In addition to Tom Constable’s helpful notes. I also recommend Paul Copan’s book “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.”
Here is an excerpt from “Is God a Moral Monster?” that deals with Numbers 31.
The Midianites (Numbers 31)
As with Israel’s lifelong enemies, the Amalekites (cf. Deut. 25:17–19), the Midianites also posed a serious threat to Israel. Whereas Amalek endangered Israel’s very existence, Midian profoundly threatened Israel’s spiritual and moral integrity as the people of God. With the help of the devious pagan prophet Balaam, the Midianites devised a plan to lead Israel into pagan worship. This involved ritual sex, feasting before their Baal, and bowing and sacrificing to him (Num. 25:1–2; 31:16). When he couldn’t bring a curse down on Israel (Num. 22–24), he sought another way.
This is why Moses gives the command, “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. 31:17–18 NIV). This command must be understood in the context of Numbers 25. At Peor, the Midianite women deliberately seduced the Israelite men into orgiastic adultery as well as Baal worship.
The death sentence for all males is unusual. However, males were the potential enemy army to rise up against Israel. (Keep in mind that the Israelite males who participated in the seduction were also put to death.) Midian’s brazen, evil intent to lead Israel astray called for a severe judgment. The intent of Moses’s command was to undermine any future Midianite threat to Israel’s identity and integrity.
What about the taking of young virgins? Some critics have crassly suggested that Israelite men were free simply to grab and rape young virgins. Not so. They were saved precisely because they hadn’t degraded themselves by seducing Israelite men. As a backdrop, have a look again at Deuteronomy 21:10–14. There, a Gentile female POW couldn’t be used as a sex object. An Israelite male had to carefully follow proper procedures before she could be taken as a wife. In light of the highly sensitive nature of sexual purity in Israel and for Israel’s soldiers, specific protocols had to be followed. Rape was most certainly excluded as an extracurricular activity in warfare.
“What does it matter if our own plans are frustrated? Is it not better to serve our neighbor than to have our own way?”— Dietrcih Bonhoeffer, “Life Together” pg. 95
Some of you may have heard about the reports of a 4th century fragment that claims Jesus referred to having a wife.
This is a great example of why the Gospels were written.
For about 30 years after the death of Jesus there were no written accounts of his life. The story of his life was preached verbally by the apostles.
During that time there were so many eyewitnesses to what Jesus did, to his miracles and the fact that he died and rose again, that people couldn’t get away with distorting accounts of Jesus in order to use his legacy to advance their agenda (See 1 Cor, 15). So if someone did try to distort something about Jesus, there were eyewitnesses who could set the record straight. There were too many people who would say “No that didn’t happen, I was there.” or “Yes that did happen, I was there”
However, as the eyewitnesses began to get older and die out it became clear that there needed to be accurate, authoritative accounts of the life of Jesus so there would be a reliable source that people could go to, to find out the truth about who Jesus actually was, what he actually said, and what he actually did.
That is why the Gospels were written. So if someone in the 4th century (or whenever) wrote something about Jesus there would be accurate sources of information about Jesus to validate or invalidate other claims.
So what we do with something that claims to tell us that Jesus had a wife, is we look at the gospels and see what they say. If that claim contradicts the gospels, we know it is false which is the case here.
For a more learned perspective on this keep up with what Dr. Darrell Bock has to say on his blog: http://blogs.bible.org/bock/darrell_l._bock/quick_thoughts_on_the_new_jesus_wife_text
Our country is in the midst of an important debate about the definition of marriage. I appreciate the way that Matthew Schmitz’s blog post on First Things articulated the fundamental question behind the current debate about gay marriage.
“Beneath this political circus, of course, a real moral and philosophical question lies. What is marriage? Is it merely a way of signaling our social approval of committed love between any ordering of two (or more) people? Or is it a definite institution ordered toward the rearing of children and defined by permanence, exclusivity, and sexual complementarity?”
If marriage is a social construction designed to signal cultural approval of committed love then the definition of marriage can and should change along with the society. If however marriage is a divine construction designed to lead people and societies into the blessings of God in which they will thrive, then the essence of what marriage is will not change because God does not change.
If marriage is a divine construction then the implications of the divine definition of marriage apply equally to everyone regardless of the time and culture in which they live. If marriage is a divine construct that is based on the character and creation of God, then the implications of that definition go far beyond the issue of gay marriage and impact the way everyone defines friendship, marriage and singleness.
Throughout the Bible we see that marriage was God’s idea, and was designed by God for His glory and our good. Some of the many passages of scripture that address this are Genesis 2:18-24, 1 Corinthians 11:8-12 and Ephesians 5:21-31.
Andreas Kostenberger in his excellent book “God, Marriage and Family” states:
“Paul’s comments clearly indicate that he considered this account to be historical (rather than mythical or fictional): at the beginning of human history God made the first man, endowed him with life, and placed him in a garden (Gen. 2:7-8,15). Moreover, God addressed to man certain moral commands (2:16-17). Prior to the creation of the woman, the man had already begun exercising the divine mandate to subdue the earth, naming the animals (2:19-20). In order to supply his need for companionship, God created the woman to be Adam’s wife.
God’s creation of Eve demonstrates that God’s plan for Adam’s marriage, as well as for all subsequent marriages, involves a monogamous heterosexual relationship. God only made one “suitable helper” for Adam, and she was female. What is more, it was God who perceived Adam’s aloneness and hence created the woman. The biblical text gives no indication that Adam himself was even conscious of being alone or discontent in his singleness. Rather, God is shown to take the initiative in fashioning a compatible human companion for the man. For this reason it can truly be said that marriage is God’s idea and that it was God who made the woman of his own sovereign will as a “suitable helper” for the man (Gen. 2:18,20).
Regardless of what relationships are called “marriages” the only way people will experience the blessings that God designed marriage for, is through a monogamous relationship between one man and one woman. Therefore, to redefine marriage in any other way for any other reason cuts people off from the blessings that God has created marriage to bring about.
While redefining marriage to express commitment from our current cultural viewpoint may alleviate some of the frustrations felt by those who are unhappy with their current spouse and those who are gay, it will create an even deeper frustration that will be accompanied by even more difficulties. That frustration will come from the unmet expectation that marital infidelity, serial divorce, and gay marriage can lead to the kind of blessings that only God’s design for marriage can bring.
Some of the blessings that God gives in marriage are the deep companionship of joint accomplishments through excellent teamwork, the blessedness of the intimacy of being naked and unashamed, and the mysterious blessing of reflecting the glory of the relationship of the Trinity and the relationship of Christ and the Church. These blessings are wonderful and good, and can only be found in marriage as God defines it. These are the blessings that we should help our married friends pursue.
While the blessings of marriage are good they are not the only blessings of God that allow people to thrive. There are numerous blessings that are also wonderful and good that come from an “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). These blessings are only experienced by those who are single. Therefore, our gay friends would be far better off seeking to remain single and living with an undivided devotion to God than to abandon those blessings to enter into the frustration of looking for the blessings of marriage in a relationship where they cannot be found.
God is good. His creation reflects His goodness and His commands invite us into it. Let us trust in God’s goodness and help each other to pursue the many blessings He has made available for us.
Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture, and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross. BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy; page 241
I wish everyone the daring peace that comes from giving ourselves completely to God. Merry Christmas my friends.
Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Beginning in January 2012 I will be changing the Bible I teach from on Sunday mornings. The version of the Bible I have been teaching out of is the 1984 version of the NIV. This year, the publishers of the NIV changed to an updated version which is different than what I have been using. Therefore, I need to change the Bible I am teaching out of.
While I think that the updated NIV is good, over the last few years I have read more and more from the ESV (English Standard Version) and I have really enjoyed it. So beginning in January 2012 I will be teaching out of the ESV translation of the Bible.
You can find out more about the ESV at: http://www.crossway.org/bibles
Here is the Bible that I have: http://www.christianbook.com/esv-reference-trutone-cordovan-portfolio-design/9781433502378/pd/502378?event=CF
If you are looking for an ESV study Bible I would recommend these:
1) The Ryrie ESV Study Bible that you can find here: http://www.amazon.com/Bonded-Leather-Black-Letter-Indexed/dp/0802475655
2) The MacArthur ESV Study Bible that you can find here: http://www.esvmacarthurstudybible.com/editions
If you are interested in a longer explanation of this transition, Mark Driscoll wrote an 18 page explanation of the reasons that he made this change that is available at: http://theresurgence.com/files/pdf/mark_driscoll_2007-01-09_pastoral_reflections_on_bible_translations.pdf
The Value of a Career in Motherhood.
Adapted from G.K. Chesterton’s essay, What’s Wrong with the World.
Mothers are quickly thrust into a career of immanent importance. Their babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to the world. To put the matter shortly, a mother is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he or she asks all the questions that there are and even some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.
Now if anyone says this duty of enlightenment is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that God has thought it wise to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not only difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up on the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination understand what they mean.
When Motherhood, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work I admit the mother drudges in the home. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trivial, colorless and of small importance to the soul, then I say, I give up; I do not know what you mean.
To be the Queen within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be in business in a certain area, providing a certain expertise or service; to be Aristotle, teaching within a certain area, morals, manners and philosophy; I can understand how this can exhaust the mind, but how can it not also narrow it? How can it be an important career to tell others about the Rule of Three, and an unimportant career to tell ones own children about everything in the universe? How can it be more meaningful to tell the same thing to everyone, and less meaningful to be everything to someone? No; a mothers career is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.
Reading and re-reading 1 book of the Bible for several months is my favorite way to study the Bible. For those just starting out I recommend starting with the Gospel of John, Genesis, Philippians, or Romans. A very good, and free, source for notes that can help explain thing you don’t understand about the Bible can be found at: http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes.htm
Here is how I typically work my way through passages of the Bible.
Step 1. Understand What The Passage Is Saying
Read a chapter or section of scripture carefully and prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit to make the truth clear. Summarize each paragraph looking for things that are repeated, things that are alike, things that contrast, and things that are emphasized.
Go deeper by answering the questions:
1. Where are things happening?
2. Who is involved?
3. When is the action/argument taking place?
4. What is happening in this section?
5. How is God working?
6. Why does God want us to know about this?
Step 2. Understand What The Passage Means
Answer the questions:
- What do I learn about God in this passage?
- What do I learn about myself in this passage?
- What are the truths that stand out to me in this passage?
Step 3. Prayerfully ask, “What Does God Want Me to Do?”
Answer the questions:
- What would it take to better align my life with what I have learned from this passage?
- How does this passage challenge the way of life I am used to?
- What would it look like to live out what God is teaching me through this passage?
Go deeper by asking:
- Is there an example for me to follow?
- Is there a sin for me to avoid?
- Is there a promise I can be assured by?
- Is there a prayer I can be praying?
- Is there an attitude I need to change?
- Is there a command for me to obey?
Step 4. Pray.
Adoration: Praise God for what this reveals about him.
Confession: Repent for wrong behavior, and wrong attitudes and thank God for Christ’s grace to forgive and cleanse you.
Thanksgiving: Thank God for His amazingly faithful love and kindness.
Supplication: Ask for God’s will to be done in specific challenges in the lives of others,in our city and/or around the world.
How to Read the Bible For All It’s Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart
Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks
30 Days to Understanding the Bible by Max Anders
From God to Us by Norm Geisler and William Nix
Books that I like to read along with the passages from the Bible I am studying are:
The Valley of Vision – Arthur Bennett
Everything by A.W. Tozer, particularly, The Pursuit of God
Everything by Francis Schaeffer, particularly True Spirituality
Everything by D. Martin Lloyd Jones, particularly Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
Spiritual Maturity by J. Oswald Sanders
The Confessions of Saint Augustine – Augustine
A number of people have asked me what I think about the death of Osama Bin Laden and the verse that has been popping up on Facebook status lines all week, “Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble.” – Proverbs 24:17
My first reaction when I saw that on Sunday night was disappointment that Christians were reducing the emotional reaction of people down to one that could be tritely condemned by pulling Proverbs 24:17 out of context and ignoring Proverbs 11:10 “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.”
As I have learned more about this event and have watched our leaders reactions to it I have been impressed with the willingness of multiple presidential administrations to fulfill their God given responsibility to be a servant of God’s in exercising the kind of justice that is described in Romans 13:3-4 “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”
I do not assume that our leaders were consciously trying to obey God in their actions, but I do believe that God used them in His exercise of justice. And while I believe that God’s love is so strong that it extended to Osama Bin Laden, I also believe that God’s love extended to the many he killed and to the ones he was planning to kill.
Osama Bin Laden had consistently and purposefully sought to undermine the authority of governments and their goals for peace and justice. He ignored the value of human life. He organized terrorist attacks on people around the world, not just in America. He called for jihad in the name of revenge and religious hatred. He targeted innocent civilians.
Even so, to attack him from a motive of vengeance or hatred would be wrong. However, governments are called to protect their people and seek justice, and when they do there is cause for celebration. While the joy felt by many at the news that Bin Laden was dead has many components to it I believe that for most people the reason they cheered was not gloating over someone’s death, rather, it was celebrating the fact that a terrorist’s murderous acts had come to an end and justice had been done.