The Saboteur

Some say he was a sorcerer. Others, a truth-speaking prophet. Regardless, he was an infamous saboteur.

His subterfuge began when the king of one nation “was terrified because there were so many people” (Numbers 22:3 NIV) camped nearby.  Fearing that “this horde is going to lick up everything around us” (Numbers 22:4 NIV), King Balak of Moab made a pact with another nation to put an end to this situation. They agreed on the person they needed to put their plan in action.

A delegation from both Moab and Midian traveled 400 miles to tantalize Balaam with prestige and wealth if he would do just one thing for them. If he would put a curse on the Israelites, they could take it from there.

When Balaam sent them packing, a larger delegation of higher-ranking officials came. That time Balaam mounted his donkey and went to meet with King Balak, who dangled in front of him the promise of a hefty reward.

With the king directing him when and where, Balaam set out three times to claim the bribe. The result was always the same: a blessing instead of a curse.

Defending himself to the king, Balaam said, “I must speak only what God puts in my mouth” (Numbers 22:38 NIV). That didn’t mean, though, that they both couldn’t get what they were after.

Balaam knew a surefire way that would cause God to curse these people—His chosen people. He “taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14 NIV). Consumed with greed, Balaam sold out the Israelites. It worked.

God cursed the Israelites with a plague, and “those who died in the plague numbered 24,000” (Numbers 25:9 NIV). Before those deaths, however, God had told Moses to “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” (Numbers 25:4 NIV).

God’s punishment started at the top. Leaders had the power and duty to prevent the sinful behavior. Instead, they shirked their moral responsibility and even took part in the sinning. Could we say they led a rebellion against God?

A public execution. A smiting plague. And God was not through.

Because “they were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord” (Numbers 31:16 NIV), God told Moses to “treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them” (Numbers 25:16-17 NIV).  During that conflict, “They also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword” (Numbers 31:8 NIV). Thus, the saboteur got his reward.

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The Murderer-Priest

The high priest’s son wondered about those woeful souls huddled in front of the worship center. Weeping and wailing, moaning and groaning. Was it because the punishing plague had already killed 24,000 of their congregation? Or were they distraught because they were scared to death they would be next? Or could it possibly be they were crying over their shameless sinning?

How could they here—here at our last stop before crossing into the promised land do this? How could they blatantly break God’s first commandment: You shall have no other gods before Me?

Why did they let themselves be seduced into idol worship? Its sacrificial feasts? Its fertility rites? Its debauchery?

And why now? Now at the threshold of a new beginning? Hadn’t they learned anything while wandering in the wilderness for forty years? No way could they have forgotten God’s warning: “For you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 NASB).

Look at that! There’s Zimri brazenly bringing his pagan princess into our camp! Right in front of our very eyes! And him a prince in the Simeon tribe! What a spectacle! Every step he takes is saying to the Almighty God, “In your face.” Of all the gall!

Phinehas felt as if a sword had pierced his heart. How dare they trash the holiness of God! Setting his jaw, he grabbed a spear and “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” (Numbers 25:8 NASB).

God had something to say about this murderer, and he said it to Moses:

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. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and 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’ (Numbers 25:11-13 NASB).

Phinehas committed murder that, according to the Word of God, “was reckoned to him for righteousness, To all generations forever” (Psalm 106:31 NASB).

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