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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Numbers 25

Verse 1

And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. Israel abode in Shittim [ ba-ShiTiym (H7851)] - always with the article prefixed (Joshua 2:1; Joshua 3:1); fully expressed [ nachal (H5158) ha-ShiTiym (H7851)] (Joel 3:18, where, however, the name is believed to be applied to another locality, or to be used symbolically) - the wady or valley of acacias, or [ 'Aabeel-ha-ShiTiym (H63)] (Numbers 33:49), the meadow (shaded by the acacias-a verdant meadow on the plains of Moab, on the eastern side of the Jordan (see the note at Numbers 22:1). Josephus, who calls it Abila, describes the place as about sixty stadia from that river ('Antiquities,' b. 4:, ch. 8:, sec. 1; also b.5:, ch. 1:, sec. 1), while Eusebius and Jerome ('Onomast.,' art. 'Sattim') represent it as lying in close contiguity to mount Peor. Modern travelers estimate its width at about five miles. It was most probably a part of, or identical with, "the valley over against Beth-peor" (cf. Numbers 33:48-49; Deuteronomy 1:1; Deuteronomy 3:29; Deuteronomy 4:46), which appears to have separated Wady Sha'il from Wady Hesban (Robinson's 'Physical Geography,' p. 75). The pass of Hesban, down which the Israelites came from the mountains to this plain, is a descent of 3,000 feet.

With the daughters of Moab. They were entrapped into this wickedness by a deeply-contrived scheme of seduction. It was a political device of the Midianites, who artfully employed the agency of Moabite women, as, on many accounts, the better fitted for carrying their plan for the ruin of Israel into execution. Their kindred origin, their friendly disposition toward the Israelites in allowing them a passage through their territory (Deuteronomy 2:29), and the ripening acquaintance between the two peoples, to which the protracted encampment on the plains of Moab had led, suggested the expedient of enlisting the blandishments of "the daughters of Moab" to break down the barrier that separated the nation of Israel from the indigenous people around them.

The Midianites were the guilty authors and the active promoters of this villanous plot (Numbers 25:6; Numbers 25:14; Numbers 25:17; Numbers 31:2-3); but "the daughters of Moab" are put prominently forward in the commencement of this narrative, because, Moab being nearer the camp of Israel, there was more frequent communicaton between the people of both; and also because Moab, as the greater power in the transjordanic confederacy, included the Midianites.

Verse 2

And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.

They called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods, [ 'ªloheeyhen (H430)] - i:e., the gods of the daughters of Moab, the pronominal adjunct being feminine. The word 'ªlohiym (H430) may be rendered 'god' as it is frequently used for the One God, or "gods," denoting all the idols in the Moabite pantheon. It was the women of the country who invited the men of Israel to visit at their houses-most probably on some festive season; and then, after partaking of their good cheer-meats, a portion of them always offered first in sacrifice-their pampered senses disposed them readily to indulge in the boundless revelry which usually characterized the carnivals of the pagan.

The people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. The Phoenician worship prevailed all over the countries east of the Jordan; the chief deities being Baal, Chemosh, and Astarte, or Ashtaroth, under the secondary forms of Atesh or Att'sh, Ken, Alilat or Alytta (the Mylitta of the Babylonians). These were considered the tutelary divinities who protected the four provinces-Shittim, Ken, Amalek, and Elath. The rites of worship were celebrated with infamous excesses, (cf. 'Herodotus,' b. 1:, ch. cxcix.)

Verse 3

And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor. Baal was a general name for 'lord,' and Peor either for a hill in Moab, or derived from a verb signifying to open, to uncover, with reference to the abominable priapism which was the favourite worship in that temple. The idol was sometimes called simply Peor (Numbers 25:18; Numbers 31:16; Joshua 22:17). [The Septuagint has: Beelfegoor. Wayitsaamed (H6775) Yisraa'eel (H3478), and Israel was joined; but since it was a voluntary act on the part of those who did it, the passive form of the verb has here a reflex signification, and is equivalent to, Israel served, or worshipped Baal; so that by participating in the rites of Peor they committed the double offence of idolatry and licentiousness, not by a single or occasional act merely, but by oft-repeated contact, until they acquird the habit; and, in the strong language of Hosea (Hosea 9:10, wayinaazªruw (H5144)), they separated themselves-like Nazarites, who, withdrawing from certain observances, pleasures, and pursuits devoted themselves to God-these Israelites gave themselves to Baalbosheth-shame (2 Samuel 11:21).]

It is observable, however, that although it is said, "the people began to commit whoredom," a portion of them only fell into this sin (Deuteronomy 4:3-4; 1 Corinthians 10:8). Even with regard to them, such a consummation was probably gradual. They probably intended only, by visiting the Moabite dames at their houses, to enjoy a little pleasant conversation; but "evil communications corrupt good manners"; and the women who had been instigated to put forth all their arts of pleasing, no sooner found themselves successful in gaining the favour of Israelite men, than they allured them, by insinuating arts, to repair to the temples, and thus seduced one and another, until these profligates became numerous, into the gross sensualities by which their high places were desecrated (cf. Psalms 106:28).

The 'bowing down to the gods' of Moab, whatever this may mean, seems to be noticed as a distinct act of religious homage. In fact, the mere participation in the sacrificial feast of the god in whose honour it was held was reckoned tantamount to actually engaging in idolatrous worship, and on that account had been strictly forbidden to the Israelites (Exodus 34:15-16). But that was a venial kind of idolatry compared with the gross licentiousness which was practiced in the purlieus of the Peor temple; and hence, conduct of those Israelites, who, disregarding all religious considerations, frequented them for the unbridled indulgence of their lusts, was a flagrant violation of the law given to their nation.

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. The comparison of anger to the kindling of a fire has been a common figure of speech in all languages. This phrase is frequently applied by the sacred writers to God, when, in His dealings with Israel, He was offended by some flagrant act of apostasy; and it always denotes the infliction of a severe and widespread judgment, either by the agency of material fire (Numbers 11:1; Leviticus 10:6), or by the outbreak of pestilence (Numbers 11:33; Deuteronomy 11:17; 2 Kings 22:13; 2 Kings 22:17; Psalms 78:58-64; Psalms 106:29). In this last passage, which contains a direct allusion to the Peor transaction, the word used denotes grief, as well as indignation.

Great cause was there, to speak in the anthropomorphic style, for sorrow as well as anger, that after the protracted patience of God with Israel, and His careful training in the wilderness of a seed to serve Him, when they had reached the borders of the promised land, and were about to be established in the happy possession of it, this generation, who had been so signally favoured, should peril their title to all the blessings of the covenant by a sudden fall into sottish idolatry. The evil was so great that it might have caused the Lord to abandon them entirely; but He mercifully spared them as a people, because, though a large number had broken the first commandment, the apostasy was not national. It was an offence perpetrated neither by the collective body of the people, nor by the leading magistrates, who were so far from having any tendency to err in the same direction, that they zealously executed the orders of Moses, and thus adequate reparation for the iniquity was made by the capital punishment of all the criminals.

Verse 4

And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.

Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up. The language is somewhat ambiguous, and may mean either that Moses was to take measures, with the help of "all the heads" - i:e., the judges (Numbers 25:5) - for putting to death the most noted and flagrant offenders in each of the tribes; or that the persons here ordered for execution were the officers-subordinate, but still public officers-rulers of tens and hundreds, who might have been concerned in the infamous deeds at Peor, and who, as from their dignity and power they ought to have preserved the people in their integrity, were to be consigned to a violent and ignominious death as a public warning. Israelite criminals who were condemned to capital punishment were first stoned or slain, and then gibbeted.

Before the Lord - i:e., for vindicating the honour of the true God and the fundamental principle of the national covenant.

Against the sun - i:e., as a mark of public ignominy; but they were to be removed toward sunset (Deuteronomy 21:23).

Verse 5

And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.

Judges of Israel - the seventy elders, who were commanded not only to superintend the execution within their respective jurisdictions, but to inflict the punishment with their own hands (see the note at 1 Samuel 15:33).

Verse 6

And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

Behold, one of the children of Israel ... brought. This flagitious act most probably occurred about the time when the order was given, or at least before its execution; and the very fact of so gross an immorality being publicly and unblushingly committed by a prince of one of the tribes, shows the frightful extent of the corruption that prevailed.

Weeping before the door. Some of the rulers and well-disposed persons were deploring the dreadful wickedness of the people, and supplicating the mercy of God to avert impending judgments. Such public lamentations on account of national sins, at the entrance into the sanctuary, were frequent, and allowed at all times, except on festivals (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 11:, ch. 5:, sec. 5).

Verse 7

And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;

Phinehas ... saw it, he rose up ... - i:e., he assumed the office of judge, and performed the duty from which, probably in deference to the princely rank of the offender, the ordinary magistrates appeared to shrink. Judges in ancient Israel both pronounced and executed judgment.

Verse 8

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 belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

Went after the man of Israel into the tent, [ haqubaah (H6898)] - the alcove, or projection in the posterior part of a tent; a vaulted pleasure-tent, devoted to the impure worship of Baal or Priapus (Gesenius). [Septuagint, eis teen kaminon.]

So the plague was stayed, [ hamageepaah (H4046)]. This word, which is rendered plague, has a generic and also a specific meaning. It signifies a divine judgment, in particular, a pestilential disease (cf. Numbers 14:37; Numbers 16:48; Numbers 17:13; Numbers 25:18, etc.), and also an extensive slaughter by the sword, hand, or any cause (1 Samuel 4:17; 2 Samuel 17:9). We understand by its use in this case a sudden and widespread mortality.

Verse 9

And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.

Those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand. Only 23,000 perished (1 Corinthians 10:8) from pestilence. Moses includes in his record those who were executed by the judges. Like the amputation of a diseased limb, which, though a severe, is sometimes a necessary measure, to prevent the gangrene infecting the whole body, so the slaughter of the licentious idolaters, though an extreme, was a wise and seasonable remedy, in order to prevent the contagion of their corrupt manners From demoralizing the camp (see the notes at Deuteronomy 4:3-4).

Verse 10

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 11

Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.

Phinehas ... hath turned my wrath away. This assurance was a signal mark of honour, that the stain of blood, instead of defiling, confirmed him in the priestly office, and that, in token of the divine commendation of his pious zeal, and as a perpetual memorial of his faithfulness, his posterity should continue as long as the national existence of Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 6:25; Deuteronomy 24:13; Psalms 106:31).

Verses 12-13

Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 14

Now the name of the Israelite that was slain, even that was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a chief house among the Simeonites.

Zimri ... a prince ... among the Simeonites. The slaughter of a person of such high rank is mentioned as a proof of the unflinching fidelity of Phinehas, and his undaunted courage, because there might be numerous avengers of Zimri's blood.

Verses 15-16

And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 17

Vex the Midianites, and smite them:

Vex the Midianites. They seem to have been the most guilty parties (cf. Numbers 22:4; Numbers 31:8), and on them the storm of vengeance exclusively fell; while the Moabites were not only spared, but this matter of Peor is not enumerated among their offences against Israel, even when the interdict against their admission into the congregation of the Lord was issued (Deuteronomy 23:5).

Verse 18

For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor's sake.

They vex you with their wiles. Instead of open war, they plot insidious ways of accomplishing your ruin by idolatry and corruption.

Their sister - i:e., their country-woman.

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Numbers 25". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/numbers-25.html. 1871-8.