1-5 Israel Joins Themselves to Baal of Peor 6-15 Phinehas Is Jealous for the LORD 16-18 Be Hostile to the Midianites
Israel Joins Themselves to Baal of Peor

1While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel. 4The 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.” 5So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.”

In Numbers 23-24 we see how God thinks about His people: as objects of His grace and care. Numbers 25 is therewith in great contrast. We often see this great contrast in our lives. On the one hand we may know that God looks at us in Christ. On the other hand, we often let the flesh work in our daily lives.

In the previous chapters Balaam did not succeed in letting God become unfaithful to His people. God has remained faithful to His view of the people. Now the enemy tries to do it on the side of the people. Balaam knows how to distract the people from God by a trick, to let them become unfaithful to God (Num 31:1616Behold, these caused the sons of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, so the plague was among the congregation of the LORD.). He succeeds in this with a people who have all the experience of the wilderness journey behind them. They got to know themselves and they got to know God’s faithfulness. Here we learn that there will never be a time in our lives when we can say that the enemy can no longer get a grip on us.

The people “remained” in Shittim, while they had previously camped in the plains of Moab (Num 22:11Then the sons of Israel journeyed, and camped in the plains of Moab beyond the Jordan [opposite] Jericho.). ‘To camp’ is done with a view to immediately moving on, while ‘to remain’ has a more permanent character. Could it mean that Israel is beginning to lose sight of the purpose of the journey and that they are moving towards a more permanent stay in Shittim? In any case, it is significant that the enemy manages to connect with them there. If we lose sight of the fact that we are pilgrims, on our journey to our final destination, and start focusing on our stay on earth, we are open to wrong connections.

The people are invited to come and eat from the sacrifices that are brought to the idols. It seems like a friendly invitation. So people from the world can invite us to come and eat with them and that can be considered. It does not need to be rejected (1Cor 10:2727If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake.). However, in such cases it may also be friendships of the world that are more to fear than its enmity.

In this case it does not stop with eating. The people also bow down before the idols of the Moabites. Although they have already had an idol in the golden calf (Exo 32:1-61Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”2Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring [them] to me.”3Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought [them] to Aaron.4He took [this] from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.”5Now when Aaron saw [this], he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow [shall be] a feast to the LORD.”6So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.), we find a new aspect here in the people’s unfaithfulness against God. They have grumbled about food and drink and also about the leadership of Moses. They have always revolted against God and Moses and Aaron. Now they go one step further. In this idolatry they not only put the LORD aside, but replace Him by an idol. The persistence of this evil will be evident in the history of Israel. It will be one of God’s main indictments against the people.

The application of this history for us is in Revelation 2 (Rev 2:1414But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit [acts of] immorality.). There we read about the teachings of Balaam, not about his deceit. The deceit he uses here has become a doctrine. The mixing of the people of God with the world is not rejected, but encouraged. This turns the people’s gaze from the Lord to the world. He is no longer in the first place, but the world is.

It says of the church in Pergamum that it “dwells where Satan’s throne is” (Rev 2:1313‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.). Satan is the prince of the world. ‘Dwell’ means feeling at home there. The church lives in the heart of the world, where the government is exercised. The teaching is that Christians should not be separated from the world. The world council of churches is an example of this. Christians are called upon to connect with the world and to exert their influence in order to move towards a better world.

But the Lord says: “I have a few things against you” (Rev 2:1414But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit [acts of] immorality.) Then He speaks of the teaching of Balaam and its effect on the people of God. The attitude that fits with this teaching is not a soft resistance. The Lord Jesus stands opposite this church with “the sharp, two-edged sword” (Rev 2:1212“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:). The use of the sword can be seen here in the next verses with Phinehas.

God was angry against Israel, because His people have joined themselves to Baal of Peor. The word ‘joined’ has the power of ‘going together under one yoke with’. Israel moves under one yoke with a pagan people in the worship of the idols (2Cor 6:14-1514Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?15Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?). Baal of Peor, or lord of Peor, is the local god worshipped on Mount Peor (Num 23:2828So Balak took Balaam to the top of Peor which overlooks the wasteland.). There a plague and a judgment come. God punishes what bears His Name, that His people may not alienate themselves from Him. For that purpose, the fierce anger of God has also struck Christianity many times.

The most responsible persons have taken the lead in this infidelity. They should therefore be judged. The seriousness of sin requires a special punishment: “Execute them in broad daylight before the LORD.” They must be hung in public before the LORD. The people must see it and fear, for the judgment is executed because of the LORD’s charge. God’s wrath of sin must deter man from committing sin. And the wrath of God over sin is the proof of His righteousness. Thus He wants evil to be punished.

The people are unfaithful in all the points God has mentioned in blessing on His people:
1. It is a people that dwells alone (Num 23:99“As I see him from the top of the rocks,
And I look at him from the hills;
Behold, a people [who] dwells apart,
And will not be reckoned among the nations.
), but here they mix with the nations.
2. It is a people in which God sees no iniquity (Num 23:2121“He has not observed misfortune in Jacob;
Nor has He seen trouble in Israel;
The LORD his God is with him,
And the shout of a king is among them.
), but here they commit iniquity.
3. It is a people in which He sees beauty (Num 24:55How fair are your tents, O Jacob,
Your dwellings, O Israel!
), but here they commit fornication in their tents.
4. It is a people that will subdue their enemies (Num 24:1919“One from Jacob shall have dominion,
And will destroy the remnant from the city.”
), but here they subdue themselves to their enemies.

Here we find no Moses who intercedes for the people. That says something about the seriousness of sin. There is no intercession here, but judgment. The memory of this sin is strongly kept alive throughout the history of Israel (Jos 22:1717Is not the iniquity of Peor enough for us, from which we have not cleansed ourselves to this day, although a plague came on the congregation of the LORD,; Psa 106:28-3128They joined themselves also to Baal-peor,
And ate sacrifices offered to the dead.
29Thus they provoked [Him] to anger with their deeds,
And the plague broke out among them.
30Then Phinehas stood up and interposed,
And so the plague was stayed.
31And it was reckoned to him for righteousness,
To all generations forever.
; Hos 9:1010I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness;
I saw your forefathers as the earliest fruit on the fig tree in its first [season].
[But] they came to Baal-peor and devoted themselves to shame,
And they became as detestable as that which they loved.

Phinehas Is Jealous for the LORD

6Then 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. 7When 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, 8and 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. 9Those who died by the plague were 24,000. 10Then 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. 12Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13and 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.’” 14Now 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. 15The 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.

There is a man, an Israelite, who defies the judgment that has been carried out. He ignores God’s judgment and, with incredible hubris, brings a Midianite woman to his brothers. This is not just any sin. It is a frontal attack on the true, high and pure service to God. With his deed he slaps God’s face and he is not interested in anything that he does to his brothers with his deed. His brothers mourn about the situation and he indicates with his deed that they are behaving overly dramatic. So he defies God and despises the crying people.

The Israelites cry – is it just because of the plague or also because of the unfaithfulness to God that has been committed? – and watch as this great sin takes place. But not only do they have to cry, they also have to act here. Phinehas understands what is happening. For the superficial reader, his action seems merciless. But in his action he shows true love for God and for His people. True love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness” (1Cor 13:6a6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;). Not acting is sin. Such shameless sin can be dealt with only in one way: without pardon he kills those who sin without shame and cause the plague.

When he has executed the judgment, the plague stops. With the execution of the judgment, Phinehas works reconciliation. 24,000 people have died by the plague. This seems contrary to the 23,000 mentioned in 1 Corinthians 10 (1Cor 10:88Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day.). But there it says “in one day”. This could mean that on another day a 1,000 people died from the plague. It is also possible that the figure of 24,000 includes the death of the leaders of the people who have been executed. It would be about 1,000 leaders. In any case, it shows the extent of the unfaithfulness.

Phinehas is the son of Eleazar, the high priest, and the grandson of Aaron. All three are a picture of the Lord Jesus, the true High Priest. Aaron has died. He is a picture of the Lord Jesus Who made atonement and brought His blood in the sanctuary. Eleazar, as a high priest, is a picture of the Lord Jesus in what He is doing for us now, after He rose from the dead.

Phinehas is also a high priest and also a picture of the Lord Jesus, but then in judging power. Judgment is given to the Lord Jesus as the Son of man (Jn 5:2727and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is [the] Son of Man.). Phinehas’ judgment of sin means that the whole people are spared. The Lord Jesus judges the church so that the relationship between Him and His people may be maintained. Hard measures are sometimes needed that we remain His people with whom He can have fellowship.

For his decisive action God rewards Phinehas and his descendants with the eternal priesthood (Jdg 20:2828and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, Aaron’s son, stood before it to [minister] in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”; 1Chr 6:4-154Eleazar became the father of Phinehas, [and] Phinehas became the father of Abishua,5and Abishua became the father of Bukki, and Bukki became the father of Uzzi,6and Uzzi became the father of Zerahiah, and Zerahiah became the father of Meraioth,7Meraioth became the father of Amariah, and Amariah became the father of Ahitub,8and Ahitub became the father of Zadok, and Zadok became the father of Ahimaaz,9and Ahimaaz became the father of Azariah, and Azariah became the father of Johanan,10and Johanan became the father of Azariah (it was he who served as the priest in the house which Solomon built in Jerusalem),11and Azariah became the father of Amariah, and Amariah became the father of Ahitub,12and Ahitub became the father of Zadok, and Zadok became the father of Shallum,13and Shallum became the father of Hilkiah, and Hilkiah became the father of Azariah,14and Azariah became the father of Seraiah, and Seraiah became the father of Jehozadak;15and Jehozadak went [along] when the LORD carried Judah and Jerusalem away into exile by Nebuchadnezzar.). When listing the gatekeepers, Phinehas is remembered with great respect (1Chr 9:19b-2019Shallum the son of Kore, the son of Ebiasaph, the son of Korah, and his relatives of his father’s house, the Korahites, [were] over the work of the service, keepers of the thresholds of the tent; and their fathers had been over the camp of the LORD, keepers of the entrance.20Phinehas the son of Eleazar was ruler over them previously, [and] the LORD was with him.). He has behaved like a true gatekeeper and made sure that evil is removed from God’s presence. The spirit of Phinehas must characterize us all. It is the spirit of priesthood, practiced in God’s presence. For us it is about the service in the sanctuary, especially when we come together as a church.

The man who dared to commit such a sin is the son of a leader of a father’s household. This teaches us that origin or position is no guarantee whatsoever not to fall into the most awful sin. For this we are only kept if we put our trust not in ourselves but in the Lord.

Be Hostile to the Midianites

16Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 17“Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18for 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.”

Israel’s attitude towards the Midianites is determined by Midian’s attitude towards Israel. The Midianites have previously connected with Moab in an attempt to curse the people of God (Num 22:44Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this horde will lick up all that is around us, as the ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was king of Moab at that time.). They have also had a hand in this history to seduce Israel to commit fornication with the daughters of Moab.

The judgment on Moab is carried out in Numbers 31 (Num 31:1-121Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,2“Take full vengeance for the sons of Israel on the Midianites; afterward you will be gathered to your people.”3Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm men from among you for the war, that they may go against Midian to execute the LORD’s vengeance on Midian.4A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.”5So there were furnished from the thousands of Israel, a thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war.6Moses sent them, a thousand from each tribe, to the war, and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war with them, and the holy vessels and the trumpets for the alarm in his hand.7So they made war against Midian, just as the LORD had commanded Moses, and they killed every male.8They killed the kings of Midian along with the [rest of] their slain: Evi and Rekem and Zur and Hur and Reba, the five kings of Midian; they also killed Balaam the son of Beor with the sword.9The sons of Israel captured the women of Midian and their little ones; and all their cattle and all their flocks and all their goods they plundered.10Then they burned all their cities where they lived and all their camps with fire.11They took all the spoil and all the prey, both of man and of beast.12They brought the captives and the prey and the spoil to Moses, and to Eleazar the priest and to the congregation of the sons of Israel, to the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by the Jordan [opposite] Jericho.). We have to be hostile to anything that can lead us to sin.

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