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(MT versing)
The Sin of Peor Israel's Harlotry in Moab Incident of Apostasy in Moab The People of Israel at Peor Israel at Peor
25:1-5 25:1-5 25:1-5 25:1-5 25:1-3
25:6-9 25:6-9 25:6-9 25:6-9 25:6-9
The Zeal of Phinehas
25:10-13 25:10-13 25:10-13 25:10-13 25:10-13
25:14-15 25:14-15 25:14-15 25:14-15 25:14-15
25:16-18 25:16-18 25:16-18 25:16-18 25:16-18

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


1While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. 4The Lord said to Moses, "Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel." 5So Moses said to the judges of Israel, "Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor."

25:1 "Shittim" This place name is called "Abel-shittim" in Num. 33:49. It was on the east side of Jordan on the plains of Moab. It was from this campsite that Joshua sent the two spies to Jericho (cf. Josh. 2:1). TEV translates this as "the Acacia Valley." See SPECIAL TOPIC: ACACIA WOOD and NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 94-95.

▣ "the people began to play the harlot" This is a way of describing fertility worship. YHWH was viewed as a father or husband (cf. Hosea 1-3). To worship other gods was "spiritual adultery." In this case it was both literal (see SPECIAL TOPIC: FERTILITY WORSHIP OF THE ANE) and figurative.

This incident is so shocking. Israel, with all of YHWH's blessing and presence (cf. Rom. 9:4), turned away so quickly! There is much about this event that is surprising.

  1. it happens suddenly with the mention of a sacrificial meal (Num. 25:2)
  2. it involves Midianite men (Num. 25:6, 14), not Moabite women (Num. 25:1, but note Num 22:4, 7)
  3. two different words for how to put offenders to death (i.e., Num. 25:4, 5)
  4. the execution by judges verses a divine plague (Num. 25:9); the NET Bible, p. 328, suggests that the "leaders" of the tribes who allowed this or participated in it were publicly executed by the Levite judges, but the others involved were killed by the divine plague
  5. Is this related somehow to Balaam? He is put to death by Israel (cf. Num. 31:8,16).

All of this causes one to think this is a composite account.

25:2 This verse clearly states how the social interaction between Israelites and Canaanites was so dangerous to Israel's faith (cf. Deut. 7:1-5). Many, if not most, of the seemingly trivial laws of Moses are directed against any kind of social/religious contact (i.e., food laws, sacrificial, ritual, Sabbath regulations, etc.).

NASB, NKJV, Peshitta  "joined themselves to"
NRSV  "yoked itself"
NJB  "committed to"
JPSOA  "attached itself"
REB  "joined in the worship"
LXX (probably from Herodotus 4.79)  "was initiated to"

The MT has the VERB (BDB 855, KB 1032, Niphal IMPERFECT with waw), which means

  1. in Niphal stem, "to be joined with"
  2. in Pual stem, "to be strapped to" or "yoked to" (same root, different vowels)
  3. in Hiphil stem, "to be harnessed to"

This implies intimate association with (cf. Deut. 4:3; Hos. 9:10). Notice how the text characterizes it.

  1. they ate a sacrificial meal, Num. 25:2
  2. they bowed down to the god, Num. 25:2
  3. they joined themselves to the god, Num. 25:3 (cf. Ps. 106:28)
  4. they were involved in imitation magic, fertility ritual, Num. 25:6, 8

▣ "Baal of Peor" Ba'al was the male storm god of the Canaanite pantheon (see NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 422-428). Han was worshiped by imitation magic (i.e., sexual union) to insure annual agricultural fertility. Ba'al worship was very popular in the ANE (i.e., Deut. 12:2-3; 1 Kgs. 57:3, 5, 7, 8; Jer. 2:20; 3:6; Ezek. 6:13). Every city, village, and locality had its own Ba'al worship site, usually a raised platform with an uplifted stone and a carved/live tree.

25:4-5 Sin and rebellion always have consequences! This public violation of YHWH's laws (i.e., Num. 25:6-9) called for a public judgment. This time it was both.

  1. by the hands of Levitical judges (Num. 25:5)
  2. and by the hand of God (i.e., the plague of Num. 25:9)

There are several commands.

  1. take all the leaders (i.e., those tribal leaders who participated or allowed this event) ‒ BDB 542, KB 534, Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. execute them in broad daylight ‒ BDB 429, KB 431, Hiphil IMPERATIVE; see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE DEATH PENALTY IN ISRAEL
  3. so that YHWH's fierce anger may turn away ‒ BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal JUSSIVE
  4. each judge was to slay his own tribal offenders ‒ BDB 246, KB 255, Qal IMPERATIVE (the number is not stated, but the 24,000 of v. 9 seems high); Num. 25:5 seems to be Moses limiting the execution to offenders only (cf. Jewish Study Bible, p. 335)
NASB, TEV  "execute"
NKJV, RSV (Rashi)  "hang"
NRSV, NJB, JPSOA  "impale"
REB, NJB (Arabic root)  "hurl them down to their death"
LXX  "make an example of them"
Peshitta  "expose them"
Vulgate  "crucify"
Targums  "stone to death and then hang up"

The MT has the VERB (BDB 429, KB 431, Hiphil IMPERATIVE), which means publicly expose (cf. 2 Sam. 21:6, 9, 13), possibly by impaling a dead body with broken legs and arms, possibly from a fall off a cliff (KB, Hiphil stem). The NEB and REB follow the BDB definition.

In Num. 25:5, which is parallel, another VERB (BDB 246, KB 255, Qal IMPERATIVE) is used which, in this context, means "judicial killing by men" at God's command (cf. Exod. 32:27; Lev. 20:15, 16; Deut. 13:10; Ezek. 9:6).

These deaths were to be a public, communal rejection of Ba'al worship among YHWH's people!

It is hard for modern westerners to feel the emotional reactions of ANE people to

  1. an improper burial
  2. public exposure (i.e., Saul in 1 Sam. 31:9-10)

6Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 7When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, 8and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. 9Those who died by the plague were 24,000.

25:6, 8 An Israelite, in the presence of Israel, gathered at the tent of meeting, took a Midianite girl into his tent to participate in Ba'al ritual sex. This must have been a later event than vv. 2-3, but a related event. It shocked the gathered Israelite worshipers.

It is surprising that

  1. this occurs right after Balaam's blessing
  2. the woman is Midianite, not Moabite
  3. the leaders are to kill the offenders, yet in v. 9, it is a "plague" from YHWH

25:6 "while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting" We are not told why the Israelites were "weeping." In the larger context it is probably related to the worship of Ba'al (Num. 25:1-3).

While Israel was repenting of fertility worship, one of them flaunted his union (maritally or ritually) with a pagan woman, within the camp.

NASB, NKJV, NRSV  "into the tent"
NJB, LXX  "the alcove"
JPSOA  "the chamber"
REB  "the nuptial tent"
Peshitta  "the private chamber"
Vulgate  "brothel"

This is not the normal word for "tent" (BDB 13, cf. v. 6). KB 1060 I has several suggestions (word used only here).

  1. inner part of a private tent
  2. a small cultic tent given to rituals

This is either

  1. a violation of idol worship
  2. a marriage to a non-Israelite (cf. Deut. 7:1-5)

It is obvious from the context that this event is separated in time from Num. 25:2-3, but it is surely related to them.

▣ "through the body" This is literally "belly" (BDB 867, KB 1060), which is related to "tent" (BDB 866, KB 1060). They are the same root but different vowels. So, the options are

  1. in the belly (euphemism for genitalia)
  2. in the inner room or cultic room

25:9 "the plague" There are several questions related to this plague. There had been divine plagues before for disobedience. This one may have come because Moses altered YHWH's word about killing the "leaders of the people" in v. 4, to killing just those involved in fertility religion. But this is "contextual speculation."

10Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 11"Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12Therefore say, 'Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.'"

25:11 Phinehas makes a very public obedience to YHWH's command in Num. 25:4-5. He felt and expressed YHWH's anger over this covenant violation.

▣ "jealous" This root (BDB 888, KB 1109; NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 917-939) occurs several times in this context.

  2. NOUN, Num. 25:11 (twice)
  3. VERB, Num. 25:13, Piel PERFECT

This term (BDB 888) is derived from something dyed an intense red (i.e., when anger or zeal caused the blood to flush the face). Human emotions are used to describe YHWH's emotions (anthropomorphism). He is zealous for His people (cf. Isa. 26:11). This zealousness can turn to jealousy (cf. Ezek. 5:13; 16:38, 42; 23:25; 36:5, 6; 38:19; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8).

25:12 "My covenant of peace" This phrase and "an everlasting covenant" are synonymous (cf. Ezek. 37:26).

This symbolism is used several ways.

  1. Noah ‒ Isa. 54:10 (i.e., Gen. 9:8-17)
  2. the Patriarchs ‒ Ps. 105:9-10 (i.e., Gen. 12:1-3)
  3. David ‒ 2 Sam. 23:5; Ps. 89:3, 4, 34; Isa. 55:3 (i.e., 2 Samuel 8)
  4. Israel ‒ Gen. 17:7, 13, 19; Jer. 32:40; Ezek. 34:25
  5. the new covenant of Jer. 31:31-34 ‒ Isa. 59:21 (explained in Ezek. 36:22-36)
  6. a way of referring to "the two ways" ‒ Mal. 2:4-5 (see Deut. 30:15,19; Psalm 1)

Peace was dependent on obedience (see Special Topics: COVENANT and KEEP). The term "eternal" must be interpreted in context. It has a wide semantic field (cf. Num. 25:13; see SPECIAL TOPIC: FOREVER).

25:13 Phinehas' act of devotion to YHWH and His word was counted as a sin offering which "made atonement" (BDB 497, KB 493, Piel IMPERFECT with waw). See SPECIAL TOPIC: ATONEMENT.

This is Hebrew corporality. One act covered the guilt of many acts (i.e., substitutionary atonement, cf. Isaiah 53; Mark 10:45; 2 Cor. 5:21).

14Now the name of the slain man of Israel who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father's household among the Simeonites. 15The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father's household in Midian.

25:14-15 This is very specific, eyewitness documentation. See SPECIAL TOPIC: OT HISTORICAL NARRATIVE.

16Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17"Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; 18for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor."

24:17-18 Surprisingly, these are not IMPERATIVES. Because the Midianites were

  1. hostile ‒ BDB 865 II, KB 1058
  2. tricked ‒ BDB 647 (NOUN)
  3. deceived ‒ BDB 647, KB 699, Piel PERFECT

they must be struck down (BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil PERFECT with waw). The sending of Midian women into the camp of Israel for the purpose of luring them into fertility worship acts was a planned agenda to cause YHWH to judge (i.e., not bless His own people)!


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Is Num. 25:1-5 related directly to Num. 25:6-9? Why or why not?
  2. How are Chemosh and Ba'al related?
  3. Did Moses change YHWH's command about "the leaders"?
  4. Who are "the judges" in Num. 25:5?
  5. How is Midian related to the Moabites?
  6. What is a "covenant of peace"?
  7. How can the death of two sinners make atonement?

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