Sunday, April 29, 2012

War Against Distant Cities (Deuteronomy 20:10-15)

The following quote is taken from

"More Murder Rape and Pillage -  As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace.  If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor.  But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town.  When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town.  But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder.  You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you" (Deuteronomy 20:10-14, NLT).

What kind of God approves of murder, rape, and slavery?"

            In examining this passage, it helps to read the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 20:

            We must take several things into account when examining a passage such as this one.  First, the situation described in verses 10-15 are describing a specific response to a specific situation; in this instance, what the Israelites had to do in case of war against a distant city, when they came to settle in the land of Canaan that God promised them.  Verses 1-9 imply that this is a situation in which war had already broken out between the distant city and the Israelites, and an Israelite army had been formed in response. 
            There is something significant to consider here: upon approaching a distant city during a time of war, the Israelite army must first make an offer of peace (verse 10).  They could not simply attack and destroy cities and people wherever and whenever they wished.  There were clear boundaries set.
            We now come to the issue of forced labor of the city that accepted the peace offering made by the Israelites.  Why would such an arrangement be made?  One interesting example is found a bit later in Scripture, in Joshua chapter 9.  In this story, the Gibeonites, a nation who lived close to where the Israelites would be settling, approached the Israelites first and offered themselves in order to make a lasting peace treaty.  For the Gibeonites, this was advantageous to them because they would have an agreement that forever protected them from war with a powerful nation such as Israel, and they could also have the benefit of Israel's protection in case of attack by other nations (Joshua 10:1-15).  This alliance was taken so seriously that it was upheld by the two nations for hundreds of years (2 Samuel 21:1-14).  The Gibeonites felt that forced labor was a fair price to pay for their lives to be spared and protected.
            If the city did not agree to peace but demanded war, there were terrible consequences.  In this instance, every man in the conquered city would be killed, to prevent further uprisings and bloodshed between the two nations.  However, the women and children would be spared.  Again, as in Numbers 31, the text here makes no mention of rape or sexual intercourse.  In the Ancient Near East, slavery as a result of being taken as a prisoner of war was commonplace [1][2][3].  The most likely scenario is that the conquered women and children became slaves to the Israelites, and the Israelites would take over their land and property.  Had the conquered city made a peace treaty and accepted the terms of forced labor, they would have been able to keep their land and property.
            Even though slavery was permitted, there were clear laws prohibiting the gross mistreatment or murder of slaves.  Here are some laws regarding slavery in the Law (Torah), the first five books of the Bible:

Slaves could not be forced to work on the Sabbath; they had a day of rest just as free people did (Exodus 20:10, 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14).
Slaves could celebrate at the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Tabernacles with their masters (Deuteronomy 16:9-15).
Anyone who beat a slave to death would be punished (Exodus 21:20).
A slave must be immediately set free if their master hit and permanently injured them (Exodus 21:26-27).
The Israelites had to protect foreign slaves who had escaped from their masters; they could not turn them in.  The former slaves could then live as free people among them (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).

            In short, this passage must be considered in a historical and cultural context.  God set down regulations for times of war to prevent unnecessary bloodshed, and provided sustenance and protection for those who were taken captive.           

[1] Code of Hammurabi (written circa 1772 BCE), translated into English by L.W. King (1915) #27-29, 32, 133-135
[2] A History of the Ancient World (Fourth Edition), Chester G. Starr, 1991.  Pg. 43.
[3] Life In The Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell, 1997.  Pgs. 35-36.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

War Against The Midianites (Numbers 31)

The following quote is taken from

 "Murder, rape and pillage of the Midianites - They attacked Midian just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed all the men.  All five of the Midianite kings – Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba – died in the battle.  They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword.  Then the Israelite army captured the Midianite women and children and seized their cattle and flocks and all their wealth as plunder.  They burned all the towns and villages where the Midianites had lived.  After they had gathered the plunder and captives, both people and animals, they brought them all to Moses and Eleazar the priest, and to the whole community of Israel, which was camped on the plains of Moab beside the Jordan River, across from Jericho.  Moses, Eleazar the priest, and all the leaders of the people went to meet them outside the camp.  But Moses was furious with all the military commanders who had returned from the battle.  "Why have you let all the women live?" he demanded.  "These are the very ones who followed Balaam's advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor.  They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD's people.  Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man.  Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.  (Numbers 31:7-18 NLT)

Clearly Moses and God approves of rape of virgins."
Let's examine the events of Numbers chapter 31.  You can read the full text here:

            At this point in Israel's history, the people were still wandering in the desert before entering the promised land of Canaan that God had vowed to give them.  Earlier, in Numbers chapter 22, the king of Moab and the elders of Midian, two nations that were distantly related to the Israelites but hostile towards them, felt threatened that Israel had come to live so close to them.  They hired a man named Balaam to curse them, but God caused Balaam to bless them instead (Numbers 22-24). 
            And so, taking further advice from Balaam (Numbers 31:16), the leaders of Moab and Midian came up with a new tactic to destroy the Israelites.  Moabite and Midianite women went to Israelite men and enticed them into sex and worship of their false god, "Baal of Peor" (Numbers 25).  God had repeatedly warned the Israelites that if they ever worshipped other gods or idols, they would be destroyed (see Exodus 20:3-6, 23; 23:13, 23-24; 34:17; Leviticus 19:4; 26:1; Deuteronomy 4:15-28; 5:7; 6:14-15; 8:19; 12:31; 17:2-7; 27:15; 29:17-18).  As a result of this sin, a plague killed 24,000 Israelite people (Numbers 25:9).  After this incident, compounded by an Israelite man named Zimri unashamedly bringing a Midianite woman named Kozbi into his tent to engage in sex and idolatry in front of all the Israelites, God determined that the Midianite people should be executed for their treachery (Numbers 25:16-18).    
            This brings us to the events of Numbers chapter 31.  God had pronounced his divine judgment on the nation of Midian, and he sent the Israelite army to carry it out.  Here, we are faced with a difficult question: Why did Moses command the army to kill the Midianite (non-virgin) women and the boys?
            This passage must be considered in a cultural and historical context.  In the Ancient Near East, tribal warfare was the way of life, and women and children were treated as little more than property [1].  Earlier in Israel's history, the Egyptian Pharaoh had ordered the murder of thousands of Israelite baby boys, because he was concerned that the Israelite population had grown too numerous and that they had become a threat (Exodus 1).  The mindset at that time was simply that it was dangerous to let the boys of a conquered nation or tribe live.  When the boys of the conquered nation grew up, there was the risk that they would take up arms and fight against their conquerors.  This is why they were ordered to be killed.  It is difficult for us to comprehend such an order in this day and age, but back then, it was commonplace.
            As for the Midianite women who were not virgins, the reason that they were killed was because they had directly participated in the calculated effort to destroy Israel (Numbers 25, 31:15-16).  They were responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, and they were sentenced to death for their crime.
            The crime of the Midianites in attempting to destroy Israel is all the more baffling considering that not long before these events, Midian was allied with Israel: Moses' wife Zipporah was a Midianite (Exodus 2:15-22) and her father, Jethro (aka Reuel), who was a priest of Midian, had heard about the power with which God had brought the Israelites out of Egypt, and had even given praise and thanks to God, and made offerings to him (Exodus 18:9-12).  He then aided Moses by giving him advice on settling disputes (Exodus 18:13-27).  The Midianites knew of the Israelites and of the power of God, but horribly betrayed them anyway.
            Now we come to the question: Why did Moses command them to spare the virgin Midianite girls, and "save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man" (Numbers 31: 18, NIV)?  What exactly did this mean?
            First of all, in the entire text of Numbers 31, there is no mention of rape.  None of the Hebrew words used to suggest rape, or even sexual intercourse, are used in the text.  Not only was rape forbidden by the Law (Deuteronomy 22:25-27), but immediately after these events, Moses commanded the soldiers to purify themselves and their captives for seven days (verse 19).  Rape would have violated that command (Leviticus 15:16-18).  The ultimate fate of the Midianite girls is not mentioned, but never once are they referred to as victims of rape or sex objects. 
            The situation of orphans in the Ancient Near East was not good.  If the Israelites had killed the older women and boys and left the girls to fend for themselves, they most likely would not have survived.  By sparing their lives, the Israelites became responsible for them and for their care.  The most likely scenario is that the Midianite virgin girls, when they were old enough, married among the Israelites.  

[1] Life In The Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell, 1997.  Pgs. 35-36.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

War Against The Benjamites (Judges 19-21)

The following quote is taken from

                "Rape is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.  Yet few people know that the Bible often condones and even approves of rape.  How anyone can get their moral guidance from a book that allows rape escapes me.  Perhaps they have been lied to about the Bible and carefully detoured around all the nasty stuff in the Bible.
            So grab your Bibles and follow along as I show you all the nasty rapes that your priests and preachers don't want to tell you about.  Note that in many places in the Bible there are references to "taking a wife".  Don't be fooled into thinking that these were voluntary marriages.  This first quote clearly shows that murder and force were used to "take" these wives." 
                Before we begin this section, there are two claims which need to be examined.  The first is the claim, "the Bible often condones and even approves of rape".  This is not the case.  The Law forbid rape, and God does not approve of it.  Rape is a sin.  In the time that the Law was written, rape was a crime that was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).
            The second claim is that marriages in the Bible usually involved rape, since they were not voluntary.  By that definition, all marriage in the Bible would be classified as rape, since marriages were almost never voluntary in the Ancient Near East.  In that culture and time period (as in some Eastern cultures today), marriages were always arranged by the parents of the bride and groom [1].  Men and women often did not even meet their spouse until the wedding day.  Marriage then was very different from today, where men and women choose their spouses and marry for love.  In the time period and culture where the Bible was written, people had little to no choice who their spouse would be.  Marriage was mostly for family alliances, protection and continuation of family property/assets, and procreation.
            There are several Bible passages referred to in this section; this post will address the first one.

The following quote is taken from   
"Murder, rape, and pillage at Jabesh-gilead - So they sent twelve thousand warriors to Jabesh-gilead with orders to kill everyone there, including women and children.  "This is what you are to do," they said. "Completely destroy all the males and every woman who is not a virgin."  Among the residents of Jabesh-gilead they found four hundred young virgins who had never slept with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.
            The Israelite assembly sent a peace delegation to the little remnant of Benjamin who were living at the rock of Rimmon. Then the men of Benjamin returned to their homes, and the four hundred women of Jabesh-gilead who were spared were given to them as wives.  But there were not enough women for all of them.  The people felt sorry for Benjamin because the LORD had left this gap in the tribes of Israel.  So the Israelite leaders asked, "How can we find wives for the few who remain, since all the women of the tribe of Benjamin are dead?  There must be heirs for the survivors so that an entire tribe of Israel will not be lost forever.  But we cannot give them our own daughters in marriage because we have sworn with a solemn oath that anyone who does this will fall under God's curse."
            Then they thought of the annual festival of the LORD held in Shiloh, between Lebonah and Bethel, along the east side of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem.  They told the men of Benjamin who still needed wives, "Go and hide in the vineyards.  When the women of Shiloh come out for their dances, rush out from the vineyards, and each of you can take one of them home to be your wife!  And when their fathers and brothers come to us in protest, we will tell them, 'Please be understanding.  Let them have your daughters, for we didn't find enough wives for them when we destroyed Jabesh-gilead. And you are not guilty of breaking the vow since you did not give your daughters in marriage to them.'"  So the men of Benjamin did as they were told.  They kidnapped the women who took part in the celebration and carried them off to the land of their own inheritance.  Then they rebuilt their towns and lived in them.  So the assembly of Israel departed by tribes and families, and they returned to their own homes. (Judges 21:10-24, NLT)
            Obviously these women were repeatedly raped.  These sick b------s killed and raped an entire town and then wanted more virgins, so they hid beside the road to kidnap and rape some more.  How can anyone see this as anything but evil?"
            The book of Judges is a story of the breakdown of a society without God.  The book ends with this sentence: "In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit" (Judges 21:25).  The Israelites had ceased following God after they entered the promised land of Canaan, and though judges ruled over them for a time, the conditions of the nation of Israel continued to get worse, culminating in the events of Judges chapters 19-21, arguably one of the most disturbing passages of the Bible.
You can read the full story here:

            The story begins with the rape and murder of a Levite man's concubine by a group of Benjamite men in the town of Gibeah.  In response to his concubine's murder (though in fact, he complacently allowed them to rape and murder her), the Levite man cut her body into pieces and sent the pieces into each tribe of Israel.  When the nation found out about the crime, it led to a bloody civil war with many casualties on both sides.  This leads us to the events of Judges chapter 21.
            First of all, we need to examine this passage in a historical context.  It is important to note that the Bible does not always approve everything that it records.  Just because there is an act of violence recorded in the Bible does not mean that God approves of that act of violence.  Some parts of the Bible, particularly the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), are books of history.  The book of Judges is one such book, describing the nation of Israel during the period of the judges (circa 1380-1050 BCE).  The book of Judges is not part of the Law (Torah) given to the Israelites, and does not contain instructions on how to live a life that pleases God (such as Paul's letters in the New Testament).  It is a book of history.
            As stated before, this sad story is an example of what happens when people and nations turn their backs on God and live life however they want to.  None of the characters in this tragic story do anything that honors God.  First, the Benjamite men of Gibeah gang raped and murdered a woman, in defiance of the Law (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 22:25-27).  What is worse is that the woman's husband and the man that they were staying with allowed this to happen.  Not only did they not come to her defense, but they sent her out to the group of men.  In this respect, they were as guilty of the crime as the men who killed her.
            Instead of following the procedure the Law prescribed for dealing with murder (Numbers 35), the Levite man mutilated his concubine's body and stirred up the entire nation to war.  Only in chapter 20 do we see the Israelites actually asking God for counsel, when they went to punish the men of Gibeah and the Benjamite men who refused to surrender them.  In chapter 21, they stopped seeking God's counsel, and decided to solve their problem of wives for the remaining Benjamites themselves, through more bloodshed and kidnapping, which was also against the Law (Exodus 21:16).  In short, in every way the Israelites failed to do the right thing in this passage, and the book of Judges ends on a solemn note.

[1] Life In The Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell, 1997.  Pgs. 52-54.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus

I wanted to take a brief break from the discussion this week, since it's Easter weekend.  I'd like to share a brief quote:

"If our Lord said, frequently, with great definiteness and detail, that after He went up to Jerusalem He would be put to death, but on the third day He would rise again from the grave, and this prediction came to pass, then it has always seemed to me that everything else that our Lord ever said must also be true." - Wilbur M. Smith

Happy Easter!