In today’s Bible reading,* God tells Moses to execute His vengeance against the Midianites. One thousand from each of the twelve tribes of Israel went out and did just that, killing every male, including the kings. And they took the women and children captive. Moses was furious when he learned that the women were still alive. He had the people of Israel to execute every woman who wasn’t a virgin. Well, that sounds cruel; none of the women had fought against the Israelites. Why would God command the execution of the women who weren’t virgins. It’s because the women had enticed the Israelite men to abandon God and worship Baal. (Numbers 25) Unlike our previous reading, we aren’t told that the men engaged in sexual immorality, but it’s implied. Again, Baal was the god of fertility. Regardless of immorality, God was upset because those women had enticed the men to turn away from God. And God is a jealous God and had forbidden the Israelite men from bowing down to other gods. (Deuteronomy 5:9) So only the virgins were permitted to live.
So again, why would God command His people to be so cruel to kill not only the men but the non-virgin women? It all had to do with His people. God wanted to send a clear signal to His people that He would not permit his Covenant people to practice idolatry.
God wanted the very best for His people. And worshiping Him was the best for His people. Anything and anyone that enticed His people to leave Him to pursue anything but Him had to be utterly destroyed. Why? Again, God is a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 5:9) God considered abandoning Him to worship another deity to be not just idolatry, but also adultery.
Elsewhere in the Law, we see that God even commands His own people to be executed for certain behaviors. Again, God wanted all of His people to understand that certain behaviors would not be tolerated among His people. And tomorrow, we’ll see that God explains why He wants the people of Canaan destroyed. (Numbers 33:55)
In the New Testament, Jesus told His disciples that it would be better for His Covenant people to enter the Kingdom of God maimed or blind rather than to not enter the Kingdom. (Mark 9:43–47)
Yes, sin is that serious.
A radical, jealous God is absolutely justified in requiring radical obedience of His people.
* Chapters covered in today’s reading: