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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 25



Verse 11


‘Phinehas hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel.’

Numbers 25:11

I. The wickedness here referred to was the result of a deeply laid plot. Unable to curse Israel directly, Balaam suggested to Balak that he should draw the people away from their allegiance to Jehovah by the fascinations of the daughters of Moab, as the surest way of bringing down on them the judgment of their God. The Midianites, among whom the prophet had retired, were also active participators in this guilty plot.

II. The women of the country invited the men of Israel to visit at their houses at some festal season; and after partaking of meats, some portion of which had been offered in sacrifice to idols (1–3), they were the more ready to join in the sensual revelry and rites which characterised the worship of the heathen.

III. All the people did not fall into this sin (Deuteronomy 4:3-4; 1 Corinthians 10:8). But it brought severe punishment on the wrongdoers. And it was indeed sorrowful that after all their opportunities they should so suddenly and dreadfully fall. God is a very jealous God, and He must chastise His disobedient children; 23,000 perished by the plague, and another 1000 beneath the hand of the judges. Like the amputation of a diseased limb, it was needful to cut out these licentious idolaters.

IV. Phinehas attained a notable distinction, and his posterity was to hold the priestly office as long as Israel existed (Malachi 2:4-7; Malachi 3:1; Psalms 106:30-31; see also Ezra 7:1-6; Ezra 8:2; Ezra 8:33). Determined acts like this in dealing with sin are strong, but necessary; and are manifestations of character which are precious in God’s regard.


(1) ‘The danger which Israel had so narrowly escaped, and the indignation which the treachery of Midian awoke in those zealous for the worship of Jehovah, resulted in a religious war against the Midianites. Twelve thousand men were chosen, a thousand from each tribe, and the command was entrusted to Phinehas, the priest, the son of Eleazar, who bore with him to the war “the holy instruments even the alarm-clarions.” Israel was completely victorious. All the males, the five kings of Midian, and Balaam the son of Beor, were slain. A great booty, in women, slaves, cattle and precious metals was also taken. The encampments of Midian were destroyed with fire. When the army returned with this immense treasure, Moses was displeased at finding the women brought captive. He feared that these might again betray Israel into the impurities of idolatry. His command was, to destroy all the women who had submitted themselves to these unholy rites. But the children were saved alive. Several regulations as to their conduct in war, the distribution of the spoil, and the purification of those who had been at the war, are set down as given on this occasion. The vengeance on Balaam and on Midian was complete.’

(2) ‘This fearful sin seems to have arisen from a fell suggestion of Balaam. He taught Balak to cast this stumbling-block before the people of Israel. As Balaam could not win the rewards of Balak in a straightforward way, he seems to have suggested to him the wisdom of dissolving the connection between them and Jehovah, and with this in view the Moabitish girls were sent to attract them to the licentious orgies of Chemosh. This the policy which Satan still adopts. He knows that so long as we are hidden in Jesus, and retain our position in Him, the risen glorious King, we are beyond his reach, and he, therefore, exerts all his arts to entice us forth by the baits and allurements of the world of sense. Oh! to be warned against his wiles, and forearmed to hold our ground! There is nothing that so pleases God as decisive action, like that of Phinehas, for the cutting out of some hideous cancer, threatens our very existence. And doubtless, if we will thus deal not with the sins of others in the first instance, but with our own, we shall be conscious of a fresh plighting of God’s covenant of peace with us, by which we, too, shall be assured of a perpetual priesthood.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 25:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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