|The Moabite women seduce Israel into worshiping Baal Peor|
Numbers - this is the book that people reading through the Bible complain about. They say that it's tedious and that it isn't dense with applicable lessons. I will say that it does have some pretty dry parts - census data, genealogies, and lists of rules. But I have also found some profound illustrations of God's relationship with Israel. Consider this passage (I have added what I was thinking as I read it):
No, Israel - Why are you doing this?! This dismays me so greatly! Having read so much of Israel's story I am emotionally invested in them. God has sheltered, provided for them, and disciplined them with such wondrous miracles! It is so clear that He loves them. Why do they not devote themselves to loving Him?
1 While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality [ESV: "whoring"] 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.
This is a slap to His face - disobeying His main command to them - to love Him above all else. Their sexual immorality is not so disgusting as their idolatry - they have essentially bought this sexual indulgence by turning away from God towards the Moabites' idols. This cannot be happening! they are so close to getting to the promised land, and now they are totally blowing it!
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."Oh no, I cannot believe this - I am so angry! This is not only a blasphemy against the God who has provided for Israel, but also an insult to those who are lamenting because of their sins. This man's evil is flagrant - he deserves stern punishment.
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.
7When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand8 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.*
|Phineas impales Zimri and Cozbi|
At this point I wonder if there is something wrong with my thinking because Phineas' rampage is what I wanted to happen. My heart burned against the man who brought the Moabite back, but is that right? I don't know how God is going to react. I want Him to be pleased because what Phinehas did is what I would have done (or at least what I hope I would have the courage to do). But will God be angry with Phinehas for taking matters into his own hands or even simply for killing?
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."Good! Yes! God does want this kind of zeal! He wants to see it because he is zealous for us. The reason that God is angry with Israel is because their relationship with Him and honor of Him is being compromised. The core of their sin (just like all sin) is not the sexual immorality, it is instead the trade that they have made. Instead of selling sex for money, they have "whored" their love of Yaweh away in exchange for sex as a payment, and God is zealous to end this foolish bargain they have made. He deals harshly with any who lead his children away from Him. He wants to save Israel for himself and give them the perfect gifts that He has stored up for them.
I think that God must love it when we are zealous about the things that He is zealous for. He designed us to be passionate and gave us the choice of where to focus our zeal, so when we choose to focus it on good, it has great significance.
In our context, this doesn't mean that we should stab anyone with a spear, but it does mean that we should not stand by in apathy when something is preventing our neighbor from knowing God or is taking away from the honor that He is due from those who He has saved. We should be zealous about the gospel and helping people, like Jesus and the apostles were, and, as men, we should be zealous about strong leadership. Like Phinehas, we should have no reluctance to act when we know that God's relationship to those he loves is on the line.
Of course I am all talk here - my words aren't backed up by action. I shy away all the time from things that I should do. But thankfully God's love and zeal for me does not depend on my strength - my salvation is resting on the shoulders of Jesus Christ. He is the one I depend on for strength so that someday God's love for me and my love for Him can be brought to fruition without the barriers of sin and human weakness.
* Note on v. 9. The death of these 24,000 is not something that should be ignored or taken lightly. I simply did not comment on it for the sake of brevity.