THE ISRAELITES’ time in the wilderness is drawing to a close. Today, we discuss instructions from Yahweh to Moses about vows to the Lord, the military operation against the Midianites (which resulted in the death of the prophet-for-hire, Balaam son of Beor), and the decision of the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh to take their inheritance east of the Jordan River rather than in the land of Canaan.
JUST AS Israel seemed to be on a spiritual high, the people found a way to squander the blessings of God. Again.
Last week, we looked at the effort of Balak, king of Moab, to curse the Israelites through Balaam, a pagan prophet-for-hire. Instead, Yahweh pronounced three blessings on Israel. But before Balaam left, he apparently counseled Balak on ways to entice the Israelites to curse themselves, which led the Israelites “to whore with the daughters of Moab.”
The Israelites began to worship Baal of Peor, whose rites were apparently sexual. This provoked the wrath of Yahweh, who sent a plague that killed 24,000.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Zimri, a prince from the tribe of Simeon, brought a princess from Midian into the camp and had relations with her–possibly inside the Tent of Meeting itself. (Remember, Baal was a fertility god.) Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, grabbed a spear and killed the couple in the act, which turned back God’s wrath.
This is an incident identified by skeptics as proof of the murderous nature of Yahweh. That shows only that they don’t understand the spiritual war being fought by the rebellious bene elohim or the high stakes involved–no pun intended.