In Numbers 31, God tells the Israelites to wipe out the Midianites (and incidentally, Balaam) by killing every male. But they spared certain women (v17-18):

Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Why did they spare these women (and not men who had not known women intimately)? And would this apply to women who may have been raped? How would they have told the difference, especially in a culture that may have been promiscuous?

  • 1
    Welcome to Mi Yodeya! I realize that you asked this question on Christianity; however, since it's now here, expect to get answers based on Judaism. Thanks for the interesting question, in any event.
    – msh210
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 17:13
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    That's fine! I think most answers will be fine-I don't expect vastly different answers because of the time period of this passage.
    – SSumner
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 20:44
  • mechon-mamre.org/i/5112.htm#8
    – Double AA
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 22:28

3 Answers 3


In Chapter 25 we see that the Moabite women seduced some Israelites into temple prostitution. Therefore when God commanded Israel to raze the people of Midian he wanted the armies to kill the woman also and not take them as spoils of war. They did not do it at first but kept all the woman as booty. God was angry with them for that and then he makes it clear they can only spare virgins.

The idea seems to be that they can only take as plunder what had no threat of harm to Israel and no possibility of corruption from the Baal Peor worship.

Baal-peor.—Lascivious rites were widely spread and prevalent in Babylonia and Syria. See Knobel. [Also article Baal in Smith’s Bible Dictionary.—A. G.]. It was Baal, especially as he was worshipped at Peor, with lustful practice (hence Baal is sometimes called Peor). Beth-Peor, Deut. 3:29; 4:46. “He was a Moabitish Priapus, in honor of whom virgins and women prostituted themselves. As the god of war he was called Chemosh,” (Commentary on Numbers, Lange p167)

Naturally unless the woman were still virgins they may have already been involved in temple prostitution which was the original sin that they were being judged for.

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    Hi Mike welcome to Mi Yodeya, thanks for this answer. Hope to see you around the site.
    – user2110
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 15:36

The Talmud (Bavli, Y'vamos 60:2) deduces from the wording of the passage that the ones killed were not the women who had been intimate with men but those who physically could be, which is those who had reached their third birthday. (This is also cited by Rashi on verse 17.)

  • note the translation of verse 17 at the link you provided: "So now kill every male child, and every woman who can lie intimately with a man you shall kill."
    – Menachem
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 18:39
  • @Menachem, yes: I guess it's picking up on the present tense in the verse.
    – msh210
    Commented Apr 4, 2013 at 18:40
  • @msh210 - interesting. What is the reasoning for age 3?
    – SSumner
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 1:39
  • @SSumner, that's a general rule, not specific to here: age three is the age at which a girl is halachically considered to be physically able to have intercourse. It's a bit off the topic of this answer; if you want to know why, please ask!
    – msh210
    Commented Apr 5, 2013 at 5:36

It's not difficult... They fought and after the enemy surrendered, all the enemy men - mostly the soldiers - were killed. Then the women with their children were taken to the camp. Here all the male children were clubbed to death. Then all the virgins - both adults and girl-children - were spared, while the non-virgins among the women were killed. Finally these virgins were forcefully married to men among their captures - assumingly so they would bare children who would swell the ranks of Moses' army.

It wasn't so much a question about finding the sexually pure, but to find women to bare children. And as the law demanded that one had to marry virgins - and further more that unmarried women who had "whored in their father's house" were put to death - all non-virgin females were killed.

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