Book of Numbers Chapter Twenty-Five Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Trickery, Plague, & Destruction
The whole of Numbers Chapter 24 portrayed the elders of Midian, the elders of Moab, the king of Moab and Balaam the "prophet," standing together on the top of a hill called "Peor." They first met on Peor in Numbers 23:28 and remained there, spying on the nation Israel in the valley below, hoping that Balaam had the supernatural power to curse that nation. The Lord God is infinitely greater than any natural or so-called "supernatural" power and Balaam couldn't do it—but then he came up with something sneaky. Numbers 31:16 shows that when Balaam was forbidden by the Lord to curse Israel as he was paid to do, he suggested sending Moabite and Midianite women into Israel's camp, who would give themselves to the men and introduce idols into the nation.
Men being what they are, the trick worked, as we can see in Verses 1-2 of this chapter: "While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods." Verse 3 is a warning to us all: "So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel." Even if we are tricked into doing wrong, God will still be reasonably displeased by our decision to act badly. The question is not merely why we did it—it's about what we did. The young women were cute, available, and apparently interested in the men of Israel. Scripture warns us about "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16), and all too many have ruined their lives by giving in to temptation. One thing leads to another, and the harlotry committed by the men brought something even worse—idolatry—to Israel. And note the anger of God against the sins of this world. He will protect us, but it's important to accept His protection. Rejection of His help is a rejection of Him.
In Verses 4-5, the scene shifts from the Moabites looking down from the top of Mount Peor, to the valley, below, to Moses, who was listening to the Lord's command: "The Lord said to Moses, 'Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.' 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, 'Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.'" Romans 6:23 is clear that "the wages of sin is death..." a fact demonstrated by the words of Moses in Numbers. That dangerous reality can be expressed through our physical death, like the alcoholic who keeps imbibing and literally drinks himself to death. Even more important for those who lack faith in the Lord, is that physical death is not the end—it's the doorway to eternity. Romans 6:23 blessedly continues, "...but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." The basis of that Gift is God's incredible grace, made operative through faith in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Death can be turned into eternal LIFE. A lot of men in Israel joined themselves to an idol, a false "god," called here "Baal of Peor," introduced to them through the false prophet named Balaam, who spied on them from a nearby hilltop, noted their weakness and exploited it. As to each of us, it's time to go to the Lord with our weaknesses and seek His help, now able to resist temptation because the Lord helps the faithful. Our decision, our choice when tempted may result in life—or death. And see in these verses that Moses did not question the Lord—he just did in faith what the Lord told him to do.
Verses 6-9 clearly underscore God's displeasure with the sins of mankind. "Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, 8 and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. 9 Those who died by the plague were 24,000." One thing leads to another. Deuteronomy 7:3 is clear about God's intention for Israel in relation to marriage: "...You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son." A key reason for God's command is seen in Deuteronomy 7:4—"For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods..." You were created by God, for God, and for His purposes. The words of 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 are clear: "...you are not your own...you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." We last saw Eleazar in Numbers 20:28, when Aaron's high priestly garments were transferred to Eleazar as his father, Aaron, died. And now Phinehas, son of the new high priest, suddenly acted, killing a son of Israel who was proudly displaying his Midianite woman—Phinehas killed them both. The nation needed to see that God really meant it when He said, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:2). We have to learn also. Israel was given to the world as a parable, an example of what God wants from us, which includes holiness. We know what the WORLD wants, and He wants something more from you and me. "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love" (Ephesians 1:4). If we stop giving in to the raging emotions that rule humanity, we might find that the "plague" of circumstances that has racked our lives will be stopped. That's what happened to Israel. 24,000 had died, but the plague was over.
You can bless your children profoundly by behaving in a manner that is pleasing to God—by fulfilling His purpose for your life. Verses 10-13: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 11 'Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12 Therefore say, 'Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.'" Phinehas didn't really want to kill a man and a woman—he instead understood that inaction might destroy the nation, and so he acted, saving thousands of his people. He understood what to do because of his faith in the Lord, which is available to us also. Trusting in the Lord will enable us to "see" with our hearts what others cannot see with their eyes. And the unexpected benefit to his family, was that the high priesthood, which began with his grandfather, Aaron, would belong to the descendants of Phinehas throughout the generations.
It's time for us to carefully note Verses 14-15: "Now the name of the slain man of Israel who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s household among the Simeonites. 15 The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s household in Midian." The Lord knows precisely who we are and what we have done. We may not immediately die because of some sinful act, but we will eventually die—everybody does—and then comes the question: Where will we spend eternity? Zimri and Cozbi did not have faith in the Lord. They simply wanted what they wanted and did what they wanted to do. "If it feels good, do it," might well have been their motto, which is dangerous and self-destructive. They flaunted an action that was counter to the will of God and it resulted in their destruction. If we disregard God's revealed will as Zimri did, we demonstrate a lack of love for the Lord, and also a lack of love for those who see our lives and might copy our bad behavior.
The matter was now settled in Israel. Those who fell into sin were dead, the women were gone, and the idols brought with them were hopefully no more. But there was still the issue of the Midianites. They, along with their allies, the Moabites, brought destruction to Israel already—what might they do next? Verses 16-18: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 'Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor.'" Cozbi was the equivalent of a princess, the daughter of Midian's king, and her death would certainly be noticed by her father. Israel was to be on guard, for God, who knows the future, knew that the tricksters of Midian had more deception in mind. God did not, does not, want another plague to fall on Israel, or for that matter, on any one of us.
Father, the human tendency is to fall when faced with temptation. This life is like a classroom, preparing us for eternity, and faith in the Lord is what we must learn. We confess our sin of unbelief and place our trust in You. Please forgive us and heal our land, our lives. In Jesus Name. Amen.