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A melancholy relation is contained in this Chapter. The children of Israel fall into idolatry. The LORD'S visitation in a way of judgment follows. Phinehas distinguisheth himself amidst the general corruption in his zeal for the LORD'S honor, and is solemnly blessed of GOD for it.
Reader! pause over this verse and seriously reflect, what various foes the LORD'S Israel in all ages have to contend with. Neither Balaam's curse nor Balak's sword could hurt Israel, but their own lusts did more injury than both. What hath not the sensual passions of the heart accomplished! It was a saying of one of the ancient fathers, LORD, keep me from that evil man, myself. Depend upon it we have more to fear from our own corrupt passions, than from the malice of all our enemies. And more cause to suspect danger from a smiling, than from a frowning world. But let the Reader recollect what Scripture tells us concerning Balaam, it was from his advice that Balak sent his enticing women to seduce Israel, and cast the stumbling block of iniquity before them. Revelation 2:14 .
Observe, the temptation is first to the body, and next to the soul. The Moabites first decoy Israel to bodily fornication, and then to spiritual. Alas! how speedily is the transition made, from bodily sins to spiritual. For if the mind be first defiled with uncleanness, the soul is soon given up to forgetfulness. So very important is that precept of the apostle, ever to be kept in view by the LORD'S heritage. Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims upon earth, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul. Reader! I do not know what particular infirmity of the flesh, you may be most exposed to, but I would have you pause awhile over this view of the subject, and pray over it, that the LORD may keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.
It is supposed, and with great appearance of truth, that commerce with the women formed a part of the idolatrous worship of the Moabites. So that while Israel was giving themselves up to their lust in the arms of the daughters of Moab; the bowing to the idols of Moab, was the sure consequence of it. Oh! what a state of sin is our nature reduced to by the fall. Is this Israel, whom the LORD hath so loved, so preserved, so taken care of, and so blessed and defended? And is this Israel now at Shittim, which was just over against the land of promise, and ready now to enter upon the possession of it. Hath the LORD indeed proved so faithful to Israel: and is Israel now manifesting himself so unfaithful to GOD. Reader! look into our own heart? Are you of the true Israel of GOD? And are you better than they? Remember the apostle's solemn admonition on this very passage: let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. 1 Corinthians 10:12 .
What an awful visitation is implied in these verses! For I would have the Reader remark, that nothing more is said of it, than it is the fierce anger of the LORD; and the dreadful effects are mentioned in the course of the chapter; that no less than four and twenty thousand of the people became the victims of it. Perhaps it was by the plague, or some other epidemical disease. Reader! behold in it the awful consequences of sin. You plainly perceive, that Israel's own sins did that, which all the machinations and enchantments of Balaam could not accomplish. GOD was turned (as the prophet speaks) to be their enemy, and fought against them, Isaiah 63:10 .
It is hardly possible to conceive any act so daring as this. But, alas! what is not the human heart capable of perpetrating, when given up to its own lusts! That is a most awful scripture which saith, Let Ephraim alone he is joined to his idols. Hosea 4:17 . Reader! put it down as a sure maxim: when the LORD ceases to correct, destruction is at hand. See those Scriptures, 1 Corinthians 11:32 ; Amos 3:2 compared with Isaiah 1:5 .
What a lovely view is here afforded of Phinehas? How ought it to have endeared him to the congregation? How hath it endeared his name in the church! The psalmist recorded the memorable and holy zeal of this man many ages after, when it said of him, that it was accounted unto him for righteousness unto all generations. Psalms 106:30-31 . But above all, how did it procure the testimony and approbation of the LORD. But Reader, do not overlook in this view of Phinehas, him whom Phinehas represented, and whose zeal for his FATHER'S house is said to have consumed him. See Psalms 69:9 with John 2:17 .
The apostle to the Corinthians, counts three and twenty thousand. Probably the slaughter of the Judges made them both added together four and twenty thousand. Compare 1 Corinthians 10:8 , with this verse and Numbers 25:4 ; as also with Deuteronomy 4:3
We here plainly behold the outlines of him, who hath indeed an everlasting priesthood, and in whom, no doubt, Phinehas's zeal was accepted. Hebrews 7:16-17 .
The HOLY GHOST is particular in mentioning the names of the delinquents. It is awful when great names are only recorded, in order to particularize their greater shame and infamy.
If we take this precept spiritually, it teaches that we are not to spare, nor suffer our eye to pity any, however dear or near to us in nature, who tempt us from our GOD. Deuteronomy 13:6-11 .
PAUSE, my soul, over this chapter now again in the close of it, and while taking a leisurely review of the sad consequences of a fallen state, look up for grace to keep thee from the stratagems of Satan and all his agents, lest thou fall after the same example of unbelief. I would convert the apostle's account of this sad history into a prayer, and say, LORD grant that I may not lust after evil things as they lusted, neither commit fornication as some of them committed; but grant gracious GOD that amidst all the variety of temptations, which beset my soul in this wilderness, a way may be made for me to escape, that I may be able to bear it.
And while I behold the zeal of Phinehas, who amidst the general corruption was found faithful to his GOD, oh! may I never forget thee, thou great High Priest of a better dispensation established upon better promises. Dearest JESUS! it is thou, whose ardent love for thy FATHER'S glory, and thy people's welfare, brought thee down from heaven; and in the destruction of sin, thou hast destroyed the works of the devil. Be thou my everlasting priest, thou great Melchisedec, and may I find in thee all the FATHER'S grace, and mercy, and love, displayed in thine everlasting priesthood.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Numbers 25". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29