Living in Shittim with the Daughters and Gods of Moab

In Genesis, we read the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and wonder, “Why in the world did our first parents eat from the forbidden tree?”

In Exodus, we read of God and his ancient rules for worship and wonder, “Why in the world did Nadab and Abihu play with forbidden fire?”

Now, in Numbers, we read about Israel in Shittim and wonder, “Why in the world did God’s Chosen People play the daughters of Moab and the gods of Peor?”

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. And the Lord said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’ ”  …  And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor ….”    (Numbers 25:1-18)

Friends, is it not true that sexual deviancycultural idolatry, and spiritual dullness still harm the believing community today?

Sexual Deviancy

Like Israel, we are tempted “to whore” in many different ways. We are tempted to lust after those who are not our spouses before marriage, during marriage, and after marriage. We find ourselves eager to be sexy, then we play the role of immodest seducers desiring to snag the eye, heart, affections, and body of someone other than our husband or wife. We prove our depravity by engaging in pornography with the mind, eye, ear, and mouth. And even when we muscle through  temptation and do not externally give in to the temptations about us, our evil flesh still pants for that forbidden by God. Too often, we use sex as a tool of manipulation. And most often, we see it is a practice of self-worship instead of an opportunity to serve our most-intimate neighbor and honor our holy God. Yes, we are all sexual deviants, whether it be of the homosexual or heterosexual brand. Sexual sins of omission and commission are ours, and God hates our sexual deviancy.

Cultural Idolatry

In addition, like Israel, we are tempted to sacrifice and worship to the pagan gods of our neighbors. We are too interested in the god of hedonism; it if feels good, we have a tendency to partake whether or not it is allowable or best. We also serve and worship materialism; bigger, better, newer, and more are what we long for. Rarely are we content or satisfied with the current provision granted to us. Constantly, we are tempted to worship the God of societal tolerance. We are instructed to keep step with society and not rock the boat by expressing our understanding of God’s objective standards, and so we keep quiet because we do not wish to be viewed as prudish, old-fashioned, prejudiced, bigoted, unlearned, and puritanical buffoons.

Spiritual Dullness

And like many in Israel, we are tempted to dismiss the “fierce anger” of the Lord and the opportunity granted to repent and enjoy reconciliation. Brazen was Israel in their sin. And especially dull and brazen was Zimri who “came and brought a Midianite woman (Cozbi) to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting.” (Num. 25:6) We prove to have too low a view of:

  • God
  • God’s Love
  • God’s Good Law
  • Our Wicked Hearts and Transgressions
  • God’s Hatred for Sin
  • Our Deserved Curse
  • Our Possible and Likely Consequences

Israel had Moses, Aaron, the judges, and a priest named Phinehas. These representatives of God saw the sin, heard the wrathful condemnation and command, obeyed and arrested all the chiefs of the people, and hung them in the sun. And then Phinehas put a spear through the bodies of one publically brazen fornicating couple. In doing so, God’s representatives satisfied the wrath of God and stopped the plague being poured out upon the rebellious community. God proved to be pleased with the condemnatory justice poured out by his earthly mediators.

Good News

We have a better prophet than Moses and a better priest than Phinehas.

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We have Jesus Christ. He saw our sin. He too was jealous with God’s jealousy. Then, he went to work. However, our priest did not hang us in the sun before the watching congregation, and our priest did not spear us through in the midst of our sin. No, instead, our priest hung himself in the sun on a wooden cross for our deviancy and idolatry. And our priest allowed himself to be speared for our brazen spiritual dullness.

And through his priestly work, he turned back God’s wrath and fierce anger forever. Jesus Christ mediated between God and us that God might not consume us in his jealousy and treat us as our sins deserve. And because of Christ’s priestly performance, the just plague of God has been turned back forever.

And he is not finished yet. He is engaged in a holy war against sin as he hears the Father say, “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor ….”    (Num. 25:16-18)  Jesus Christ has the world, the flesh, and the devil in his crosshairs. He hates them, and he will take them down. They haven’t a chance before Christ and his victorious church.

Therefore …

Let us repent and have a high view of:

  • God
  • God’s Love
  • God’s Good Law
  • Our Wicked Hearts and Transgressions
  • God’s Hatred for Sin
  • Our Deserved Curse
  • Our Possible and Likely Consequences

But then, let us have a higher view of Jesus. We are so loved and atoned for. We are so justified and pardoned. We are so blameless and holy in the sight of God. And we are so free from having to live in Shittim with the daughters and gods of Moab. We don’t have to live this way and reap the hard consequences of a Shittim life. For freedom, Christ has set us free. So repent, again, and walk in the Law and love of your Great High Priest. He took your beating so he could be your blessing. Now repent, again, and be further blessed.

 

 


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