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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 25

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-5

The Moabites and Midianites were partners in the spiritual and sexual seduction of the Israelites. Ironically the Midianites, among whom Moses had found refuge from Pharaoh and from whom he had taken his wife, became one of the instigators of Israel’s major religious apostasy since she left Sinai. The plan to curse Israel had failed, so now these enemies undertook a second approach that proved successful. Compare Pharaoh’s three plans to suppress the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 1). In chapters 22-24 the Moabites took the lead in overthrowing Israel and Midian played a minor role, but in this chapter the Midianites take the lead with the Moabites supporting them. The Moabites seduced the Israelites to idolatry. Balaam had counseled them to intermarry with the Israelites (Numbers 31:16). The princes of these people led this plot. Cozbi (Numbers 25:15) was the daughter of a Midianite prince. The worship of Moab’s gods involved sacred prostitution and eating sacrifices offered to the dead (Psalms 106:28).

"It was the assumption of the [Baal Peor] cult that the fertility of people, cattle, and crops depended on the sexual linkage of a god and goddess. By imitating this union of the gods, men and women would seek to induce the gods to grant a greater measure of fertility. Such cultic practices were common in all of the nations surrounding the Israelites." [Note: Maarsingh, p. 92.]

This violation of the heart of the Mosaic Covenant, which demanded total and exclusive allegiance to Yahweh, resulted in a plague that killed 24,000 people (Numbers 25:9; cf. Exodus 32:35). To stop the plague God ordered the making of atonement by sacrificing the leaders within Israel. Since the whole nation had sinned, God executed punishment on its leaders who stood for the people and should have restrained their apostasy. Israel’s judges carried out this order (Numbers 25:5).

"As the animals and birds had been cut in half in the covenant ceremony at the beginnings of Israel’s history (Genesis 15:10), so the bodies of these rebels were to be dismembered and displayed in an awful symbol of divine judgment.

"Chapter 25 is the nadir of the Book of Numbers. It is worse even than the sins of chapters 12-14. Here is the great sin at the end of the road." [Note: Allen, "Numbers," p. 917.]

Verses 1-18

Israel’s final rebellion and the termination of the older generation ch. 25

This chapter contains one of the great failures of Israel that followed one of its great blessings. Compare the giving of the Mosaic Law and the making of the golden calf, the consecration of Aaron and the failure of his sons, etc. As God was preparing to bless His people, they were preparing to disobey Him.

"So now we come to the ultimate rebellion of Israel in the desert. The time is the end of the forty-year period of their desert experience. The place is the staging area for the conquest of the land of Canaan. The issue is that of apostasy from the Lord by participation in the debased, sexually centered Canaanite religious rites of Baal worship-that which would become the bane of Israel’s experience in the land. This chapter is an end and a beginning. It marks the end of the first generation; it also points to the beginning of a whole new series of wicked acts that will finally lead to Israel’s punishment . . . . But this chapter is unique in the record of the experience of Israel in their move from Sinai to Moab-it describes their involvement in the worship of another deity [cf. Exodus 32]." [Note: Allen, "Numbers," pp. 914-15.]

"The chapter is placed between the Balaam oracles and the second census account for theological and literary reasons. In relation to the Balaam oracles it shows that, even while God was blessing Israel through Balaam on the heights of Peor, below on the plains of Moab Israel was showing its weak and sinful character. The parallel between this incident and that of the Torah at Sinai and the golden calf (Exodus 20-32) is obvious." [Note: Ashley, p. 515.]

Verses 6-9

The situation took a turn for the worse when Zimri brought Cozbi into the camp. Until now, the sinning had taken place in the Moabite and Midianite camps. Evidently Zimri had contempt for the covenant, the tabernacle, Moses, the priests, and God’s judgment on the leaders of Israel including his father (Numbers 25:14). He took Cozbi into the tabernacle and had intercourse with her there before Moses. They did this according to the custom of Baal worship. We should view Phinehas’ act, therefore, as divine judgment on this attitude and action, not as murder. He slew them in the act of intercourse by driving his spear through both their bodies (lit. bellies). Thus Phinehas (an Egyptian name meaning "the dark-skinned one"), the son of the high priest, atoned for this sin (Numbers 25:13).

"The point was that in joining the sexual frenzies of the sacrificial feasts of Baal, the man and his priestess-partner now act to transform the worship of the Lord into the type of sexual rites that were the mode of Canaan. Had this outrage not been stopped, there could never have been true worship in the Holy Place again. They were making the place of entrance into a bordello, the entrance of the meeting of God and man into a trysting spot.

"We may observe that while priests were always male in Israel, priests could be women in the pagan religions that surrounded Israel. In fact, the sexually centered religions of Canaan would have catered to women in their priesthood. Women priests were so very closely tied to the sexual outrages of Baal and Asherah worship that the very notion of a women [sic] priest conjured up images of sexual worship. Perhaps this is the principal reason that Israel had no women priests." [Note: Ibid., pp. 919, 920.]

"Amid the time of apostasy, the writer points to . . . the need for new forms of leadership. . . . In this narrative, Moses is remarkably ineffective in the face of a blatant transgression (Numbers 25:6). The day was saved, however, by the decisive action of one from the next generation of priests, Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 410.]

Verses 10-13

The priests were to represent God to the people. This is exactly what Phinehas did on this occasion. He executed God’s wrath against sin and punished the sinners. In so doing he atoned for the sin by representing Israel before God, and he restored the covenant. God rewarded him by promising that his descendants would enjoy peace and would occupy the office of the high priest forever (cf. Psalms 106:30-31). This they did (cf. Judges 20:28) with the exception of a short interruption in Eli’s days. The Romans finally broke up the Israelite priesthood.

This everlasting covenant of peace guaranteed a privileged position of service to God to Phinehas and his descendants. It will find final fulfillment when the descendants of Phinehas, through Zadok’s branch of Phinehas’ family, serve God in the millennial system of worship by offering memorial sacrifices in the temple. [Note: See Ronald Rushing, "Phinehas’ Covenant of Peace" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1988).]

Verses 14-18

This incident, as the others in which Israel departed from God, shows the inveterate sinfulness of humans even when God blesses us greatly. It also demonstrates the holiness of God, the seriousness of sin in that it destroys fellowship with God, and the necessity of atonement by blood to restore sinners to fellowship with God.

"This chapter is a pivotal section in the theology of the Torah." [Note: Allen, "Numbers," p. 922.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Numbers 25". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/numbers-25.html. 2012.
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