Immorality on the Border
(Numbers 25 & 31)
Introduction: Many years ago I knew an honored and important man who was the president of a university. He fell into sexual sin, lost his job, his reputation, and who knows what else. Have you been blessed by God, and then managed by some silly sin to defeat God's blessings? Our lesson this week picks up on the topic on which we closed our study last week: how to mess up God's blessings. Let's plunge into our study and learn what not to do!
- Snatching Defeat Out of the Jaws of Victory
- Last week we learned that Balak and Balaam could not curse Israel. All they were able to do was to bless it. Balaam, however, thought that he could get around God's blessings by enticing the Israelites to sin. Balaam should know a thing or two about human weaknesses!
- Read Numbers 22:1. Where is Israel at this time? (It is ready to cross over into Canaan. The long-awaited goal of the exodus from Egypt is now in sight. They need only cross the Jordan river to be home.)
- Read Numbers 25:1-3. How safe and secure are the Israelites? (They had defeated several nations and Moab was terrified of them. God not only protected them, He was arranged for their enemy to bless them! Full of blessings and under the protection of God they were ready to reach their life's goal.)
- How dangerous are "good times" when it comes to sin?
- Are you presently experiencing "good times?" Times of blessing and peace?
- Can you sympathize with any part of the sin of the Israelite men? Anything like this in the news today? (Since I'm a man, it is not hard for me to imagine why Israelite men engaged in sexual immorality with Moabite women. Recall that Revelation 2:14 reveals a plan for the Moabite women to entice the Hebrew men. No doubt these were attractive women and it was their government's idea.)
- But, why worship their gods? What is the attraction of their gods? (Wycliffe Bible Commentary explains that spring festivals celebrated the mating of Baal of Beth-peor with the goddess of fertility. According to archaeological discoveries, prostitution was part of the worship service.)
- Imagine that you are looking for a new church. In church A they kill animals as part of the worship. In church B, they have sex as part of the worship. What is your guess as to the relative popularity of those two churches?
- I'm not aware of any churches in my area (or even my nation) in which sex is part of the worship, but is this idea of choosing a church based on whether the worship service pleases you an issue today?
- Numbers 25:3 says "the Lord's anger burned against them." Put yourself in God's place. Why is He angry? (What the Israelite men are doing is wrong on so many levels. It is disloyal to their God, their wife and their family. It shows no allegiance to God who brought them to the border of the promised land. It violates God's rules on sexual conduct. It is even disloyal to their nation.)
- Read Numbers 25:4-5. Does God care about our conduct?
- Notice that the disloyal men had "leaders." What does that tell us? I thought it was a few drooling men who sneaked over to the Moabite camp! Is that true?(Like almost all sin, we try to justify it. Some must have claimed this was a superior means of worship to a superior god. They lobbied others to join the group. This was a movement, not a lapse.)
- Read Numbers 25:6. Israel is "weeping" before God. Why? (Consider the emotion of this. Some have friends and family who were part of the Moabite sin and now have been publicly executed. Others are saddened because of the offense to God. Others are concerned about dying from the plague. Others are discouraged about the way things are going when they are so close to victory. The good news is that they all are coming to God for help.)
- Read Numbers 25:6-9. We just discussed that the nation is weeping, what is this "Israelite man" doing? How do you explain his conduct? (While the nation is repenting, and a plague is raging, this man is so bold and reckless in his sin that he brings a Midianite woman into his tent in the sight of everyone. This bolsters my earlier conclusion that this was a movement, not just a few men skulking around in the dark.)
- Is hypocrisy under-rated? (At least hypocrites acknowledge the proper course of conduct. Surely advocating wrong and doing wrong is not superior to advocating the truth but doing wrong. Hypocrites just look bad, they don't have converts.)
- What do you think about the actions of Phinehas, the future High Priest? Does this sound like the right thing to do, or does this sound like the Taliban? (The account suggests that the couple were having sex, otherwise it would be a real trick to drive a spear through both of them. The boldness of the sin is matched by the boldness of God's servant to fight against sin.)
- Read Leviticus 20:10. Is Phinehas acting outside the law? (No. This is not just some wild deed. Phinehas is executing the well-known judgment on this fellow.)
- Wait a minute. The woman did not know about the rule, right? (Wrong. Recall that this was part of the Moabite plan to entice Israel to be disloyal to their God. She knew about the plan.)
- Read Numbers 25:10-13. What does God think about the motives of Phinehas? (It says that he was "zealous" for the honor of God.)
- Notice Numbers 25:13 says Phinehas made "atonement" for the Israelites. How is that true? I thought atonement was made when the priest sacrificed an animal, not humans? (The animal was a symbol of Jesus who atoned for our sin. He died in our place. If we reject Jesus, we will die for our sins just as surely as this couple died in the midst of their sin.)
- Read Psalms 106:30-31. How does this act "credit" Phinehas with righteousness? What happened to righteousness by faith? Has it been replaced with righteousness by spear? (I think it was boldly standing for God, boldly choosing God, that credited Phinehas with righteousness. This fits the comment in Numbers 25:11 that Phinehas was protecting God's honor.)
- We don't have to look far to see sexual sin in our culture. When it comes to your own actions, do you boldly stand for God? How do others view you when it comes to sexual purity?
- Notice both in Numbers 25:8 and Psalms 106:30 that the plague was checked as a result of Phinehas' action. Let's jump ahead and read Numbers 31:22-23. This is a reference to plunder taken from the Midianites. What does this suggest about the origin of the plague? (This suggests that the Midianites had some disease to which the Israelites had no immunity. These men introduced the plague into the Israelite camp. God stopped the plague as a result of the righteous action of Phinehas.)
- A book I'm reading made the passing remark that for a nation of Christians, the citizens of the United States like their vengeance a whole lot. We see this in our movies, books and national actions. Read Numbers 31:1-2. What has been done to Israel that deserves vengeance? (The plotting of Balak and Balaam that resulted in the plague.)
- What do you think about Moses' last act being one of vengeance?
- Do you believe in vengeance? (How about the last movie, play or book you read where you cheered the demise of the "bad guy?")
- Read Romans 3:5-6, Romans 12:19-21 and Hebrews 10:30-31. Is vengeance a good or bad thing?
- Should Phinehas have given them a cup of cold water instead of the spear?
- What is our role in vengeance? (We are to leave vengeance to God. The instructions to Moses and the action of Phinehas show that the government is sometimes God's instrument for vengeance.
- Friend, devotion to God is important. Will you determine today to be serious about honoring God with your life? Will you be faithful in the area of sexual purity even when others plot against you?
- Next week: The Second Generation: Admonitions.