In our study last week we were introduced to a self-absorbed prophet named Balaam. He was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to place a curse upon Israel. However, God appeared to Balaam and strictly forbade him from speaking a curse upon His children. From the get-go Balaam knew that he could not do what Balak had requested, but still he took advantage of the king’s desperation by stringing him along as if he might. After Balaam pronounced three blessings the frustrated king realized that he was never going to curse Israel, so the two parted ways.
But Balaam was cunning and began to consider other ways of accomplishing Balak’s request. Although he could not curse Israel directly, perhaps there was another way to undermine and weaken them. If he could devise a way to do it, maybe the king would be pleased and he’d award Balaam with the generous payment after all. The crafty and corrupt prophet reasoned that he could possibly still salvage this situation and turn it into a hefty payday.
After formulating a devious plan, Balaam returned to share his scheme with King Balak. In the message this morning we will examine the events that followed. We will learn about Balaam’s wicked counsel to the king, how it impacted the children of Israel, and what their ultimate response was to it.
I. ISRAEL’S IMMORALITY (Numbers 25:1-5)
Following Balaam’s suggestion, King Balak sent many young Midianite women on a mission to the Hebrews’ camp. These beautiful ladies were instructed to seduce the men of Israel both physically and spiritually. They successfully charmed several of Israel’s leaders into worshiping a false god named Baal of Peor. God was furious with His children and sent a devastating plague among the congregation.
Under the LORD’s direction, Moses instructed his judges to slay every man of Israel who had worshiped Baal. Perhaps by doing this the fierce anger of God would be appeased and the plague would be lifted. Up to this point Balaam’s evil plan was working perfectly. The children of God were bringing misfortune upon themselves through their own sinful misconduct, and there is little doubt that King Balak was quite pleased by it.
Balaam could not place a curse on Israel directly, but by enticing them to commit acts of immorality and false worship he tricked God’s children into bringing a curse upon themselves. This is often how the enemy works against us. When his direct assaults fail, he turns to more subtle and indirect techniques. By appealing to our own carnal lusts and temptations, the Devil gives us enough rope to hang ourselves. Satan doesn’t have to do the dirty work in person, but rather he just baits the trap and waits as we foolishly step into it on our own volition.
II. PHINEHAS’ PASSION (Numbers 25:6-15)
Moses and several others stood at the doorway of the tabernacle weeping because of immorality and idolatry of the people. While they were mourning an Israelite man and a Midianite woman passed by. Seeing the two of them walking together and suspecting their carnal intentions, a young man named Phinehas left the group and followed them. He saw the couple go into a tent, presumably to be physical with one another. Phinehas burst into the tent with a spear in his hand and shoved it through their bodies, killing both the man and the woman. The victims were named Zimri and Cozbi.
Because Phinehas had acted so passionately to prevent the sinful conduct, the LORD abruptly halted the plague. Sadly, some 24,000 people had already died as a result of it. God then told Moses to bestow a blessing upon Phinehas in recognition of his zealous behavior. He acknowledged and applauded Phinehas for defending God’s honor and making atonement for the people of Israel.
Phinehas was the son of Eleazar and the grandson of Aaron. He was a priest. In the aftermath of this event God established a covenant of perpetual priesthood with him and his descendants. There are more stories involving Phinehas in the books of Joshua and Judges. Sometime after the conquest of Canaan, his father died and Phinehas became the third high priest of Israel.
Can you imagine what would happen today if a pastor burst into the home of one of their members and killed them because their sin was harming and disgracing the church? That pastor would probably be fired by his congregation and even imprisoned for committing such a barbarous act. Yet in this case, God actually commended Phinehas for his boldness. Many modern-day pastors are hesitant to confront any sin present in their congregations. It is true that Phinehas took extreme measures, but at least he stood up against the sin in his camp and refused to let it continue unchecked.
III. MIDIAN’S MASSACRE (Numbers 25:16-18; 31:1-54)
Following this incident, God told Moses to turn his hostilities toward all of the Midianites because they had intentionally sought to deceive and mislead Israel. So Moses amassed an army of 12,000 men - one thousand from each tribe - and sent them to make war against Midian. Phinehas was specifically selected to accompany these men in battle.
The men of Israel utterly defeated the five kings of Midian - Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba. They killed every Midianite male, and captured most of their women. They burned the Midianite cities and camps with fire, and took much spoil. Later on, Moses instructed his soldiers to also kill all of the female captives who were not virgins because of their harlotry against Israel. In the end, Midian was completely slaughtered.
Balaam, the original architect of Midian’s evil plan to seduce Israel, was also killed during this military campaign. Although he had inflicted significant damage upon God’s people, Balaam’s schemes ultimately failed. Midian and Moab were subdued, and now Moses and his followers could finally begin making preparations for the long-awaited invasion of the Promised Land.
Some Bible critics point to the slaughter of Midian as an example of excessive force. They suggest that God’s children took measures too far. They argue that this story shows God to be an unloving and vengeful deity not fit to be worshiped by anyone. But such thinking is deeply flawed. God did not command his children to act out against an innocent people. The Midianites were guilty transgressors who intentionally provoked and angered God. The LORD judged them for the blatant sinfulness, and rightly so.
As we pause to consider how the slaughter of Midian applies to our lives today, there are a few observations that stand out. I have made mention of these already, but let me quickly review them before we close the message.
First, any plan formulated against God will ultimately fail. No matter how brilliant they might seem, there is no strategy that can successfully outflank the LORD. You simply can’t beat God… and only a fool would try.
Second, Christian leaders need to courageously confront overt and unabashed sin within the church. While not literally, the body of Christ still suffers figuratively from a devastating plague that has been brought on by rampant sin of its members.
Third, God is just in His judgment of the wicked. The vile and detestable nature of sin deserves His punishment. Who are we to question His justice?
Fourth, while Satan does attack people directly on occasion often times he takes a much more subtle approach. By appealing to our sinful nature, he deceives us into destroying ourselves.
Is there someone listening to me right now who is struggling with temptation? Have your carnal lusts and fleshly desires gotten the best of you? Have you been unfaithful to God in some way? If so, now would be a great time to confess your sin, to receive His forgiveness, and to turn back to the LORD.