Failing in his attempt to induce the Lord to instruct him to curse Israel, Balaam rises up and goes and returns to his place,. The loss of the gold after which he lusts inflames his anger. He is burning with hostility toward Jehovah and His people.
As he passes through the country of the Midianites, who dwell on Moab’s border, the thought occurs to his dark mind to counsel the heads of these peoples to call the children of Israel to the sacrifice of their gods and this in the consideration that, if the call is heeded, Jehovah in His anger will destroy Israel. With his purpose thus achieved, Balaam will be in a position to claim his reward; and he feels certain that Balak still will want to be generous. The heads of Midian and Moab are contacted and the vile plot is laid.
Flushed with their recent trans-Jordan victories, and reposing in the acacia plains of Moab, the people of Israel are in a dangerous spiritual mood. It is well that they watch and pray; for the tempter is at hand. The camp is being visited by outlandish women—daughters of the Midianites and the Moabites—who invite them to worship at the shrine of their idols. The god to be served is Baal as he is worshipped at Beor, with lustful practice. A god he is in whose honor virgins and women prostitute themselves. Thus one of the chief elements in this worship is whoredom in the literal, physical, sense.
There is present in the camp of Israel a large number to whom such practices are too appealing. “And the people did eat and bow down to their gods. And Israel joined himself to Baal-Peor . . .” (25:2).
Is it Christ who makes the disclosure that the contriver of this plot was Balaam. “But I have a few things against thee,” said Christ to the church in Pergamus, “because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication” (). So Balaam persisted to the end in his attempt to work Israel’s ruin that he might have his gold. In the book of Numbers we last read of him in connection with Israel’s enemies, the Midianites, with whom he was slain in battle. “And Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword” (31:8).
Those among the Israelites who heeded this call to pagan worship, committed at least two gross sins: the sins of spiritual and physical whoredom. Both at that time called for the extreme penalty of death. “He that sacrifices unto any other god, save unto (the Lord only, he shall utterly be destroyed” (). “Then thou shalt bring forth that man or that woman (who served other gods) unto thy gates . . . and shalt stone them with stones” ( ). A town guilty of apostasy shall be destroyed and its inhabitants slain, ( ). The sins of prostitution and adultery likewise called for this extreme penalty. There were in all nineteen such sins. Sins they were for which the symbolical typical sacrifices did not avail. The offenders had to be cut off from God’s people and removed from His presence through death. So was church discipline operative in the Old Dispensation. The culprit was placed under the ban of God and destroyed. He was made to pay for the gross sin with his life. The ushering in of the New Dispensation affected no essential change in (this respect. True, the lives of those in the church who grossly offend may now be spared so that it would seem that in the New Dispensation mercy actually triumphs over judgment. Accordingly, it is impossible for the modernist to find in the God whom Christ revealed, the Jehovah of the Old Testament Scriptures.
The Form of Excommunication reads in part, “Therefore we, the ministers and rulers of the church of God, being here assembled in the name and authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, declare before you all, that for the aforesaid reasons we have excommunicated, and by these, do excommunicate N from the church of God, and from the fellowship with Christ, and the holy sacraments, and from all the spiritual blessings and benefits, which God promised to and bestows upon His church. . . .” It is, assuredly, just as terrible to be cut off from the church of God and from fellowship with Christ and from all spiritual blessings and benefits which God bestows upon His people as it was to be cut off from the commonwealth of Israel. What can be more difficult for parents when the unrepentant offender is their own flesh and blood than excommunicating from the Christian church? What can be more difficult for us then to hate our fellow man for Christ’s sake, if that man be of our own kin? Yet Christ demands it. The difference in severity then is only one of degree.
Israel’s sins—the ones he commits in the plains of Moab—call for the extreme penalty of death. Accordingly, the Lord in His anger commands Moses to take all the heads i.e. leaders of the people and hang them up before the sun that His fierce anger may be turned away from Israel, 25:4. The burden of guilt rests most heavenly upon the leaders. As usual, the moral contagion started with them rather than with the humble people.
Moses passes on the command to the judges in Israel. They are to bring to trial and slay “every one his man” found guilty. They are severally to execute the sentence upon the guilty belonging to his jurisdiction. The criminals are first slain and then fastened to a pole for exhibition and a curse-offering.
At the same time Jehovah Himself exercises the functions of judge. The camp is being visited by a terrible plague. Death stalks on every hand as the wrath of God flames against the people. They are sore afraid and stand weeping before the door of the tabernacle. Still the plague ravages on. It seems that the whole congregation is doomed to extinction.
Yet there new occurs the most glaring example of the sin. Zimri, a prince of the tribe of Simeon, leads his illicit lover, a Midianitish woman, with shameless impudence into his tent, in the presence of Moses and of all the weeping congregation.
The woman is a princess. Her name is mentioned even. She is Cozbi, the daughter of Zuri, a head over a people and of a chief house in Midian, 25:15. Zimri, too, is a prince. There is ground for saying that the great evil, here being punished, riots in the upper class in general. It is the great in the camp who set the evil example.
Zimri was a prince out of the chief house of (the tribe of Simeon, but the father of Cozbi ruled over several tribes. He was of the chief house of Midian and is called a king. He is numbered among the five kings of Midian, whom the Israelites put to the word,. It shows that the attempt to seduce the people of Israel went out from the rulers of Midian and Moab and that in their eagerness that the plot succeed they were contributing their own daughters and sisters. The burden of guilt rests upon these pagan rulers. They are fully deserving of the doom by which they will shortly be overtaken. The presence of this woman in the camp would also seem to indicate that the purpose was to involve the heads in Israel. It was therefore an extreme case of the grossest outrage that Cozbi should herself be led in clear sunlight, into the sacred camp, to glorify lust. She must have realized that she would not leave this camp alive. The rulers in Midian must have been aware of this. Rut the plot must succeed or they all are lost. It is better that one or a few die than that the whole nation perish. So these chiefs must have reasoned.
The offence of this woman is so great that at vs. 18 it is again mentioned as forming one of the reasons of the war of extermination which must subsequently be waged against the Midianites. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Vex the Midianites, and smite them: for they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi the daughter of a prince in Midian, their sister.” The only explanation of this is that she, a woman of highest station among her people, had operated as a tool of these chiefs and that the task given her was to entice her equals in Israel.
In ordering the war of extermination, the Lord speaks of the Midianites as have beguiled the people of Israel. To beguile is to divert by deception. There is indeed deception to be detected in the method of approach of the Midianites. Firstly, the original text brings out that the invitation came from the daughters of the Midianites. It was easy for these daughters to strike up an acquaintance with the daughters of the Israelites and through these daughters to ingratiate themselves with the families and especially with the men in the camp. Then would come the invitation to attend the sacrificial feasts of the Midian’s god. To oblige these girls, who had proven themselves lovely companions, so generous and fine, these invitations were soon being accepted by an increasing number of Israelites. This, to be sure, was not an accomplishment of a day. And the invitation was not to carnal lewdness but to a sacrificial feast in the acacia and palm groves, to eat and to frolic in their shade. These groves gave a welcome retreat after the long wanderings in a barren wilderness.
But here is where the fall began. The falling away to idolatrous worship and the sins of the flesh were the result. “And the people did eat and bowed down to their gods and Israel joined himself to Baal-peor.” It may well be that when these Israelites first went, to (the groves they were firmly resolved not to kneel before the gods. Rut they yielded yet only to avoid offending their Midianitish and Moabitish companions. They really meant no wrong. Resides, an idol is nothing, so they may have reasoned with themselves. Rut their hearts tell them that they have set their foot on a path that leads to ruin.
The end of (that way has been reached. Disaster now overtakes them. The anger of God flames against them and the camp is converted into a morgue. And Zimri enters the camp with a Midianitish woman. Moses himself seems to be confounded. Nothing less than (the exercise of a holy burning zeal, such as now comes upon Phinehas can stay the tide of corruption and the plague. Phinehas rises up from among the congregation. Taking a javelin in his hand, he per- sues the man into his tent, and thrusts both of them through.
The plague is stayed from the children of Israel,—a plague in which there have died twenty four thousand.
The holy zeal that wells up in Phinehas soul is peculiar to him only at this moment. The command, “slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baal-peor,” had gone forth. Rut it was not being executed or, if so, than only on a small scale. There were sons and daughters to be slain, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. The true people of God in the camp (all had not defiled themselves,) could not bring themselves to slay their own kin,. They shrank from this even as believers today shrink from putting under the ban of God their own flesh and blood, when they must. The zeal is lacking. They love their own kin more than Christ. This was true of the people of God in the plains of Moab. Jehovah Himself must therefore slay the twenty and four thousand. On account of this lack of zeal on the part of the rest, all are deserving of death. So the plague ravages on—until stayed by the zeal of Phinehas, “he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.”
Phinehas in his great zeal is a (type of Christ. He is the true Phinehas. Wholly consumed was He by the zeal of God’s house. He therefore stayed the plague from His people. “Wherefore say (), behold I give unto him my covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel”. These words were uttered first of all with reference to Phinehas. But in the final instance they can apply only to Christ. He was zealous for God, and made atonement for our sins. Therefore He has the covenant and His seed after Him. And His seed are we.
Now just a few words on the significance of this event in the next issue.