timeline of what’s going on in The Bible, Aaron and Miriam took issue with Moses over his Cushite wife (Numbers 12:1). What gives? My best guess is that both Jethro and Zipporah died and that Moses remarried. It fits the timeline and fits the available facts. What is more, the Midianites have more recently been antagonistic toward the Israelites. Numbers 31:15-16 records Moses saying that the women of Midian caused the sons of Israel … to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor.
What I see in this passage is the lesson that there can be good individuals in bad groups. The Midianites had done something to draw the Israelites into trespass. Jethro, who was a Midianite himself, was a priest of God and did everything he could to help his son-in-law. Jethro gave Moses wise counsel and even offered sacrifices to God that The Bible has no record of God rejecting. There was, at least, one Godly man in the nation of Midian.
Jethro was an awesome man. Other Midianites, not so much. Ruth, who I will read about later, is an amazing woman who happens to be a Moabite and told her erstwhile mother-in-law, Naomi, that the Israelites would be her (Ruth’s) people and their God would be her God. Then there’s Balak, who was the king of Moab and wanted to curse Israel. Frequently, The Bible confronts me with the individual who is amazing and praiseworthy in the midst of an otherwise wicked people group.
In my life, I will meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and histories. Some of these will be less desirable than others. Each person needs to be taken on his or her own merits and flaws. More, I need to be mindful of what Paul wrote and remember that there is now neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. God is not obliterating distinction — He loves variety — but pointing out that we all come to Him on the same footing and are viewed with the same love. Everyone comes to God equally in need of a Savior and everyone who asks is equally saved. Everyone who accepts God’s gift is adopted into God’s family and every child of God is God’s favorite child.
The Israelites took vengeance on the Midianites for the Midianites leading the Israelites into trespass. More often, God reserves vengeance for His especial province (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).
Father, please work in my heart to make me able to take people as individuals and to treat them according to Your love for them.