One might argue that a God who says He is full of goodness would not display evil of any kind, but this verse in Jeremiah says God will do evil to the people. How can God who is good say He will do evil to people?
Psalm 145:9 states, “The lord is good to all.” But, Jeremiah 18:8 states, “If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I have thought to do unto them.”
The answer to this lies in the fact that this Hebrew word for evil has more than one meaning for the same word. The word for evil, H7451 in the Strong’s dictionary, not only means being ethically wicked of thoughts, deeds and actions, it also means distress, misery, injury and calamity.
When we see verses that say God inflicted evil or plans evil it is referring to His action of discipline. When reading this verse in Jeremiah we can even see the type of evil He was referring to when it says, if they turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil I have thought to do unto them. God’s evil was a punishment for their evil wickedness. Also notice God says, “if they repent.” God is so full of love for all people He even gives them opportunity to repent and be spared His punishment.
One example is Jonah, he was a witness to the wicked city of Nineveh before God was to bring about punishment, but they repented of their evil and was spared destruction.
But what about the verses in which God orders other people to inflict evil on another? Numbers 31 is a good example of this, it looks like God is causing Israel to inflict evil on the Midianites. Upon examining the chapter it seems as if God has given His approval for war in verse 2, murder in verses 7&17, slavery and child rape in verse 18. In order to understand these upsetting verses we must get the background passages of what happened before this event.
After Israel escaped Egypt, God led them around in the wilderness. In Numbers chapters 22-24, Balak, the king of Moab, was afraid of Israel and went to the elders of Midian to form a plan to make Israel fall. They decided to hire Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam told them he could only bless Israel and not curse them but he tried anyway, and after the failed attempts they gave up and went their separate ways. Later Balaam thinks of a way to get Israel to sin and tells Balak that if he sent the women to seduce the men of Israel then God would get mad and curse them, (Numbers 31:16).
Balaam’s plan worked. In Numbers 25:1-3 it states, “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.” God was not only angry with Israel but also with the Midianites for introducing the evil practices of Baal worship.
To worship Baal was not only to have sexual relations outside of marriage as shown in Numbers 25:6-8, but also cutting themselves, as shown in 1 Kings 18:25-28, and the practice of burning your children as a sacrifice. Jeremiah 19:5 states, “They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind:”
Gods anger is justified in that He practiced vengeance on the people who introduced this evil into Israel and in Numbers 25:16-18, God orders the complete destruction of the people and during that war they also killed the elders of Midian and Balaam.
Now that we have established the justification of God’s anger, these questions arise; why kill all the women and children except the virgin girls?
First why kill all the women?
This is explained in Numbers 31:15-16, “And Moses said unto them, “Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Baalpeor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.” God did not spare the women who had known a man because they would tempt the men to follow Baal again. We can see an example of this happening to king Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, in 1 Kings 11:4-8.
Why kill all the innocent children?
Numbers 31:17, “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.” I believe this was done as a retribution for teaching Israel to burn their children in the fire to Baal. God did the same act in Exodus 11:4-5, killing the firstborn of Egypt to avenge for Pharaoh killing the newborn boys of Israel, Exodus 1:22.
Why the disgusting act of keeping virgin girls for themselves?
Numbers 31:18, “But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”When we think of someone being a servant or slave of another we automatically think of the treatment of slaves in our recent past. The way slaves were treated in our history is not how the God of the Bible wanted them to be treated. God had set in place numerous laws on the treatment of all people, including servants. These laws protected them from abuse and even included them in the rights of regular citizens.
They had rights such as the Sabbath day off from work, Exodus 20:10.
A law that sets them free if the master hit them and broke their tooth, Exodus 21:26-27.
A law that if of one escapes they could live in any city of their choice and they were not to be mistreated nor taken back to their owner, Deuteronomy 23:15-16.
Even a law that if the master kills them then he will be punished, Exodus 21:20.
In Genesis 15:2-3 it shows us, If the owner did not have children the servant would even become their heir! That doesn’t sound like a life of terrible abuse to me.
So we see to be a slave in Israel was to have almost all the rights and privileges as everyone else. God was not setting these girls up to be raped or abused, but to be set aside for their boys as wives.
In conclusion, Numbers 31 shows that God was justified in His action of war, justified in the retaliation of the death of the babies given to Baal, and merciful in that He did spare 32,000 people, as recorded in Numbers 31:35.
We must be careful not to think goodness means that nothing adverse could ever happen, purging the land of those who evilly kill is not considered evil but good, even in our own times.