Toward the end of this story we discover Balaam’s plan which entangled the Israelites in sexual sin and idolatry – “But I have a few things against you; you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14). Balaam knew he couldn’t curse the Israelites, so he came up with another plan to make them stumble by sending the women of Moab out to the Israelites’ camp. The women lured the men into idolatry and sexual sin.
The children of Israel were clueless to all that the Lord was doing behind the scenes on their behalf. They had no knowledge that over and over and over again, the Lord was protecting them from being cursed by their enemies. So instead of trusting the Lord and walking by faith, the Israelites made a terrible decision based on their sight of the beautiful and manipulative women, which never goes well.
Therefore, “the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel.” He said to the leaders, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor.” Phinehas, Aaron’s grandson, shoves a javelin through a Midianite woman, Cozi, and an Israelite leader, Zimri, who were flaunting their harlotry in the sight of all the congregation in a tent near the tabernacle. Phinehas’ action ends the plague that the Lord sent upon the people and the Lord rewards Phinehas’ zeal with an everlasting priesthood to him and his descendants.
After the plague, the Lord instructs Moses and Aaron’s son Eleazar to take another census of the men age twenty and over who are eligible for war. The first census, in the beginning of the book of Numbers, totaled in 603,550 men. We see today, toward the end of the book of Numbers, about thirty eight years later, 601,730 men are counted. The Lord is faithful and has replaced the first generation of unbelieving Israelites, who did not take the promised land in the beginning of this wilderness journey, with a whole new generation who will take the promised land by faith. God is keeping His promise to Abraham that He would make a great nation out of his descendants and He would give them the land of Canaan – “Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:8).
Tomorrow the Lord replaces Moses with a new leader who will lead the people into the promised land. Keep reading. (Numbers 25:1-26:65)