Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Two incidents in Moab
And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.1. abode in Shittim] The name has the definite article, and means ‘the Acacias.’ The site is uncertain, but it lay somewhere in the steppes of Moab. The full form Abel-Shittim occurs in Numbers 33:49. It is perhaps to be identified with Abila, which Josephus locates 60 stadia from the Jordan. This verse may be considered the J E parallel to Numbers 22:1 (P ). Notice that the possession of the territory by the Amorites is, as before (see on Numbers 22:41), disregarded, for the Israelites here come into contact not with Amorites but with Moabites.
1–5. The Israelites sinned with the women of Moab, and were invited by them to the sacrificial feasts of the local god (J E ). 6–15. An Israelite brought a Midianite woman into the camp, and Phinehas, for his zeal in killing them both, received the promise that his descendants should perpetually possess the priesthood (P ). The narratives are quite distinct, but both express condemnation of the immorality of the Israelites in consorting with foreign women. The interest of the former is prophetic, and is concerned with the struggle between the pure worship of Jehovah and the native local cults. The interest of the latter is ecclesiastical, and is concerned with the succession of the Aaronite priesthood.
And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.2. for they called] and they called. The writer relates that the Israelites first came into immoral relations with the women, and then that the women, very naturally, invited them to join in their local religious festivities.
And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.3. Baal-peor] i.e. the deity who was considered the Lord of the place Peor. See on Numbers 23:28. Names of deities consisting of the name Baal with a local attribute are not uncommon in the O.T., and are found on Phoenician inscriptions. Thus there were many Baals (Baâlîm) in different parts of the country (cf. 1 Samuel 7:4, Hosea 2:17).
And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.4. hang them up] i.e. the offenders, not the chiefs. The form of execution denoted by the Heb. word is uncertain. It is the causative (Hiphil) form of the verb used of the dislocation of Jacob’s thigh (Genesis 32:25). Aquila understood it to mean ‘impale,’ Targ. ‘crucify’; others, from the analogy of an Arabic word, explain it as ‘to throw down,’ as from a high rock. It occurs elsewhere only of the execution of Saul’s sons (2 Samuel 21:6).
And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.5. every one his men] Each judge was to execute the offenders that belonged to the division over which he had authority (see Exodus 18:25 f.).
And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.6. while they were weeping] The reason for their weeping is not found till Numbers 25:8 f.; a plague had been sent. The beginning of the narrative stating the reason for the plague has been lost. But it was probably a punishment for the general immorality of which Numbers 25:6 relates one instance.
It has been conjectured that the lost portion of the story related that Balaam persuaded the Midianites to seduce the Israelites into intermarriage with them in order to provoke Jehovah’s anger. In this case Balaam lived (according to P ) not in Mesopotamia or Ammon (see on Numbers 22:5) but in Midian. The conjecture receives support from Numbers 31:8; Numbers 31:16.
6–15. The zeal of Phinehas, and its reward. The passage belongs to the period after the exile, when those only were recognised as priests who could trace their ancestry through Phinehas, and Eleazar his father, to Aaron.
And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.8. the pavilion] Heb. ḳubbâh; a large vaulted tent; ‘alcove’ (R.V. marg.) has gained a different significance, but it is only the Arabic equivalent to the Heb. word with the article al prefixed. The word is not found elsewhere in the O.T. and its meaning is doubtful.
And the plague was stayed] The expression is quoted in Psalm 106:30 where the incident is referred to.
And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.9. twenty and four thousand] S. Paul uses the narrative as a warning to Christians (1 Corinthians 10:8). Either by a slip of memory or owing to a variant reading he gives the number as three and twenty thousand.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.11. jealous with my jealousy] His jealousy was so deep and real that it adequately expressed the jealousy of Jehovah, rendering it unnecessary for Jehovah to express it further by consuming Israel. Cf. the ‘godly sorrow’ felt by the Corinthians with regard to a similar sin (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). The divine ‘jealousy’ is that which makes Him claim an exclusive right over His people. This right was violated when they gave themselves up to whoredom. Cf. Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14, Nahum 1:2, James 4:5 (R.V. marg.).
Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:12. my covenant of peace] Cf. Malachi 2:5. The ‘covenant’ here is not a compact between two persons, but an unconditional promise on God’s part.
And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.13. the covenant of an everlasting priesthood]. This passage expressly confines the priesthood to the line of Aaron. In Jeremiah 33:21, Malachi 2:4 f., 8 the covenant is given to the whole tribe of Levi. Other covenants spoken of in the O.T. are those given to Abram (with the sign of circumcision), to Noah (with the sign of the rainbow), to Israel at Sinai, and to David. See the writer’s Exodus, pp. 150–4.
Now the name of the Israelite that was slain, even that was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a chief house among the Simeonites.
And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian.15. the daughter of Zur] Zur is named as one of the five Midianite kings, in Numbers 31:8.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,16–18. are an editorial note. The compiler who placed side by side the two narratives in Numbers 25:1-15 here combines them in such a way as to represent the Midianites as responsible for tempting Israel in both cases. And at the same time he anticipates the command given to Moses in Numbers 31:1.
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 of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor's sake.