Moses sends an army of 12,000 men to the far-away country of Midian, as ordered by God in chapter 25. They kill all adult males (including Balaam, who doesn’t even live there), burn all their towns, and bring back captured children, women and animals as booty. The warriors’ appalling conduct angers Moses, and he chides them: “Have you allowed all the women to live?” You can never trust warriors these days! He thereupon orders the execution of all adult women and male children, only allowing virgin girls to live for the pleasure of the Israelite men.
Until this chapter, I thought I had finally found a character in the Pentateuch that I could cheer for. Moses usually tends to prefer less violent action, and is always suitably distressed at the more insane of God’s plans. Although I had to go to great lengths to rationalize Moses’ actions in my story in chapter 16, I felt like my interpretation (that he was forced to kill all those people against his will) was believable. His decision in this chapter, though, is hard to excuse. It doesn’t seem to be an order from God, and there is no strategic value in in executing women, who would at the very least make perfectly good slaves. It really just strikes me as evil. I bet Zipporah (Moses’ Midianite wife, presumably with lots of family in Midian) gave him a cold shoulder that night (unless she was herself still in Midian and was slaughtered like everyone else).
The human booty to be shared among the Israelites totals 32,000 virgin girls. If we assume everyone younger than 15 years are virgins, and the average lifespan is 50 years, the whole population would be about 200,000 people. So each Israelite warrior must have killed 17 people or so each.
Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Men have to keep their promises (“vows” and “oaths”), while women are only bound by them if approved by their husband or father (or if they are widowed or divorced).
If she marries, while obligated by her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her at the time that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand.
On the second day: twelve young bulls, two rams, fourteen male lambs a year old without blemish …
God again tells Moses what animals, flour, oil and wine are to be offered on what days. Apart from the daily, sabbath, passover and first-fruits offerings, a new first-day-of-the-month offering is introduced.
The other lamb you shall offer at twilight with a grain offering and a drink offering like the one in the morning; you shall offer it as an offering by fire, a pleasing odor to the Lord.
Some women complain that their family shouldn’t be without inheritance just because their father died without male heirs, and God complies.
It turns out that God was angry at Moses over the water-from-a-stone-affair all along, and that he must die for this just like Aaron (I thought Moses had to die because of the whole affair with the lying spies, but I guess that didn’t really make sense in the first place). But first he must transfer his prophetic authority over to Joshua (the guy who, together with Caleb, supported God when the spies lied about Canaan being filled with giants).
“Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint someone over the congregation (…) so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”
A new census list is made, and it shows that there are about as many Israelites as at the start of Numbers. The census list is to be used to distribute among the Israelites all the new land they have stumbled upon.
Everyone on the old census list (except for the loyal Caleb and Joshua) are dead; I guess 40 years have passed now. I had expected more wilderness adventure. Also, I guess this means Moses will die soon.
Take a census of the whole congregation of the Israelites, from twenty years old and upward, by their ancestral houses, everyone in Israel able to go to war.
The Israelite men start copulating with the Moab women, and then worshipping their god Baal. God asks Moses to impale all the Israelite elders, but Moses settles with killing only the heretics. This isn’t enough for God, so he starts another plague. It kills 24,000 people, and is only stopped by Eleazar’s son executing an Israelite man and his Midianite lover who happened to be nearby. Moses must have felt uncomfortable here, seeing as how his wife is Midianite. Just to bring the point home, God tells Moses to “defeat” the Midianites.
The Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people, and impale them in the sun before the Lord in order that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel. (…)”