Even as Balaam was unable to curse the Israelites but only prophesize the words of God, still he wanted to be paid. Balaam made a plan which would cause God to act against the Israelites. The Lord God is a jealous God and would not allow the Israelite people to worship false God’s. (Exodus 20:5) The Moabites and the Midianites came together and tempted the Israelites to worship their gods. It was Balaam who gave the plan to the Moabites and the Midianites to draw the Israelites into worshipping their gods. Balaam devised this plan in order to receive his pay and satisfy his greed. (Numbers 31:16; 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14).
Before entering into the Promised Land the Israelites camped in a valley named Shittim. The Hebrew word for Shittim means acacia which is a type of tree. The valley then with its tress was probably a pleasant place for their camp. It was there that the people committed their sin which was the first of the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7)
This was a result of the male Israelites having relations with the female Moabites from that area. The Moabites were enemies of the Israelites and the Moabites offer of their woman was to entice the Israelites to break their covenant with God. They hoped that this would cause their God to become angry and not help them.
The Moabites were cunning in that they used sexual immorality, food, and special ceremonies to attract the Israelite men to their camp. The Israelite men joined with the Moabite women in the ceremonies of worship to their god Baal. Baal was the god of their religion. The Israelites had fallen to the treachery of the Moabites and entered into serious sin against their God. This showed that they were not loyal to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To stop this behavior God had to punish them.
God sent a plaque upon the people to punish them. (Verse 8) God also told Moses to execute the leaders who lead the Israelite men into this sinful behavior. It would have been the leader’s responsibility to stop the men from their sin but they did not. Moses called upon the judges to execute the leaders.
Moses and the people were crying because they were sorry for the sins they had committed against their God. While they were in their grief a male Israelite brought a female Midianite into the camp and his tent. In front of those who were crying in grief for their sin this Israelite man brought this Midianites women. He did not care that God was angry at the people and he did not care that he was still sinning. Neither was he sorry for what he was doing. He could see that others were grieving over their sin yet he continued to sin in front of them. This man showed that he had no respect for God or the other Israelite people or their leaders.
The seriousness of their sin was that it leads them away from God. It had the same effect upon us that when we sin it places a cloud between us and God. They had joined in with the Moabites in their worship of the false god Baal. It is likely that the Mediante’s worshiped Baal too. Phinehas who was the son of the High Priest Eleazar, was loyal to God and became jealous that this man and the Midianite woman would sin before God and the people. Phinehas then killed the man and the woman. This not only stopped their sin but it also stopped the plaque that God had sent to punish the Israelites. The punishment that the Israelites endured showed them that God would not allow this kind of sin with His people. It also was a warning that the Israelite people should never worship false gods.
Phinehas’ loyalty to God pleased God and God promised him that his descendants would be priest always.
Here we learn the names of the male Israelite and the female Midianites that Phinehas had slain. This man was from the tribe of Simeon. Moses was from the tribe of Levi. Reuben and Simeon were born to Jacob before Levi. Therefore the leaders of the tribes of Reuben and Simeon had a right to lead the Israelites. In Numbers 16:1 the leaders of the tribe of Reuben came against Moses, and therefore God. As a result we saw that many of them died. Zimri, a member of the Simeon tribe, by his sinful behavior was opposing Moses, and therefore God.
Zimri was a leader of the tribe of Simeon and therefore was an important man. Zimri was supposed to lead his people in the right way to go. But because of his sinful ways he was leading his people into sin against God. It is true that the sins of one family member has an ill effect upon the whole family.
The woman was a Midianites which means that this sin had also spread amongst the local people too. She was a member of Midianite royalty and was sent to cause a leader of the Israelites to sin. This was their plan.
Zimri was a defiant man. (Numbers 15:30-31) By taking the woman into his tent it was an act of rebellion against Moses’ authority and therefore God’s authority. It can only be said the Zimri was trying to persuade the other people to disobey God. Zimri did not want to have God leading them and felt that the people should be able to do want they wanted to do. This is the message he presented by his actions of sinning against God.
The plan and tempting by the Midianite people against the Israelites had caused the Israelites to sin against God. They had raised the anger of God against His own people. Now God is warning Moses about them that they shall be Israelites’ enemy. It is important that God’s people obey Him and that they worship Him only. Zimri and Cozbi had sinned in a defiant manner against God. The punishment for defiant sin is death. (Numbers 15:30-31)
God is a holy God and only He is worthy to be worshiped. Man is only able to please Him through the work of His Son Jesus. We must believe that Jesus died on our behalf and when we sin we must repent so God can forgive us.