April 11, 2023

Ep. 45 - Apostasy at the Jordan

Ep. 45 - Apostasy at the Jordan

Num. 25:1-18.  Israel cannot fall by the sword, but they CAN fall by temptation.

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Num. 25:1-18.  Israel cannot fall by the sword, but they CAN fall by temptation.


Last we left our story, the prophet Balaam had failed miserably to curse the Israelites.  Balaam had been desperate for money, and he’d headed to Moab to curse the Israelites…even though God had clearly told him not to.  And after the whole talking donkey thing, God ended up actually allowing Balaam to continue on to Moab…but under one condition – that God would control everything that Balaam said while he was in Moab.  And as it worked out…instead of cursing the Israelites, God caused Balaam to hugely bless the Israelites.  And not just once…but three times.  And after it was all over, an embarrassed Balaam headed back home…super disappointed that he was never going to see that money that he wanted so badly.

But as soon as Balaam got back home, whatever God was doing to control what Balaam said all of a sudden stopped.  And the Bible doesn’t say exactly when, but at some point it seems that Balaam turned around and headed back to Moab.  After everything that he’d been through, Balaam still didn’t want to give up on the money!  (Boy, one thing you can certainly say for Balaam…he was relentless…perhaps a little bit like some kidzos out there.) Now, even though the Moabites had specifically invited Balaam to curse the Israelites (and not for any other reason), Balaam knew that at the end of the day what the Moabites were really hoping for was to get the Israelites off their border.  So, though cursing hadn’t worked (and they already knew that attacking them wouldn’t work), that didn’t mean that something else couldn’t work.  Balaam knew that the key here was God.  God was protecting the Israelites…and as long as God was protecting the Israelites there was nothing that anyone could do to hurt them.  But, Balaam knew a lot about God and about how God worked…Balaam had “insider knowledge” as they say, and Balaam decided that he could somehow use this insider knowledge to find a way to make God give up His special protection of the Israelites.  And one of those “insider knowledge” things that Balaam knew was that God’s special protection entirely depended on the Israelites’ obedience.  And if Balaam could figure out a way to trip up the Israelites and get them to disobey God, then he knew that God’s protection would leave them.  And once that happened, the Moabites would have no problem driving off the Israelites.  So the question was…how could the Moabites get the Israelites to disobey God? 

Well, it seems that Balaam came up with a very sneaky idea. Balaam told the Moabites they needed to find a way to get the Israelites to worship an idol.  You kidzos remember what happened last time the Israelites worshipped an idol, right?  Remember the golden calf?  Remember how that went?  Yah…not well!  And Balaam probably knew this…and by this story Balaam probably suspected that the Israelites would kinda like to worship idols.  But the big questions was… after such a bad experience with the golden calf, how could the Moabites get the Israelites to worship another idol?  Well, this is the sneaky part.  Balaam told the Moabites to send their women into the Israelite camp and tempt the Israelite men to worship idols. 

The idea was that the women would get all dressed up and pretty, and kind of…yah know…“innocently” wander into the camp, and start talking to the men…especially the leaders.  And after getting to know the men, and dazzling the men with their beauty, and flirting with the men, and even sleeping in the same beds as some of the men (which we know from our Joseph episodes we are not supposed to do that unless you are married), at that point they could kinda casually mention…ya know…hey we’re having a really fun party just down the road…why don’t you come?  And if they could get the men to come to the “party”, well…wouldn’t ya know it…it would just so happen that they were sacrificing to idols at this party.  And if they could convince the men to stick around, then…maybe…just maybe they could get the men to not just put up with the idol worship…but to even start worshipping the idols themselves.  And once that happened, God would remove His protection and it would be game over for the Israelites.  It really was a sneaky, evil, devious idea…and the Moabites decided to give it a try.

And unfortunately kidzos, everything happened exactly as Balaam and the Moabites had planned.  The men (and especially the leaders) got real friendly with the Moabite women, began sleeping in the same beds with them, went to the parties with them, and began worshipping one of their idols (Baal happening to be the idol of the day).  And it got to the point where so many of the Israelites were worshipping Baal, that the Bible says that “Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel.” (Numbers 25:3)

And this is where our friend Moses finally joins us again.  It seems that because all the Baal worship parties was happening outside of the camp, that Moses didn’t really notice what was going on until it was too late (which was probably also part of the sneakiness of Balaam’s plan…to do all this somewhere that Moses wouldn’t notice).  By the time Moses got involved, there wasn’t a problem with just a few of the Israelites, idol worship had spread throughout the camp and it was already a national problem…and there was nothing really for Moses to do but wait and see what God was going to do.  And what was God going to do?  Well, unfortunately Balaam wasn’t wrong about how things worked with God’s protection.  Indeed, God could not continue to provide special protection to the Israelites unless they were obedient.  And the Israelites knew full well that worshipping idols was disobeying God.  And so…there seemed to be only one thing that God could do… stop protecting the Israelites and let them face the consequences. 

And what would those consequences be exactly?  Well, for sure the Moabite would have immediate driven the Israelites away from their border…that’s what the whole point of their plan had been.  But then what?  Well, the Israelites were literally surrounded by enemies on all sides.  Once the Moabites would have driven them off, all the other nations would probably smell blood in the water.  And then the Israelites would start getting attacked from all directions.  And with no friends, and with nowhere to run, this would probably be their end.  Millions of people dead…what a waste. 

But wait…maybe there was another option.  If God could find a way to help the Israelites to see how bad their sin was, to confront their idol worship…well maybe they would stop worshipping Baal, and turn back to obeying Him.  It might be hard, and it might not be pretty, and definitely some people were still going to die…but at least then God could keep his special protection on the Israelites and they would survive as a nation.  And so kidzos, which option do you think that God picked?  Option #1…let the Israelites just face the consequences by removing His protection and watch everyone die…or option #2…find a way (no matter how hard) to show the Israelites how bad their sin was so that they might say they were sorry, start obeying again, and then God could keep protecting them and save countless lives.  What do you kidzos think that God did?  That’s right…God picked option #2.

Almost immediately, a plague started going through the Israelite camp.  And then God came to Moses and said, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the LORD, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” (25:4) The Israelite leaders had been the first to start worshipping Baal.  They had lead in the disobedience and also as leaders they were more accountable for what they’d done.  The judges obeyed immediately.  They rounded up the leaders who had worshipped Baal, hung them (which means killed them by putting a rope around their necks, hanging them up in the air, and strangling them…yikes), and then left their bodies out in the sun so that everyone could see.

So, option #2 was quite harsh! But it did serve its purpose and really got the Israelites’ attention.  Once the plague started going through the camp, and once the Israelites noticed the dead bodies of their leaders, the reality of what they had done suddenly hit them.  They had sinned.  They had slept in the same beds as these women.  They had worshipped an idol.  How had this happened?  What had they been thinking?  How could they have made this mistake again?  And almost as one, the Israelites headed to the tabernacle to show how sorry they were.  Many of them were sick from the plague and limped along to the tabernacle door.  Everyone was crying.  It was a sad and somber thing to see…an entire people trying to tell God that they were sorry. 

But not everyone was sorry.  Right in the middle of this sad scene, the Bible says that a man named Zimri from the tribe of Simeon, “came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, whowereweeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting” (25:6)  So right while all the people were crying, right while many of the leaders were being hung out for everyone to see, right while the deadly plague was making it’s way through the camp…this guy Zimri brings this Midianite woman who was not his wife (and for those kidzos really paying attention will notice that she is a Midianite woman and not a Moabite women…which I will explain in a minute), took her into the camp, and right and in front of everyone they went into his tent where they were going to sleep in the same bed together. 

Wow.  It was so brazen.  It was so shocking.  I mean, didn’t this guy know that what he was doing was exactly why all these bad things were happening?  It was so unexpected…that at first no one did anything.  They were probably all looking at each other and saying…what is going on?!  Did I just see what I think I saw?  But this delayed reaction didn’t last very long.  Because this is when a man named Phinehas stepped up.  Phinehas was the son of Eleazar the high priest (and if you kidzos remember, Eleazar was Aaron’s son…so Phinehas would have been Aaron’s grandson) and the Bible says that Phinehas “rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand(a javelin is a type of spear)(8)  and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body.” (25:7-8) So Phinehas, watching what Zimri and the Midianite woman were doing, and realizing just how insensitive it was, and just how much it went against what God was trying to do to help the Israelites…immediately took action.  He got up, grabbed the javelin, went into Zimri’s tent, and seeing them sleeping in the same bed one on top of the other, raised the javelin in the air and stabbed them both through in one strong thrust. Both Zimri and the Midianite woman died right there. 

Wow.  How’s that for bold action!  But, maybe a bit too bold?  Maybe Phinehas took it a little too far?  I mean…priests weren’t just supposed to go around killing people, right?  Well apparently it wasn’t too bold, because the Bible says that right after Phinehas killed the two in their tent that, “the plague was stopped among the children of Israel.” (25:8) Yah…once Phinehas had killed these two, God immediately stopped the plague and the emergency was over for the Israelites.  And not only that, but God also talked to Moses about what Phinehas had done, and said, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. (12)  Therefore say, 'Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; (13)  and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.'” (25:11-13) It was as if God was saying, my man Phinehas gets it.  He saw what I was trying to do to save the Israelites, he understood that many more lives were on the line, and he also understood how just bad Zimri’s actions were.  And without hesitating, he took action.  And while Phinehas’ actions had to be brutal, it was certainly better that than Option #1. 

Now while the emergency was over for the Israelites, it was just beginning for the Midianites.  Now again, kidzos paying close attention will notice that I said Midianites and not Moabites.  Why are we all of a sudden talking about the Midianites all the time?  Well, as it turns out at this time in history, the Moabites and the Midianites were partner nations.  Something like the Medes and the Persians who we will run into later.  They were two separate nations, but they were right next to each other and they cooperated on everything…including this sneaky plan to hurt the Israelites.  And more specifically, it seems that it was the Midianite women who volunteered to carry out the most important and most sneakiest part of the plan…the part of sleeping in the same beds as the Israelite men and tempting them to go to the parties and worship Baal.  (Maybe they did it this way because the Israelites kind of already knew the Midianites…don’t forget that Moses’ wife was a Midianite.) Now despite everything that had happened, the Moabites still could not be attacked because as you kidzos know they were a protected people at this time…but this was not the case for Midian.  Midian could be attacked.  And God said to Moses, “Harass the Midianites, and attack them; (18)  for they harassed you with their schemes by which they seduced you in the matter of Peor.”  (25:17-18) The Midianites would not get away with what they had done.

And the Israelites obeyed immediately.  The Bible says that, “Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand.” (31:6) Phinehas himself led the 12,000-man army to Midian, where they soundly defeated the Midianites.  Sadly, many Midianites paid the price for their sneaky plans.  And the Bible says that, “they slew the kings of Midian, beside the rest of them that were slain; namely, Evi, and Rekem, and Zur, and Hur, and Reba, five kings of Midian.” (31:8) And while normally the Israelites would spare the women, in this particular case, because the women had been such a big part of this sneaky plan, they too had to pay the price.  And sadly many Midianite women also died.  And not only that, do you kidzos remember Balaam?  Well the Bible says that, “Balaam also the son of Beor they slew with the sword.” (31:8) Other than the Moabites, everyone paid the price for their part in the sneaky plan to hurt the Israelites.  Even Balaam, the once great prophet of God.

So kidzos, what can we learn from this story?  Well, I know that many of the lessons we draw in Papa’s Bible Stories talk about obedience.  It’s just that it is is such an important lesson for young kidzos to learn…and we’re going to talk about it again here.  Something to really take to heart from this story is that God’s protection of the Israelites entirely depended on their obedience.  You know the Israelites were literally surrounded on all sides by enemies…really no one wanted them to be there…and at any moment they would have loved to wipe them out.  And it was only because of God’s special protection that they were able to be there and still survive.  And it’s the same thing with each of us kidzos.  There is a special protection that God gives us when we are obedient to his Word.  When we are obedient, we are able to do things and be in places that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.  This is why, like Balaam, the devil is always trying to find sneaky ways to trip us up and get us to disobey.  But, if we stick with God’s word, and we remain obedient, and we are sure to say sorry when we get tripped up, God will continue to provide us with his special protection…just like the Israelites.