Numbers 25 – Israel’s Sin with Moab
A. Sexual immorality, idolatry, and the aftermath.
1. (1-3) Israel’s harlotry with the women of Moab.
Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab. They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel.
a. And the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab: The women of Moab, coming among the men of Israel, seduced them to both sexual sin and idolatry (and bowed down to their gods). The two were commonly connected in perverse forms of idol worship in the ancient world.
i. In this chapter, the women and their people are sometimes described as Midianites and sometimes as Moabites. This is because the Midianites were a nomadic group, and at this time, were in high numbers among the Moabites.
b. Israel was joined to Baal of Peor: Baal was the great Canaanite fertility god, and the worship of Baal was a constant enticement for the children of Israel. Baalam prophesied from the high places of Baal (Numbers 22:41), possibly from this same place – Baal Peor.
c. The anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel: Balak could never pay enough money to Balaam to make God curse Israel. In the previous chapter, Balaam tried to curse Israel and could not; but now, they are cursed because of their sin against the Lord.
i. We learn later in the chapter that the anger of the Lord showed itself in a plague that began to strike down thousands among Israel, and seemed as if it would continue until the whole nation was consumed.
ii. What an enemy could never accomplish against Israel, Israel did to itself through disobedience. The same principle works among the people of God today. The mightiest attack of Satan against us can never do as much damage as our own sin and rebellion against the Lord.
iii. “The sword of no stranger, the curse of no stranger had the power to damage Israel. Only it itself could bring misfortune, by seceding from God and his Law.” (Rabbi Hirsch, cited in Allen).
iv. “The Moabites being now neighbours to the Israelites, and finding themselves unable to effect their design against Israel by war and witchcraft, they now fell another way to work.” (Poole) In the same way, Satan’s violence and sorcery can have no lasting influence on the believer; but if he can lead us into sin, we can be destroyed.
d. The anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel: Balaam had done his best to curse Israel – but was unsuccessful. Yet, his love for money wouldn’t let the matter end without pleasing the man who hired him, the king of Moab.
i. 2 Peter 2:15-16 speaks of Balaam and his love of money, using him as an example of later false prophets: They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet.
ii. Revelation 2:14 makes the connection between Balaam’s unsuccessful attempt to curse Israel and this subsequent idolatry: But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
iii. Essentially, after his failure to curse Israel, Balaam said to Balak: “I cannot curse these people. But you can get them to curse themselves through enticing them to rebel against their God. Send your prettiest girls among them, and tell them to entice the men of Israel to immorality and idolatry.” And it worked.
iv. Balaam, through his wicked counsel to Balak, got what he wanted – but he also ended up dead among the enemies of God (Numbers 31:7-8). He only enjoyed his money for a short time.
2. (4-5) God’s judgment on the offenders.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the Lord, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor.”
a. Take all the leaders and the people and hang the offenders before the Lord: God thought it important that the offenders be judged openly; this was not sin to keep hidden. Open sin had to be dealt with openly.
b. Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor: When sin such as this is tolerated or even approved in a culture, it is a sure sign of decay, and Moses wouldn’t accept that decay. He commanded the community to bring the offenders to be judged, to show they would not accept this kind of sin in their midst.
B. A flagrant sin judged.
1. (6-9) Phinehas’ stand for righteousness stops God’s angry plague.
And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel. And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.
a. Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation: Phinehas was one among those in Israel who would not accept this wholesale rebellion against God. He brought God’s judgment by thrusting through an Israelite man and a Midianite woman with a spear – seemingly, as they were in the midst of immorality.
i. Allen believes this man was having sex with the Midianite woman right in front of the tabernacle, and the text deliberately obscures this, because it is so offensive.
b. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel: Phinehas was probably not the only one to make such a stand for righteousness. But his was the singular act that stopped the plague. We may think our particular stand for righteousness makes no difference in the awesome tide of sin around us; but God can honor just one righteous act and cause it to make the difference.
c. Twenty-four thousand: This many died in the plague. This must have delighted Balak, king of Moab. He knew that Balaam succeeded in cursing Israel – or, rather, in getting them to curse themselves.
2. (10-13) God honors Phinehas for his zeal.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.’“
a. Because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal: It wasn’t only Phinehas’ obedience God noticed. He was also noticed because he was zealous with My zeal among them. Phinehas was passionate about the things God was passionate about, and in this respect, he was a man after God’s own heart.
b. It shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood: God blessed Phinehas with the promise that he would be the descendant of Aaron through which the priesthood passed.
i. This was fitting, because it was the zeal of Phinehas that made atonement for the children of Israel, just as a priest should be the one ministering atonement.
3. (14-18) God commands Israel to harass and attack the Midianites.
Now the name of the Israelite who was killed, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s house among the Simeonites. And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur; he was head of the people of a father’s house in Midian. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Harass the Midianites, and attack them; for they harassed you with their schemes by which they seduced you in the matter of Peor and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a leader of Midian, their sister, who was killed in the day of the plague because of Peor.”
a. Harass the Midianites, and attack them; for they harassed you with their schemes by which they seduced you in the matter of Peor: They were to show no tolerance towards that which brought the sin in their midst and turned their hearts away from God. They were to battle against the Midianites every opportunity they had.
© 2006 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission