While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. And the Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’ ” The name of the slain man of Israel, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, chief of a father’s house belonging to the Simeonites. And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the tribal head of a father’s house in Midian. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.”
Let’s Make A Deal Intro
2nd Generation Israelites are taking over, they are starting to win battles, and are close to entering the Promised Land.
Back in , the elders of the Moabites and Midianites saw how Israel had destroyed the Amorites, and were afraid of what was about to happen to them.
So Balak, who was the king of Moab, summoned Balaam to curse the Israelites so that they (the Israelites) would not defeat Moab.
God, however, prevented Balaam from cursing the Israelites, which of course, angered Balak and the Midianite elders.
Right here, is where the narrative in Numbers moves straight to what we are going to talk about today, but there is an important link that is not recorded in Numbers, but is recorded in other parts of Scripture that help us understand the rest of the set up for the scene we are examining today.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
With God having thwarted the first sabotage attempt, according to , ; ; and , Balaam taught the Moabites and the Midianites how to use their women to seduce the Israelite men so that they (the Israelites men) would then be more vulnerable to offering their worship to another god, in this case Baal of Peor.
Balaam calculated that if the Israelites offered their worship to another god, that the God of the Universe would no longer be for them, and thusly the Israelites would be able to be defeated by Moab.
The Bible gives these details in a kind of flashback form:
They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man.
They warred against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every male.
“Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people.
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.
With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
Notice in 2nd Peter, where Peter is addressing the issue of false teachers, that he uses Balaam as a cautionary tale, saying that Balaam loved the ways of wickedness, and used seduction in order to solicit compliance and compromise.
And this is our big picture for today:
Seduction is rarely about the thing that is being offered in the seduction itself, almost always there is deeper, and much worse end game, and we are going to see this illustrated today in the Book of Numbers. After we examine the Biblical narrative, we will pull out some practical application from God’s Word to help us remain on guard and protected against the seductions that we face today. Let’s pray together as we go to the Scriptures.
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. 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. 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.”
1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them.
Remember the big picture for today because it’s in full view in this passage:
And then, of course, verse 3 says the ultimate result/end. The seduction worked, and now many of the Israelites are worshiping the false god, that is, Baal of Peor. And that was the end game.
It is astonishing to think of the power of influence that sexual seduction has when we yield to it. And what’s more, you don’t have to want to have sex to be seduced by sex.
A seduction is really nothing more than advertising. This is not to diminish seduction, but that’s what it is.
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
An advertisement (seduction) promotes a product. The suggestion then says that if you like what you see on the advertisement, you should do what the advertisement tells you to do. But that suggestion never leads you to what you saw in the advertisement, it leads you to something wholly different, which is the idol behind the curtain. And that idol hopes to capture you hook, line, and sinker so that you will always do what it tells you to.
We live in a culture that is hyper-sexualized.
We use sex to sell just about everything, from clothing to food, to diets so you can fit in the clothing in the first place, to cars, to music, to books, to medicine, to vacations, and on and on. And its an incredibly powerful and effective seducer.
And what gods do we end up worshiping when we are entangled in these things?
For things like clothes, diets, even health stuff, its the god of pride and vanity.
For status and stuff, that’s the god that Jesus mentioned by name, Mammon.
And there are countless other gods and idols that we can think of, and many examples.
If we look back at these first three verses, we can see what the idol behind the curtain was, but we have the benefit of hindsight and a 30,000 foot view. Its different when you’re facing it. That does not mean we have an excuse, but it does mean that we need to be on guard and realize that
Full House - John Stamos - Oikos Greek Yogurt
God responds to this idol worship. Now its important to note that this is an especially dire sin because it is the first time that Israel, for all their whining and complaining and scheming, had offered their worship to another god in this way. Here is God’s response:
4 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.” 5 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.”
6 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.
There are a few reasons.
If you think back a couple chapters, when God would get ready to wipe the Israelites out, Moses petitioned on their behalf. Moses even stayed God’s judgment on the grounds that the opposing armies would think that God couldn’t get the job done if everybody just dropped dead.
And when Moses himself wanted to wipe out the Israelites, it was God who was patient (God was always patient, over-patient is more like it) and told Moses to show them kindness and mercy.
But this is different. There is no petition for mercy.
In addition to the idol worship, there is also the problem of sexual immorality.
It is true that sin is sin is sin in terms of God’s eternal justice. He, through Christ, conquered all sin at the cross, and forgave us of all sin.
And so while sexual sin is just as eternally damning as stealing a paperclip in terms of God’s perfect and holy justice, sexual sin is entirely different in its consequences and effects.
Consider Paul’s words in :
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
In other words, do not unite the Temple of the Holy Spirit (that’s your body) with the temple of a false god. And when you are tempted sexually, flee! Run! At all costs get out of there!
Why is this?
The consequences of this kind of sin reach farther and wider than those of other sins, and so the damage is greater to all, and especially the one who commits the sin.
Why is this?
Well, for example, I’ve done a fair share of marital and pre-marital counseling. I’ve been able to help some marriages repair, and I’ve been there when they’ve fallen apart too. And in all my time, I never had a couple on the verge of divorce because their spouse can’t stop stealing office supplies. But sexual sin has destroyed families all over the world, and probably some in this room.
Furthermore, in the passage we just read, Paul says words like “bought” and “belong” and “mastered” with respect to our bodies. One of the contrasts and cautions that he is making is that God is a good master to belong to, after all, he bought you on the cross at Calvary. But sin, and in particular sexual sin is a deceitful and destructive master, and it will dominate you to your detriment and the detriment of those you love if you offer yourself to it.
Sadly, the Israelites would do just this in a very bold and brazen way that we will see now.
6 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.
This is an incredible scene.
Here is Moses and the Israelites, likely in shock and disbelief, and certainly upset over the immorality that has infected their people, and a prominent Israelite man, and prominent Midianite woman (that means, these were people of influence who would be recognizable to many - we learn this from verses 14 and 15 of ), walk right past them and to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, the functional Israelite temple at the time. And in so doing literally united the Temple of God with the temple of a false god, certainly sexually, but also demonstrably given the location of this specific pagan worship act.
The Moabite/Midianite plan had seen some success as various Israelites were now worshiping Baal of Peor the false god instead of the God of the Universe. And remember, that was the goal of this seduction.
Now, before we think that this is something that only happened long ago, this kind of thing is happening in the church today where we are not only bringing sin, including sexual sin, into the camp (so to speak), but bragging about it, and flaunting it from the pulpit in some examples.
One of the gods of our culture is the god of political correctness, and the god of political correctness has skillfully used sex and sexuality as a doorway to entice our country, including some professing Christians, to bend their knees to PC-ism.
Playing on Christian compassion, this seduction suggests that maybe God didn’t really mean the things He said in Scripture, and maybe His meanings should be reinterpreted, etc.
But we know we aren’t following the Lord when we yield to this seduction because in case after case, its not the Bible that compels our actions, its the tenants of so-called political correctness, which means that PC is the idol behind the curtain that is using sexual temptations of all kinds to get us, Christians, to bow down to it.
And when professing Christians, and our churches embrace this, it is not altogether different from what the Israelite man and Midianite woman did here in Numbers.
There are entire denominations that have radically altered their doctrine, and by extension their theology, in response to the sexual immorality that we face in our culture today.
And isn’t it a curious thing that its only the Christians who are told to be silent about matters of sexual morality or immorality, that is, unless we agree with popular culture that sexual immorality is a civil right. It is amazing that as a nation we are promoting the very things that bring about God’s swift and severe judgment as civil rights.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s kind of depressing isn’t it? But I bring this up because sometimes we think that Christians today don’t deal with the same kinds of seductions and attacks that believers did in biblical times, and its important to remember that these kinds of attacks on God’s people continue, albeit in different forms and contexts, but nonetheless continue, even to this day. And it does affect each and every one of us.
You know one of the things that I love about God? That He doesn’t allow sin to have the last word. We have just looked at some pretty heavy stuff, and some things that can and do really discourage us as believers. But let’s look back again in Numbers and survey the next events because it is at this point that the narrative detail and tone shifts, someone steps in the gap and does something about the rampant sin, and there is a renewed victory. Let’s examine the next section together.
It is at this point, however, that the narrative detail and tone shifts, someone steps in the gap and does something about this, and there is a renewed victory. Let’s examine the next section together.
7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 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; 9 but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.
Here again, the Israelites are stunned, and Phineas, Aaron’s grandson and one of the 2nd generation Israelites takes action and drives a spear through the man and the woman, and the plague is then stopped.
The important thing to understand about this section is that this is how serious God is about sin in His Temple. Such sin will continue to infect and multiply until the whole thing becomes sick. This is why we read verses like this in the New Testament:
47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,
27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.
42 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 44 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 46 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “ ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’
Jesus’ words talking about the importance of not being a stumbling block to others. What is a seducer if not a stumbling block?
And the Israelite man and Midianite woman who Phineas killed, were likely influential, and arguably were the instigators of this whole mess because the plague after they were killed, indicating the source of the corruption had been defeated.
And in this text in Mark, Jesus says the same thing,
And to entice, lead, or trap someone into sin is a gravely serious matter.
Of course the question arises, “so, am I supposed to go around killing everyone with a spear?”
And that’s also one of the objections to Christianity is that God is a cruel god of ruthless vengeance who doesn’t really seek to redeem and restore, but enjoys killing those who He doesn’t like, whom He calls sinners.
That’s not true either, and we’re going to see why right now.
10 The Lord said to Moses, 11 “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. 12 Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. 13 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.”
Phineas is a priest who took action that brought atonement for the Israelites. And God responded to Phineas directly by making with him a covenant of everlasting priesthood for his family line.
Why does this passage tell me that I don’t have to go around killing people with spears?
Because it is and has always been that the priest of the people was the one who made atonement for the people.
No amount of self-mutilation, or the harming of others can atone for sin. Sin is a spiritual heart issue and must be dealt with at the spiritual level.
In the Old Testament, we see this pictured in the Day of Atonement wherein the High Priest would offer a ceremonious sacrifice that brought atonement for all who trusted in God.
The Book of Hebrews in the New Testament brings the connection between the Testaments to light:
1 Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. 3 This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. 4 And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” 6 And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” 7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
It was the High Priest, who was always appointed by God and God only, who makes atonement for the people’s sins.
And our High Priest is THE High Priest, Jesus Christ, who made atonement to God through His death and resurrection to pay for the sin of the whole world past, present, and future.
Its humbling to realize that I was the one who was seduced by sin, yet He was the one who was sacrificed to pay for it.
The nails went into His hands and feet, not mine.
The crown of thorns was on His head, not mine.
The spear went into His side, not mine.
And just like Phineas, and Aaron before him, Jesus stood between the living and the dead, made atonement for our sin, stopped the plague of death, saved us from eternal punishment and wrath, and secured for us a glorious inheritance that will last for eternity.
We don’t need to kill people with spears because the sacrifice of Jesus was enough.
Now, we are free to point people to Jesus Christ, since we are, as Paul writes, Christ’s Ambassadors, and as Peter writes, a royal priesthood.
We are not the High Priest, we do not and cannot atone for sin, only Jesus did that.
But we are a priesthood, and when there is sin in the camp, we must step into the gap and point those entrenched to the forgiving, saving, and redeeming work of Christ Jesus.
So what’s the application for today?
Again, recall the process of seduction.
We must ask the Holy Spirit to search our hearts to see if there is any sin in our camp. To see if we have been seduced in any way, and are as a result, bowing before a false god.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Should God identify an area of sin/seduction in our lives, it must be brought to light.
God said as much in Numbers:
4 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.”
We are to confess, and then bring the source out from its hiding place so it can be honestly dealt with. This doesn’t mean we broadcast it on the news, but it does mean that we need to allow other believers to know the truth of what we are going through, or trapped by, so that God can use them to help us gain victory.
Once our sin is in the light, we allow God to kill it. Jesus has the sin killing power, not you, and not me. We need to allow Him to do what must be done in order to be continually and progressively freed from the power of sin in this life.
7 When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand 8 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;
As we live in Jesus’ power, and not under sin’s power in increasing measure, the Apostle Paul tells us that, when we are seduced, Jesus will make a way of escape so that we can stand up to said tempting pressures.
13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
That verse is always misquoted as saying that God won’t give you more than you can handle, which is absolutely not true.
God has a habit of allowing us to face things we can’t handle, the question is, are we humble enough to admit that and then allow Him to handle it.
And when we face seductions and temptations, who better to handle temptation, you? me? or God?
For everyone, the first stop however, is repentance. We won’t do any of these things unless we have a repentant spiritual condition.
Maybe the hardest thing about repentance is admitting to yourself that you enjoy the sin you’re in.
Think about it. We are great jurys when it comes to sin in general, and excellent lawyers when it comes to our own.
This is why when we’re at small group, for example, and we may be sharing a sin we’re dealing with, but you know, humans tend to minimize the extent of their own sin so that they don’t look as bad.
True repentance doesn’t minimize sin, it acknowledges it for what it is.
Repentance isn’t concerned with saving face, or trying to appear more “Christian”, in fact, repentance is the first step in living a life that’s more like Christ.
Pride? Vanity? Self? Your Emotions? Culture? Another person? Status? Stuff?
As the music team comes forward, we’re going to respond by singing a song of repentance.
I don’t know what idol may be hiding behind the curtain of whatever seduction is tempting you.
Maybe the god of pride, of self, of emotions, of politics, of pleasure.
But no matter what, the God who saved you is the only God who loves you. And if you’ve been far from Him, He wants you to return.
If you’ve been with Him, He wants to help protect you so that you can stay with Him.
And if nothing else, remember this:
not even yourself.