“And Moses was angry with the officers of the army…[and] said to them, ‘Have you let all the women live? Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.’” —Numbers 31:13-18
This is one of the most difficult passages in the entire Old Testament to reconcile with the God of love. I will never be satisfied with it. I will never be happy with it. I will always find it abhorrent. But after researching the cultural context, I do recognize that it is an execution not genocide, and that the blame rests on the parents of the orphaned boys, not on God or Moses. However, to appreciate such a conclusion, one must understand the events that led up to this passage.
Through literary apologetics, this four-part series examines the backstory involving Balaam’s advice, the actual incident of Peor, and the repercussions seen in the passage above. It is not my intent to treat this subject matter lightly, or even make you like this passage. My only hope is for others who struggle with this passage to see God’s mercy in the situation.
Each part of the series includes excerpts from the literary apologetics novel, Prophecy of the Heir, which covers these events. Please note that Prophecy of the Heir is written as a fantasy novel from the viewpoints of angels and demons, predominately Michael the archangel’s. For your convenience, I have created a brief glossary of terms which will open in a new window, allowing you to switch back and forth at your leisure.
Historical Background: The Israelites had been wandering around the wilderness for the past 400 years. They are now ready to receive the land that God has promised them, but to several countries lie in the way. They have written to the kings of these lands requesting save passage, and vowing to neither eat from their crops, nor drink from the wells. Two of the kings refused, and launched an army against them. Both armies were defeated. When the third king heard of this, he summoned a sorcerer from Babylon to put a curse on the Israelites, ensuring they would be slaughtered in the battle he prepared to launch against them.
Part One: The Summoning of Balaam.
The dusty road wound above a vast oil field far beneath the ground, yet unearthed. Shadowy figures of peasants, sheiks, and kings rushed past Prince Jehuva Ben Elyon in a blur of turbans and automatic weaponry. He blinked several times until he regulated the images around him, slowing centuries to decades, decades to months, until finally the seconds began to tick at the natural rate of mortal time.
An old grey donkey came into focus, tethered to a wooden post outside a rather ample two-story house. The sorcerer’s expertise at his craft served him well, for only the affluent could afford an animal for mere transportation.
The Prince approached the house, and the donkey’s long ears pricked upwards. “And how is it you can see me?” he asked, chuckling at his father’s humor, for he’d entered Time invisible to both ethereal and corporal kind.
He ran a hand over the short, erect mane. As his fingers disappeared in the coarse hair of the spinal stripe, deep in the recesses of his mind fronds waved and voices chanted: “Hail! Hail to the king!” Though the words remained the same, the shouts of joy dissipated into those of hate. Pain encircled his head, a coronet of blood, as voices rose in dispassionate mockery: “Hail! Hail to the king!”
The donkey’s sharp bray jarred the Prince from his thoughts. The sorcerer had stepped from the house and yanked the reins free of the post. In protest, the donkey feigned a limp, pulling a hind leg towards its body.
“Cursed beast!” the man muttered.
The Prince’s eyes swept over the stout man dressed in the cloth of nobility, his thick neck adorned with gold chains bearing the symbols of various spirit-lords―gifts from kings for whom he’d rendered his craft.
Clouds of dust on the horizon shifted the Prince’s attention to a large procession of camel-mounted mortals unknowingly led by Chemosh, and a small cohort of Shaityrim warriors. Within moments, they arrived, and Balaam’s Shaityr guard and Marduk, mounted atop his mahogany khimara, emerged from the sorcerer’s house.
Chemosh dipped his head. “Is this the one?” he asked, motioning towards the sorcerer.
Marduk nodded. “Do not fail.”
He flicked the reins of his mount, but then hesitated, scanning the rugged landscape. His brows furrowed as his eyes passed over the Prince. “Be on your guard,” he said. “There is a presence here I do not trust.”
Chemosh nodded, and Marduk set off for Esagil.
A mortal official dismounted his camel. “My lord Balaam, your reputation precedes you,” he said.
The sorcerer bowed deferential greeting.
The official continued. “His Majesty, Balak of Moab sends good wishes. And gifts if you are able to grant his request.”
A large bag of gold landed at Balaam’s feet.
“What is my lord Balak’s request?” Balaam asked pleasantly.
“He wishes you to place a curse on a people known as the Jacovites.”
“Jacovite, Jacovite,” Balaam muttered, searching his memory. “The Habiru of Ǽgyptus?”
The official shifted nervously. “I believe it is they.”
Balaam raised his brows. “The Habiru whose spirit-lord devastated the whole country, and parted a sea that drowned their entire army?”
The official nodded.
Balaam eyed the bag of gold. There was but one thing that overcame his lust for gold: his fear of arousing the anger of powerful spirit-lords.
“Stay the night,” Balaam said. “These Habiru serve my lord, Elyon. I’ll inquire of him to see if he will allow me to go.”
The Prince chortled and followed Balaam into his house. Shrines and effigies of almost every Shaityr warlord in the Crescent littered the shelves and tables of the sorcerer’s home, for his fascination with channeling had bred both fear of and veneration for all known spirit-lords.
After Balak’s men retired for the night, Balaam entered his private room, unaware of the Prince’s presence, and closed the door behind him.
Chemosh attempted to follow, but instead of passing through the wall, crashed into it. Infuriated, he spouted curses and violent threats through the wall aimed at the Malakim he assumed were inside.
Ignoring the Shaityr’s rants, the Prince watched Balaam set about lighting candles and incense. While the scented smoke clouded the air, the sorcerer knelt on the floor, eyes closed. Rocking back and forth, he chanted a basic summoning spell, inserting the name Elyon in the appropriate places.
The Prince’s skin illuminated, and his ethereal body materialized into the natural world. Balaam remained with eyes closed, his spell not yet complete.
The Prince grew impatient at the mortal’s attempt to contact the SpiritRealm. “Who are these men whom you have brought into your house?”
Balaam’s eyes shot open, and he gasped in surprise. Outside, Chemosh fell silent, recognizing his former Captain’s voice. The sorcerer’s Shaityr guard backed away from the door, his eyes wide with horror.
The sorcerer bowed with his face to the floor. Usually when he made contact with the numinous world, it remained in the planes of his mind. “Am I in the presence of Elyon, the great spirit-lord of the Habiru?”
“Who are these men whom you have brought into your house?”
“They are messengers from Balak, king of Moab,” Balaam said. “He wishes for me to place a curse upon the Habiru.”
“Do not go with them. Do not curse the House of Jacov,” the Prince said. “For I have blessed them.”
Balaam nodded. “Of course, of course. But if it pleases my lord…”
His voice trailed off, for the Prince had vanished from sight.
Prophecy of the Heir. Volume I, Book 1 of The Chronicles of Time. Chapter 6, Dunes of the Damned. Crimson Moon Press. 2nd Edition. 2014