Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
Nu 25:1-18. The Israelites' Whoredom and Idolatry with Moab.
1. Israel abode in Shittim—a verdant meadow, so called from a grove of acacia trees which lined the eastern side of the Jordan. (See Nu 33:49).
And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.
And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
3. Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor—Baal was a general name for "lord," and Peor for a "mount" in Moab. The real name of the idol was Chemosh, and his rites of worship were celebrated by the grossest obscenity. In participating in this festival, then, the Israelites committed the double offense of idolatry and licentiousness.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.
4. The Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up—Israelite criminals, who were capitally punished, were first stoned or slain, and then gibbeted. The persons ordered here for execution were the principal delinquents in the Baal-peor outrage—the subordinate officers, rulers of tens or hundreds.
before the Lord—for vindicating the honor of the true God.
against the sun—that is, as a mark of public ignominy; but they were to be removed towards sunset (De 21:23).
And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.
5. judges of Israel—the seventy elders, who were commanded not only to superintend the execution within their respective jurisdictions, but to inflict the punishment with their own hands. (See on 1Sa 15:33).
And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
6, 7. behold, one of the children of Israel … brought … a Midianitish woman—This flagitious act most probably occurred about the time when the order was given and before its execution.
who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle—Some of the rulers and well-disposed persons were deploring the dreadful wickedness of the people and supplicating the mercy of God to avert impending judgments.
And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
8. the plague—some sudden and widespread mortality.
And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.
9. those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand—Only twenty-three thousand perished (1Co 10:8) from pestilence. Moses includes those who died by the execution of the judges [Nu 25:5].
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.
11-13. Phinehas … hath turned my wrath away—This assurance was a signal mark of honor that the stain of blood, instead of defiling, confirmed him in office and that his posterity should continue as long as the national existence of Israel.
Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:
And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
Now the name of the Israelite that was slain, even that was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a chief house among the Simeonites.
14. Zimri, … a prince … among the Simeonites—The slaughter of a man of such high rank is mentioned as a proof of the undaunted zeal of Phinehas, for there might be numerous avengers of his blood.
And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Vex the Midianites, and smite them:
17. Vex the Midianites, and smite them—They seem to have been the most guilty parties. (Compare Nu 22:4; 31:8).
For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor's sake.
18. they vex you with their wiles—Instead of open war, they plot insidious ways of accomplishing your ruin by idolatry and corruption.
their sister—their countrywoman.