In our modern context, trying to understand the nature of the event in Numbers 31 is, for me, a difficult venture. I understand, well enough, what is being said and even why, but when conversing with some in today’s environment, difficulty exists when some inquire about how a New Testament Christian can justify the actions of the Lord. Of course, there is no created being that can justify the actions of the Lord in any decision He made relative to anything (though we do put forth the effort). He needs no justification. Not one of us in position to know what he (the Lord) knows and, consequently, not one of us is in good position to judge rightly.
Though not one of us is in position to rightly judge, every now and again, New Testament Christians are called upon to do exactly what we are not in position to do. This brief discussion below is my own effort at such. I post this for the benefit of others who might be interested and for some critical remarks that might help me be a better student.
My disputant is a man of reasonable ability, very thoughtful. He was once a preacher, graduating from the BTSOP. Some time back he left the Lord and for about 4 years now (2013 until now), he and I have had on/off conversations along this line.
The discussion was generated by a FB post/share I made: http://www.catholicleague.org/whats-wrong-with-slavery-and-rape/
DLH: Both are tricky topics, as Moses, who is of course a favorite Biblical character of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; authorized and justified each practice.
Fortunately, among the people with whom I am acquainted who claim any of the aforementioned as their professed Faith, I know of not a single one who would justify either slavery or rape.
Thankfully most of the representatives of the respective Judeo-Christian-Islamic ideologies have moved on from the shortcomings of Moses.
Except regarding War Crimes, which is of course another of those tricky topics to itself.
RT: The shortcomings of Moses were what, and what measurement are you using to so judge?
DLH: Oh, just my general feelings on rape and slavery. As to the shortcomings of Moses, his tolerance for and authorization of each (rape and slavery)
RT: Your feelings, Dave, is not a good measuring stick. Give me express reference to that which Moses authorized.
DLH: I am not gonna bother looking up the laws in Leviticus which Moses cited to regulate Slavery. Surely you will not deny that such are there. By regulating Slavery Moses of course authorized such. (I never was great at memorizing citations from Leviticus “back in the day”, I sure would be at a loss to attempt to do so these days)
As to authorizing Rape, I know you are familiar with the fact that after the Israeli soldiers had killed the Midianite men, women, and sons; that Moses permitted the those same Israeli soldiers to keep the virgins (whose parents and brother they had just killed) “for themselves”. This actually is a “two fer” with reference to the unpleasant topics at hand, in that Moses allowed those Israeli soldiers to make those virgin Midianites their “sex slaves”
Sorry that my feelings on the topic of rape and slavery do not merit as a sufficient measuring stick as to such matters, perhaps you might comment as to by what measuring stick rape and slavery might be justified?
RT: Dave, you have to do better than this. Go back and read what the passages say, then we can talk about them. With regard to your feelings, if that is the only measuring stick, then someone else’s feeling, complimentary or contradictory, is just as authoritative.
DLH: 15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? 16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. 17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. 18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
I even posted KJV. Do I have your permission to discuss this text with you now? Numbers 31:15-18; biblegateway
RT: Yes, please begin.
DLH: 1. Did Moses do wrong by commanding the Israeli soldiers to kill the Midianite boys? If the answer is yes, then no need to answer Question 2
2. By what standard was Moses justified then to command the Israeli soldiers to kill the Midianite boys?
3. Did Moses do wrong by allowing the Israeli soldiers to keep the virgin Midianite girls “for themselves” (after having killed their brothers). If the answer is yes, then no need to answer Question 4
4. By what standard was Moses justifiied then to allow the Israeli soldiers to keep the virgin Midianite girls “for themselves” (after having killed their brothers)
As a reminder, per my feelings I regard both actions as wrong. As you reject my feelings as a sufficient standard as a measuring stick, then I am asking you for your measuring stick with reference to right and wrong. I had in mind to ask you your feelings regarding Slavery, but since feeling are not a measuring stick, then I ask my question thusly:
5. Do you believe that Slavery is wrong?
6. If the answer to 5 is yes, then please provide the measuring stick by which you arrived at that conclusion.
If you do not feel inclined to answer, then no worries.
RT: I will cut and paste these in a word document on my laptop, then with a reply. At the moment, a phone is disagreeable. So, probably this evening (I hope)
DLH: That works!
RT: The only way to judge something to be wrong (or right) is by a standard that adjudicates the actions of man. To answer the question, the answer is no. To people’s way of thinking today, Moses did wrong, but what standard will be used to so assert. Thus, I ask you: if Moses did wrong, what standard will you use to make the case he did wrong? Moses was justified in that which was done by a source greater than himself, that source is the Lord. With regard to your 3rd question, there is nothing in the text that speaks of “brothers” to the females. Just the same, the answer is no for the same reason as set forth in the 2nd answer to your previous question. Your 4th question is answered the same as the answer I gave to the 2nd question you asked.
It seems apparent to me, you judge Moses wrong; how do you know whether or not he was wrong?
Tell me, David, what is the context of this scenario in Numbers 31? Whatever difficulty you and I have about the situation (as recorded), this difficulty does not mitigate against anything relative to the Lord’s decision in this matter. As soon as you judge it otherwise, with your lack of understanding of the situation, I ask again: what standard are you using to apply any “wrongness” to the actions done?
What makes slavery wrong, David? Is there any “rightness” to being a bond-servant (a form of slavery)? If so, then what makes it right? Since slavery is not part of the reading you introduced, I will wait for you to answer my questions before I address yours.
DLH: Re: your first comment “The only way to judge… actions of man”
This of course asserts your opinion. This also explains why you can justify the execution of boys and the abduction of girls into sex slavery; whereas I cannot
My standard of right and wrong is based upon effect; hence I regard Moses as being dead wrong for executing boys and for allowing young virgins to be taken as sex slaves
We could discuss genocide; which in the context of Deut 2 and 3 I am certain you would justify; whereas I maintain Moses was dead wrong there as well
We could discuss the slaying of men, women, and children such as in the context of Joshua 6:21; which I am sure you would justify; whereas I maintain that the Israeli army that day was dead wrong for murdering women and children
We could discuss drowning babies; which in the context of Genesis 6-7 I am certain you would justify, but in my book Jehovah was dead wrong for drowning innocent babies
On and on we could go citing examples of atrocities that you can justify but which I seem as being wrong. That which distinguishes our assessments of certain deeds is of course our differing standards for right and wrong; that which you call the measuring stick; that which I like to term my moral compass
Your standard; which is based upon faith; permits you to justify infanticide, genicide, executions of children, and sex slavery: whereas my standard which is based on feelings, does not permit me to justify such atrocities regardless of who authorizes such
We merely judge right and wrong by different standards old friend
RT: That which you call an opinion has two things going for it. 1) It’s based on trying to understand an objective transcendent standard of morality that is higher than man (something you can’t do). 2) It attempts to understand difficult circumstances in life based on a Judge that will call all people to account (something you will regret).
You judge Moses to be wrong, but for no objective, transcendent reason you can offer. You just assert it, just as you assert genocide in Deuteronomy 2 and 3. Rather than assert, make the case for it being exactly that.
You assert that the Israeli army was wrong in Joshua 6, but you can’t say as to why – only that you don’t like it.
As far as you are concern, with Joshua 6, Genesis 6-7 (others), there is no accountability associated with the wrong-doing of man. If you give room for just a little bit of punitive accountability, you can’t say what is the proper measurement for proper application; you can only say what you would not do.
You speak about sex-slaves, but not an ounce of evidence from the text you inserted do you show. You offer the dishonorable shotgun blast, hoping something will stick – and it doesn’t.
All you are able to offer in this discussion is smoke; there is no substance. You offer no standard of measurement to adjudicate wrong action, only an opinion about what you don’t like. That which you deny exists (God) will be the one you stand before, then what will you offer to him? No doubt, you will say to him what he should not have done, thinking you have the higher moral compass. You go ahead and stick to your moral compass, but it is based on no law that is transcendent, only subjective (the “I thinks” of the world).
My standard is based on something greater than man; yours is not. My standard is based on evidence that God exists, while your standard is based on hope that he does not exist. My standard justifies nothing of which you falsely accuse, but your standard can’t say that it (or anything) is wrong, or even why – only that you feel that it is.
Yes, we judge by different standards; true enough, Dave. Your standard based on effect is the standard of “might makes right” (this was said on purpose to see your response to it).
Dave, you have the last word tonight, assuming you want to reply. If so, I will cut and paste, and try to get word to you tomorrow, that is, I will offer no reply additional reply tonight.
I hope you have a great evening, old (and still) friend (I like your term of affection).
DLH: I think every person lives by standards which are a synthesis of conditioned values and natural values.
My effort is to trust the latter.
Natural values are a moral compass developed from ones natural capacity for compassion; hence forging an ethical code based upon each of one’s daily experiences. I don’t expect you to understand or agree, as such would conflict with your ideology. Suffice it to say that your values which are grounded in faith, allow you to justify actions which are naturally wrong.
The very deeds that you can justify in one situation, I am sure you would be appalled by in a non biblical context.
I know you as a person all too well to actually believe that you can justify the atrocious deeds in the contexts aforementioned on their own merits, yet you find yourself in the awkward position of defending the actions of people who are said to have executed such atrocities merely based upon contexts which you have come to trust as being events in accord with what you perceive to be sacred doctrine.
Your conditioned values are subjective and situational; your natural values are at the core of the fact that you are a good and decent person who lives by a moral code which far exceeds that of Moses, Joshua, and others. Which leads me back to the OP.
I am relieved that the Christians, Jews, and the Muslims with whom I am acquainted have adopted values which exceed those of the shortcomings of Moses; whose values are more represented by extremist factions of each rather than by the average representative of each respective religious ideology so mentioned
RT: It is true that people live by values, and some of them are synthesized; no issue there. Those values, however, came from some source – what is that source? You speak of it as a natural source, which is materialistic and mechanical. The material-chemical components of this takes away free-will, but you earlier said to me (in a previous discussion) that man has free-will, thus is accountable. If no free-will, no accountability. This approach of yours, natural values, is arbitrary, situational (fluid) and unknown to man.
Where there is no law, there is no wrong.
I understand perfectly what it is that you subscribe to, but the inherent failing of that foundation means there is no real wrong in this world or, for that matter, no real right in this world. It is all a matter of what one thinks at the time it is thought. It can be nothing else.
You speak of the values I subscribe to, at least some of them, as being naturally wrong. Really? Tell me how natural law can say anything is wrong apart from “I feel.”
As soon as you begin to delineate between what should and should not be done, another may offer a contrary approach, even contradictory, then how will “nature” determine which is the correct approach? Of course, it can’t. [A natural perplexity, one might say] This would be “naturally,” you know [lined out text was part of original, but it makes no good sense]. Since homosexuality is against nature and self-defeating, is it wrong?
My values are grounded in a transcendent Being that will call all to account one day.
You have spoken against the situations, but have not offered anything of substance as to why – except that you don’t like it; you can’t say why it is wrong, only that you think it is. You dismiss the context of the situation because you focused on one aspect of it; that is [thus], mishandling information. It’s a lot like those in the political environment who play “gotcha.” Context has everything to do with it, and so does the source/foundation of judgment. Admittedly, I find the situation perplexing – I don’t mind saying so – but I also understand the context of the immediate situation and the whole situation (something you don’t). The one in whom I trust is in far better position to adjudicate than you, me or any other.
You speak about my conditioned values, should you not speak about your own? You can’t show for even a moment that my values, that is, the foundation upon which they are built, is subjective and/or situational. I invite you to try. You also speak about the short-comings of Moses, et al, but offer nothing as to why or what is to replace it – except one’s personal feelings, which is exactly why our modern society is where it is regarding a moral compass. It has none.
Brother, this conversation we have had before, and we both know the direction it goes. I am willing to continue it, but what writing is done by you/me will be for the benefit of those who read it (I will post it on my blog, and I invite you to do the same on yours).
DLH: Ron, you are arguing on behalf of the execution of boys, the taking of virgin girls as sex slaves, infanticide, and genocide. Is it really that difficult to know that such things are wrong? I maintain that in any non-biblical context that you would have no problem judging such atrocities as being wrong.
RT: Dave, I am arguing that the standard you have is no standard at all. In fact, to utilize what you apply, there is no chance anyone can be wrong about anything — none. Whatever questions you have about a standard different and greater than your own does not mitigate against the just nature of it. You have offered nothing authoritative, obligatory, objective or better. In fact, you can’t. The best you can offer is “I feel (or think)”.
Addendum – I am disappointed I did not aggressively address the accusations leveled against the Lord better than I did. I guess it is a lesson learned.