James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.Numbers 25:1-31:54
We are not through with the “hireling” prophet. We find him referred to in three places in the New Testament. 2 Peter 2:15 speaks of his “way,” Judges 1:11 of his “error” and Revelation 2:14 of his “doctrine.”
His way is that which characterizes all false teachers, viz: making a market of their gifts. His error lay in failing to see the principle of the vicarious atonement by which God can be just and yet the justifier of believing sinners (Romans 3:26). In other words, he felt that a holy God must curse such a people as Israel, knowing only a natural morality. His doctrine, which concerns us more particularly just now, refers to his teaching Balak to corrupt the people whom he could not curse (compare Numbers 25:1-3 with Numbers 31:16).
HARLOTRY AND IDOLATRY (Numbers 25)
Into what sin did the people fall (Numbers 25:1)7 This fall in morality was soon followed by what fall in religion (Numbers 25:2-3). Baal was a general name for “lord” and “peor” for a mount in Moab. The real name of this lord of the mount was Chemosh, whose worship was celebrated by the grossest obscenity.
What punishment fell on them (Numbers 25:4-5)? Capital punishment in Israel meant that the victim was first stoned to death or otherwise slain, and then gibbeted. “The heads of the people” means the chief leaders in the outrage.
Numbers 25:6 speaks of a flagitious act in connection with this disgraceful conduct, promptly revenged by whom (Numbers 25:7)? What reward to him follows (Numbers 25:12-13)? What judgment had come to Israel (Numbers 25:8)? What judgment does God order upon the Midianites (Numbers 25:17-18)?
SECOND NUMBERING (Numbers 26)
What new command is now given Moses (Numbers 26:1-2)? The probability is that the plague just mentioned had swept away the last of the older generation and hence the census.
This census was necessary to preserve the distinction of families in connection with the distribution of Canaan soon to take place.
By comparing the numbers with those of chapter 1, it will be seen that divine judgments had reduced the ranks of some of the tribes which had been particularly disobedient, while others had been increased so that Israel still continued about the same in numbers at the close of this period of thirty-eight years as at the beginning. What was the total diminution?
Before passing to the next chapter observe Numbers 26:64 and note that its statement must not be considered absolute. For, besides Caleb and Joshua, there were alive at this time Eleazar and Ithamar, and in all probability a number of Levites, who had no participation in the defections in the wilderness. The tribe of Levi, having neither sent a spy into Canaan, nor being included in the enumeration at Sinai, must be regarded as falling outside the range of the sentence; and therefore would exhibit a spectacle not witnessed in the other tribes of many in their ranks above sixty years of age.
A BRIEF GLANCE AT Numbers 27-30
We pass over the request of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27:1-11), the injunction to Moses (Numbers 27:12-14), and the ordination of Joshua (Numbers 27:15-23), as requiring no explanation under the circumstances. The same may be said about the offerings (chap. 28) whose repetition was probably necessary because a new generation had sprung up since their enactment, and because the people would soon be settled in the land where they could be observed.
THE MIDIANITES JUDGED, AND BALAAM SLAIN (Numbers 31)
What is practically the last command of Moses received from God (Numbers 31:1-2)? The Midianites, as may be recalled, were descendants of the marriage of Abraham with Keturah, and occupied the east and the southeast of Moab. They were the chief actors in the plot to seduce Israel into idolatry, by which it was hoped Jehovah would withdraw His blessing from them and permit their enemies to triumph. Were the plan successful it would mean in so far the defeat of God’s purpose for the redemption of the nations through the instrumentality of Israel as we have already learned. An understanding of this fact is necessary to preserve this chapter from misinterpretation.
A RELIGIOUS WAR
Who were to be avenged according to Jehovah (Numbers 31:2)? And who according to Moses (Numbers 31:3)? How interesting to perceive here another illustration of the identification of God with His people! They have the same cause, the same friends, and the same enemies. Compare Acts 9:4-5.
And note another circumstance equally strange as the world considers things; viz: the preparation for death enjoined upon Moses! Were these Midianites his own enemies merely, one would expect him to be exhorted to forgive them and thus “die in peace with all the world.” But being God’s enemies, the most appropriate close of his earthly career would be to execute God’s judgment upon them.
Are there not lessons here for the peace advocates of this century? While sympathizing with them in many things, yet if they expect wars to cease until God has had a final settlement with the wicked nations of the earth, they are yet in the primary class of Bible instruction.
“SOME THINGS ARE HARD TO UNDERSTAND”
The faith of some will stumble at things in this record, but a deeper knowledge of God makes all plain, and our duty is to trust Him until that knowledge comes.
The slaying of the males (Numbers 31:7) was in accord with the divine principle in all such cases (Deuteronomy 20:13). In this instance, however, the destruction seems to have been only partial, if we may judge by Jdg 6:1 and the following verses. Perhaps this is explained by the circumstance that only those families were slain who were near the Hebrew camp or had been accomplices in the plot. Many may have saved themselves by flight.
The slaying of Balaam (Numbers 31:8) raises a question when we compare the statement with Numbers 24:25. Perhaps he changed his plan about returning home after starting, and remained among the Midianites for the evil purpose already spoken of; or, learning that Israel had fallen into the snare laid, he may have returned to demand his reward from Midian. His judgment was just in consideration of his sin in the light of special revelations received from God.
The killing of the women and children (Numbers 31:14-18) will stagger us till we remember that Moses’ wrath was not an ebullition of temper, but an expression of enlightened regard for the will of God, and the highest interests of Israel. By their conduct the women had forfeited all claims to other treatment, especially in view of the sacred character of this war. As to the male children, it is to be remembered that a war of extermination required their destruction. We will deal with this subject more fully when we come to the broader illustration in the destruction of the Canaanites in Joshua.
Observe the declaration in Numbers 31:48-50, especially the last clause of Numbers 31:49. Here we have an astonishing miracle witnessing to the interposition of God in this whole matter, and in so far silencing every objection raised on the ground of cruelty and injustice. Compare here the opening verses of Psalms 44, and other similar places. These judgments of God on sin and disobedience should open our eyes to its nature, should cause us to tremble at the fear of it, and adore the grace which has given such guilty souls as we a sin bearer in Jesus Christ.
1. How is Balaam spoken of in the New Testament, and by whom?
2. Define the meaning of Baalpeor.
3. Define capital punishment in Israel.
4. What was the need for this census?
5. Which tribe had the most of the older men at this time, and why?
6. Who were the Midianites, and where were they located?
7. What justifies their punishment?
8. What comment on the universal peace theory does this lesson contain?
9. What particular circumstance shows God’s approval on the extermination of these enemies?