Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kill them all?

“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man intimately” Numbers 31:17

The next day Joshua and the troops returned to camp, after a harrowing night securing the Midianite villages. It was a ugly task going house to house, confiscating weapons and supplies, made all the more difficult by what to do with the women and children.

Although Joshua expected a nasty reception, having widowed and orphaned most of the civilian population, he still felt sympathy for their desperate plight. What future could they have without husbands and sons? he thought. Who would work the fields and feed their families?

Leaving them to fend for themselves was tantamount to a death sentence. In the end, Joshua decided the only humane thing to do was to bring them back to camp. They could live outside and work for their keep. The Hebrews had been slaves themselves and would surely treat them well. Besides, the servant of a gracious master enjoyed a better life than than most free men.

Twelve thousand weary soldiers returned to camp that day, officially under Phinehas' command, but all looked to Joshua for moral leadership. They longed for the joy of seeing their wives and children again, hoping that their loving embrace would wipe the horrid memories of a bloody battle.

Joshua knew the burden of Zebulan's death hung heavy on Salman's heart. War is hell, he thought, even when you win. There’s always a price to pay. There’s always loss, pain and death. Good men die.

There were no words with which he could comfort Salman. All he could do was pray that the young man’s faith would not fail. Pray and watch from a distance. But Joshua’s solemn mood was shattered the moment he caught sight of the Hebrew camp. No one rushed to greet them. Children and wives that would normally run to embrace the returning soldiers were held back from celebrations.

It was to an old angry prophet they returned. Joshua was somewhat surprised to see his harsh countenance as they approached the western gate. A sinking feeling hit Joshua’s stomach as he dismounted his horse. This is not good, he thought. If Moses knows something I don’t, why do I feel like I’m about to be disciplined?

Moses raised his staff to halt the march.

Caleb walked up beside Joshua for moral support. “Maybe now, we should beg for forgiveness,” he whispered.

“Somehow, I think not,” replied Joshua.

Moses seemed too angry to speak. Joshua couldn’t help but notice him staring at the thousands of Midianite women and children they had taken prisoner. Joshua glanced at Phinehas, hoping he might be able to offer some glimmer of hope, but he was none the wiser.

All Phinehas could do was step forward and say the obvious. “We won. The Midianites are no more.”

Moses remained silent and unimpressed.

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