Numbers 31 Verse 17

Hello Team,

I am reading though Numbers and have come across this verse

Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.

Numbers 31:17 ESV

Now after some research I understand why the Woman may be killed as there could a
spreading of diseases as well as they caused Israel to sin , the part I am struggling with is killing the male among the little ones?

Could you please explain the meaning of this also if you could explain the whole verse in general I would be extremely greatful!

Thank you for all your help !



@Suren_Petrosian Good question :slight_smile: These are difficult texts to wrestle through… One argument suggested by Paul Copan is that this language was hyperbolic - it was an ancient near eastern way of saying “We mopped the floor with them”. He makes a number of arguments to support this point, including:

  • even after the Scripture says a people is completely wiped out, there are lots of them still around in future texts
  • this type of “utterly destroyed” language was commonly used in ancient texts
  • evidence in the text and archaeology shows the Canaanites were not wiped out, but rather slowly driven out

In 1 Samuel 15, Saul was commanded to “utterly destroy” the Amalekites. Stereotypical sweeping language was used: “Put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (15:3). On a literal reading, Saul carried this out—except for King Agag, who would meet his doom through the prophet Samuel (vv.7–9, 33). Yet this didn’t literally happen; the Amalekites were far from destroyed.

Exaggerated language is abundant. For instance, Saul’s army was numbered at 210,000—far larger than any army of antiquity. This was common in ancient Near Eastern war texts. In 1 Samuel 27:8–9, the same sweeping language of Chapter 15 is used: all Amalekites were wiped out— again ! We’re told David invaded a territory full of Amalekites—the same territory covered by Saul. (Shur is near Egypt and Havilah is in Saudi Arabia—an area far too wide for Saul’s army to cover.) So, 1 Samuel 15 and 27 cannot both be literally true. What’s more, in 1 Samuel 30, a large Amalekite army attacked Ziklag (v. 1), and David pursued this army and fought a long battle with them, with four hundred Amalekites fleeing (1 Sam. 30:7–17). That’s not all: the Amalekites were even around during the reign of Hezekiah (1 Chron. 4:43).

So here’s the question: Why is it that virtually every time a narration of “genocide” occurs, it is followed by an account that presupposes it did not happen? Scripture took shape, and the Old Testament canon was formed. The final compiler or editor—who was certainly not mindless—saw no problem with side-by-side affirmations of “total destruction” and many surviving hostiles. He didn’t assume both to be literally true.

Some other resources you may find helpful:


Thanks you Sean !

You went into a lot of detail and I really appreciate you taking the time

God bless you


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@Suren_Petrosian Glad it helped!