Sex and a meal honoring Baal
- 1 While the people of Israel camped at an acacia grove, some of their men had sex with women from Moab.
- 2 The women invited them out to eat. The main course came from sacrifices offered to Moab’s gods.2 The men took part in the sacrifices, and bowed to Moab’s gods.2
- 3 As a result, Israel linked up with Baal of Peor.3 The LORD got angry with Israel.
- 4 The LORD told Moses, “Round up all of the leaders4 and execute them in front of everyone. Do it to keep the LORD from unleashing his anger on everyone in Israel.”
- 5 Moses told his top leaders, “You need to execute all the men who have gotten involved with Baal of Peor.”
Bad timing for sex
- 6 People started crying as they stood near the Meeting Tent. Just then, an Israelite man boldly walked right through the group, escorting a Midianite woman toward his family’s tent. Moses and everyone else saw him.
- 7 Aaron’s grandson, Phinehas, who was Eleazar’s son, picked up a spear.
- 8 He followed the man and woman into the back room of the tent and speared them both at once, through the gut—a twofer. That stopped a plague that had already started killing people.
- 9 But 24,000 had already died.
Phinehas gets promoted
- 10 The LORD told Moses,
- 11 “Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest, has saved Israel. I was angry. But his passionate devotion to me kept me from killing all the Israelites.
- 12 So tell Phinehas this, ‘I’m making a peace treaty with him, an agreement to be friends.
- 13 As part of this agreement, I’m making him and his descendants a family of priests. This is permanent. I’m doing this because of his devotion to me. His act is what atoned for Israel’s sins and got the nation back on track with me.’”
- 14 The dead man was Zimri, from Simeon’s tribe. He was the son of Salu, a leader in the tribe.
- 15 The dead Midianite woman was Cozbi. Her father was Zur, head of his extended family in Midian.
- 16 The LORD told Moses,
- 17 “Attack the people of Midian.
- 18 They’ve already attacked you by tricking your people. They lured your men into worshiping at Peor and in doing what was going on with Cozbi. She was the Midianite woman killed during the plague that started because of what happened at Peor.
Chemosh was Moab’s national god, and perhaps that of the Ammonites as well. King Solomon later married into the religion and even built a sanctuary to Chemosh on the Mount of Olives. That legitimized this idolatry for about 400 years. Israel’s idolatry, the prophets said, would be why God would allow invaders to wipe the Jewish nation off the political map of the world. Babylonians from what is now Iraq did that in 586 BC.
Some of the 10 commandments come to mind: “You can’t have any gods but me. You can’t create idols in any form, whether it’s an image of something from the sky, earth, or water. You can’t worship idols or bow to them” (Exodus 20:3-5).
Peor was a mountain in Moab where people worshiped Baal, the main Canaanite god. Baal of Peor was apparently a local representation of him. When women from Moab seduced some of the Israelite men to engage in either ritual sex or just plain ol’ illicit sex, it led the men into idolatry. Baal was considered a god of fertility in family, flocks, and fields. Some scholars say the idea behind one worship ritual was to entertain Baal by letting him watch people have sex. They did this so he would make it rain. It’s a tad gross, but some taught that the rain was Baal’s semen. So, if the sex of worshipers got Baal stimulated enough, he would make it rain in this predominately dry part of the world.
The writer doesn’t say if God wanted to execute all of Israel’s leaders or just the leaders of the Moabite sex party. If it was all the leaders, Moses stepped in to protect the innocent from God.