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IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE BIBLE THAT PUZZLES YOU?

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THE PENTATEUCH --- GENESIS ---EXODUS--- LEVITICUS --- NUMBERS --- DEUTERONOMY --- THE BOOK OF JOSHUA --- THE BOOK OF JUDGES --- THE BOOK OF RUTH --- SAMUEL --- KINGS --- I & II CHRONICLES --- EZRA---NEHEMIAH---ESTHER---PSALMS 1-73--- PROVERBS---ECCLESIASTES--- SONG OF SOLOMON --- ISAIAH --- JEREMIAH --- LAMENTATIONS --- EZEKIEL --- DANIEL --- --- HOSEA --- --- JOEL ------ AMOS --- --- OBADIAH --- --- JONAH --- --- MICAH --- --- NAHUM --- --- HABAKKUK--- --- ZEPHANIAH --- --- HAGGAI --- ZECHARIAH --- --- MALACHI --- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW ---THE GOSPEL OF MARK--- THE GOSPEL OF LUKE --- THE GOSPEL OF JOHN --- THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES --- READINGS IN ROMANS --- 1 CORINTHIANS --- 2 CORINTHIANS ---GALATIANS --- EPHESIANS--- PHILIPPIANS --- COLOSSIANS --- 1 THESSALONIANS --- 2 THESSALONIANS --- 1 TIMOTHY --- 2 TIMOTHY --- TITUS --- PHILEMON --- HEBREWS --- JAMES --- 1 & 2 PETER --- JOHN'S LETTERS --- JUDE --- REVELATION --- THE GOSPELS & ACTS

The Book of Numbers.

Question: Are the numbers of men calculated in the census to be taken literally? They seem extraordinarily high for that period of history. If women and children are factored in, the population of Israel would have been close to 2 million. The commentary I'm reading offers some solutions including errors of transmission/translation or that the numbers have some sort of symbolic significance linked with the stars. What do you say?

Answer: The use of numbers in the Old Testament often raises problems for our age because we make two assumptions. 1). We assume that number words have never changed in meaning, and 2) we assume that the ancients used numbers as we do. Neither is true. To the ancients numbers were primarily used to indicate a meaning. E.g. 'Seventy' of Jacob's household entered Egypt because it was to be seen as a picture of divine completeness. They were not bothered about how many actually entered. The account was fitted into the number seventy because of its significance. It was to indicate the divinely perfect work of God in bringing them to Egypt.

There was a period of a thousand years or so in Sumer (roughly Babylonia) before the time of Abraham, in fact up to 1800 BC, when number systems grew and developed into advanced mathematics. (Egypt were never the same. Their mathematics was practical not theoretical. They 'calculated' by measurement). But in all that time the Sumerians never introduced advanced numbers into their 'religious narratives'. In those they limited themselves to the numbers three and seven because they signified completeness and divine completeness.

Thus when we look at numbers among the ancients we must not necessarily ask ‘how many?’ but must ask, 'what are they trying to say' by the use of this number? See our article on 'The Use of Numbers'. Number words were all words which also had another meaning, and were taken from that other meaning and at some stage given numerical significance. Thus 'eleph' first meant a family, a clan, a military unit, a captain of a unit, and so on well before it came to mean a thousand. This explains the extraordinary number of the men of Bethshemesh 'seventy men and fifty eleph men' (1 Samuel 6.19). Seventy thousand men in a relatively small town would be unusual, although admittedly possible. (They might have gathered from elsewhere for the celebrations) But seventy men died, and fifty clan leaders or officers, is quite reasonable and fits the context better. We should note that the 'seventy' may also mean 'the divinely perfect number required', while the ‘fifty’ officers could point to their responsibility for the covenant having been breached. Five was the covenant number. It was covenant punishment.

If the same principle for the meaning of eleph is applied to the book of Numbers we obtain much lower numbers. (Although there are no real grounds apart from modern man’s inability to believe in the God of miracles for denying these particular numbers, which are remarkably consistent, for it is admitted that God had to miraculously provide for them all the way. The point is that elsewhere there are more gorunds for questioning the literal translation of numbers). Thus we could translate Numbers 2.4 as 'those who were numbered were seventy four officers and six hundred men'. Israel's army of ‘six hundred eleph’ (Exodus 12.37) could be six hundred military units. And so on. It is a vast subject and this is only the beginnings of an explanation. But it is may be along these lines that we may be able to reconcile the different number problems.

Question : Thanks for your reply to my question on numbers in Numbers. From the reading you gave me it seems most likely that the words used in Numbers have been misinterpreted by certain scribes at some point in time. You didn't seem to say that the numbers should be taken literally as they appear in all modern translations. What then does this say about the claim that the Bible is without error? Even if the original text was correct and later translations have distorted it, I don't understand how God would allow his Word to be tampered with to the extent that our current Bibles do not represent the original meaning. If this is the case with the Numbers, is it possible that other words in Scripture that we have in our Bibles, may also be misinterpreted or miscopied by some scribe many years ago?

Answer: We must firstly distinguish between translating and copying. It is only the Greek and Hebrew text that is to be seen as verbally correct, not the translations. That is why we have so many translations. But fortunately we can check one against the other, and those who know Greek and Hebrew can check them against the original text. However, translating is not an easy task, especially with Hebrew. This is because people have differing thought forms and differing kinds of language with different characteristics. A word in Hebrew or Greek can mean several things in English and vice versa. Take the word 'perishing'. In English it might speak of someone dying, or it may speak of a car tyre whose rubber is disintegrating, or it may signify being cold. Each would translate into a different word in Greek and Hebrew. And verbal tenses in Hebrew have very different emphases.

The same happens the other way round. Hebrew especially is a very ancient language. We do not have word lists and concordances and dictionaries and grammars passed down from those ancient times. We have had to learn to translate it by comparison, both internal and with other languages, and by reading back from more modern Hebrew. So by comparison of the use of the same word in different contexts we can build up a dictionary. But Hebrew in the time of Moses was very different from modern Hebrew, as all languages change over time, as do the meaning of words. Try reading Chaucer in the original, or Bede, or Beowulf. Thus it is not the inspired text that is wrong when we come to numbers, it is our translation of it. We assume one meaning for a word but then discover sometimes that we may not be right. That is why we have commentaries. Much of their work is in trying to determine the exact meaning of particular words. Fortunately such words are often used many times and therefore by comparison their meaning becomes very clear. But with a few words which only appear once or twice we have to guess their meaning from the context.

It is only in fairly recent times that we have for example come to realise that ancient society was not on the whole numerical. We have had to stop and think both about our translation of numbers and also about what they meant to ancient peoples who did not use higher numbers regularly. They did not usually go to school to learn Mathematics. Thus it is not so much the accuracy of the numbers that is in question but how we read them. It is we who are inaccurate not they. Thus in ancient texts the word for 'two' can also mean 'a few'. The word for 'three' can also mean 'a good many'. We have to learn to discern their meaning. But this is not important from the point of view of God's word through those texts. It is only when we try to overemphasise the numbers that it becomes difficult. It really does not matter whether there were two million Israelites who left Egypt, or a hundred thousand. Numbers are really very unimportant. What matters is that there were a good number, and what happened to them, and what God did for them. But it is not the fault of the text if we translate them wrongly. That is our fault. We have to learn to get it right................. However while God did arrange for the inspired text to be wonderfully preserved, we know from the New Testament documents that we have, (thousands of them), that not all are exactly the same. Even the most careful of copiers made mistakes. In the early days many enthusiastic Christians would rush out copies, all written by hand, to assist in evangelisation and Bible teaching. It is not surprising that they made mistakes. Fortunately we can compare texts found around the world and by careful comparison are able to get mainly back to the original text (over 95% absolute accuracy in the New Testament with differences in the other 5% usually unimportant as can be easily seen from any examination of a Greek text like Nestles).

Because of the sacredness of the ancient Hebrew text special care would be taken in copying, especially those texts which were kept in the Sanctuary. And they would be copied by men who were experienced copiers and who knew them by heart. And others who knew them by heart would check their work. The Massoretic text is based on those Sanctuary copies. Thus we can have confidence in its overall reliability. But many copies were made for private reasons and not all of these would be so accurate. (You try making copies on your computer. You will find that however hard you try you will eventually make mistakes. No Bible has ever been printed that did not contain printing errors) Yet the discoveries that we make tend on the whole to increase our certainty of the accuracy of the texts. God ensured that His word would be preserved accurately. What He did not do was stand behind everyone who made a copy and stop them from making any mistakes. God works in His own mysterious way. In the end it is the meaning that is important, not arguments about relatively unimportant details

Numbers 5:11-31

Question : I know that ancient societies were predominantly patriarchal and male-dominated, but I would expect God to be above all that based on the Bible's teaching that He shows no favouritism. That is why I don't understand why a woman who suspects her husband of adultery does not have the same opportunity to put him to the test. I know I'm looking at this through modern eyes, but I can't understand why God would impose a law that in not equitable for both genders. Can you explain?

Also doesn't the curse which results in barrenness for the woman punish the husband as well, as he won't be able to have children either? (unless of course the Israelites were allowed to be polygamous at this stage of their history - were they?)

Answer: Let me say first that it is not up to me to say what God can and cannot do. He chooses to regulate in a certain way because He sees the end from the beginning. He does not say 'what is fair' (the world is not fair). He says 'what is best?' We simply judge on the basis of our own opinion and what we want without being aware of the whole sweep of things. We live in a 'rights' dominated society and assume we all have the same 'rights'. It is of course nonsense. It patently is not so. Only too often might, or wealth, or a pressure group, or whatever can gain the ear of authority through favouritism. Then what they want is 'right'. And by 'rights' we simply mean 'that which some law body or some authority, (often one remote from us and certainly tainted with sin, some more, some less), has declared to be a right' on the basis of their own doubtful morality, or what the majority think is 'fair', or what they can sway people to accept. When people go for their 'rights' they simply mean going for what they want and can persuade people to give them. They ignore what other people think is fair. They ignore other peoples’ rights. They alone are right. How arrogant we all are. So life is not fair and God has to take that into account...................... The example you give arises either from generally voiced suspicion or from an insanely jealous husband. One or the other has produced an intolerable situation for the woman. If she had a child he would now have no right of inheritance. He would be disowned. Furthermore her husband could treat her unfairly, even cruelly. She could be refused the marriage bed. And in those days children were vital to a woman's wellbeing. She could even be disowned and sent home. So God says, let this not happen. Let us remove the uncertainty from the situation. Let us put the woman to a test to find out the truth. The test, like a visit to the dentist, may not be very pleasant but it is soon over. And then she can be proved in the right or in the wrong. All uncertainty is removed. And the innocent woman will demand it. It is for the benefit of the woman.

But what about the other way round? Well the man was not put in the same position as the woman. Even if he were unfaithful the woman would be in no position to do anything about it. Thus it did not have the same social, or even personal, importance to him. Society would not despise him for it or cast him off unless the other woman turned out to be married (and then he would be dealt with accordingly), although they may have insisted he marry her. But what he has done will not determine the whole of his future, or the future of his children. And yes, polygamy was permitted at the time. So the situation was not the be all and end all of his life as it was for the accused woman.

So that is the position. God knew that the woman's position would be intolerable but that the man's would not. What good would it do for the woman to know that the man was guilty? It might have satisfied her desire to know, but it was not vital for her social future, or his. It was not then a social question but a personal one, and God was dealing with social issues. You see God was dealing with life as it was, not on some basis of some ill-defined 'human rights'.

Even humanly speaking it is a clever test. A relatively harmless potion was made and the woman was told to drink it. But she knew that the soil put in it was sacred, that it was from God's holy sanctuary. Indeed it would be impressed upon her that the water was holy, made holy by God's ordinance. She knew that she would be drinking 'what is holy to God' which had come from the presence of God. And she knew what the consequence would be (or thought she did) if she was guilty. What do you think would happen? The innocent woman would drink it gladly and quickly without hesitation. She would have no doubts. She would demand that it be given her. She would thank God that she had a way to prove her innocence. She would know that God would vindicate her. Her heart would be glad. What do you think the guilty one would do? In almost all cases her guilt would be plain, either because of her reluctance or because of her refusal to drink. She would hesitate. She would be fearful. She would demur. And if she drank her fears would be such that it would make her ill. Even the most brazen woman would hesitate in such a situation. And so the situation would be resolved one way or the other, for good or bad. All suspicion would be removed from the innocent woman. (Compare the judgment of Solomon in 1 Kings 3.16-28). Would you prefer it if the innocent woman went through the remainder of her life an outcast? Of course not. God had graciously ensured that it would not be so.

With regard to the barrenness. No husband of that day would want to bear children through an unfaithful wife. He would want to ensure that his inheritance went to his own children. So he would take another wife and have children. And the guilty woman would bear her own sin. For we must note that women are the childbearers. It is not a question of equality. There was none. She had no choice but to be a childbearer (not until science ruled otherwise, and even then accidents can happen). And the man had no choice by himself whether to be or not to be one. He was dependent on women. Life is not fair

Numbers 5:11-31 (Follow Up)

Question : Once again thanks for your answer. I now understand that the law was put in place to protect the innocent woman from the false accusations of a jealous husband. However no doubt there were occasions where the husband was right. Then the woman would suffer. It's the fact that the male who is guilty of adultery does not get exposed in this manner and suffer similar ostracism that is the source of my question. It seems that a male could get away with adultery in Israelite society whereas a woman couldn't. Have I missed something in your answer regarding this issue? I'm sorry if I have, but it still isn't clear to me.

In particular this part of your answer is hard to understand "Even if he were unfaithful the woman would be in no position to do anything about it. Thus it does not have the same social, or even personal, importance. Society will not despise him for it or cast him off unless the other woman turns out to be married (and then he will be dealt with accordingly), although they may insist he marry her. What he has done will not determine the whole of his future". For the sake of consistency and the purity of a holy nation, shouldn't the Israelites have despised him and cast him off because of his immorality as it would the woman? Why is it wrong for the woman to expect that the man guilty of the same sin as her receive the same punishment?

Answer : You probably have not thought about it but what you are saying is that the Law should help the wife to get revenge, because she would gain nothing else by it. But that is not the purpose of the law. It is not the purpose of laws to aid the obtaining of revenge, but to regulate society The law you previously asked about was not helping the husband to get revenge but helping the wife not to be unfairly treated. Revenge is a private matter. However I will deal with some of the points that arise from your suggestion.

As you will appreciate my answer will not be an interpretation and exegesis of Scripture but an exercise in considering the possibilities. My answer is not 'what the Bible says', for the Bible does not tell us. It is how it seems to me. The answer to your last but one question is, yes they should equally have despised him. But they did not. As you will know from your reading the people were not on the whole very godly. You must treat things and people as they are not how you would like them to be. I'm afraid that you are looking at an ideal world not a real one.

You must take into account that these Laws were not trying to enable every one to be able to get some ephemeral 'justice' whatever harm it caused, some mythical way of ensuring people could get revenge. They were no mythical ideals. They were trying to regulate life as it was and make sure that the innocent could prove their innocence where it really mattered. They were not saying, we will let the man get his revenge. They were saying, he will try to get his revenge anyway so let us regulate it. Let us prevent him getting unfair revenge.

Very rarely in fact would a woman come with an accusation against her husband. It would cost her more than it was worth. The price would be appalling. So if she had an accusation she would get her family to deal with it. If she had no family she was better off keeping quiet. For after the accusation, whatever the outcome, she would have nowhere to go. (She could not then just rent a tent and get a job).

We are not talking here about their position in the sight of God. We are talking about practical laws for preventing unjust treatment. (For in the end the man would be judged. He would not escape. He would be judged by God, remember that. Fairness will triumph in the end). The laws were seeking to regulate society with all its prejudices and customs in the best way for all, taking into account what people were, and to help the ones who could not protect themselves and had most to lose. Moses had to regulate for this society made up of people from many nations (Exodus 12.38) and get it working, and deal with the things that were real problems, not some theoretical ideal.

We are indeed told that some of the laws were given because of 'the hardness of their hearts', for example the law on divorce. They were in other words practical, not an unworkable ideal. And it was just a fact that nothing would be done about an adulterous man unless it could be proved with whom he committed adultery. Even today we do not punish people for unfaithfulness. For good or bad that is how society was and is. What would the law you wanted have resulted in? Women in extreme cases gaining only revenge and leaving a trail of losers. Make no mistake, everyone would lose, the man, the woman, and the children.

For one thing the men who had to judge the matter would only very reluctantly have accepted the woman's charge unless she was influential. They would have said, 'this is typical of a jealous woman. It is clearly not true. What proof have you?’ (even if it was only so that their own wives would not be tempted to do the same). You have to regulate for how society is not how you would like it to be. Think of 'good' laws made in the US in the past which were totally ignored. Why? Because the whole of a particular society were prejudiced against them. Far better to pass laws that were less fair but were effective.

So in an extreme case a woman might prove her husband an adulterer. But what good would it do her unless she could prove who with? And if she could do that she might then get him put to death but who would then benefit? For if she got her revenge by seeing her husband suffer she would suffer even more. It would do her no good. People would smile and shake their heads and say 'tut, tut' about the man and 'shame on her, she deserves to be whipped' about the innocent wife. That was how life was. And she would be blamed for not satisfying her husband, especially by her fellow-women, and of not thinking of her children. They would have said 'men are like that'. She would have been ostracised. And they would blame her for his death. They would say, if she had been a good wife it would not have happened.' Whether fair or not it was the woman who would again suffer. And so would her children. All would be shocked at what she had done. And her husband if he was not put to death would have nothing more to do with her. She would return to her family home (if they would take her) and live there until she died, often in poverty. And so would her children. So few women would even risk even bringing the accusation.

And what if she did it and the man was found innocent? Then indeed the woman and her children would be in an even more impossible position, rejected, outcast, possibly even by her own family as having behaved disgracefully. And he could take another wife but she would not be able to take another husband. Not that it was forbidden. It just would not on the whole happen. No other man would have her. And how would she survive? How could her young children survive? Such a law would have caused greater harm than any good it did. Do you really think it would have been sensible to have such a law? There was no point in having a Law that would not be implemented and that the whole of society was against, and would have caused more harm and hurt than it did good.

The Law as it stood enabled the harmonising of society. It was positive. What you call fairness would be obtained at the cost of a great deal of suffering, including the suffering of many innocents. And all it would accomplish for the women in their new found poverty would be a feeling of satisfaction at having got some kind of revenge. And that is not the purpose of the law.

Besides we must not assess ancient society in the light of society today. The land belonged to the male line (although there were exceptions). Women were not brought up to deal with such matters. They depended first on their fathers and then on their husbands. Their task was to have babies. The more children she had the more she was smiled on. It was as much to safeguard the position of these babies that this law stood. She was vulnerable and needed the protection of the Law. She was expected to be a faithful wife, and the means by which she could prove that she was, was there if it was needed. A woman could protect her children by taking the test herself.

On the other hand if the law you wanted was there she could destroy her children by making her husband take the test. Those were the choices. Do you think the latter choice was good? Fifty years ago the situation was somewhat similar for us, but the law did not interfere. All was unfair simply because of how society saw things. A woman had a baby out of wedlock. The man was simply sowing wild oats. The woman, if she knowingly had the baby, was an outcast. The man went scot free. But there was method behind the madness. The feelings against the woman was strong because the consequences were always far worse for the woman. Where could she turn? Few jobs were available for women. And the baby suffered. So it was important that 'decent' women were not promiscuous, and that is why she was judged harshly, often more harshly than she should have been, that others might learn the lesson. It was not fair. It was not Christian. But the alternative then was thousands more illegitimate children brought up in extreme poverty.

However the man in the same situation would only suffer marginally. He would not become an outcast. He could satisfy himself with women who did not mind being seen as indecent. It was not right in the sight of God. It was not fair. But it was practical. For society could not remedy the situation except by making them marry, and it could not pass a law demanding that. Thus society did the practical thing and left the final judgment to God, and of course judge it He will. So the law did not interfere. It left it to society to deal with. What do we do today? We ensure that the woman is looked after, we consider the child. And in their own way both are good. But what now happens? The better they are treated the more everyone is ready to have an illegitimate child. I know of one just such case where the girl has deliberately had a baby in order to get herself a free flat provided and obtain an income through benefit, and gain her freedom from her paremts’ house. But was this good for her? How do we assess it? At least she does not starve and the child is then not brought up in absolute poverty, but in relative poverty. And often becomes delinquent, and so on. Not always so of course. We can always point to successes. But often so. Is this a better way? On the whole, yes. But how far should we go? Would the woman have strayed if she had not been sure of being looked after? Is she going to make a suitable mother? What would have been the situation if things had been different? Many judgments have to be made. And finally only God can judge. And we do not let Him make the laws.

I am not suggesting going back to the bad old past, and it often was abysmally bad. I am simply saying that I do not think we have got it right now either, or indeed can get it right. So yes, we in modern society can argue for our rights, and occasionally we might get them, although more often we will not. But that is how our society is run. And it results in a great deal of unfairness. Let us not pretend otherwise. One person's gain is another person's loss, and the latter is not always the guilty one. One man getting his rights is often another losing his. Utopian ideals are fine but they will not work in the real world because they are dealing with sinful people. Everyone out to get what they can for themselves. A law will only work if all 'good' people are agreed with it, and even then it may not work.

This only skims the question briefly but it suggests many of the lines you must take into account in considering the fairness of laws. And remember, society is never fair. In the end it is out for what it can get. The feminist thinks that the girl who claims to be date-raped is always right. Innocence matters little. What they want is women to come out on top. Men are all bad so you can be sure it is the man who was at fault. Men see it somewhat differently. And so it will always be. Of course God could produce a multitude of tests. But we doubt whether He will. He leaves the judgment with us for good or bad.

But the one He did produce probably saved a huge number of women from unfair treatment. And that is what He intended it to do.

Numbers 12:1-16

Question : Can you help me with a couple of questions in Numbers 12:1-16?

1. Is vs.3 part of the original scripture? If so, how can Moses be construed as humble if he himself wrote this comment? (I assume Moses wrote the Pentateuch) or if not, does this mean that the original Scripture has been added to by later editors. Is this verse then the 'Word of God' or some anonymous editor?

2. Why is only Miriam punished for conspiring against Moses. Nothing seems to happen to Aaron?

Answer : Clearly we cannot say with certainty who wrote these words. However the first question we must ask is whether Moses could have spoken of himself in these terms. (The use of the third person by a writer speaking of himself is not unusual. It is a literary technique. So that is not the issue). The first point we must make is that the comment is not necessarily just a huge compliment. Consider if we translate 'meek' as 'diffident'. Thus as not being willing to defend himself because of a certain withdrawal in his personality.

We have seen at his calling in Exodus how Moses tried to avoid God's call because he felt unable to cope with it, and wanted to hide behind his poor speech (Exodus 3.11;4.1, 10, 13). We find it difficult to recognise him as like this but Moses was in fact to some extent of a shy and retiring nature. He was bold in some things (for example when as a trained martial arts expert, probably armed, he dealt with a few shepherds) but he was not so when it came to the big picture. The fact that he did what he did was because God had spurred him on and gave him little choice. In fact it was Aaron who made the first moves in the deliverance from Egypt. It was only once Moses had gained confidence that he took over.

Possibly then Moses is here saying that God acted on his behalf because he himself was so naturally diffident. For the meaning of the word translated 'meek' compare Job 24.4, 'the meek of the earth hide themselves together'; Psalm 147.6 'Yahweh lifts up the meek'. It is not a boasting word but in a sense a disparaging word. It describes someone ''humble' because they are lowly and wanting. They are not of sufficient courage to defend themselves. In fact it may be that he saw himself as the least forthcoming person in the whole world (not to be taken too literally - shy people can often feel like this) and therefore was speaking disparagingly of himself. This may well have come from his personal shyness, especially at dealing with aspects of his married life. It may simply be describing an excess of meekness that was actually not a good thing, that he was not forthright in his own defence. Not many men would see themselves as boasting if they described themselves as meek.

Or alternately if we insist on assuming that meekness must be a good feature it may be that God actually told Moses that He Himself was about to defend him because he was so meek and would not defend Himself, that it was in fact because he was the meakest man on earth. God had reason to know. He had had to struggle with Moses' meekness. Thus Moses may have been simply writing down God's own description of himself and not have felt proud of the fact at all. What in fact seems more unlikely is that anyone else would call Moses meek, lowly, and humble in position, where 'humble' means of a lowly position and stature. Many things, yes, but not 'meek' (we read into 'meek' a good Christian trait, but that was not the original general meaning of the Hebrew word.). What is more it is true that Moses was humble in the best sense. This fact often comes out.

Furthermore here in the West we hesitate to speak the truth about ourselves, because it is not 'the done thing'. A friend of mine who played tennis for England was asked by a colleague whether she played tennis and she replied 'a little'. When he played her and was soundly beaten the humiliation was such that he never spoke to her again. But it would not have been English to say 'I play for England'. So she learned to deliberately lose when playing men instead. Was that good? Would not honesty have been better? But she was shy too, and meek

In the East things are very different. I remember the shock I had when I first came across this Eastern trait. They spoke what they believed to be the truth about themselves, with no false humility, and spoke correctly. And I was astounded. I thought them conceited until I realised that they all did it and that their description of themselves was regularly true. They were in fact just making an honest assessment of themselves. So we must not judge the words by over-humble Western standards.

Others (usually Westerners with the Westerners code) have suggested that while Moses was responsible for the content of the Pentateuch the actual engraving or writing might have been done by a master scribe, even possibly by Joshua when he was alone or with Moses in the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33.7-11), and then later possibly acting as secretary in Moses' own tent. Thus this may be a comment added by the engraver/writer, by Joshua or any other scribe, and equally the word of God. (But I doubt whether such a word would be used of Moses by these people. The word is not really complimentary).

But yes, I think we must take it as part of the word of God. And it was true.

Miriam was possibly punished because she was the main instigator of the attack on Moses' wife, with the cattiness of woman to woman. Compare in fact how Aaron was later punished by death for a failure that he shared with Moses (Numbers 20.24). Someone had to be made an example

Numbers 15:22-31

Question : Can you help me with these questions.

In Leviticus 4:14 it says that a bull must be sacrificed as a sin offering if the whole community sins unintentionally, whereas in Numbers 15:24 for exactly the same type of sin, it says that a bull must be sacrificed for a burnt offering and a male goat offered for a sin offering. How do we account for this difference? Did God change his own rules?

Verses 30-31. Are Christians forgiven if we sin deliberately but then later truly repent? Do these verses mean that Old Testament Jews had no opportunity to be forgiven if they deliberately sinned? Surely some of them would have wanted the chance to be forgiven. Is it possible not to sin deliberately? My understanding was that the only sin that was unforgivable was not believing in God (blaspheming the Holy Spirit) - am I wrong about this? I found these verses very confusing in light of Christ's teaching on forgiveness and what the NT says about God's love and how nothing can separate us from it.

Answer : There would seem to be a difference between the two stipulations in that Numbers deals with the failure to obey God's Law while Leviticus is concentrating on actual positive breaches in committing sinful actions, i.e. sins of omission compared with sins of commission. In all such systems there were niceties of distinction which might not be so obvious or important to us today. They drew attention to different aspects of sin in order to aid fulfilment. They had to cover every aspect of failure, whereas all our sins are dealt with by the one sacrifice for sin for ever.

In such a complicated system of ordinances it would not be difficult for something that should have been done to be missed out, and the fact discovered later. Numbers 15 deals with this situation. But Leviticus 4 looks more at things actually done positively which turned out to be wrong.

With regard to the question of ‘deliberate sin’ the question is in interpretation of the phrase. What is a deliberate sin? It is clearly more than just doing something deliberately. If we lie we do it deliberately, but it is not an unforgivable sin. The significance behind 'deliberate' would seem to be of a certain attitude taken up towards God. Note that it was done 'with a high hand'. It is immediately illustrated. Once the Sabbath rule was established in the Law all without exception knew what was required. Every seventh day the whole camp of Israel observed the seventh day.

The man who went to gather sticks did not forget that it was the Sabbath. That would have been impossible in the circumstances. It was not something that he was unsure about. He deliberately went out and in a flagrant challenge to God and to the Law did with a high hand what he knew that he should not do. He despised God's Law and challenged God's right to lay down such stipulations. He was out to demonstrate that he at least was not going to be bound by God's ordinances. Such a challenge had to be dealt with severely. It was the first open challenge to God's right to establish a Sabbath day.

Had it not been dealt with severely the Law would have lost its authority. The Law would have become less binding. Soon slaves and then servants would have been excluded from the provisions, (some excuse would have been found), and then observance would have become casual. It could have been the first breach in the dam that could have led to a flood.

This is the idea behind 'deliberate sin'. In the early days it was especially important so that the Law could be established (compare Ananias and Sapphyra in Acts 5.1-6 in a time when the Holy Spirit was extremely active. They were defying God and introducing hypocrisy into the early church at a time when openness and honesty was vital). We ourselves do not know at what point in the process the distinction was made between whether a sin was an ordinary deliberate sin or whether it was a 'deliberate sin' that was unforgivable, but unquestionably one criterion was that of the attitude of mind behind its committal. Another was the circumstances under which it was committed. It was really similar to the Pharisees' danger of 'blasphemy against the Holy Spirit', a set attitude of heart that was seen as irrevocably unchangeable, an attitude of deliberate defiance towards God and towards God's Law and God's authority. So you may rest easy. No ordinary failing Christian commits a 'deliberate sin'. He sins through weakness and a fallen nature. It is the one who turns his back on Christ and rejects His ways who is in danger of doing so, the one who constantly defies God and becomes so hardened that he cannot repent. One who has committed a 'deliberate sin' is too hardened to repent

Question : Just one more query regarding the OT teaching on forgiveness of sin. Are you saying that when Leviticus and Numbers speaks of unintentional sin that this incorporates situations where someone makes a conscious choice to sin e.g. lie, but then repents afterwards - basically it was their sinful nature (like Paul describes in Romans 7). My reading of the verses on unintentional sin was that it meant unconscious, almost 'accidental' sin and therefore how atonement is achieved in situations like the above example is not dealt with. What does God exactly mean by the phrase "unintentional sin".

Answer : Clearly all these questions are a matter of interpretation. The contrast was between sinning unwittingly and sinning with a high hand. We therefore presume that sin that is not with a high hand can be seen as ‘unwitting’. It was not something planned and carried through in direct and deliberate violation of God commandments. It was not open rebellion and intended to be seen as such. God forgives iniquities, transgressions and sins but does not clear the guilty (Exodus 34.7). You must of course remember that the conscience was not as finely tuned then as it is now. They had not experienced the fullness of revelation. Thus they were not as conscious as we are of the less major sins.

Numbers 16:31-32

Question : Why are most of the family members (I know Korah's sons didn't die) killed along with the leaders of the rebellion. Why do they have to share the punishment? Some of them were just "little ones" (v. 27). My understanding is that every human is precious to God and that one day we will be judged by him based on what we have done, not what our parents or others have done. Am I wrong about this? Conversely since God did punish the families of the rebels, why were some exempted (i.e. Korah's sons 26:11)?

Answer : We must distinguish general judgments from personal judgments, although one may include the other. God regularly brings about his judgments by natural means which are undiscriminating. Thus often the 'innocent' suffer along with the guilty. That is the nature of 'natural' catastrophes. In this case the ground opening was a 'natural' catastrophe although within God's orbit, and all present at the tents involved died. Natural disasters do not discriminate. Not all were necessarily judged sinners. The sons of Korah were clearly not with their father in his tent, possibly because they had withdrawn from his blasphemy, and were therefore spared. Had they been in his tent they would have been consumed.

This of course raises the whole problem of natural catastrophes. Jesus said that when the tower at Siloam fell on certain people killing them it was not necessarily because of their exceptional sinfulness (Luke 13.14). We must remember that all are sinners and therefore under sentence of death. The question is not whether men deserve to die, but whether they deserve to live, and it is by God's mercy that they do so.

Subject: Numbers 20:12

Question : I understand why Moses was punished - he didn't exactly follow God's instructions as a leader should, but what did Aaron do wrong in this incident that sees him receive the same punishment as his brother? If it's related to an earlier sin committed by Aaron, why didn't God announce this judgment upon him then?

Answer : What they were supposed to do was go out and speak to the rock telling it to produce water in the name of Yahweh and thus when it did so reveal the power of God and set Him apart as holy in the people's eyes, many of whom had not seen the great miracles in Egypt. It was intended to reveal to the people, especially the younger ones, who had been settled at the Oases around Kadesh that God could provide for them at a word as He had done of yore. For all would have heard tales of the past. Instead Aaron and Moses chose their own way of doing things.

Instead of speaking to the rock as God had commanded they spoke harsh words to the people. We are probably to see that Aaron spoke the harsh words (verse 10) and Moses smote the rock (verse 11). But notice too the words spoken, and their attitude. 'Listen now you rebels. Shall we bring you forth water out of this rock?' They were giving the impression that it was they who would do what was to happen. In modern language they had lost their cool. Both were clearly agreed on the harsh attitude that they should take towards the people. And they had also grown arrogant. Then Moses smote the rock twice in anger. The whole show had ceased to be a means of bringing glory to Yahweh and had become a way for Moses and Aaron to show who was in authority and that everything depended on them, and harshly revealed their dissatisfaction with the people. Yahweh was thrust into the background.

But once men begin to think that God's work depends on them their ministry will not last much longer. God gives His glory to no man. In 27.12 it is pointed out that they rebelled against His word. In other words they too had become rebels against God in their behaviour. It would appear that both Moses and Aaron had decided on this show of harshness contrary to what God wanted and had in their pique taken to themselves the glory of producing the water. In this their disobedience to God was revealed. It suggested that Moses was no longer in full control of himself so that God recognised that He could no longer trust Moses to lead the way into the promised Land. In his old age he had lost the tact and humility and faith and forbearance required to lead the people, and Aaron along with him.

Possibly too what had happened had been the final straw between them and the people. Many of the people were younger men who had not seen the miracles in Egypt. All they had known was Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. Now they had possibly lost their confidence in these ancient leaders and instead, filled with resentment, were beginning to look to Joshua. Possibly then the growth of the people's resentment also contributed to God's decision, for it may be that God saw how difficult their resentment against the leadership would now make the crossing into and conquest of Canaan. Thus God decided it was time to replace them with the man whom Moses had himself trained up, Joshua the son of Nun. He recognised that Moses and Aaron were no longer fit for the job.

So He arranged to replace them. Aaron, the older, dies first, and is replaced by Eleazar. But God remembered Moses' faithfulness and graciously allowed him a reprieve so that he could see the land even though he would not enter it. Then he too died (possibly still younger than Aaron). Now the entry into the land would be led by a man the people trusted and looked to, a man whom God and Moses had prepared for the task. It was also a reminder to men of all ages that no one, not even Moses, could presume on God

Question - 1. A commentary I read pointed out that Aaron is recorded as having died in what are seemingly two different locations. In Numbers 20:28 it says Mt. Hor, but in Deuteronomy 10:6 it says Moserah. It didn't offer any explanation for this. Do you have one?

2. When it says Aaron was "gathered to his people" what did that mean for the Israelites? What was their understanding of life after death?

Answer : It is probable that mount Hor was in the region called Moserah. But Old Testament places had many names. Every small tribe would give them a different name. And renaming was a favourite device when something happened at a place. There were no agreed maps and no agreements. Thus Moses may have picked up some names while he was with the Midianites. He may have learned the Egyptian names while involved there in administration. He might then have learned other names for the same places from people who had joined up with the Israelites (Exodus 12.38) who knew that region. He may also have learned names from travellers they met up with in the desert. And he may have named some himself, as we know in fact he did in certain cases. So a number of names could be applied to the same place.

Thus we must expect to find 'problems' with place names, especially in desert areas where there was no fixed population. Every site would have a number of names.

Regarding the afterlife, there is no record in the Pentateuch of any clear teaching concerning an after-life. Men saw themselves as living on in their sons. Israel would want to avoid being involved with mythological ideas such as those in Egypt and Canaan which involved the gods. But we cannot be sure what private views were held. Only that they never became publicised. The phrase 'gathered to his people' simply meant that he was buried as they were

Numbers 21:14

Question : I found this reference to the "Book of the Wars of the Lord " interesting. Were there any wars before Moses died? My understanding is that the Wars of the Lord refer to the conquest of Canaan. If Moses was the author of the Pentateuch how then could he make reference to this source since he himself did not take part in the conquest? Does this reference suggest that the original text of the Pentateuch was tampered with by later editors? OR does it suggest that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch after all, and that it was compiled by unknown authors who put together different sources to compose the narrative that we have, well after the events described? My questions are speculative and were aroused by the reference to the Book of the Wars of the Lord? What do you think?

The ‘Record of the Wars of Yahweh’ was probably a continual record maintained to the glory of Yahweh through the centuries. Israel continually knew war. They knew war when they left Egypt. They knew war against the Amalekites (Exodus 17). They knew war when they approached Canaan the first time. They probably faced attack a number of times when they were encamped in the regions around Kadesh for thirty eight years. Each victory was seen as an evidence of Yahweh's faithfulness and proof of their covenant relationship. Thus each would be recorded. Each was 'a war of Yahweh'. Moses was brought up and educated in an environment where records were made of wars, in Egypt. In view of the importance of establishing a united base for the people it was wise for him to establish for them a common history which bound them to Yahweh right from the beginning.

Question : Once again I'm finding Numbers to be puzzling. This time its the story of Balaam and his donkey. The obvious question is if God permitted Balaam to go with Balak's men (v. 20) why then in v. 22 is God angry with Balaam for doing just that. Then after the angel of the lord prevents him from going forward (even planning to kill Balaam if donkey had not turned away v. 33) why then does the angel allow him to continue v. 35. This passage provides no reason for any of these occurrences. The commentary I am reading says that it was because Balaam was greedy that God tried to prevent him from going, but the passage says nothing of God's motives. If he was a greedy person why let him go in the first place and then after stopping him, why let him continue?

The second aspect of this passage which is causing me consternation is its historicity. In fact many of the events recorded in the Old Testament cause to me wonder about their historical accuracy. In this case how could Moses possibly know about these events? Did he ever meet Balaam or any of the other witnesses? The 3 fold repetition of events in this story - Balaam's 3 encounters with God, the Donkey's 3 attempts to turn from the path, Balaam's 3 oracles, all fit into a neat pattern that I would expect from literature, myth or poetry. History is rarely this tidy. Am I supposed to believe that every event recorded in the Old Testament actually happened just as its recorded? Do you know of any good books or authors who can demonstrate that the Old Testament is as historically reliable as the New Testament? I'm reading a secular book on Ancient Israel by Michael Grant, which doesn't inspire me with much confidence in the historicity of the Old Testament, particularly when I have seen documentaries about Palestinian archaeology which also question much of the Old Testament's claims.

I find this all very troubling. I must admit that these issues do cause me to doubt a lot. Ironically the closer that I read the Bible the more questions it creates and the less peace I have with it all. Have you got any solutions? Answer : When looking at such questions the place to commence is with the final authority. Jesus came and walked among men and revealed by His life and teaching Whom He was. It was He Who laid His seal on the Old Testament. He called it 'the word of God' (Mark 7.13), said that the Scripture could not be broken (John 10.35), and said that not one yod or tittle of the Torah (Pentateuch) would fail until all was fulfilled (Matthew 5.18). We must expect when reading an ancient book to find that it does not accord with our way of presenting history and that we will encounter difficulties. They thought very differently from us and they did not try to tie things together (when they quoted from other works they did not try to 'make it fit'). They were not so tied down as we are to being chronological.

To them also numbers were mainly adjectives, aimed at giving an impression, not mathematical. In everyday life they did not use numbers mathematically. They did not need them. They used total perspective. They also wrote from their own perspective. They did not even try to write objective history (as if anyone could!), they were more concerned with the lessons to be learned from it. That does not mean that they distorted it, only that they described and interpreted it from their own point of view.

You must also recognise that they presented wide swathes of history within short narratives. History is never simple. Even one day is not simple. A few minutes can be very complicated. Consider how different eyewitnesses can describe the same incident in different ways and all be right in so far as they are describing it, even though they appear to contradict each other. I remember testifying in a law court to an accident. A car came out of a side road and hit my car. One policeman said that the car did not stop. The second said that it did prior to pulling out. I know what happened because he hit me and I saw every detail. I said that he did not actually stop, he slowed to a minimal crawl and then came out while he looked both ways. And I was right. I can see it to this day. Yet both policemen could be said to be right also. They saw it slightly differently. It depends how you define minimal crawl. History is only partly objective.

Now to move on to Balaam. Balaam was a famous figure known throughout the Near East. He was held in awe and fear. The news that he had been called in probably made Israel shake with fear. This was not what they had expected, the great and famous Balaam called in to use his sorcery against them (compare how many today would view voodoo, etc., but multiplied ten times).

Then we must remember that Moses saw things from God's viewpoint. God is the cause of everything. Whether good or bad all occurs because God allows it. He rules history. Some parts of Scripture emphasise this more than others. It is like our problem in struggling with predestination and free will. The truth is never simple. Moses also wrote in a folksy sort of way. It was intended to be read out at feasts and be enjoyed and understood. Do you think that if God had not allowed it Balaam would have been able to move a step? Of course not. You must also remember that Balaam was a visionary. He saw what other men do not see. Things happened with men like that that did not happen to other men. We must not just assume that such men simply make it all up (compare Mohammed. He was a visionary even though he could also be very cruel). The human mind is a strange thing and the chemicals in the brain can cause unusual experiences (not necessarily true ones). Talk to anyone who has been on LSD.

And Balaam probably used similar drugs to obtain his effects. So before agreeing to help Moab and Midian he said he must approach Yahweh. What methods he used we do not know. We are not let into all his secrets. Only he knew those. It is a sign of historicity that we are not told. We can compare the divining woman of Endor with Saul. She expected to see her familiar spirit and was suddenly confronted with Samuel unexpectedly. What Balaam expected we cannot say, but he found himself confronted by God Himself, probably to his great surprise, and given permission to continue as long as he was careful what he said and did, and especially did not curse them. So he refused to go with the men. (It is all described in simple terms but may well have been far more involved than we have described as Balaam went into his visionary trance). He recognised that he was facing a power that even he could not manipulate.

And that should have been the end of the matter. But they returned with the most powerful men from both tribes and with even greater riches. And Balaam was half persuaded. Then he sought the powerful God of Israel again and was given permission to go as long as he only said what God told him to say. He recognised in his trances that he was now under the 'control' of Yahweh. Balaam almost certainly did not travel alone. He went with the powerful party from Moab and Midian and would take many servants and guards. He was a wealthy man, made wealthy by his exploits (see Numbers 22.7). And he may well have confided in his most faithful servants, and the stories would pass on as good stories will.

Why then was God angry? We are not told. But we can easily recognise what the reason was. Balaam's intentions were known to God and he appeared outwardly compliant. But his real intentions did not accord with what God's orders had been. God saw the workings of his mind. (Balaam quite possibly thought he could hoodwink God like he hoodwinked other 'controls'). This could have been clear from the paraphernalia Balaam took with him. He was trying to deceive God.

Balaam was a powerful man. He probably did not like being dictated to by one 'control' and was possibly planning to hoodwink God. Then Balaam discovered that his ass would not move. We know from many incidents in the past that often animals are more sensitive to the supernatural than men. This was true here. Note that he had his two most personal servants with him. They saw all that happened, and no doubt later described it in awe to others, who would also pass it on. Such interesting information could not be kept to oneself. What took place between the ass and Balaam may have been a visionary experience which no others saw but were told about later, or they may have seen it. But either way they would know about it when a shaken Balaam recounted it to them.

Balaam then expressed his repentance at having deceived God and said he would go back. God accepted his repentance and repeated that he could go, but only to do as God commanded. So Balaam agreed that he would only do that, and actually told the king so. Then Balaam went on with his divination and used his usual methods, but recognised, as only he could, that he was under the influence of the 'control' of the God of Israel. Note how Balak twice thought that by moving to another mountain Balaam might avoid the influence of this powerful God of Israel. (He did not know quite what he was up against).

In the end Balaam surrendered to God's 'control' and could only bless Israel. After this Israel settled down beside Moab and the Midianites and they mingled together. Balak having failed, compromised. He was afraid to confront Israel militarily. Thus all that had happened would spread like wildfire through the tribes. Such good stories had to be told, and they would all be in awe that the great Balaam had been there. And in meeting up with Balak Moses may well have learned the full story officially. Balak was very sore at Balaam and would want to degrade him. The failed diviner and sorcerer had let them down!. Thus Moses had good sources.

The threefold pattern probably connects with what Balaam was. The number three was highly significant to all men of those days as were threefold occurrences. Their sacred literature was full of threefoldness. And Balaam himself may have laid great significance on the number three and threefold occurrences. (It was Balaam who decided on the threefold sacrifices (which were also sevenfold, another magic number). God would take this into account in dealing with him. Balaam was self-opinionated, arrogant as only such men could be, and used to getting his own way. God used his own superstitions against him. By a threefold stopping of him He brought home to him that it was very serious. Balaam then recognised the significance of what had happened and was himself filled with awe. So be amazed. We must expect to be amazed in such circumstances. If you met such a man you might well find that you were afraid of him too. (Although those who are in Christ and walking with Him need not be fearful). Those were strange and unique events which took place with a strange and unique figure, one of the most feared men of the day because of his 'powers'. But God knew how to combat him and how to 'control' him.

Question : Meanwhile I'm still reading Numbers. I have 2 questions.

1. What was the spiritual significance of the 1st day of the month that sacrifices were required to be made on it (28:11-15)? I understand the symbolism and significance of the other days/occasions.

2. In Numbers 28:27, it says 2 bulls and 1 ram are required as a burnt offering during the Feast of Weeks. However in Leviticus 23:18 it says that 1 bull and 2 rams were required for the same festival. (I'm not that clever that I picked this up. My commentary mentioned it, but didn't offer an explanation). Can you explain this apparent discrepancy?

With regard to the 1st day of the month that was of course the new moon. As you will know from elsewhere new moons and sabbaths were both looked on as holy days. As far as the ancients were concerned time was mainly measured from the cycles of the moon. It was the only universal fixed measure of time. Apart from in terms of the moon, years fluctuated in length dependent on the seasons. The Sabbath was only known in Israel. Thus the 1st day of the month was the indication to the whole world that time was going on as normal for which gratitude should be expressed to God. Each beginning of a moon period signalled God's goodness to the world. The world was moving on as it should be.

With regard to the question of the two bulls and the one ram in Numbers 28.27 you will note that there is emphasis in Numbers all the way through this passage on the fact that there is to be only one ram - 28.11, 12, 19, 20, 27,28; 29.2, 3, 8, 9 until the fifteenth day of the seventh month onwards when all is doubled. It is clear therefore that at this stage in the sacrificial ritual there being one ram is at this time seen as significant. (Although why we can only guess at). Note that it was also the point in time when entry into the land was about to take place after the death of Moses.

Thus it may well be that the desire to establish this pattern tied in with a desire to increase the level of offering to God now that more bulls would be available in the land. Bulls were very valuable, even more valuable than rams, and there may well have been a shortage of them during the wilderness period, limiting their use. Thus Moses may well here be deliberately altering the provision made in Leviticus 23.18, under God's guidance, to fit in with this new pattern, replacing the second ram with a bull, which was of course of higher value, now that entry into the land would make more bull available. The change therefore brought more honour to God.

It was no doubt deliberate, and for a specific reason. It may well be that it was felt that entry into the land was a time for such an increasing in the value of offerings to God. It was a declaration of the change that was about to take place in their overall wealth. One thing we can be sure of is that the change was made on purpose. The ritual would be so specifically established from around the beginning of the wilderness period from Sinai onwards that such a change could not take place accidentally. It would require God's decree. The ritual would be written on every priestly mind and the longer it was established the more certain that it would not be changed without solid and deliberate reason. It is not just a case of two lists that differed. These were customs carried into practise continually from the day that they were established and held as sacred and unchangeable. So change would not take place without good reason, otherwise it would be seen as sacrilegious. The change might not have been obvious to you. It would spring out at a priest.

Numbers 30:3-5

In this section it says that a father can negate the vow of a daughter still living in his house. One explanation I found for this was that as the one responsible for the economic management of the household, the father was able to do this in the case his daughter made a financially rash promise that the family could not afford. This makes sense to me. However it leaves the question as to why the law says nothing about sons who make similar vows. In verse 2 it says all men are obligated to keep their pledges. Here to me it seems there is one rule for males and one for females. If financial considerations allow a father to negate his young daughter's vows, why not his young son's too or does the whole issue have something to do with the difference between the genders?

In the customs of the society in which these laws were made a father (or later husband) was always responsible for his daughter's/wives debts. It was clearly therefore not right that a daughter could bind her father/husband into debt/a pledge without his permission. However a mature son (thirteen or over) was responsible for his own debts/pledges. Thus he had the right to put himself into debt or bind himself by a pledge. Only older widows could probably so bind themselves.

Numbers 31.

Question : I have yet another problem understanding Numbers.

How does the ruthless massacre of the Midianites commanded by God fit with Jesus' command to love our enemies? Wasn't Israel to be a light to the nations. Yet surely this behaviour would only harden their enemies. Israel's behaviour here was no different to that of the surrounding peoples who behaved just as cruelly - how then is Israel being a "light"?

Why were virgin girls spared but not young boys who surely are just as innocent? If the idea of the mass slaughter was to eradicate the corrupting influence of the surrounding peoples, wouldn't these girls who were raised worshipping false gods, be a danger to the purity of the Israelite faith?

Israel were struggling to survive in a cruel world. It was a question of survival. Surrounding settled nations were treated in one way but people like the Midianites and the Amalekites, people who were not settled, and who descended from the desert at will, and destroyed all that they came across, had to be treated in another, especially at a time when Israel's own survival was at stake. They were ever a threat, and especially to an Israel new in the land.

So these particular Midianites clearly represented in God's eyes a continual and exceptional savage threat that would not go away. They had to be finally dealt with. Furthermore they had also again called on the services of Balaam who in disobedience to God had again taken up his activities against Israel (Numbers 31.8). The threat clearly could not be contained. They had rejected any treaty and therefore had to be eradicated. For God saw what Israel did not. Israel were about to enter the land and would be fighting for their own survival. It was essential that no one should take advantage of their invasion in order themselves to invade and devastate and make unliveable in the land where Israel were seeking to settle. They were not the kind of enemy to leave in one's rear. (The Midianites tended to move in and destroy land, crops and cattle, and could call on many similar allies, as they would later. They were marauders and raiders with no regard for anyone's property - Judges 6.4. And these particular ones had reason to hate Israel).

Their women also were a danger. They had already led Israel astray into immorality. So they too could not be allowed to survive among the people as a perverting influence. The sons would grow up with an abiding hatred of Israel in their hearts, the people who had slain their fathers. In terms of the customs of the day it would be their blood duty to gain revenge on Israel. They could not in honour cease until they had done so. So in the circumstances of the time such a further threat could not be allowed to survive among a newborn nation.This left the under-age girls.

Girls were not seen as being under the same duty of blood vengeance. Furthermore by marrying into Israel they would be seen as, and see themselves as, becoming Israelites. It was the custom. And girls would expect to worship their husband's God. They would thus pose little future threat. So what God commanded were the rules of sensible strategy in the light of the near future.

When Jesus spoke of loving one's enemies He was not speaking about an enemy at war and an enemy who would take every opportunity to physically attack. He was speaking rather of personal enmity, and He went beyond the Old Testament teaching. You must love not only your neighbour but even your enemy. But that means to behave towards them, where circumstances permit, in a way considerate for their welfare. Jesus never suggested that a nation should not defend itself against an aggressor.

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