In yesterday's passage we found the prophet Balaam going back to his hometown after being unable to curse Israel for King Balak of Moab. But before he left he gave some advice to the Moabites, advice which he hoped would bring the Lord's wrath upon Israel. During the time King Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel, one of the things the Lord said bout Israel through Balaam was, "I see a people set apart and do not consider themselves one of the nations". (Numbers 23:9) In other words, Israel was different from all the other nations because they worshiped the one true God and not idols. The Israelites were "set apart" (consecrated to God's service and sanctified by their faith in Him). Balaam thinks if he can cause the Israelites to fall into idolatry, their God will abandon them. The prophet hopes the Lord will no longer view Israel as His consecrated, sanctified, chosen people if they fall into the same kind of idolatry as all the other nations.
Our segment of Scripture today does not tell us that it was Balaam's advice that caused the events of Chapter 25 to occur but Numbers 31:16 will inform us of that, as well as Revelation 2:14. Those passages clearly tell us that Balaam suggested the Moabite women should use their feminine allure on the Israelite men and entice them into idolatry. The main reason the Israelites are instructed in the Bible not to intermarry with people of other tribes and nations is because the people of other tribes and nations worshiped false gods. The Lord knew that intermarriage with heathens would bring idolatry into Israel, and He was right, for many times we'll see it happening. It even happened to King Solomon, for he married many foreign wives and to make them happy he built altars to their gods in Israel.
"While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices of their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods." (Numbers 25:1-2) Moses doesn't tell us here that the Moabite women approached the Israelite men and lured them provocatively to their feasts for spiritually immorality and to their tents for sexual immorality. But in Numbers 31:16 Moses will say that these women were "the ones who followed Balaam's advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident". The Apostle John, in the book of Revelation, will make reference to Numbers 25 and speak of "the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality". (Revelation 2:14) It appears Balaam offered the advice to King Balak while he was at Peor with him and King Balak passed his words along to the young and beautiful women of Moab. These particular women may have been priestesses or temple prostitutes at the various pagan shrines of Moab.
How exactly these women approached the Israelite men and lured them to their feasts, the Bible doesn't tell us. It probably didn't happen suddenly. I doubt a beautiful woman could approach an Israelite man out of the blue, seductively invite him to a banquet, and have him give in and attend on the same day. It's possible but I feel it's not likely. Sin tends to happen by degrees. It begins in the mind and, if not stopped there, eventually moves into the other parts of the body. Giving in to sexual temptation is most often a gradual process, particulalry in cases where there are extra elements to the situation that render it especially sinful. For example, it usually takes a married person a lot longer to give in to temptation than a single person. Premarital sex between two single people is sin in the Lord's eyes, but it doesn't involve breaking a vow to another person. It's a sin against the Lord but not an additional sin against a spouse. In the case of the Israelite men, sexual relations with Moabite women (or women of any other culture) has an extra element of sin attached to it. If an unmarried Israelite man had sex with an unmarried Israelite woman, it's a sin of sexual immorality. But if an unmarried Israelite man had sex with an unmarried Moabite woman, it's a sin not only of sexual immorality but also of spiritual immorality. The Moabite women are idolaters. They are capable of enticing men to forsake the Lord and join them in idolatry.
Perhaps these lovely women of Moab began passing close by the Israelite camp, catching the eye of some of the men. And perhaps the men started looking forward to seeing these ladies each day. The Moabite women would have looked and dressed and talked differently than the Israelite women, making them seem exotic and exciting. Women of a pagan culture were like a forbidden fruit, and you know how human nature sometimes reacts to things that are forbidden; the very fact that a thing is forbidden can make it tempting to the carnal side of the human nature. The forbidden Moabite women might have started stopping to talk with the men, laughing and flirting and playfully placing a hand on a man's arm or shoulder. The men may have begun daydreaming about these culturally fascinating women---these women who served gods the men did not know and who attended mysterious feasts and engaged in rituals with which the men were not familiar---and they may have imagined themselves going to bed with the women. At some point the women invited them to feasts and the men went. Whether or not the men realized beforehand that the feasts contained meats that had been sacrificed to idols, this would have become clear to them once they got there, but by then they were too far in lust with the Moabite women. They didn't turn around and leave the idolatrous feasts; they sat down and joined in. Not only did they eat food sacrificed to idols and drink toasts to false gods, but the Bible tells us that they "bowed down before these gods". In order to please the women they lusted for, the men were willing to go to any length to have them, including bowing on their knees to idols. They were willing to be unfaithful to the Lord.
The Lord will often refer to incidents of idolatry as adultery. He will compare His relationship with Israel to the relationship between a husband and wife. He will say that Israel has committed adultery against Him, that she has prostituted herself, that she has broken the vow of her covenant with Him. Just as a husband and a wife are in a partnership, and just as marriage is sometimes referred to as two people being "yoked together", God has yoked Himself and Israel together. But the men who were seduced by Moabite women were so carried away by their lust that they broke their covenant with the Lord and yoked themselves together with someone else: false gods, and in this case the god known as Baal. "So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord's anger burned against them." (Numbers 25:3)
When a husband finds out his wife has been unfaithful to him, he's angry, isn't he? Let's say he is a good and loving man who has done everything possible to make his wife happy, but she has betrayed him. He's hurt. He's shocked. He doesn't understand why his wife repaid his kindness with such wickedness. He feels angry toward her, toward the man she betrayed him with, and toward the situation in which he finds himself. The men who were seduced by the Moabite women have been unfaithful to the God who was faithful to them. They've betrayed the God who provided for them, who protected them, who loves them, and who would do anything for them. Of course He's angry. Like anyone who has been the victim of betrayal, He feels righteously indignant and feels that consequences need to be imposed for the actions of His unfaithful partner. Sin always results in consequences. The consequences may immediately follow the sinful action or emerge later on, either in this life or on judgment day. But, as the Apostle Paul said, "A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7) We don't harvest crops the same day we plant them; in the same way the consequences of sin don't necessarily show up on the same day we commit the sin. But they will show up. It's a principle of agriculture and it's a principle of life. A man who sows a kernel of corn in the ground is going to reap corn. In this same way a person who sows sin is going to reap the consequences of sin. If a man sows a kernel of sin in the ground, he won't reap the rewards of righteousness. Join us tomorrow as we find these unfaithful men of Numbers 25 reaping what they've sown.