Reading through the Bible together
Though Balaam’s plans were defeated (as we saw in yesterday’s chapter), he rallied and came up with other plans. “Left to his greed, he was ready to resort to any means to gain the reward promised by Balak” (PP 451). He knew that the prosperity of Israel depended on their obedience to God. Therefore, he returned to Balak with a plan to entice Israel into idolatry by engaging them in the licentious worship of Baal. This pagan worship was linked to immoral, sexual acts, and appealed to the baser carnal nature. Harlots were sent to infiltrate the camp and did so with much success. Their indulgence of sin did for Israel what the enchantments of Balaam could not do—it separated them from God. As a result, a terrible pestilence broke out in the camp, and thousands died from the plague. This swift judgment from God caused the people to awaken to the enormity of their sin. God commanded that the leaders in the rebellion be put to death. This was carried out, and while the people were weeping before God at the door of the tabernacle, Zimri, one of the nobles of Israel, walked boldly into the camp with a harlot and took her into his tent. It was an act of open defiance. He could have done his evil deed anywhere else, but chose to defy God in the camp for all to see. Only the swift action of Phinehas stopped the plague and saved the people from further destruction.
Many great men of God (and yes, women) have stumbled throughout history on the sin of lust, some with life-altering consequences: Samson, David, Solomon, and the list goes on today. Like Israel of old, the enormity of their sin is not always fully understood, and often excused.
The destruction of the Moabites was not the destruction of misguided bystanders. They had actively participated in a plan to undermine the relationship of the Israelites’ with God. Balaam, who witnessed the success of his diabolical scheme, did not escape divine justice. He must have realized his end was near when he said, “Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his!” (Numbers 23:10). But it was not to be. He had not chosen to live the life of the righteous, and in the war of Israel against the Midianites, Balaam was slain (Numbers 31:8). May we guard our hearts from the sin of lust and greed every day by staying close to Jesus.
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