Does a Good God Do That?

Whitney Capps

Day: 30 | Plan: Numbers

Today's Reading: Numbers 31

Numbers 31:3 (NIV) “So Moses said to the people, ‘Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them.’”

The war against the Midianites is one of those thorny passages that critics of Scripture and the gospel love to quote in their arguments against Christianity. You’ve probably heard it. It goes something like this, “I just can’t worship a God who demands the killing of innocent people.”

Let’s not panic over this passage or shy away from this discussion. This isn’t meant to trip us up or cause us to doubt God’s character.

This is an important historical turning point in the book of Numbers and the journey of God’s people. The people have been wandering for so long, and now God is initiating the conquest of the Promised Land. But God’s people would have to fight for their inheritance. How like our God. His promises are certain and sure, but He requires His people to walk in obedience and faith.

Their faith included defeating and exterminating the pagan Canaanite people who currently lived in the Promised Land. So here’s where the moral issue takes center stage. Can a good God command the extermination of a people group? In this argument we need to answer two critical questions. First, what do we believe about God? Second, what do we know about these people?

First, what do we believe about God? Our God, the God of Scripture, is Creator of heaven and earth and He can do as He chooses. This is one of God’s attributes. He is in control over everything He created. It is completely within His authority to do anything He wants. As the giver of life, He can be the only justified taker of life. If He says the Midianites must die at the hands of the Israelites, He is righteous. God alone can be trusted to judge rightly.

Then the second question we must ask is what do we believe about these people? Romans 3 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. There is no one who is righteous. We all deserve death. But this isn’t the general indictment against the Canaanites living in Midian. In Genesis 15:16, when God promises the land to Abraham, God says that they will take it over when the sin of the Amorites has reached its full measure. God has graciously, patiently watched these people reject Him and slip further into sin and evil. Now our righteous Judge will judge these people rightly. These were not, as the argument goes, “innocent people.”

But, neither are we. Those of us who know the sinfulness of our own hearts, who know what great offenses we have committed against our Holy God, we don’t wrestle with why God judged them. No. I marvel at why God saved me. This is the gospel. This thorny passage that can be hard to reconcile points us to Calvary and the bloody cross that earned our forgiveness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You can be trusted with the hard parts of Scripture. And You can be trusted to act rightly and fairly. Oh, how often I want You to conform to my idea of right and fair. How foolish to demand that of the Creator of life and the universe. How arrogant I must sound to You! Please forgive me. Stagger me again with a clear vision of the punishment my sin deserved. Humble me with Your amazing grace. Silence my arrogant questions. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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