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ISRAEL SEDUCED BY MOAB
God had intervened to bless Israel when Moab was anxious to curse them. How inappropriate and senseless therefore was the harlotry of the men with the women of Moab. They were invited by the Moabites to the sacrifices made to their gods, and they joined in their idolatrous worship (vs.1-3). Numbers 31:16 reveals that this was instigated "through the counsel of Balaam." He was Satan's cunning tool, for when Satan is unable to defeat God's people, he will befriend and corrupt them, if they will listen to his subtle wiles. This counsel of Balaam shows that he was still an enemy of God, as is confirmed in2 Peter 2:15; 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 1:11.
The Lord's judgment of this was immediate and without mercy. He told Moses to take all the leaders of the people and hang those responsible for this corruption, so that God's anger would turn away from Israel (v.4). Moses therefore brought the message to the judges that they were to kill all those under their jurisdiction who had joined in with the idolatrous worship of Baal (v.5).
Totally insensible to the Lord's word and to the weeping of the people at the door of the tabernacle, an Israelite man boldly brought a Midianite woman to present her before the congregation (v.6). But Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, did not even argue with him. He immediately took a javelin and went into the tent where they had gone and killed both of them. This certainly was not murder, but obedience to the Lord, and consistent with Old testament law, requiring judgment without mercy in such cases. Of course under grace God does not require any such penalty, though the sin of association with idol worship is just as abhorrent to Him now as it was then.
But the Lord had sent a plague that destroyed 24,000 people, showing how widespread their corruption had been. The action of Phinehas however stopped the plague (vs.8-9). This illustrates the fact that one man, standing for God in judgment, can avert greater judgment. In this he reflects the Lord Jesus, whose faithfulness in judging evil at the end of the Great tribulation will mean deliverance for the many who will bow to His authority.
The Lord then addressed Aaron, telling him that Phinehas had by his action turned back God's wrath from the children of Israel, thus averting the more sever judgment of God (vs.10-11). Therefore God was giving Phinehas His covenant of peace, a promise that would extent to his descendants also in the way of an everlasting priesthood (vs.12-13). This is really only typical of the everlasting priesthood of the Lord Jesus because of His faithfulness in making atonement in a far higher way by His great sacrifice of Calvary. But it does teach us how greatly God values faithfulness to Him.
The name of the Israelite who was killed is now given as Zimri, son of Salu, a leader of a father's house in Israel (v.14). How often it seems that prominent men are deceived by the cunning subterfuge of the enemy and become emboldened in their evil because they think their high position will protect them. This seems to be particularly true in the cases of sons of prominent men. They are often looked up to by the people just because their fathers were prominent. Having such a place of recognition, they are in grave danger if they have not learned the humility that comes through honest self-judgment. Their fathers may have learned well the lesson that one who exalts himself will be abased and one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:11), but the sons want the exaltation without the humbling. Some striking cases are those of Hophni and Phinehas, sons of Eli (1 Samuel 2:22-25) and Absalom, son of David (2 Samuel 1:5), then also Adonijah, son of David (2 Kings 1:5-7). Because of men like this, who indulge in evil practices, the common people also think they can get away with such things.
The name of the woman is also given, Cozbi, daughter of Zur, who was also a prominent man in Midian. Satan knows that it is much more effective to use people of prominence, for they give the common people more excuse for their wrong doing. It is evident that Midian was connected with Moab, as is seen in chapter 22:4, and of course in this chapter (25) from verse 1 to verse 18.
Because of this deceit of Midian, the Lord told Moses that Israel was to harass and attack the Midianites (vs.17-18). This did not take place immediately, however, for there were other matters first to take care of dealing with Israel's relationship to God. the actual attack against Midian is recorded in chapter 31:1-11. God's rights are first to be recognized before the enemy is punished.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Numbers 25". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17