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Numbers 25:1 . The people began to commit whoredom. Balaam stands accused of being the adviser of this intercourse with the Israelites. These illicit practices prepared the way for the feast, so that this pollution was double, bodily and spiritual.
Numbers 25:3 . Baal-peor. See on Numbers 32:38. The Priapus of the Romans.
Numbers 25:4 . Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up. The number was about a thousand that now perished; these were chief men, and of what are called the better sort of families. The captains of thousands and hundreds readily executed the divine command. The execution was according to the law of the Lord, to which they had all subscribed. See Deuteronomy 29:18-20, and other places. It is a recent fact fully substantiated, that the Egyptians put many women to death who had been attached to the French army under Buonaparte, and afterwards women who had been connected with the English. What then shall we say of Christians, who actually in Paris and in Amsterdam license brothels!
Numbers 25:9 . Twenty and four thousand. This includes the thousand who were hanged. St. Paul says that twenty three thousand fell in one day. 1 Corinthians 10:8.
Numbers 25:14 . Zimri a prince. When noblemen violate marriage, it has a wide influence on the morals of the people, and they are so much the more guilty. It is difficult to say what the consequences may be.
In this chapter we have one of the most singular scenes which either sacred or profane history can afford. Moab and Midian, not daring to appear before the Israelites in arms, and availing themselves of the advice of Balaam, sent a multitude of their most beautiful women, probably with fruits and favours, to the camp, while the priests prepared a great sacrifice to Baal; and these proved far more fatal to the Israelites than an army with banners. Having first succeeded in drawing the men to their embraces, they next succeeded in alluring them to the altars of Baal. Here was a double crime in one; and here the victims received a fatal fall. Let us learn to beware of the wiles of the devil. If providence surrounds us with danger, let the greatness of the sin and the terror of the punishment ever be before our eyes. Let us remember how many have fallen here, whose reproach cannot be wiped away.
Zimri, a prince by birth, equally despising Moses and the law, brought a princess of Midian into his tent, having presumed that his rank would exempt him from punishment. In Zimri we see an original portrait of a multitude of men in our own age, distinguished by fortune or by birth, who despise marriage, and insult the lenient laws of their country. From these the poor take a license to indulge in sin: and where are the people to weep; where are the magistrates to act; and where is the Phinehas zealous for his God? Lord God, are then our sins to go unpunished? Are they to accumulate till there be no more remedy?
Though the charms of vice may draw the crowd; though good men, seeing the multitude of the wicked, may merely mourn, and seclude themselves from the contagion; yet God will testify his indignation with a high voice. Take, said he to Moses, the heads of the people, the ringleaders in the revolt, and hang them up till the going down of the sun. But who will dare to hang Zimri, son of Salu, a prince of Simeon? Here human prudence would have suggested a thousand cautions, and a thousand fears. But Phinehas, the young priest, having received his commission in common with the rulers, and fearing none but God, took his javelin or spear, and going alone to the prince’s tent, pierced both him and the Midian princess, probably at a single stroke. Great occasions cause worthy characters to become great: and as one bad action may undo a man for ever, so one heroic deed may procure him immortal fame. The magistrates having slain about a thousand men who had been joined to Baal, the plague from God, and apparently the same day, consumed twenty three thousand more. May the christian church be instructed by such a divine visitation. And though ministers cannot now approach the adulterer’s bed with the shafts of death; they may nevertheless assiduously pursue him with the sharper sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, who will speedily execute the sentence. And in a cause so divine, why fear that daring offender? Is it because he is rich, because he has influence, because he will resent your holy zeal? Remember Phinehas, and stand on the Lord’s side.
The young priest, by this noble act of faith and confidence, is classed by St. Paul among those who “obtained promises.” The Lord gave to him and his seed the covenant of peace, and an everlasting priesthood. No man that faithfully acts for God shall ultimately lose his reward.
The judgments having first begun at the house of God, must next be extended to his enemies. This is altogether proper, that his vanquished foes may never be able to impeach his justice. The Midianites, who had combined craft with crimes, must not be suffered to exult in Israel’s fall. They fly in all directions; they fall wounded by the sword of Israel. Many of their towns surrender as a helpless prey. Balaam, blinded by his sin, unable to foresee or avert the invasion, is slain among the crowd, and all the secrets of his wickedness come to light. Hoping that many who died obtained pardon; yet that being doubtful, we cannot but tremble for the interview which these priests of Midian and those dancers around the altars of demons would have in the invisible world. Imagine therefore for a moment, that you see a multitude of the men of Israel in the dark shades of Tophet. Imagine that presently you see an equal number of the men and women of Midian, with Balaam at their head, rush into the awful abyss. The ruined and ruiners meet together, and without much lapse of time. Full of anguish, horror and despair, how would they now accost one another? What sort of embraces would now ensue; what sort of songs and dances would now follow; and how would Balaam be treated? What sort of attacks would be made upon him on the ground of his prophetic character, his avarice and pride? Ah, who can bear the irony of hell! Let all christians then be warned, and let them neither touch nor taste the unclean thing; but abide in close covenant with God; for every christian, so called, who leaves the vows of baptism to indulge in whoredom and riotous living, is, like Israel, under the wrath of God, and liable every moment to be visited with this awful death.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 25". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany