Today’s Torah taste is Numbers 25:1-5 which reads: While Israel was staying in shittim; the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate the sacrificial meal and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’s anger burned against them. 4 The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD’s fierce anger may turn away from Israel.” 5 So Moses said to Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death those of your people who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.”
The context is the leader of Moab being fearful because there were some Israelites camped on his border. So he tried to destroy these Israelites by having Balaam, a Mesopotamian prophet, come and proclaim a curse upon Israel. But Balaam was only able to speak God’s word, which was a blessing for the people of Israel and a warning of cursing upon those who would curse Israel in accordance with the Abrahamic covenant.
So Balaam’s attempts to curse Israel didn’t work. However, most likely though Balaam did have a key role in seducing Israel to worship false gods and commit immorality. Apparently he advised the women of Moab to infiltrate the Israelite community, seduce the men, and then lead them to worship Baal. During Israel’s stay at shittim men began to sexually act out with Moabite women, and then these same Moabite women induced these men to sacrifice and bow down to Baal of Peor. And that was a clear violation of the central core of the Mosaic Covenant which demanded total and exclusive allegiance to Yahweh.
This was the deal with the Baal Peor cult; they believed that the fertility of people, cattle, and crops depended on the sexual union of a god and goddess. And so by imitating this union of the so-called gods, men and women would seek to induce the gods to grant a greater measure of fertility. These kinds of twisted cultic practices were common in all of the nation’s surrounding the Israelites. That’s how these nations did their religion.
So the Lord responded to Israelite’s participation in this with anger. And in verse 4, He instructs Moses to execute these idolaters in a public forum in order to appease His anger. And since the whole nation had sinned God executed punishment on its leaders who stood for the people and therefore should have restrained this spiritual infidelity. After this, in response to the LORD’s command Moses orders the judges of Israel to kill the men under their jurisdiction who participated in worshiping Baal.
Serious stuff! What’s it got to do with us? Simply this: We must be on guard against the adversary’s universal strategy to lead people into sexual immorality and idolatrous activities. Ever since sin entered the world, the enemy of our souls has desecrated the holy wonderous God-given gift of our sexuality and he has used that desecration to cause us to violate God’s moral laws and to engage in various forms of idolatry. And when we play the spiritual fool in this way we give a level of prominence to things that should only be given to and received by God Himself.
The believers in Numbers 25 did not deny the faith, but they did depart from God’s standard for intimate integrity. And it’s all too easy for us to do the same thing. It’s easy to view Divine boundaries on our sexual expression as restrictive instead of protective. And if we’re honestly reflective, it’s not hard to see that the connecting link between immorality and idolatry is a disdain for accountability and a desire for autonomy. And if we find ourselves subtly or overtly buying into this rebellious mindset essentially we have two options; repent in terms of a 180 shift in thinking and behavior, or experience the Father’s loving but firm corrective discipline.
Now given God’s patient long-suffering nature clearly His preference is that we repent. But sometimes denial is not just a long river in Egypt. Denial can be a foolish dangerous game we play with God. So may the LORD gives us the courage to be real with Him about who we are and what’s really going on in our lives in light of all that He is and all that He has done on our behalf. And may our conviction of sin be quickly followed by confession of sin as we refocus and reaffirm our desire to live a life that’s truly pleasing in His sight. Because this is the heart of acting right after acting out.