God and Political Assassinations: The Skeptic’s Response

UPDATE: It turns out that Jehu’s actions were commanded by God. 2 Kings 9 says: ““You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and the blood of all the Lord’s servants shed by Jezebel.”

Skeptic: Hi. I’m Tracy’s alter ego, but you can call me Laura. Quick recap: In 2 Kings 9 &10, Jehu, the man God chose to be the next King of Israel assassinated the Kings of Israel and Judah, along with a good portion of their families – no less than seventy-three people. Did God punish Jehu for this? No. He commended him. Now, normally, such an act would be considered murder. But Tracy says otherwise.

Tracy: Well, let’s start by finding out why you consider it murder. Do you think those men were innocent?

Laura: Ah, that’s a trick question, isn’t it? Joram and Ahaziah were evidently bad men, as was Jezebel. But what about the seventy sons of Ahab that Jehu killed? Don’t claim that God is not responsible for it. Jehu killed those men because God swore to kill every male descendant of Ahab. Some of them might even have been children and it wouldn’t have mattered. Yes, yes, I know God can take whatever life he wishes. But he didn’t do this: Jehu did. Does God get to commend murder because he didn’t like the victim?

Tracy: So, is there a charge against God here? We both agree that Jehu did the killing.

Laura: Jehu did the killing. God commended it.

Tracy: So, assuming Jehu’s actions were wrong, God commended murder, in which case he isn’t God.

Laura: Spot on.

Tracy: That is a powerful point you have there. I’ve never seen God’s goodness tied so neatly to one man’s actions before.

Laura: So, are you going to try to wiggle out of this one by claiming a copying error.

Tracy: Just be quiet and let me think.

Laura: Alright. Make up an excuse.

Tracy: Hmm… I think you’re right. If Jehu’s action was wrong and God commended it, then God’s action was wrong.

Laura: But?

Tracy: Quit interrupting me. I’m trying to think and talk at the same time. That’s a deductive argument.

1. If God commends a wrong action, God is wrong.

2. Jehu’s action was wrong.

3. God commended Jehu’s action.

4. Therefore, God commended a wrong action (from 2 & 3)

5. Therefore God is wrong (from 1 & 4)

Which, of course, translates to the God of the Bible being a false God. Premise 1 is common sense. I see no reason to deny it. Premise 3 is also pretty solid. God’s words to Jehu were: “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” That’s obviously a commendation. I can only take issue with premise 2; that Jehu’s action was wrong.

Laura: I’d like to see how you do that. So far you’re taking this very well. You haven’t even commented on the fact that we’re only having this conversation on the specious assumption that some of those killed were children and therefore innocent.

Tracy: You called Jehu’s action murder because he killed (presumably) innocent people and unlike the conquest of Canaan, he wasn’t commanded by God. But God commended Jehu’s action because the death of Ahab’s line was what God wanted. If by doing what God wanted Jehu sinned, then is God guilty?

Laura: *furrows brow in confusion* I don’t know. He’s your God, not mine.

Tracy: Yes, but think with me here. We’re having a conversation, not a debate.

Laura: I would guess that some things are allowed for God, but not for us. He is God, after all. He can’t be guilty of murder, so wanting someone’s death isn’t wrong for him. But killing an innocent person is definitely wrong for Jehu – whether or not it was what God wanted.

Tracy: See, I’m not so sure. I can’t imagine how something God wanted could be wrong. Oh, wait, I have it! God wanted Ahab’s line dead, but he never said anything about wanting Jehu to do it.

Laura: That’s a tight spot to crawl into. We don’t know if he wanted it. He could have.

Tracy: And we don’t know if there were any children killed. That just cleared up an issue for me.

1. It is wrong to desire an evil thing

2. Jehu’s action in killing innocents was evil.

3. God desired Jehu’s action

4. Therefore, God desired an evil thing. (from 2 & 3)

5. Therefore, God did something wrong.

If that argument works, then it would be airtight.

Laura: Regardless, you would find a way to wiggle out of it. Never underestimate the power of determination.

Tracy: Perhaps. But if Premise 3 is false, God desired those people dead, but not necessarily that Jehu kill them.

Laura: Yes, yes. But God commended the action, remember? And it was wrong.

Tracy: No, we’re still debating its morality. Dang it! I lost my train of thought. Why do you have to keep interrupting me?

Laura: So, I’m guessing I won this round.

Tracy: Don’t get too comfortable. I’m going to go to sleep and think of something.

Laura: Whooooppeeee!!! I won! I won!

Tracy: Jesus still rose from the dead, so I Christianity isn’t false. It’s too early to celebrate.

Visiting The Sins Of The Fathers On The Children – Reading Note – 1 Kings 14 – 17

In this post, I will defend two unconventional contentions:

1. That Justice is good if defined as giving someone what they have earned. This means, if a person does something right or wrong, they should be given what they have earned. Be it wages, reward or punishment.

2. That failing to give someone something that they earned is injustice and wrong. This means that if someone isn’t given their due reward, wage or punishment, that is wrong.

3. That giving someone something they have not earned (whether it is a gift or a punishment) is not innately wrong.

Now, hold your horses. Don’t stop here and start posting angry comments.

The Back-story

Jeroboam (1 Kings 14) and Baasha (1 Kings 16) were two kings of Israel who were so bad that God punished them severely. His punishment was the same for both of them. He would kill every descendant:

“‘I am going to bring disaster on the house of Jeroboam. I will cut off from Jeroboam every last male in Israel—slave or free. I will burn up the house of Jeroboam as one burns dung, until it is all gone.  Dogs will eat those belonging to Jeroboam who die in the city, and the birds will feed on those who die in the country.'” – 1 Kings 14: 10, 11

This is nothing new. God made his position clear when he made his contract with Israel:

“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” -Exodus 20: 3 – 6

I understand hurt, anger and justice. I can imagine the kind of rage that would consume someone if he gave everything for a group of people and they spit in his face; if he had to beg for something he deserved and they insulted him anyway. But destroying an entire group of people for what one person did is wrong, isn’t it?

The Sun Shines on the Just and Unjust

We get a lot of things we don’t deserve. We didn’t work for the sunlight or air but we get them anyway. When you give someone something good that they have not worked for – deserved – it is called a gift. Some people might be pleasing to God. Some might be rebellious. But his sun shines on all of them just the same. We also don’t get things we do deserve. Some people might vote for good economic policies and some might be fiscally irresponsible, but if the economy is good, it affects them all. It does not discriminate between the fiscally responsible and irresponsible. In the same way, when Elijah said there would be no rain in Israel because of the sins committed, there was no rain for saint and sinner alike. Thinking about this, I’ve come to classify issues of justice into several categories. I’ll only look at some of them.

1. Giving something good to only those who worked for it.

This is called justice. Some might not like it, but it cannot be reproached.

2. Giving something to both those who worked for it and those who didn’t

This happens in the parable of the landowner. It is not just in the sense that it gives people something they do not deserve. But, as Jesus said, you can give what belongs to you in any way you choose. For those who earned it, it is deserved. For those who didn’t earn it, it is a gift. To begrudge them that gift is jealousy. A person who gives a gift has done nothing wrong

Things change drastically when the item being given is bad

1. Giving something bad to only those who earned it.

This is called justice. Some might not like it, but it is not wrong.

2. Giving something bad to those who earned it and those who didn’t

This is regarded as unjust, but its wrongness stems from the fact that it is unkind. If it were a good thing being given, it would still be unjust, but it would not be wrong. There is a patter there. Giving someone something good is fine whether they deserved it or not.  Giving someone something bad is wrong if they did not deserve it. Not giving someone something good is wrong if they deserved it. Not giving someone something bad they deserved is called mercy. And mercy is right or wrong depending on the situation.

Merited Unmerited
Good  Right Not wrong (Kindness/gift)
Bad Right wrong

If there seems to be something wrong with the above table, it’s because there is. It’s not symmetric. If giving someone something they do not deserve is wrong, giving gifts would be wrong. Since giving gifts isn’t wrong, giving someone something they do not deserve isn’t necessarily wrong. For that reason, we cannot say that when God cursed Jeroboam’s entire family because of Jeroboam’s sins, he was wrong because it was unjust (i.e. he gave them something they did not deserve). If it was wrong, it was wrong for some other reason.

One could argue that giving someone something bad is wrong if they do not deserve it, but they would need to support that. We can’t draw arbitrary lines in that sand if we are to avoid special pleading.

Why would God’s actions be wrong?

Kindness

Since ‘the children didn’t deserve it’ doesn’t count, we need some other reason. (And ‘but it feels wrong’ doesn’t count). One option is that it was unkind and God should be kind.This brings us back to the whole issue of God’s rights.

1. God can kill whoever he wants at any time in the same way he can take away the sun he gave us. Our lives belong to him.

2. Kindness isn’t good in and of itself either. Pardoning a murder would be kind to him, but not to everyone else and certainly not to the victims. Bombing the farmlands of a country isn’t kind, but if that country is on a mission to destroy yours, kindness won’t help. Kindness needs to be weighed against its repercussions.

3. Given (2), God’s actions achieved more than destruction. It was a warning for everyone who valued their lives.  Was that justification enough? Maybe. Maybe not. But like I already said, God doesn’t need justification to kill someone and the mere fact that his action was unkind means nothing in this case .

The Soul That Sins Will Die

A second option is that God’s policy is not to punish the innocent for the guilty.  So, breaking his own word makes him a liar.  This would be a powerful objection if you can show that God has actually broken his word. Comprehension is paramount. When God says the the soul that sins is the one who will die, he does it in a specific context. Here is the passage from Ezekiel 18: 5 – 18.

The Righteous man will live

“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— 6 if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach ca woman in her time of menstrual impurity, 7 does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 8 does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, 9 walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

The Sinner will die

10 “If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things 11 (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, 12 oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, 13 lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

14 “Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: 15 he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, 16 does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, 17 withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. 18 As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity.

The righteous man, as you can see, keeps God’s laws. I don’t know that any of Jeroboam’s sons were better than their father so I can’t say that they were the righteous man portrayed here. But I can say this: God did not say he will not punish the children for their parents. He said he would not punish a righteous person for an evil one. Jeroboam’s sons were probably innocent of their father’s actions. But that does not make them righteous.

The Atonement: A Survey of Various Models

Note: This is part of a series on the atonement. The 1st 2 parts can be found here and here 

The main point of all the verses I surveyed seems to be this: We were sinners, guilty before God. God sent his son as a sin offering for us. His sin offering sufficiently atoned for our wrong doing so that we can be declared innocent by God.

How Did Jesus’ Death Atone for Our Sin?

Christ on the Cross
Christ on the Cross (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several theories have been proposed. I summarize some of them here:

  • The Ransom Theory: The earliest of all, originating with the Early Church Fathers, this theory claims that Christ offered himself as a ransom. Where it was not clear was in its understanding of exactly to whom the ransom was paid. Many early church fathers viewed the ransom as paid to Satan.
    • For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mk 10: 45
  • The Recapitulation Theory: Originated with Irenaeus. He sees Christ as the new Adam, who systematically undoes what Adam did. Thus, where Adam was disobedient concerning God’s edict concerning the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Christ was obedient even to death on the wood of a tree. In addition to reversing the wrongs done by Adam, Irenaeus thinks of Christ as “recapitulating” or “summing up” human life.
    • In Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul calls Christ the second Adam and compares him to the first Adam, but he does not  propose the recapitulation theory in any evident manner.
  • The Penal-Substitution Theory: This view was formulated by the 16th century Reformers as an extension of Anselm’s Satisfaction theory. Anselm’s theory was correct in introducing the satisfaction aspect of Christ’s work and its necessity, however the Reformers saw it as insufficient because it was referenced to God’s honor rather than his justice and holiness and was couched more in terms of a commercial transaction than a penal substitution. This Reformed view says simply that Christ died for man, in man’s place, taking his sins and bearing them for him. The bearing of man’s sins takes the punishment for them and sets the believer free from the penal demands of the law: The righteousness of the law and the holiness of God are satisfied by this substitution.
    • Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53
    • 2 Cor. 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
    • 1 John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
    • 1 Pet 2: 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;
  • The Moral-Example Theory (or Moral-Influence Theory): Christ died to influence mankind toward moral improvement. This theory denies that Christ died to satisfy any principle of divine justice, but teaches instead that His death was designed to greatly impress mankind with a sense of God’s love, resulting in softening their hearts and leading them to repentance. Thus, the Atonement is not directed towards God with the purpose of maintaining His justice, but towards man with the purpose of persuading him to right action.
  • Christus Victor (Christ the Victor): In Christus Victor, the atonement is viewed as divine conflict and victory over the hostile powers that hold humanity in subjection. Gustav Aulén argues that the classic Ransom theory is not so much a rational systematic theory as it is a drama, a passion story of God triumphing over the powers and liberating humanity from the bondage of sin. As the term Christus Victor indicates, the idea of “ransom” should not be seen in terms (as Anselm did) of a business transaction, but more of a rescue or liberation of humanity from the slavery of sin. Unlike the Satisfaction or Penal-substitution views of the atonement rooted in the idea of Christ paying the penalty of sin to satisfy the demands of justice, the Christus Victor view is rooted in the incarnation and how Christ entered into human misery and wickedness and thus redeemed it. Irenaeus called this “Recapitulation” (re-creation). As it is often expressed: “Jesus became what we are so that we could become what he is”.
    • Colossians 2: 13 – 15 He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Of the theories proposed, the Penal Substitution theory is the only one that completely explains the Biblical evidence – as opposed to explaining it away (the characterization of Christ’s act as a ‘sin offering’, ‘becoming sin for us’ or ‘taking our sins’). It is my view that not all these views are necessarily false. Christ is our moral example. He did do what Adam could not. And he did achieve victory over Satan on the cross. But as you can see from Col 2 (quoted above), this victory was tied to his taking away our sins on the cross.

So like most issues of this type, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Tough Passages: 2 Samuel 21 – God’s Sense of Justice

During the conquest of Canaan, one group – the Gibeonites – had tricked the Israelites into an alliance. By virtue of that alliance, Israel was not supposed to harm them. But Saul broke that rule. In response, God sent a famine to Israel during David’s reign

  • Even though David and a good number of the Israelites had not been part to breaking the treaty, God still punished all of them. It seems to be a trend in the Bible – shared punishment for wrongs done. In the same way that the blessing God gave Israel when a good king ruled were shared by everyone.  (He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Mt 5:45)

In order to end the famine, David sought to make things up to the Gibeonites. They requested the death of seven of Saul’s male descendants and David obliged. Then  God sent rain.

  • The law required that children not be put to death for the crimes of their parents. But David did it anyway and somehow, the death of seven people was compensation enough for the death of a lot more Gibeonites.
  • God sent rain, indicating that he considered restitution given for the harm done to the Gibeonites. Restitution had been given. The question was whether the cure was not worse than the disease. It is as if I killed your son and then offered my son as restitution. If you’re into that sort of thing you will no doubt be satisfied; it’s a fair trade. It sufficiently does for the victim everything that justice should do.
    • It acknowledges that a wrong was done to them.
    • It acknowledges that the wrong should not have been done, thereby acknowledging the worth of the victims.
    • It takes steps to restore the balance that the wrong act disrupted (something that an apology could not have done).
  • But it did not provide justice to the descendants of Saul that were killed. One can say that God sent the famine for the Gibeonites and when their needs were met, there was no more need for it. But I would think that God would care about the descendants of Saul too.
  • On the other hand, we just talked about a God who sends rain on both the just and the unjust and sends a famine on a whole nation whose King acted wrongly. Something is definitely funky about the idea of justice here.
  • So, David broke one law in keeping another and God did nothing about it.

In conclusion, we can say that God approved of David’s making things up to the Gibeonites because he ended the famine. But we cannot say that he approved of the means by which this rift was sealed. He simply did not react to it.

Skeptical response 1:

Isn’t God’s response in this case a sign of approval? He sent rain in response to David’s actions. That’s basically a thumbs up sign.

Response:

You’re making leaps in your logic. God sent the famine in response to the injustice done to Gibeon. When that injustice was righted, he withdrew the famine. In righting, the first injustice, though, another injustice is committed. The famine had nothing to do with that second injustice so withdrawing the famine says nothing about it.

Skeptical response 2:

Even if I grant that, God still did something wrong here. Seven innocent people were killed and he did nothing. At the very least he should have told David of his wrong actions.

Response:

If you’re going to stand in judgment against God, I might as well give you more ammunition. Innocent people are killed all the time and God does nothing – right from the times of Noah and Abraham, right up till the centuries long rampage of the Amorites. If he spent every moment dishing out punishment, we would all be dust. His technique had always been to let them accumulate, and give the person(s) responsible time to come to their senses. If they did, he forgave them – like he has done to us in Christ. If they didn’t, he eventually visited punishment – like in Noah’s flood (Genesis 6).

Yes, justice should be served for all wrongs done, but there is no law that says it must be served immediately. There is such a thing as mercy in God’s legal system.

Finally, we don’t know what God did or did not tell David following this encounter. These books do not record every single event that ever occured. They can’t. Like all historical texts, they must pick what to include. But if God did not chastise David for this, that’s hardly an issue – like the fact that you don’t get a call every time you run a red light telling you that you’re wrong. If you don’t know that it’s against the law tot run a red light, something is seriously wrong. David was the king, and as such, he was commanded to have a copy of the law and read it everyday. If he was still uninformed, then he had more important problems.

Joshua 7 – Reading Note – The Sin of Achan

Summary:

For those who don’t know the story, God told the Israelites not to take the spoils from Jericho after they conquered the city. Achan, however, disobeyed and took some expensive items and hid them. Like my mom taught me, however, “you may cover your sin, that no one might know. You cannot hide it from God”.

In their next battle, the Israelites fought the town of Ai. They lost the battle and 36 men because God did not fight with them. When Joshua cries out to him, he informs Joshua that Israel had sinned and he wasn’t going to help them until they got rid of the sinner. They discovered Achan and killed him and his children, then burned the bodies along with all their possessions.

  • Achan sinned and God was angry and punished the whole Israelite community. He refused to fight with them and they lost their battle. (7: 1 – 5)
  • When Joshua cried out to God, God seemed angry with him. He spoke as if Joshua was doing something unnecessary. He basically said “O course I’m angry with you. Israel has sinned.” (7: 6 – 11)
  • God said “Israel has sinned”. He didn’t say that Achan had sinned. He counted Achan’s sin as the sin of the whole Israelite community (even though they knew nothing about it) and refused to fight with them until they got rid of the person responsible for the crime. (7: 10 – 13)
  • When Achan was discovered, the community took he and his children, livestock and posessions and stoned them to death. Then they burned them. (7: 24 -26)
  • Joshua’s justification for the severity of the punishment was that the crime was a very severe one. (7:15)

Evaluating the Incident

I have two issues with this passage:

1. One man’s sin is counted as the sin of ‘Israel’. The notion of collective guilt has never made much sense to me. In my mind, there is no such thing as ‘Israel’. Nor does it make sense to say that ‘Israel’ sinned unless every single member of the community committed the offense. I’m having trouble making the jump from “Achan sinned” to “Israel sinned”.

2. A man’s children were killed along with him for his sin. This is different from God punishing the whole community for something that one person did. This is a group of people being singled out by their relationship to the perpetrator and stoned to death.

I’ve thought about that for a long time and sorted out a few facts.

A. These people are not being accused of the crime, nor are they being punished for it (in the sense that no one accuses them of being guilty of it). Rather, they are being killed to punish their father. It should warn other people about disobeying God and consequently causing the death of their fellow Israelites.

B. Achan’s sin was against God and caused the death of thirty six Israelites. It was intentional rebellion. He knew what he was doing. It does deserve a harsh punishment.

C. The one thing I always run into when I get to issues about killing: God has the right to kill anybody. He is our creator. He can also delegate his power to take life to other humans (e.g. to the leaders in punishing guilty people and to the community at large in wars.)
As a result, I can’t say anything more about this story than that it offends my sensibilities and it is very harsh.

In Conclusion

I feel the need to balance out my exegesis of this passage. I adore God’s care for his people and his strong desire to keep them away from sin. I understand why what Achan did was wrong. I see God’s holiness. Sometimes the intensity of his hatred for sin and love for us scares me. I know very well that I do not measure up to him. I am glad that by Christ’s blood I can stand before him. I look forward to the day that he completes our redemption.

Numbers 31 – Reading Note – Vengeance against Midian

I told you that you would need to remember Numbers 25 for this one. So, first, a brief recap:

In Numbers 25, the people of Moab and Midian had their women seduce the Israelite men and then lead them into idolater. They were advised to do this by Balaam, who Balak , king of Moab, had previously hired to curse Israel. Their plan worked well and God punished Israel. All the men who had committed adultery were killed and 24,000 people died from a plague that God sent. God then gave Moses this command.

“Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor.” – Num 25: 17, 18

God asked the Israelites not to forget what the Midianites had done to them, but to make sure they fought them for it. Call this vengeance or revenge or justice or just plain old restitution.

Here in numbers 31, the Israelites finally get around to doing it. God tells Moses,

“Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people. ”

Moses puts together and army. The army attacks Midian and wins. They kill all the men (including Balaam) and take the women, children, livestock and goods. When Moses learns of this, he is very angry and asks the people why they let the women live. After all, it was the women who seduced the Israelite men and led them into idolatry. They were instrumental in the whole thing. That was when he uttered the now famous statement.

“Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” – Num 31: 15 – 18

You can hear that statement trumpeted from the rooftops as evidence of the evil of Christianity and an example of rape in the Bible. The story goes that the sexually perverse and bloodthirsty Israelites, after killing all the men, killed all the young boys and women who had ever had sex (because they were impure) and saved the virgin girls for sex later. They also had to rape the girls right there because how else could they figure out who was a virgin and who was not?

Some of those things are pretty straightforward to answer.

  1. Why were the virgins saved and the other women killed? Was it for sex?: That conclusion is unnecessary. Evidently, the virgins had nothing to do with seducing and leading away the Israelite men. Therefore, if as Moses said, the women were being killed for their part in hurting the Israelites, it makes sense that the virgins were excluded.
  2. Why were the boys killed?: I do not know. I once heard someone say that the only other options were to either assimilate them or leave them to starve. If they were assimilated into Israel, they might have later grown up and took revenge upon the Israelites. I believe that is conceivable but I cannot give a more solid answer than that.
  3.  How do you know the girls were not raped?: I cannot say that not one of the girls was sexually assaulted. I am in no position to know such a thing. However, I can say that such actions were condemned. Sex outside of marriage was forbidden. If any man saw a captured woman that he liked, he had to marry her (I assume this required her consent), first giving her time to mourn her family and then she had the full rights of a wife. (deut 21: 10 – 14)
  4.  How did they know which women were virgins and which were not without raping them?: Dressing. Women sometimes dressed differently according to their class – virgins, married women, temple prostitutes, etc. They could have some sort of special jewelry, shawl or head gear. For instance, the virgin daughters of the king on Israel had a special ornamented robe that they wore. (2 Sam 13: 18)
  5.   If the girls were not going to be raped or used as sex slaves, why did Moses say the people could take them ‘for yourselves’?: They did take them for themselves. Who else would they have taken them for – God? In the chapter, the girls are divided among the groups in the community. That the Israelites took them ‘for themselves’ says nothing about what was done with them. It is merely a statement about what group or person they belong to.

All the captives and plundered goods were shared among the people, warriors, priests and Levites. The Warriors got a larger share than the others (except perhaps the priests and Levites.

The warriors later counted themselves and found out that not one of them was missing so they gave an offering to God.

I do have real questions/problems with this chapter.

1. It seems quite improbable that all the men and women killed actually had a hand in the incident. Does this constitute injustice?

2. The reasons I have heard for killing the boys are far from satisfactory. I know that I cannot judge the situation until I actually know why it was done and this irritates me all the more. There’s nothing like having to say ‘I don’t know’ whenever someone asks that question.

3. What was done to the girls who were not killed?

Slaves in the Old Testamant and Ancient Near East

This is another response to rautakky. His original comment is on this page: https://ferlans.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/comparing-foreign-and-native-slaves-in-the-books-of-the-law/

Let’s think about the liberty issue. I fear you are forgetting that slavery in the OT was very different from the other types of slavery (in the other ANE nations, the roman empire, the new world, etc.) A slave did not become less human because they sold themselves as slaves in the ANE. It wasn’t about race. (You speak as if you have forgotten that). Let’s go over several points.

These are not data for Israel specifically, but for the Ancient Near East. Some things would have been different in Israel, but this ought to give you an idea of what we are speaking of.

1.The issue of ‘slave’ vs ‘free’

“Freedom in the ancient Near East was a relative, not an absolute state, as the ambiguity of the term for “slave” in all the region’s languages illustrates. “Slave” could be used to refer to a subordinate in the social ladder. Thus the subjects of a king were called his “slaves,” even though they were free citizens. The king himself, if a vassal, was the “slave” of his emperor; kings, emperors, and commoners alike were “slaves” of the gods. Even a social inferior, when addressing a social superior, referred to himself out of politeness as “your slave.” There were, moreover, a plethora of servile conditions that were not regarded as slavery, such as son, daughter, wife, serf, or human pledge.”- A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law 1.40

2. Slavery in the ANE was implemented for the benefit of the poor, not the rich. It was their escape from poverty. It was initiated by the potential slave, not the potential buyer.

3. Entry was overwhelmingly voluntary.

“A person would either enter into slavery or be sold by a parent or relative. Persons sold their wives, grandchildren, brother (with his wife and child), sister, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law, nephews and niece…Many of the documents emphasize that the transaction is voluntary. This applies not only to self-sale but also to those who are the object of sale, although their consent must sometimes have been fictional, as in the case of a nursing infant.” [A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law 1.665]
“War is only mentioned as a source of slavery for public institutions. The most frequently mentioned method of enslavement was sale of children by their parents. Most are women, evidently widows, selling a daughter; in one instance a mother and  grandmother sell a boy…There are also examples of self sale.” A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law 1.199

4.Slaves were protected from excessive punishment and abuse and the records of the day generally indicate humane treatment

“[Slaves were generally afforded protection from] Excessive Physical punishment. Even chattel slaves appear to have benefited to some extent from this protection” – A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law 1.43
“First, let us set apart the slaves–the booty of war or in servitude for various reasons–who by definition were totally dependent on their masters, although the latter appear to have treated them fairly humanely, and more like domestic servants.” – Everyday in Ancient Mesopotamia, 114

5.

“Moreover, in general there were probably only a few in each household [in Israel]–there is no indication, for example, that large gangs of them were toiling in deplorable conditions to cultivate big estates, as in the later Roman world” [The Israelites:101]

“Both types (Hebrew, foreign slaves) were domestic slaves living in their owners’ homes, not members of slave gangs working on plantations.” [Notes, Jewish Study Bible, Ex 21]

6. Slaves were regarded as persons and had legal rights. For instance, they could partake in business, borrow money and buy their own freedom

“The definition of slaves as property runs into conceptual as well as empirical problems. ‘Property’ is a shorthand and abstract term for a bundle of very specific and relatively exclusive rights held by a person (or group) relative to a thing (or person). To say that in any given society, something (say, a person) is ‘property’ has meaning only to the extent that the rights involved are specified and understood in the context of other rights prevalent in the society. For example, in many precolonial African societies, the kin group had the right to sell equally its slave and nonslave members, it had equal control over the wealth acquired by either of them, it extracted (or failed to extract) as much labor from one as from the other, and the majority of slaves were quasi-relatives or actual relatives, and, if prosperous enough, could acquire slaves of their own. Here, obviously, one must look at other features to find the difference between the slave and the ‘free’.” Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology 4:1191, s.v. “Slavery”

“Guterbock refers to ‘slaves in the strict sense,’ apparently referring to chattel slaves such as those of classical antiquity. This characterization may have been valid for house slaves whose master could treat them as he wished when they were at fault, but it is less suitable when they were capable of owning property and could pay betrothal money or fines. The meaning ‘servant’ seems more appropriate, or perhaps the designation ‘semi-free’. It comprises every person who is subject to orders or dependent on another but nonetheless has a certain independence within his own sphere of active.” [A History of Ancient Near Eastern Law:1632]

“However, the idea of a slave as exclusively the object of rights and as a person outside regular society was apparently alien to the laws of the ANE.” [Anchor Bible Dictionary s.v. “Slavery, Ancient Near East”]

7. In the ANE, manumission was rare because it wasn’t sought after. Slaves liked the job security, among other things.

“More usually, individual autonomy has meant exposure to danger and predation; safety lay precisely in the protection afforded by the bondage of dependence on groups and patrons. What was desirable was not freedom but belongingness.”  Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology 4. 1191

In fact, the OT law suggests that the slave might want to remain with his master too because being with him is good

“And if it happens that he says to you, ‘I will not go away from you,’ because he loves you and your house, since he prospers with you…” Deut 15: 16

I’m trying to make a point with this. You make certain statement like,

“The loss of liberty has a terrible toll on people. When people become enslaved they become apathetic. But they also might become vengefull, they might even engage in terrorist action. As a result the society of the enslaving people becomes militarist. The treshold for violence goes down. Slavery reduces human dignity and the general value of human individuals becomes less in the eyes of all involved. Segragation grows between the two groups. And if there is a legal escape clause from slavery, people who are not slaves start to think it is their own fault that these people are slaves. Such clauses are added to slavery laws to smoothen up the guilty conscious of the owners about the oppression slavery is.”

These statements betray a certain mindset about what you believe slavery to be, how you think slaves were treated and what you think slaves were regarded as. Slaves in the OT were not thought of as sub-human. They had the right to their own lives, they had ‘human dignity’, they had value.  These are things one can easily deduce from the fact that they could buy their own freedom, their murder was punishable by death, the were not allowed to be punished beyond the punishment for other free Hebrews. In addition to all of that, they had their own property (whatever they had owned before selling themselves, the money paid to them for the sale, they could ‘prosper’ and buy themselves back). In the case of Hebrew slaves, their master gave them a portion of all he had made during the time they served him when they went free after 6 years. They were regarded as part of the family and participated in feasts. They could even eat the sacred offerings if they belonged to a priest (something that no one but members of the priest’s family could do). In other words, anyone who has read the Pentateuch well enough should be able to see this.

There were no ‘two groups’, no segregation, no loss of dignity (any more than the people lost dignity by being referred to as slaves of the king), no inhuman treatment, no apathy. In short, you have mistaken slavery in the OT for something else. This is my fault of course. I ought to have laid this groundwork earlier in our conversation.

Now, if you wish to argue that the slavery in the OT, a perfectly humane system implemented to help the poor of the society, affected them adversely when the rules were followed, do so using facts. Also respond to the facts that I cited here, preferably as comprehensively as I have.