I remember this morning why I stopped reading the Bible for a number of years. I decided to read it again this past summer, thinking perhaps I might find something I’d missed the other times through. This morning I opened the book to Numbers 31. The chapter’s title read “The Holy War against Midian”. I noted first the phrase “holy war” and as far as I am concerned no war is ever holy. As the story goes, God said to Moses, “Punish the Midianites for what they did to the people of Israel.” Back in chapter chapter 25, it says that male members of his own tribe went to worship the god Baal of Peor and had sex with the women at a feast there. This made God pretty angry so he ordered Moses to execute the guilty ones in front of the whole community and sent a plague upon the people as well. One rebellious Israelite took a Midianite woman into his tent right in front of those who were still mourning the loss of their loved ones. Phineas, a zealot and grandson of the high priest Aaron, went into the tent and speared both the man and the woman. That seemed to satisfy God because the plague ended right then and there, but not until it took the lives of 24,000 people.
As it turns out, there was more needed to satisfy this blood-thirsty God. (I will change that to god, if you don’t mind). In obedience to god, Moses had 12,000 men drafted from the 12 tribes and prepared them for battle. They attacked the Midianites and killed all of the men. They took their women and children, all of their cattle and flocks and burned all their cities and camps. When they brought their loot to show to Moses, he got angry with them for sparing the women. “Remember, it was the women who led the people to be unfaithful to the Lord.” (I guess the old story of blaming women for the lust of men goes back a long way). So Moses sent them to kill every boy child and “every woman who has had sexual intercourse.” Only the girls and virgins were allowed to live…and the animals.
I am writing about this horrible story because I get tired of people who point their accusing fingers at Muslims while defending their attacks by citing violent passages in the Quran. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer wrote a book several years ago, “Is Religion Killing Us?” in which he highlighted the violence in both the Bible and the Quran. It was stories such as the above that he talked about.
It is amazing to me that there are Jews, Christians, and Muslims among us who are able to look beyond and between these horrors in the scriptures and find the words of life. But they do. And we can. But we have to be honest about our histories, about the bad stuff in our scriptures and stop the judging. Point one finger and there really are three more pointing back.