In yesterday's study we learned that even though Balaam the prophet was not able to speak words to curse Israel so that an army could attack her from the outside, he thought of a way to try to bring Israel down from the inside. He told King Balak of Moab to instruct the women of Moab to entice Israelite men into idolatry and sexual immorality.
We found out that some of the men of Israel fell prey to these seductive women and accompanied them to pagan feasts where they ate food sacrificed to idols and where they bowed down to idols. These feasts were held in honor of the pagan god Baal and sexual immorality was rampant in the Baal cult. Part of Baal's supposed duties was to act as a fertility god, and when heathen peoples served a fertility god, men would have sexual relations with temple priestesses and shrine prostitutes in the belief that this would grant them greater personal fertility and also greater national fertility. Sometimes orgies took place at pagan fertility feasts. The Israelite men who engaged in sexual immorality in Chapter 25 were probably not, in my opinion, doing it because they thought of it as a fertility ritual. I tend to feel what primarily happened in Chapter 25 was that these men gave in to temptation. The women deliberately set out to tempt them into idolatry by using their beauty and sensuality. A percentage of the men fell for this scheme due to their lust for the women. The Moabites, and the Midianites who were intermarried with them, wanted to cause Israel to sin against God so God would have to discipline them. Israel's enemies hoped God would take His protective hand away from Israel so the Moabites and Midianites could drive them out of the region.
After this incident occurred in which the men engaged in idolatry and sexual immorality, we were told that the Lord's anger burned against them. The Lord now speaks to Moses about the situation. "The Lord said to Moses, 'Take the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the Lord's fierce anger may turn away from Israel.'" (Numbers 25:4) The corruption involved high officials or elders; some of the leaders of Israel were involved in this sin. The Lord tells Moses an example must be made of them. Because they are men of authority, they have a responsibility to live godly lives in the sight of the people, but they didn't and they can't be allowed to get away with what they've done. They must be publicly executed. If the Lord had not taken such drastic measures against idolatry committed by some of the top men of the nation, many of the average citizens would have fallen into the same sin. They could have said, "Well, my neighbor is an elder and he went to an idolatrous feast and had relations with a Moabite shrine prostitute and the Lord didn't discipline him. If the Lord didn't care about an elder doing such a thing, why would He care about a 'nobody' like me doing such a thing? I'm just an average guy who has no influence over anybody in my community. My private life won't affect anybody but me. If some of our leaders can behave like this and get away with it, why can't I?"
You've probably heard the expression, "With much power comes great responsibility." You've probably also heard this verse from the Bible, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required." (Luke 12:48) The leaders of the Israelite community had a great responsibility to set a godly example for the people to follow. They were given much power and influence and they were supposed to use their power and influence to help the people, not hurt the people. Some of them failed to fulfill their responsibility. Moses obeys the Lord and calls a meeting with the judges to tell them what must be done. "So Moses said to Israel's judges, 'Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.'" (Numbers 25:5)
Next we look at a specific incident in which an Israelite man is so proud of his sin that he boldly strolls into the camp with a Midianite woman in order to have relations with her in his tent. While the Israelites weep over the sin of some of their citizens, and while the judges grieve over the duty set before them, this man deliberately flaunts his sin in the sight of the people. "Then an Israelite man brought into the camp a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear into both of them, right through the Israelite man and into the woman's stomach." (Numbers 25:6-8a)
Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron and great-nephew of Moses, takes the initiative to do something about this shocking sin. He is offended to his core by such blatant iniquity. He is righteously indignant on behalf of the Lord and on behalf of Israel. It was bad enough that some Israelite men went up on the mountain at Peor with pagan women and engaged in sin with them out of the view of the Israelite community, but now this sin has literally come into the house of Israel. If the man is allowed to get away with such bold and public sin in the sight of every man, woman, and child of Israel, then a wide-scale turning to idolatry can be expected. Some of the men of Israel who were tempted by these women gave in. But no doubt many men who were tempted did not give in due to fear of the Lord. Some of the men who were tempted may not have abstained due to fear of the Lord but due to fear of the public opinion of their countrymen. But if this man is allowed to sin openly in such a bold and "in your face manner", other men who resisted temptation will give in to it. The next thing you know, a huge portion of the nation will fall into idolatry. Phinehas is zealous for the Lord. He is zealous for his nation. He loves the Lord and he loves his fellow countrymen. For the Lord's honor and for the wellbeing of his nation, he takes swift and decisive action. I believe this action was taken while the Israelite man and the Midianite woman were in the very act of sexual relations. I think this is why Phinehas could kill both of them with one blow; he thrust the spear into the man's back, through the man's body, and on into the woman's abdomen.
In tomorrow's study we'll find the Lord commending Phinehas for doing what no one else thought to do. The Israelite man who brought the Midianite woman into the camp didn't believe anyone was going to do anything: not the high priest Eleazar, not Phinehas who is Eleazar's successor, not Moses, not the judges, not the elders, and not an ordinary citizen. The man didn't even think the Lord Himself was going to do anything. This fellow's sin was so grievous that it ought to have outraged every godly man of Israel so that they all rushed upon him at once to put him to death. But only Phinehas does something about the situation and I believe he's acting in the will of the Lord when he does it. I think the Holy Spirit moved him to take care of this situation right now, without delay. Open rebellion against the Lord is taking place in the sight of all Israel; judgment upon the man must take place in the sight of all Israel.
Phinehas is a priest and is therefore exempt from serving in the army, but he's a great soldier of the Lord in our passage today. His action saved many lives, according to what the Lord will say to Israel in tomorrow's study.