Studies in Numbers, II Failure, E Compromise, 1. The Commitment, Text:24:1-18, Title: No Other Gods,

Studies in Numbers, II Failure, E Compromise, 1.The Commitment, Text 24:1-18,Title: No Other Gods,


The first commandment is the greatest. We often focus on the sins of the flesh as being the worst, sins like fornication, stealing, murder etc. But the primary sin in the Bible is denying God. “Thou shall have no other gods before me.” Thus God spoke to Israel at Sinai and thus He speaks to us. Therefore, when we read this chapter we should not focus on the sexual immorality. You see, the sins of the flesh often lead to other sins. An obvious example would be bearing false witness or lying, however the greatest sin they lead to is denial of the true God. This is idolatry and here we see idolatry discovered, idolatry disciplined, and idolatry denounced.


We read in verses 1-3, While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. As the rest of the story reminds us, this was no small matter in the sight of God. And as we noted, it was so pernicious because it constituted a wholesale abandonment of Yahweh as their God. Today we often think of idolatry as associated with grotesque idols, but we differ from those we consider heathens only in the manifestations. We still have idols, but they are more sophisticated and realistic. They are often persons in politics. entertainment, sports, or closer, such as wives, husbands, children, parents, and friends. Or, they may be ideas, or philosophies or other human creations. What they all have in common is that we honor them and show the devotion to them which belongs to God. That is putting other gods before Yahweh and it is a sin. So here we have the Israelites putting fornication and idolatrous activities in the place of the true God.


God uncovers the sin and prescribes the severe penalty. The severity of the penalty should remind us how much God hated this. And so we read in verses 4-9,  The Lord said to Moses, “Take all 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.” 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.” 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 to 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. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000. Notice the Scripture calls this a plague. That is a word  that strikes terror into human hearts, and is normally associated only with fatal disease. It is also used here as a name for a sin and its punishment. The behavior of Phinehas, Grandson of Aaron, is most honorable and notable because he was executing  God’s judgment. It is a sick picture of violence, but justified, and God loved it because it was holy and obedient and the very opposite of idolatry.


The denunciation takes place in verses 10-18, The Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.” The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Kozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family. The Lord said to Moses, “Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them. They treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the Peor incident involving their sister Kozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of that incident.” Notice that here we have a hall of fame and a hall of shame. The hall of fame welcomes Phinehas, grandson of Aaron. We should realize that Phinehas violated cultic law, but God approved his actions because of an higher standard, namely the holiness of Jahweh. He has violated the priestly prohibitions regarding blood and death, and yet, God has rewarded him and his family. It was an extreme case of the grossest outrage that Cozbi, a Midianitish princess, the sister of the people, of their chiefs, should herself be led in clear sunlight, into the sacred camp, to glorify lust, and render it an act of service or worship.“Moses was commanded to vex the Midianites in order that the practical zeal of Phinehas against sin, by which expiation had been made for the guilt, might be adopted by all the nation.” They can do something; and what they can do Jehovah commands them to do. And He is not an imperfect God because His prophet does not give from the first a perfect Christian law, a redeeming gospel. He is the “I Am.” Let the whole course of Old Testament development be traced, and the sanity and coherency of the theocratic idea as it is presented in law and prophecy, psalm and parable is self evident. Zimri was a prince in his tribe, a leader, and here is the legacy he left. Welcome to the hall of shame! More over, the Midianites are condemned and sentenced to destruction. These nations Israel and Midian are enemies, not because of trade, finances, or politics, they are mortal enemies because of religion. How does this fit into our situation to day in the United States of America with regard to Islam and the Christian religion? And what about capitol punishment? We argue over whether we would use capitol punishment in cases of pre-planned murder, but here it is the penalty for idolatry. I am not suggesting at all that it be the penalty now, but simply that we do not take idolatry seriously enough in our lives.