Matthew Poole's Commentary
And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.The Israelites’ whoredom and idolatry: God commands the guilty to be put to death, Numbers 25:1-5. A plague: Phinehas’s zeal; for which God promises him the priesthood, Numbers 25:6-15. God commands the Midianites to be slain for this their treachery in drawing the people to sin, Numbers 25:16-18.
Shittim; a place called more largely Abel-shittim, Numbers 33:49, it being usual with the Hebrews to abbreviate long proper names, as Hermon is put for Baal-hermon, Judges 3:3, Tholad for El-tholad, Joshua 19:4, Nimrim, Isaiah 15:6 for Beth-nimrim, Numbers 32:36. And this was their last station, from whence they passed immediately into Canaan. So this is here noted as a great aggravation of their sin, that they committed it when God was going to put them into the possession of their long-expected and much-desired land.
The people; not all, but many of them, as appears from Deu 4:3,4 1 Corinthians 10:8.
To commit whoredom, both corporally and spiritually, either because they prostituted themselves to them upon condition of worshipping their god; or because their filthy god was worshipped by such filthy acts, as Priapus and Venus were.
Of Moab, and of Midian too, as is evident from Numbers 25:6,17,18 Num 31:16; for both these people being confederated in this wicked design, the one is put for the other; and the daughters of Moab may be named, either because they began fine transgression, or because they were the chief persons, possibly, the relations or courtiers of Balak king of Moab.
And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.They called the people: this may be noted, either,
1. As the consequent of their whoredom, an invitation to further society in their sacred feasts; or rather,
2. As the cause or occasion of their whoredom, the Hebrew vau here signifying for, as it oft doth. The Moabites being now neighbours to the Israelites, and finding themselves unable to effect their design against Israel by war and witchcraft, they now fell another way to work, by contracting familiarity with them; and perceiving their evil and lustful inclinations, they, i.e. their daughters, last mentioned, invited them to their feasts.
Unto the sacrifices, i.e. unto the feasts which were made of their parts of their sacrifices, after the manner of the Jews and Gentiles too, the participation whereof was reckoned a participation in the worship of that god to whom the sacrifices were offered, 1 Corinthians 10:18, and therefore was forbidden to the Israelites when such feasts and sacrifices belonged to a false god, Exodus 34:15. Yet this was a less and more modest kind of idolatry, and therefore is fitly used to usher in what was more gross and impious.
Of their gods, i.e. of their god, Baal-peor, the plural elohim being here used, as commonly it is, for one god.
Bowed down; which properly notes the outward act of worship, which here consisting in or being accompanied with filthy serious, may either signify or connote them.
To their gods; before their gods, or, to the honour and worship of their gods.
And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.Joined himself; the word implies a forsaking of God, to whom they were and should have been joined, and a turning to, embracing of, strict conjunction with, and fervent affection after, this false god. Compare Hosea 9:10 2 Corinthians 6:14. Baal-peor, called Baal, by the name common to many false gods, and especially to those that represented any of the heavenly bodies; and Peor, either from the hill Peor, where he was worshipped, Numbers 23:28, or rather from a verb signifying to open and uncover, either because of the obscene posture in which possibly the idol was set, as Priapus was, or because of the filthiness which was exercised in his worship.
Was kindled, i.e. discovered itself in a dreadful plague, Psalm 106:29.
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.The sense is, either,
1. Take, to wit. to thyself and thy assistance,
all the heads, i.e. the judges, as they are called Numbers 25:5, or rulers,
of the people; and in their presence, and by their help,
hang them, i.e. the people, now mentioned, to wit, such of them as were guilty, as was said Numbers 25:1. And this sense seems to be favoured by the next verse, where the execution of this command is mentioned, Moses said unto the judges of Israel, whom he had taken to himself and called together, Slay ye every one his man, i.e. each. of you execute this command of God, and hang up the delinquents under your several jurisdictions. Or,
2. Take, i.e. apprehend,
all the heads, i.e. the chief, of the people, such as were chief, either in this transgression, or rather in place and power, who are singled out to this exemplary punishment either for their neglect in not preventing, restraining, or punishing the offenders according to their power and duty, or for their concurrence with others in this wickedness, which was more odious and mischievous in them than in others. And then this must be necessarily limited to such heads as were guilty, which is evident from the nature of the thing, and from the words of the verse. And so these
heads of the people differ, as in name and title, so in place and dignity, from the judges of the people, Numbers 25:5, which may seem to note the superior magistrates, even the seventy elders, which, being persons of great worth and piety, chosen by God, and endowed with his Spirit, most probably kept themselves from this contagion, and therefore were fitter to punish others; and the heads of the people seem to be the inferior magistrates, the rulers of tens or hundreds, or the like, who as they did many of them partake with the people in other rebellions, so probably were involved in this guilt. Now these are to be hanged up as other malefactors and condemned persons were, Deu 21:23 2 Samuel 21:6.
Before the Lord; to the vindication of God’s honour and justice.
Against the sun, i.e. publicly, as their sin was public and scandalous; and speedily, before the sun go down. But withal this phrase may signify, that these also must be taken down about sun-setting, as other malefactors were, Deu 21:23.
And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.Every one his men, i.e. those under his charge; for as these seventy were chosen to assist Moses in the government, so doubtless the care and management of the people was distributed among them by just and equal proportions.
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.This was done, either,
1. Before God’s command to Moses, and by him to the judges, Numbers 25:4,5, such transpositions and disorders being not unusual in sacred story. Or rather,
2. In the order it is related, to wit, when Moses had given the charge to the judges, and, as it may seem, before the execution of it, otherwise it is probable he would not have been so bold and foolish to have run upon present and certain ruin, when the examples were fresh and frequent before his eyes.
Unto his brethren, i.e. into the camp of the Israelites, or to his friends and relations in his tent, whither he carried her; Numbers 25:8, for his or their fleshly satisfaction.
In the sight of Moses; an argument of intolerable impudence and contempt of God and of Moses.
All the congregation, i.e. the rulers of the congregation with divers of the people.
Weeping; bewailing the abominable wickedness of the people, and the dreadful judgments of God, and imploring God’s mercy and favour.
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;No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Into the tent, or brothel house; for since they gave way to such lewd practices, no doubt they singled out convenient places for their wickedness.
Thrust both of them through; which is no warrant for private persons to take upon them the execution of justice upon any, though the greatest malefactors, because Phinehas was himself a man in great authority and power, and did this after the command given by Moses to the rulers to slay these transgressors, and in the very sight, and no doubt by the consent of Moses himself, and also by the special instinct and direction of God’s Spirit.
Through her belly, or in her brothel house, for the word is the same before used, and translated tent, and it may be called hers, because she chose or used that place for her wicked purposes, as the rest doubtless hid other places of like nature. The
plague; either the pestilence, or some other sudden and grievous mortality.
And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.Object. They were but 23,000, 1 Corinthians 10:8.
Answ. The odd thousand here added were slain by the judges according to the order of Moses, the rest by the immediate hand of God, but both sorts died of the plague, the word being used, as oft it is, for the sword, or hand, or stroke of God.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
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.He was zealous, fervent and resolute and valiant,
for my sake, for my satisfaction and vindication.
Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:i.e. The covenant of an everlasting priesthood, as it is expounded, Numbers 25:13, which is called a covenant of peace, partly with respect to the happy effect of this heroical action of his, whereby he made peace between God and his people; and partly with regard to the principal end and use of the priestly office, which was constantly to do that which Phinehas now did, even to mediate between God and men, to obtain and preserve his own and Israel’s peace and reconciliation with God, by offering up sacrifices, and incense, and prayers to God on their behalf, Numbers 16:47,48, as also by turning them away from iniquity, which is the only peace-breaker, and by teaching and pressing the observation of that law, which is the only bond of their peace, Malachi 2:5-7.
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.And his seed after him.
Quest. What advantage had he by this promise, seeing the thing here promised was due to him by birth?
Answ. 1. The same blessing may be ofttimes promised, as the kingdom was to David; and the renewing of this promise might seem convenient here, To signify that bloodshed was so far from polluting him, and thereby casting him out of the priesthood, that it was a mean to confirm him in it.
2. This promise secured him and his against divers contingencies, which otherwise might have befallen him or them; as that he should live longer than his father, else he could not have been the high priest; that he should be preserved from those blemishes which might have rendered him incapable of the priesthood, which were many; that he should have a seed, and they such as were fit for that office.
An everlasting priesthood, i.e. to continue as long as the law and commonwealth of the Jews did.
Quest. How was this verified, seeing the priesthood went from Eleazar’s to Ithamar’s line in Eli and three or four of his successors? Answ. 1. This promise, as others of the like nature, was conditional, and therefore might be made void, and of none effect, by the miscarriages of Phinehas’s sons, as it seems it was; and thereupon a like promise was made to Eli of the line of Ithamar, that he and his should walk before the Lord, to wit, in the office of high priest, for ever, which also for his and their sins was made void, 1 Samuel 2:30.
Answ. 2. That was but a short interruption, and not considerable in so long a succession, for the priesthood returned to Phinehas’s line in the time of Solomon, 1 Kings 2:26,27,35 1 Chronicles 24:3; and continued in that line till the captivity of Babylon, as is evident, and afterward too, 1 Chronicles 6:4 Ezra 7:1,5, even until Christ’s time, for any thing which appears to the contrary.
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.A prince: this is added as a proof of Phinehas’s zeal, that he durst venture upon so great a person, who was likely to have many avengers of his blood.
Of a chief house, Heb. of the house of his father. Every tribe was divided into great households, called the houses of their fathers, Numbers 1:2, and he was the prince or chief of one of these, though not of fire whole tribe.
Among the Simeonites; of the tribe of Simeon, which seems to have been too much influenced by his and other such examples, so that for 59,300, which were numbered, Numbers 1:22,23, there were now only 22,000 Numbers 26:14.
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.Zur; one of the kings or princes or Midian, Numbers 31:8 Joshua 13:21.
Of a chief house, or, and over her father’ s house.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,No text from Poole on this verse.
Vex the Midianites, and smite them:And why not the Moabites, who were as guilty, Numbers 25:1?
Answ. 1. Because God will reserve to himself a liberty of punishing or sparing, according to his own good pleasure.
2. God had a kindness for the Moabites for Lot’s sake, Deu 2:9.
3. God punished the Moabites in another manner, partly, by his own immediate hand, whereby it is probable he cut off those Moabitish women that were guilty of this fact; partly, by a particular and dreadful kind of excommunication, Deu 23:3; and partly, by impunity, which in its consequences is commonly worse and more pernicious than any or all temporal punishments, which none that believes the Bible can deny.
4. It is probable the Midianites were most guilty, as in persuading Balak to send for Balaam, as may be gathered from Numbers 22:4,7; so in the reception of Balaam after Balak had dismissed him, Numbers 31:8, and in further consultation with him, and in contriving the means for the executing of this wicked plot.
Smite them, i.e. kill them; in which words, as there is a command to war against them, so there is a promise of success.
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.For under pretence of kindred, and friendship, and leagues, yea, and marriages, which they offered to them, instead of that war which the Israelites expected from them, they sought only an opportunity to insinuate themselves into their familiarity, and execute their hellish plot of bringing that curse upon the Israelites, which they had in vain attempted to bring another way.
In the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi; by drawing you both to spiritual and corporal whoredom.
Their sister, in a large sense, to wit, their countrywoman.