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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 25

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-9

Numbers 25:1-9

The people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.

The sin of Israel at Shittim, and the judgment of God

. The sin of the Israelites at Shittim.

1. The sin itself.

(1) Spiritual fornication, or idolatry (Hosea 2:1-23.).

(2) Physical fornication.

2. The origin of their sin (Numbers 31:16; Revelation 2:14).

3. The instruments of their sin: Moab and Midian.

4. The occasion of their sin.

(1) Their abode at Shittim. They were in the neighbourhood of sinful associations and corrupting influences. “Near a fire, a serpent, and a wicked woman, no man can long be in safety.”

(2) Their lack of occupation. Idleness leads to vice and mischief.

The judgment of God upon the Israelites on account of their sin.

1. The judgment inflicted immediately by God. In some form or other punishment ever follows closely upon the heels of sin.

2. The judgment inflicted by Moses and the judges by the command of God.

(1) Its nature : Death.

(2) Its publicity.

(3) Its executioners.


1. The secret of the security of the people of God: faithfulness.

2. The danger of those temptations which appeal to our self-indulgence or love of pleasure.

3. The terribleness of the Divine anger.

4. The solicitude with which we should guard against arousing this anger towards us. Sin calls it forth, therefore shun sin.

5. Tile earnestness with which we should seek the mercy and the protection of God. (W. Jones.)

Evil men proceed by degrees from worse to worse

In these words is offered unto us an example, expressing the nature of sin where once it is entertained. For behold here how they grow in sin. At the first, they departed out of the host of Israel and went to the people of Moab and Midian, with whom they coupled themselves; so that albeit they sinned, yet they had some shame of sin, and made some conscience of committing it openly amongst their brethren. But they proceed by little and little, from step to step, till they are ashamed of nothing. Therefore in the example of one man, here set before our eyes, Moses declares to what shamelessness they were come. For this man (who is afterward named), as if he had been absolute in power, as he was indeed resolute in will and dissolute in his whole life, brought his whorish woman in the sight of God, in the sight of Moses, in the sight of the congregation, and in the sight of the tabernacle, to show that he had filled up the measure of his sin.

1. The nature of sin is to draw all such as delight in it from one evil to another, until in the end they become most corrupt and abominable.

2. The wrath of Goal falleth upon such as make no conscience to fall into lesser sins, He giveth them over to a reprobate sense, and to hardness of heart.

3. Sin is fitly resembled to the fretting of a canker, and to the uncleanness of a leprosy, both which go forward until the whole body be infected and every member endangered.

Now let us handle the uses.

1. Consider from hence how dangerous it is to give entertainment unto sin at the beginning, which groweth to more perfection every day; we cannot stop this stream when we will, it goeth beyond the strength of our nature.

2. Seeing evil men wax worse and worse, we may conclude that their judgment sleepeth not, but is increased as their sin; yea, so it is not far off, but lieth at the doors.

3. Seeing men giving themselves over to sin, it is our duty to resist the beginnings, to prevent the breach, and stop the first course of it. It is as a serpent that must be trod on in the egg. Let us take heed that sin grow not into a custom and get an habit. (W. Attersoll.)

Sin deprives us of God’s protection

We have beard before that albeit that Balak and Balaam intended by their sorceries to curse the people of God, yet they could by no means do them hurt; they were guarded by the protection of God as with a sure watch. Rut so soon as they forsook the living God, and fell a whoring with the daughters of Moab and Midian, by and by God departeth from them, and His heavy judgments break in upon them. The force of sorcery could not hurt them, but the strength of sin doth weaken them. Hereby we learn that sin depriveth us of God’s protection, and layeth us open to the fierceness of His wrath, and to the fury of our enemies. The reasons being considered will make the doctrine more evident.

1. Sin maketh us execrable to the Lord and abominable in His sight. If, then, sin makes us to be had in execration it is no marvel if we be left destitute of God’s protection.

2. God departeth from them that fall from Him; they forsake Him, and therefore He forsaketh them. So, then, our lying in sin doth drive the Lord from us, that He will have no more fellowship with us to do us any good.

We are now to set down the uses of this doctrine.

1. This teacheth us to acknowledge that all judgments which fall upon us are righteous. God chastiseth us often, but always justly, never unjustly.

2. Seeing sin layeth us open to reproaches of enemies and to the judgments of God, as appeareth in this great plague upon the people, this showeth that we must not go about to hide our sin from God through hypocrisy. For all things are naked and open to His eyes, with whom we have to do; so that we must learn to confess them before His presence.

3. This serveth as a notable advantage for the servants of God when they have any dealings against wicked men; we have encouragement from hence that we shall assuredly prevail against them, because we have to do with weak men that are out of God’s protection. (W. Attersoll.)

God’s abhorrence of impurity

The Lord must have regard to two things in His own people--personal purity; and uncorrupted worship. In the very nature Of things it would be quite impossible to preserve purity of principle, clearness of understanding, and spirituality of affection, with corruption of life. It is a delusion of the worst kind, a master-device of Satan, the perfection of sin’s deceitfulness, and a perversion of all truth, justice, and grace, when men, in the retired indulgence of lusts within, or in open commission of crime, sit down tranquil under the defence of mercy, and fancy themselves with such interest in the robe of Christ’s perfection and beauty, that no spot or fault is in them. A sinner may come to Christ under every sense of imperfection, pollution, and vileness, and through faith in His mediation, may participate with appropriating joy and a well-founded confidence in all the interests of His atoning blood and justifying righteousness; nevertheless, he can never find anything in the nature and influence of evangelical truth but what has the most direct tendency and design to deliver from the power as well as to save from the desert of sin. To a gracious heart sin proves a plague and constant grief, and the cause, while it exists, of a never-ending strife. (W. Seaton.)

The valley of sensuality

In Java is a valley which is called the Valley of Poison. It is an object of veritable terror to the natives. In this renowned valley the soil is said to be covered with skeletons and carcases of tigers, of goats, and of stags, of birds, and even with human bones; for asphyxia or suffocation, it seems, strikes all living things which venture into this desolate place. It illustrates the valley of sensuality, the most horrible creation of social life. Few men who enter into its depths survive long; for it is strewn with dead reputations and the mangled remains of creatures who were once happy. (W. Seaton.)

Verses 10-13

Numbers 25:10-13

Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned My wrath away . . . because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel

Godly zeal

We can lay no claim to saintship without zeal.

When wickedness increases, then zeal must be bold and daring.

The source of godly zeal The indwelling of the Holy Ghost. Grace in the heart must break forth.

Godly zeal has its seat in the heart.

Mark the object of holy zeal. Good works. It is the fervour of heavenly benevolence.

True zeal is blended with knowledge. To enlighten ourselves, we must have light ourselves.

Zeal is forgetful of self. (The Study.)

The zeal of Phinehas

Phinehas appears as a rainbow on the bosom of a storm. He is as a flower on a wild heath, a fertile spot in a parched desert, pure ore in a rude quarry, a fragrant rose upon a thorny hedge, faithful among faithless.

1. “He was zealous for his God.” He could not fold his arms and see God’s law insulted, His rule defied, His will despised, His majesty and empire scorned. The servant’s heart blazed in one blaze of godly indignation. He must be up to vindicate his Lord. His fervent love, his bold resolve, fear nothing in a righteous cause.

2. Mark, next, the zeal of Phinehas is sound-minded. It is not as a courser without rein, a torrent unembanked, a hurricane let loose. Its steps are set in order’s path. It executes God’s own will in God’s own way. The mandate says, let the offenders die. He aims a death-blow, then, with obedient hand. The zeal, which heaven kindles, is always a submissive grace.

3. This zeal wrought wonders. It seemed to open heaven’s gates for blessing to rush forth. God testifies, “He hath turned My wrath away from the children of Israel.” He hath made atonement for them. My name is rescued from dishonour. The haughty sinner is laid low. Therefore I can restrain My vengeance. Men see that sin is not unpunished; mercy may now fly righteously to heal. Zeal is indeed a wonder-working grace. Who can conceive what countries, districts, cities, families, and men, have sprung to life, because zeal prayed?

4. Next mark how heavenly smiles beam on the zeal of Phinehas. Honour decks those who honour God. The priesthood shall be his. This lessen ends not here. Phinehas for ever stands a noble type. Yes, Christ is here. In Phinehas we see Christ’s heart, and zeal, and work, and mightily constraining impulse. In Phinehas we see Christ crowned, too, with the priesthood’s glory. (Dean Law.)

The circumstances which moved the zeal of Phinehas

. There was the enormity of their sin. It included false doctrine and sinful practices, between which there is a closer connection than is always recognised.

There was the character of the instigator to the sin. Balaam, “a strange mixture of a man.”

There was the extent to which the sin prevailed. Among all classes.

There was the misery occasioned by the sin. To the guilty, to their connections, to the community.

There was the dishonour done to God.

1. We should be zealous in religion.

2. Our zeal in contending against the sins of others should begin in zeal in contending against our own. (George Brooks.)

The zealous spirit

In fact, a zealous spirit is essential to eminent success in anything. Perhaps there is the more need to insist upon this because enthusiasm is out of fashion. It is bad form nowadays to admire anything very warmly. To be strenuously in earnest is almost vulgar. Especially is this so in regard to religion. “Our Joe is a very good young man,” said an old nurse the other day; “but he do go so mad on religion.” That was the fly in the ointment--which spoilt all. Did not Pope say long ago, “The worst of madness is a saint run mad”? And he only put in terse and pithy speech what other people say more clumsily.

1. And yet how can one be a Christian without being an enthusiast? Indifferent, half-hearted Christians are not true Christians at all. “I would thou weft either cold or hot,” says our Lord. Lukewarmness is his utter abhorrence. And the author of “ Ecce Homo “ cannot be said to exaggerate in his declaration that “Christianity is an enthusiasm, or it is nothing.”

2. And what good work has ever been wrought without enthusiasm? Said a great preacher, “If you want to drive a pointed piece of iron through a thick board, the surest way is to heat your skewer. It is always easier to burn our way than to bore it.” Only “a soul all flame” is likely to accomplish much in the teeth of the difficulties which beset every lofty enterprise. The great movements which have most widely blessed the world have been led by men of passionate earnestness and fervid zeal. It is not the cool, calculating votaries of prudence who have done the work. Was it not written of our Lord Himself, “The zeal of Thy house hath eaten me up”? (G. Howard James.)

The faithful bring a blessing upon their families

We have seen the zeal of Phinehas in executing judgment upon the evil-doers, which brought a grievous plague upon the people. His spirit was stirred within him, being first stirred by the Spirit of God, which moved him to take a spear, and to thrust through the adulterer and adulteress. Now we shall see the reward that was given unto him for that work which was acceptable unto God, and profitable unto His people. He hath a covenant of peace made with him, and the priesthood confirmed unto him and his posterity. God is so pleased with the obedience of His people that He will show mercy to such as belong to them. This is plentifully proved unto us in the Word of God. When God saw Noah righteous before Him in that corrupt age, He made all that belonged unto him partakers of a great deliverance, saying unto him, “Enter thou and all thine house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before Me in this age” (Genesis 7:1). This appeareth in the person of Abraham, when God had called him out of his country, and from his kindred, and made a covenant with him to bless him (Genesis 12:2-3). This is oftentimes remembered unto us in the Acts of the Apostles. When God had opened the heart of Lydia that she attended unto the things which Paul delivered, “She was baptized and all her household” (Acts 16:15; Acts 16:33). The reasons to enforce this doctrine are evident, if we consider either the person of God or the condition of the faithful.

1. God hath in great mercy and goodness promised to show favour not only to the faithful themselves, but to the seed of the faithful that fear Him (Exodus 20:6; Exodus 34:6-7).

2. As the mercy of God is great, so the faith of the godly is effectual for themselves and their children. This is the tenor of the covenant that God hath made with all the faithful. God will be our God, and the God of our seed after us (Genesis 17:7). For as a father that purchaseth house or land, giveth thereby an interest unto his son therein; so he that layeth hold on the promise which God hath made to all godly parents, doth convey it unto his children; so that albeit they want faith by reason of their years, yet they are made partakers of Christ, and ingrafted into His body. The uses remain to be handled.

(1) We learn that the children of faithful parents have right to baptism, and are to receive the seal of the covenant. This the apostle teacheth (1 Corinthians 7:14).

(2) We are taught on the other side that evil parents bring the curse of God into their houses, and upon their posterity.

(3) It is required of us to repent and believe the gospel, that so we may procure a blessing upon ourselves and our children. (W. Attersoll.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 25". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/numbers-25.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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