Apostasy is a recurring theme in Judges 3-16. The Israelites consistently violate their covenant with Yahweh, embracing idolatry and immorality. They overlook – even celebrate – lying, cheating, stealing, deception, adultery, and murder. When the LORD brings down the hammer of retribution, the people cry out for relief from their divinely appointed tormentors. No doubt, these perilous times are the fulfillment of the covenant curses outlined in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28.
In the opening verses of Judges 6, we learn the Israelites have suffered for seven years under Midianite cruelty. The Midianites are a seminomadic people of the Sinai Peninsula and western Arabia. According to Genesis 25:2-4, they are distant relatives of the Israelites, being descended from Abraham by his second wife, Keturah. The relationship between the Israelites and Midianites is tenuous, to say the least.
For starters, Midianites play a role in the sale of Joseph to Egypt (Gen. 37:28, 36), although Joseph comes to see it as divine providence (Gen. 45:4-8; 50:19-20). Later, the Midianites provide Moses with a safe haven after he flees Pharaoh. What’s more, Moses takes the daughter of a Midianite priest as his wife (Exod. 2:15-22). God sends Moses back to Egypt from Midian (Exod. 3:1 – 4:23), and after the Israelites escape from Pharaoh, Moses leads them to Midianite soil, where they enter into a covenant relationship with Yahweh and receive the Torah (Exod. 19 – Num. 7). Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, even has a hand in Israel’s civic affairs (Exod. 18).
But once the Israelites leave Sinai, their relationship with Midian begins to sour. Moses delivers a severe blow to the Midianites at the LORD’s command. He recruits a thousand warriors from each Israelite tribe and wages war with Midian, killing every male as well as the Midianites’ five kings. The Israelites also kill Balaam, the prophet for hire who had led them to intermarry with the Midianites. Moses also commands the people to plunder the livestock and property, burn down the cities, and kill every woman, sparing only the virgins, for the older women are the ones who actively participated in leading the Israelites astray (Num. 31:1-18).Continue reading