All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Balaam’s “Success”

Israel is camped on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan from Jericho at Shittim, which literally means “acacia trees.” This is the staging area for the conquest of Canaan.

The Final Rebellion

The time is the end of the forty years of Israel’s wilderness wanderings, and the issue is their tenth and final rebellion. All the previous rebellions in Numbers have involved murmurings against the Lord,

Moses, and Aaron. The Israelites have repeatedly provoked the Lord by complaining about food, water, and by not believing the Lord would lead them into Canaan. However, in Numbers 25, their rebellion is unique because it involves the worship of a pagan deity—echoing the worship of the golden calf.

In Numbers 31, the Bible indicates that the rebellion instigator is Balaam, whom king Balak of Moab hired to curse Israel. After failing to curse them three times, (and blessing them, instead) he had made the approximate 400-mile journey home. But now, apparently still seeking riches, he returns with the idea of using the women of Moab to lure the Israelites into immorality, and then invite them to participate in a festival of Baal worship!


Our story begins unfolding with the people committing harlotry with the Moabite women. In the ancient Near Eastern context, references to sexual imagery, as this story describes, link this immorality with pagan religious rites of prostitution. Normally the Hebrew verb for committing harlotry is applied to women, but here it is applied to men.

Next, the Moabite women invite the Israelite men to their pagan sacrifices. They participate by eating the sacrificial meal, and even bow down to worship Baal, proclaiming that they are now followers!

The Lord’s grace is finally spent, and He tells Moses to take the leaders involved in Baal worship and execute them. They’re probably hung before the Lord at the tabernacle as a deterrent, so the fierce anger of the Lord (literally, the “reddening of His nose”) may be turned away.


As an act of highest arrogance, a prince of the tribe of Simeon named Zimri strides into the camp with Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite chieftain. He parades her around in deep disrespect before Moses, the congregation, and as an affront to the Lord.

Suddenly, Aaron’s grandson, Phinehas, takes a javelin and pursues Zimri into his tent, where he impales them both.

This act stops a plague that meanwhile has broken out among the congregation and killed 24,000 men. The number of casualties indicates the seriousness of the sin, because it far exceeds any numbers of those who have perished from divine retribution during their wilderness journey.

Israel’s final rebellion completes the death of the old generation that would not enter Canaan at the time of the twelve spies. It is the final object lesson for the new generation of those who were twenty or younger when their parents refused to enter the Promised Land. They are to avoid a mixed religion that combines the worship of Yahweh with that of a pagan god.

It is interesting to note that Numbers begins with a census, but now a new one is recorded in the very next chapter. Divine judgment has been fulfilled upon the unbelieving generation.

Final Defeat

Balaam thinks that the great success of his plot to curse Israel through heathen women and the worship of Baal will bring him high rewards. However, his great “success” only brings him final defeat, since the Midianite plot is a declaration of war on Israel and on God!

To show His justice, and to protect His people, the Lord instructs them to kill all the Midianite men—and Balaam dies with them.

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