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ISRAEL’S IDOLATROUS WORSHIP OF BAAL-PEOR.
Having failed to induce Jehovah to withdraw his protection from Israel, Balaam, with satanic subtlety, advised that the next effort be directed against the loyalty and moral purity of the people, with the hope that Jehovah will cast them off in his anger. The daughters of Moab and Amalek appear on the scene as the chief tempters; thousands fall into the fatal snare and perish by the judgment of God.
ISRAEL SEDUCED INTO IDOLATRY, Numbers 25:1-3.
1, 2. Shittim These plains are in the El-Ghor, sixty furlongs east of the Jordan. Note, Joshua 2:1. The daughters of Moab were the chief agents in the execution of this plot by forming friendly associations with the Israelites and then inviting them to the sacrifices of their gods a licentious festival. Thus all the animal appetites are addressed at once.
Such a temptation required stronger moral principles and a loftier spirituality than many Israelites possessed. The vices of the Canaan-ites, idolatry and whoredom, had infected Midian, a branch of Abraham’s family, (Genesis 25:2,) through successive intermarriages with these tribes. The prostitution of a king’s daughter, (Numbers 25:6, note,) doubtless given by her father as a token of hospitality, a custom still found among some African nations, shows that the shocking depravity of Sodom (Genesis 19:8) had corrupted the seed of Abraham.
3. Baal-peor, to whom Israel (that is, multitudes of them) joined himself, literally, bound himself, was a Moabitish Priapus, whose image, shocking to modesty, was worshipped by women and virgins who prostituted themselves in his service.
Anger… kindled Holiness must necessarily antagonize sin, and justice must punish the sinner in every case except where the ends of moral government are attained by the intervention of an atonement. Note, Judges 2:14.
THE IDOLATERS PUNISHED, Numbers 25:4-9.
4. Take all the heads of the people This command is not only to put to death the guilty Israelites, but as a strong expression of loathing and a seeming aggravation of punishment, (note, Leviticus 20:14,) as well as a most impressive warning against future idolatry, their bodies were to be impaled and publicly exposed. Dr. Kennicott remarks that the Samaritan and the Hebrew texts united make the sense of this verse complete. Speak unto all the heads of the people; and let them slay the men that were joined to Baal-peor; and hang them up before the Lord, etc.
Before the Lord Literally, for Jehovah, that is, to placate him.
5. Slay ye every one his men This is far from an indiscriminate slaughter by what is called “lynch law,” but every judge is charged to convict according to the forms of law, and punish every apostate Israelite in his jurisdiction. Exodus 18:21-26.
6-9. One brought a Midianitish woman From Numbers 25:14-15, we learn that the man was Zimri, a prince of the Simeonites, and the woman Cozbi, the daughter of a chief of Midian.
In the sight of all the congregation This bold affront unveils the depth of the corruption which pervaded some in the camp, and fired the heart of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, with the vehemence of a zealot. Seizing a javelin he rushed into the tent of the adulterer, and with one thrust transfixed both the man and the woman. Hebrew law ever recognised what is called the zealots’ right to correct a flagrant abuse which was overstepping the law and defying the ordinary courts of justice. Jesus, simply as a Hebrew citizen, purged the temple by this right.
So the plague was stayed The stroke of the divine vengeance, which was falling like burning thunderbolts upon the camp, was arrested by this extraordinary immolation of these guilty parties.
Twenty and four thousand St. Paul says that twenty-three thousand fell in “one day.” This Ewald, Alford, and Meyer regard as a slip of memory on the apostle’s part. A better explanation is, that Paul refers only to those cut off by the plague, and that an additional thousand were executed by sentence of the courts. Note, Numbers 25:5; see note, 1 Corinthians 10:8.
PHINEHAS REWARDED WITH AN EVERLASTING PRIESTHOOD, Numbers 25:10-13.
11. Zealous for my sake Literally, with my zeal, not zeal for me, but “my zeal” the vehement zeal of Jehovah, with which this grandson of Aaron was suddenly baptized. R.V., “Jealous with my jealousy.”
12, 13. My covenant of peace The promise of an everlasting tenure of the priestly office by the family of Phinehas. This promise was fulfilled until the gradual decay of the Jewish Church through the tyranny of Herod and his successors, excepting a brief transfer to Eli. Note, 1 Samuel 2:35.
Made an atonement Reconciliation by which God’s wrath was placated, not by sacrifice, but by executing judgment upon a conspicuous apostate, so that all the children of Israel might be freed from complicity with this sin. It was an atonement, not only because the blood of the chief sinner was shed, but because a holy moral influence went forth from this whole-hearted jealousy for the honour of God, turning Israel from foul idolatry to the sole service of Jehovah. On this account God restrained the fierceness of his consuming wrath and granted the offenders a space for repentance, also forgiveness when their sin was confessed and forsaken. See note, 2 Samuel 21:3.
WAR AGAINST MIDIAN COMMANDED, Numbers 25:16-18.
17. Vex the Midianites Although Midian and Moab were united in bringing Balaam from the east, (Numbers 22:4; Numbers 22:7,) and the daughters of Moab were associated with those of Midian in seducing Israel, yet only Midian provoked Jehovah to a declaration of war at this time, possibly because Moab was not so forward in this iniquity. Says Ainsworth, “For though Baalam gave counsel to the king of Moab, (Revelation 2:14,) and the Moabitish women were prostitute also unto whoredom, yet Balak at first did not much regard that counsel, but turned Balaam away with shame, but the Midianites retained him, and among them he was slain.”
18. For they vex you Not with wars but with wiles, which were more destructive to Israel. The vigorous prosecution of this war is detailed in chap. 31.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 25". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany