17 Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. 18 But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves. Numbers 31:17-18
Without a doubt, these are among the most troubling verses in the Bible. I have studied and heard every rationale for these commands, yet it is still difficult. How can God command for children, even pagan children, to be murdered? How can God allow young girls to be taken as wives for His chosen people?
Rather than try to justify these verses, I am simply left with, I don’t know. These are verses that I simply have to admit that I do not understand. I do not know why. I do not know. I take it on faith that God is still good. These verses do not seem to align with anything that Jesus taught or did. They don’t make sense with the ways that God reveals himself to me in my personal experience. Therefore when I read verses like these, I am simply drawn to say, “I trust God even when I don’t understand Him” and “I trust God even when I think He is wrong.” That seems like a heresy or contradiction, but I believe it is simply a tension. I believe there is a just reason for these passages, I hope someday to know what it is. (I do believe that a historical study of this text reveals that the Midianites were provoking Israel and that the punishments were normal for the time, yet it is still hard to understand- just as it is hard to fathom how the Mongols in the 13th century or any other dominant tribe in any historical time can be justified in killing EVERY PERSON they conquered, including women and children.)
The problem with a verse like this is that it is easy for someone to say, “this is why religion is bad”, without taking into account that the example of true followers of Jesus, who would decry actions such as these and throughout history (even in the dark ages and during the evil crusades and every other dark time in history) many true followers were giving their lives by serving those who were hungry and helpless. If I had one question for Jesus, it might be to shed light on this passage.