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The Sin and its Punishment.
v. 1. And Israel abode in Shittim, in the fields or plains of Moab, on the east side of the Jordan, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. Balaam, having failed in his intention to curse Israel and thus to earn the reward of unrighteousness which his covetous heart craved, had sought revenge by giving the princes of Midian a bit of devilish counsel, namely, that of overcoming the enemy by strategy, by tempting them to indulge in sins of the flesh. Cf Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14. Shittim is named because it was at this city, at the northern end of the steppes of Moab, that the approach of the Midianites and Moabites took place, as they undertook to conquer the people of God through sensual lust.
v. 2. And they, the Moabites, called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods; and the people did eat and bowed down to their gods. In this manner the temptation was set into action: the women of Moab were employed to entice the men of Israel, to form acquaintances and friendships with them, to invite them to the sacrificial meals in honor of their heathen idols. It was thus that both spiritual and bodily whoredoms were soon committed, for the most brazen shamelessness, indulgence in the vilest immorality, was connected with the cult of the heathen idols.
v. 3. And Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor, the majority of the people became guilty of the sins connected with the worship of this heathen idol, for it was in his honor that women and virgins openly sacrificed their honor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, for by indulging in lasciviousness in this instance the people became doubly guilty.
v. 4. And the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, either because they themselves were leaders in the transgression or because they neglected their responsibility of hindering the spread of the sin, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, out in the open before all the people, as a warning example, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel, since the ringleaders at least had suffered their punishment.
v. 5. And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, the men who were his assistants in governing the affairs of Israel, Slay ye every one his men, the men from his tribe or division, that were joined unto Baal-peor. It was an order for a wholesale execution, for only in this manner could the wrath of God be appeased. This is an example of warning also for our days; for the Lord's hand is not shortened to punish, and the increasing worldliness in the midst of the Church challenges His interference.
The Zeal of Phinehas.
v. 6. And, behold, one of the children of Israel came, even while this execution was in progress, and brought unto his brethren, into the camp of the Israelites, 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, full of terror at the manifestation of God's anger upon their nation.
v. 7. And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, and the next in order of succession for the office of high priest, saw it, namely, this brazen, challenging shamelessness, he rose up from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand;
v. 8. and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, into the sleeping apartment, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague, which the Lord had sent, was stayed from the children of Israel. The example of punishment which Phinehas carried out was an act of intercession, through which he appeased the wrath of God and saved the people from total annihilation. So it was counted unto him for righteousness forevermore, Psalms 106:31.
v. 9. And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand, including the heads and those that were put to death by the judges, 1 Corinthians 10:8.
v. 10. And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
v. 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; for all these acts of whoredom, in the nature of the case, were also idolatrous acts and took away the honor of the Lord, and Phinehas, in his official position and with the express knowledge and consent of Moses, defended the rights of Jehovah in the midst of His people.
v. 12. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace, and he should be assured that everything which the covenant implied would be granted;
v. 13. and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood, to last as long as the Levitical priesthood endured; because he was zealous for his God and made an atonement for the children of Israel. It was the zeal of Jehovah which had filled Phinehas and impelled him to put the daring sinners to death.
v. 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, the house of a father, among the Simeonites. The elementary group among the Israelites was the family; the aggregation of families formed "the house of the father"; the aggregation of houses made the tribe; the aggregation of tribes constituted the commonwealth.
v. 15. 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. He is afterwards called king and numbered with the five kings of Midian who were slain by the Israelites, Numbers 31:8. All sins of the flesh are an abomination before the Lord and provoke Him to anger. It is therefore His earnest will that such evils be put away from the midst of the Christian congregation. If Christians neglect this duty, they become guilty of the sins which are going on in their midst unchecked.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Numbers 25". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29