Scripture: from verse 4
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
Observation: God is telling Israel that He loves them and is with them and they should not be afraid. And then there’s this bit.
The genocides and apparent arbitrariness of the early days of God’s people bother a lot of people. Which is probably a good thing, as we shouldn’t be indifferent to others, even our enemies. This seems to be one part of an explanation: God allowed some people to die so that Israel could live.
Now, God loves everyone, because He made everyone. But He was doing a special work through Israel, and He’d promised to do it through Israel, so He had to continue to choose Israel in order to still be God.
Of course, that doesn’t make sense either, because God isn’t playing a zero-sum game. God isn’t faced with a universe where resources are limited and some people have to lose. On the other hand, God also knows that physical death isn’t the same as spiritual death, and what happens on Earth isn’t the whole story. The work God was doing through Israel allowed Him to offer grace to everyone, including those killed along the way. (How did that work? I have no idea. But it’s not really my business.)
I still can’t say I like this verse. It doesn’t seem nice. But I can’t see it the way God saw it, so I have to trust that He knows what He’s doing.
Application: Trust God. And don’t be hasty to judge the actions of others; you can’t see their situations the way they do either.
Prayer: Father, thank you for giving men in exchange for my life. I don’t really feel grateful – I mostly feel awkward about it – but you clearly did it because you love us. I praise you because you are not dealing with a zero-sum game and you can see more than I can. Help me to trust that you have chosen me. Amen.