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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Numbers 25

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XXV.

The Israelites commit fornication with the women of Moab and Midian: they are punished by the Lord: the zeal of Phinehas.

Before Christ 1452.


Verse 1-2

Numbers 25:1-2. Israel abode in Shittim, &c.— A place in the plains of Moab, where they were before encamped. It is called Abel-Shittim, ch. Numbers 33:49 i.e. the mourning of Shittim; probably on account of the mourning for the 24,000 who died here of the plague, Numbers 25:9. This was the last station which the Israelites made while they remained in the wilderness; for from this place Joshua removed them, after Moses's death, to Jordan, whence they passed over to Gilgal, Joshua 3:1; Joshua 4:19. Wherefore they are admonished to remember "what Balak consulted, and what Balaam answered him, from Shittim to Gilgal, that they may know the righteousness of the Lord," Micah 6:5 that is, that they might know the goodness of God towards them, in turning Balaam's intended curse into a blessing. But what all the inchantments and divinations of Balaam could not effect, came to pass by the rebellion of the Israelites. Here it was that the kings of Moab and Midian put in practice the advice which Balaam gave them. He counselled them to think of drawing the Israelites into some heinous offence against their God; assured that there was no possible way of getting an advantage over Israel, unless they could be first drawn into sin, that so a breach might be made between God and them. This was a kind of Machiavelian policy, shrewd and deep laid, but cursed and diabolical. This project, in a great measure, succeeded: the daughters of Moab, and of Midian (Numbers 25:6; Numbers 25:17.) entered into a correspondence with the Israelites, and soon convinced them, that there were more dangerous charms than those of magic: they possessed themselves of their hearts and souls; they invited them to the sacrifices of their gods, and made this the price of their infamous compliance. The Israelites fell into the snare; they offered their homage, without scruple, to the gods of those women whom they themselves idolized; they did eat, and bowed to their gods. See chap. Numbers 31:16.


Verse 3

Numbers 25:3. Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor See the note on ch. Numbers 21:29. St. Jerome informs us, that Baal-peor was the same as the Greek and Roman Priapus; that this idol was like that of Priapus. That his worship consisted of gross obscenity and impurity there can be no question. See Hosea 10:15 and Revelation 2:14. Those who are inclined to know more respecting this idol, (who, with his ceremonies, was of too gross a sort to engage our further attention,) may consult Calmet's Dissertation upon the subject. When it is said, Psalms 106:28 that they joined themselves unto Baal-peor, and ate the offerings of the dead, it cannot be concluded from thence that Baal-peor was some dead prince idolized; for the dead, in this place, means no more than those dead idols, whom St. Paul calls, nothing in the world, 1 Corinthians 8:4 and who may be denominated dead, in opposition to the living God. See Vossius, de Idol. lib. 2: cap. 7.


Verse 4

Numbers 25:4. Take all the heads of the people, &c.— The next verse very fully explains what is meant by this expression; namely, all those who had joined themselves unto Baal-peor: others, however, would interpret it, take unto thee, that is, unto thy assistance, all the heads of the people; that is, all the judges: but the word them in the next clause will, under this interpretation, be very harsh. It is probable, for the reason we shall suggest by and by, that a thousand of the Israelites underwent this punishment.

REFLECTIONS.—Balaam's counsel, before he left Moab, produced a worse effect than his intended curse could have done. The alluring arts of lascivious beauty are the strongest witchcraft of the devil. Observe,

1. The crying sins that Israel committed; whoredom and idolatry. The daughters of Moab, armed with more offensive weapons than Balak's mighty warriors, with eyes full of adultery, which cannot cease from sin, and tongues smoother than oil, yet sharper than drawn swords, beset them, and (shameful to tell!) prevail. Bound in these silken cords of pleasure's lure, they run to those sacrifices which they before abhorred; for the gratification of bestial appetites they deny their God, and sacrifice to the abomination of the Moabites. Blind to the happy land before them, even at Shittim, in full view of it, they prefer a present lust to all the promises of a covenant God. Dreadful and aggravated crime! Note; (1.) They who tempt others to sin, are the most guilty instruments of the devil. (2.) The lures of women are the most dangerous of temptations. (3.) Flight is the only conquest. (4.) If once the heart be ensnared, there are no lengths into which the miserable slave of lust and beauty may not be led. (5.) Nothing more strongly tends to effect the soul's final apostacy from God, than yielding to the solicitation of the flesh.

2. The judgment of God upon them. They will buy pleasure dear, who purchase it at the price of God's displeasure and eternal damnation. Execution is immediately done upon them. They are hung up before the Lord, and a plague consumes the people. Note; (1.) The fire of lust and the flames of hell are inseparable. (2.) The plagues of God will quickly turn the sweets of forbidden pleasure into the gall of asps, and the gnawings of the worm which never dies.


Verse 6

Numbers 25:6. One of the children of Israel came and brought, &c.— One cannot conceive a higher degree of insolence and wickedness than this of Zimri; who thought, perhaps, that the eminence of his rank would secure him from punishment, even though he should carry his crime to the greatest height. Nothing could shew a stronger contempt of Moses's authority, and of the God who gave him that authority.


Verse 7-8

Numbers 25:7-8. When Phinehas, the son of Eleazar—saw it, &c.— Phinehas was a man of great authority, being next to the high priest, whom he succeeded in office. Warmed with a religious zeal at this insolent and unfeeling crime, he rose from amongst the congregation; i.e. from among the judges, and with his own hand put the criminals to death, in the very moment of their offence. Considering Phinehas as one of the judges appointed to pass sentence on those Israelites who were guilty in this matter, Numbers 25:5 we may look upon this step as the generous action of a magistrate, who, seeing justice affronted and not intimidated by the audacity and quality of one of the criminals had the courage to transcend the regular modes of proceeding, to execute, with his own hand, a just sentence against a notorious criminal, whose offence was so heinous.

This blow of vengeance, struck at such a pressing juncture, and by a man whom we must suppose to have been led to it after a miraculous manner by the spirit of God, cannot be made a precedent to any other persons. Nothing can be more absurdly advanced, than the judgment which the Jews build upon this circumstance, and which they call a judgment of zeal. The very examples which they quote establish what we maintain; namely, that these extraordinary strokes of vengeance are only allowed to extraordinary men. The case of Matthias may be numbered among these. See 1 Maccabees 2:24. It is notorious, however, that the Jews abused this judgment of zeal upon several occasions. They put it in practice very often, not only against innocent persons, but against those who were endowed with the most eminent virtues. Of this St. Stephen, whom they inhumanly stoned, and St. Paul, whom they vowed to assassinate without any form of justice, are glaring proofs. See Saurin's 65th Dissertation.


Verse 8

Numbers 25:8. And he went, &c.— And he went after the man of Israel into the bed-room,—[apartment,—alcove] and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel. and the woman, in her bed-room. Vid. Nold. 62. 821.


Verse 9

Numbers 25:9. Those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand St. Paul mentions only twenty and three thousand, who, he says, fell in one day. 1 Corinthians 10:8. See Whitby on the place. But we observed before, that one thousand probably were put to death by the judges; and the words, in the plague, do not signify by pestilence only, but by any sudden stroke or destruction. The passage might be rendered, but in that destruction, or desolation, there fell twenty and four thousand. Thus their own iniquity brought that desolation on the Israelites, which Balaam and Balak, with all their enchantments, could never have effected; and as all that generation was to perish before their posterity could enter the promised land, (see on chap. 26: Numbers 25:1-2.) this terrible excision may be considered as the final stroke of the Divine vengeance on that perverse and devoted race.


Verses 11-13

Numbers 25:11-13. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, &c.— God, in reward of the undissembled zeal of Phinehas, confirmed to him the right he had of succeeding to Eleazar, as his son, in the office of the priesthood; and promised him that the same august privilege should be perpetuated in his family. It seems, from the words in the 12th verse, as if the priesthood was a thing different from the covenant of peace. Some of the Jewish interpreters conclude from this text, that God had promised to Phinehas a privilege of procuring pardon thenceforward for guilty persons. But there is nothing more indefinite in the sacred language than the word peace: it is made use of to denote all kind of prosperity, and in particular that of long life. Phinehas did actually enjoy it in this last sense, as appears from the Book of Judges. The promise of an everlasting priesthood, according to the language of the Old Testament, was likewise accomplished. The Jews reckon twelve high priests of the race of Phinehas from his time down to Solomon; nine more from this period to the captivity; and fifteen from the re-establishment to the time of Antiochus Eupator; the last of whom was Onias, slain by Lysias. It is true, the high-priesthood was for a while in the family of Ithamar, but it soon returned to that of Phinehas. Eli was the first of the family of Ithamar who enjoyed the office; which returned to the house of Phinehas in the person of Zadock, where it continued even to the Maccabees. Dr. Shuckford proposes another explanation of this passage, which some, perhaps, may think more satisfactory; by supposing the priesthood to be here called everlasting, not as expressing a design of a perpetual continuance of it to the descendants of Phinehas, but as limiting it to the family of Aaron throughout their generations. Accordingly it might be translated thus, It shall be to him, and to his seed after him, a covenant or grant of the everlasting priesthood; intimating, that God had given to Phinehas, and his seed after him, a grant of the priesthood, which was limited to Aaron and his descendants, to all generations; and is therefore called the everlasting priesthood. Exodus 40:15 which promise was not in vain; for Phinehas might have died before Eleazar, and so never have enjoyed Aaron's priesthood. For the expression is, made an atonement for the children of Israel, see note on ch. Numbers 8:19 upon which atonement Dr. Beaumont remarks,—"So the proverb is fulfilled, Proverbs 16:14."

REFLECTIONS.—Never was wickedness more daring than in Zimri, nor zeal more flaming than in Phinehas. While Moses and the people were, with penitential tears, lamenting their sin, and deprecating the judgments they had provoked,—with barefaced impudence, as if glorying in his shame, this prince of Simeon leads a harlot of quality openly to his tent. Note; Shamelessness in sin is usually the consequence of lewdness. Phinehas, fired with jealousy for God's glory, and indignation at the horrid crime, hastens to follow this shameless pair, surprises them in their crime, and, plunging his javelin through them both, executes upon them, as God's magistrate, condign vengeance. Though some sinners are too great for human laws, let them know that there is a sword of God which will reach them.—God expresses his approbation of the deed, by a removal of the plague which had begun, and settles the entail of the priesthood on the children of Phinehas; because, by his zeal as a priest, and fidelity as a magistrate, he had turned away wrath from the congregation. Note; (1.) The impartial distribution of justice upon offenders, is one chief means to rid the land of sin, and save it from God's plagues. (2.) In God's cause we must not fear to rebuke the greatest or most daring sinners. (3.) God will recompense those who are zealous in his cause with peculiar blessings.


Verse 17

Numbers 25:17. Vex the Midianites The Moabites are not named. See Deuteronomy 2:9. It is not unlikely, that the Midianites had the principal hand in this seduction of the Israelites; ready as we find they were to prostitute a daughter of one of their most honourable families, in order to procure the disgrace and destruction of Israel; in just retribution therefore for their wickedness, God commands Moses to be ready, at a time which he should appoint, to attack their country with his whole force: the consequence of which was a fatal overthrow. See ch. 31: Nothing could be more just, than to assign a proportionable punishment for an offence so cruel, carried on by such odious means.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 25:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/numbers-25.html. 1801-1803.

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