Introduction: Satan was unsuccessful in his efforts to defeat the Jews on the battlefield. When God was with the Jews, no enemy could defeat them. Satan then tried to have the Jews destroy themselves through sexual temptation. When the Jews rested from battles and wandering, they let their guard down, and Satan succeeded in his efforts to tempt the Jews with Canaanite idol-worshiping women. From the Jews’ mistakes, God reveals important lessons for you when you are confronted with sexual temptation. Sexual temptation often arises when times are good and your defenses are down. Small sins lead to larger sins. Ultimately, the pleasure fades, and you are left in bondage and misery.
Beware of the doctrine of Balaam. Although God prevented Balaam from cursing Israel (Nu. 23-24), Balaam wanted to earn the pay that Balak offered him (Nu. 22:17). Balaam previously called God “Yahwah.” (Nu. 22:12). At one point, he even longed to be like the “righteous one” who would die (Nu. 23:10). Yet, Balaam’s greed for money outweighed his desire to be like the Messiah (2 Pet. 2:15). He also knew that the Moabites were too afraid to fight the Jews directly in battle (Nu. 22:3). He further knew that God was protecting His people (Nu. 23:8). Just like the devil, Balaam knew that the only way God’s people could be destroyed was if they voluntarily broke His Law. Having them join with temple prostitutes was one law he figured he could induce them to break (Ex. 34:14-15; Dt. 23:17; Jdgs. 2:17; 1 Kgs. 14:22-24). Thus, he came up with a plan to have the Jews defile themselves with the Moabite and Midianite woman, who together formed an alliance against Israel (Nu. 22:4). He instructed Balak to send his most attractive women to invite the Jewish men to Moabite banquets (Nu. 31:16). The women then seduced the men through acts of temple prostitution. The men would have had free sex with the prostitutes in exchange for their agreement to first eat foods sacrificed to Baal of Peor, the Canaanite fertility god, and then to worship him. Jesus later condemned the church of Pergamum for leading believers into the same kind of sin: “you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” (Rev. 2:14). Pergamum symbolized the union of the church and the world. Today, the church has stayed silent while television, movies, magazines, and online entertainment glorify acts of sexual immorality. This has caused the rates of divorce, pre-marital sex, adultery, sexually transmitted diseases, and depression to explode. At the same time, the marriage rate and the rate of church attendance continues to drop. Are your eyes open to Balaam’s doctrine in the Church and across society?
Sexual temptation comes when times are good. The Jews dwelt at a place called “Shittim” in the country of Moab (Nu. 25:1). They stayed at this place until Joshua led them from there into the Promised Land (Nu. 33:49; Josh. 2:1). In Hebrew, Shittim means “a grove of acacia trees”. Thus, the Jews had an easy life in this place. They also had lots of time on their hands. The Bible does not mention any sexual seduction while the Jews struggled through their 40-year journey in the wilderness. Besides Joseph, there also is no mention of any sexual seduction during their 400 years of Egyptian captivity. This was by God’s design. The Egyptians considered the Jews to be “loathsome.” (Ex. 43:32; 46:34). The Jews’ temptation was instead in turning to idols. It was only after they found comfort that they succumbed to sexual temptation “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to commit infidelity with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel became followers of Baal of Peor, and the Lord was angry with Israel.” (Nu. 25:1-3). If everything is good in your life, it is easy to let your guard down. For example, studies show that the most common thing to happen to couples who win the lottery is to get divorced. Satan has also used sexual temptation to seduce Americans who are successful and comfortable. Has your wealth or comfort caused you to drop your guard? Are you using your money and free time to feed your flesh or the Spirit? Do you find more joy reading popular culture magazines and stories of debauchery or the teachings of the Bible?
God’s people openly took Moabite harlots1
The road to bondage begins with small steps. The Jews did not seek out to worship the Canaanite fertility god Baal of Peor. They might have first eaten sacrificed foods as an act of respect toward their hosts. With alcohol, they might have then been enticed by attractive Moabite women to engage in acts of free temple prostitution. Once they were hooked, the prostitutes likely told the men that they could have more free sex and increase their chances of fertility at home by praying to Baal of Peor. The Jews might have not thought about their slow descent into sin. Or, they might have tried to reason their actions by claiming that they still worshiped their God while also asking Baal for fertility help. But this violated the first of God’s Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:3). Most people with serious addictions get there through multiple small steps. For example, marijuana is claimed by many to be harmless. Yet, in addition to being addictive, it is a “gateway drug” to more serious addictions. Pornography is likewise claimed by some to be harmless. Yet, in addition to being addictive, it is also a gateway to more serious sins like premarital sex, fornication, and adultery. This in turn leads to divorce and misery for entire families. Thus, one sin leads to another. Are you willing to “. . .put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts”? (Rom 13:14). Have you entertained small sins believing that they are no big deal in your life?
Set a hedge of protection around you. The Jews “dwelt” at Shittim for many months (Nu. 25:1). Their seduction would have started off slow and appeared innocent at first. King Balak might have sent peace envoys to greet their Jewish cousins (The Moabites were the descendants of Lot and his daughter) (Gen. 19:30-38). Balak might have invited the warrior men to a banquet with lots of alcohol and with attractive prostitutes assigned to seduce each man. At any step in this process, the Jews could have said no. More importantly, this all implies that the Jewish leaders set no boundaries on what the men could do with the Moabites. Before God allowed Satan to test Job, Satan complained that Job had God’s “hedge about him…” (Job 1:10). Are there “hedges” protecting what you and your kids watch or do? Do you have boundaries on who you e-mail or who you meet with? Do you drink alcohol in the wrong settings where your hedges might be lowered? Do you set boundaries for your kids? If not, should it be any surprise if you or your kids become seduced by the temptations of the world?
Flee sexual temptations. The Jews might have felt pride that they would not be tempted by foreign women. Although they had engaged in every other kind of sin before God, this was not one of them. Thus, they might have seen no threat in hanging out with Moabite women. God will not place you in a place beyond your ability to resist the temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). Yet, just as Joseph fled when Potiphar’s wife tempted him (Gen. 39:12), you are commanded to “flee” sexual temptation (2 Tim. 2:22). After the sin of Adam and Eve, our sexual desires became distorted (Gen. 3:15-16; Rom. 8:20). God knows that you are most likely destined for bondage if you try to reason with temptation. Before God gave the Ten Commandments, He declared: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex. 20:2). His rules are meant to protect you from bondage. Through Jesus’ death, your body has been bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). You are now His servant (Lev. 25:55). If you were once a slave to sin, you are now a slave to righteousness (Ro. 6:17-18). Are you “fleeing” sexual temptation? (2 Tim. 2:22). Or, are you hanging out with people in the wrong places where you might be led into bondage?
Live in the world but not of the world. The Jews might have felt it rude not to attend the Moabite rituals. They were guests in a foreign land. Yet, before describing God’s rules for sexual morality, He specifically warned the Jews not to do what people did in Canaan, a place filled with temple prostitution (Lev. 18:1; Ezek. 20:18-19). He also warned the Jews to only follow God’s Law (Lev. 18:1). When the Jews later invaded Canaan, Joshua was ordered not to let the locals stay because God knew that His people were too weak to avoid temptation (Josh. 10:40). God says that His ways and His thoughts are not ours (Isa. 55:8). He also does not change or evolve (Heb. 13:8). Popular culture will always conflict with the Word because the devil controls it as the ruler of this world. Thus, Paul was also forced to confront the early Christians when they ate food offered to idols (1 Cor. 8:7). Under God’s Law, even a lustful look at another person is an act of adultery (Matt. 5:27-28). Thus, believers cannot look to popular culture or what is politically correct for guidance on what sexual conduct is appropriate. God’s laws about sexual morality are unpopular. Are you ashamed to defend them to nonbelievers? (Ro. 1:16). If schools try to teach sexual values to your kids that are contrary to the Word, are you protecting your kids?
If you love the world’s standards, God’s love is not in you. To the Jews, the Moabite celebrations and their women would have seemed a welcome diversion after nearly forty years marching through the desert. Yet, “the lust of the flesh . .. is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 Jo. 2:16). These lusts include “immorality, impurity, sensuality.” (Gal. 5:24). If anyone loves these “things of the world,” “the love for the Father is not in him.” (1 Jo. 2:15). Even Solomon, the wisest man alive and the author of most of the proverbs, loved the women of the world around him. He gave in to the lusts of the flesh and strayed from God by taking 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Ki. 11:1-8). Lust also frequently brings down powerful politicians, leaders, sports heroes, and actors. Do you love popular culture shows that glorify sexually immoral things? Or, do they disgust you?
The laws of sexual purity apply with even greater force today. Many Christians believe that the laws of the Old Testament no longer apply, particularly those in the book of Leviticus and Numbers. People reason that if we no longer need to make blood sacrifices or follow the Kosher laws, why should we have to follow the sexual purity laws? Yet, Christ did not come to destroy the Law (Matt. 5:17-19). He also warned that “sexual impurities” were among the things that defiled a person (Matt. 15:19-20; Mk. 7:20-23). Of the few laws that Christians are told that they still need to follow, the laws against sexual immorality are among them. We are warned to avoid “food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (Acts 15:20). After the Temple was destroyed, the Holy Spirit resides in us (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Thus, Paul warns: “Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one with her?” (1 Cor. 6:16). Have you kept your body holy for the Spirit? When was the last time you repented to cleanse your body of sin?
Sin spreads when left unchecked. What must have started with a few men quickly spread. By comparing the numbers who of people died in God’s plague (Nu. 25:9) with the number killed by God’s judges for being directly involved: “4 And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.’ 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you kill his men who have become followers of Baal of Peor.”’ (Nu. 25:4-5), we learn that a thousand men engaged directly in temple prostitution (compare Nu. 25:9- “24,000” with 1 Cor. 10:8-“23,000”). Yeast is a symbol of sin in the Bible because it is one of the fastest growing microorganisms (Gal. 5:9; 1 Cor 5:6-8). “One who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. . . .” (Gal. 6:8). We are to make our bodies a living sacrifice free from immorality and corruption (Ro. 12:1; 1 Cor. 6:15). If there is sin in any portion of your life that you entertain or leave unchecked, do you have any reason to doubt that it will spread? Likewise, it is any wonder why sexual sin has spread across society if the Church fails to speak out?
God progressively disciplines His children. Because He is righteous, God must judge sin. Yet, He gives us multiple chances to repent. Moreover, He uses progressive discipline to change our behavior. The first six times that the Jews rebelled or murmured against God in the wilderness, He did not punish them at all. On the seventh occasion when the Jews worshiped the golden calf, He punished them by killing 3,000 idolaters (Ex. 32:26-28). After the twelfth rebellion following Korah’s death, He killed 14,700 rebels (Nu. 16:49). At Shittim, He killed 24,000 men (Nu. 25:9). Sadly, the Jews caused more damage to themselves than their enemies could ever do to them on the battlefield. Satan has no power over you unless you turn away from God’s Word and embrace sin. Is God trying to get your attention by disciplining you? Are you ignoring the small irritations that He uses to change your behavior? Are you forcing Him to use more serious discipline to stop your sins?
You cannot be God’s instrument of justice unless you are purified of sin. God previously warned that He would punish the people of Canaan for their immoral sexual practices (Lev. 18:24-29). Their curse dated back to the curse against Noah’s son Ham (Gen. 9:24-25). The Jews also knew that they were to be the instruments of God’s justice. God told Abraham of His coming judgment against the Amalekites after the Jews completed 400 years of captivity (Gen. 15:16). He planned to use His appointed judges to execute His vengeance against sin (Ro. 13:3). Yet, He could not have His people be the instruments of His divine justice if the people were engaged in the sin that they were to judge. Thus, He commanded that the “judges of Israel” execute the leaders of this sin in “broad daylight.” (Nu. 25:4). The Jewish commentator Rashi said that these men were to be stoned with their bodies left exposed to rot in the sun. The other men who had joined with the Midianite women were also to be killed: “6 Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” (Nu. 25:6). Phinehas, the son Eleazar, was acting as an appointed judge when he killed the man who openly brought a temple harlot home for all to see “7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, 8 and he went after the man of Israel into the inner room of the tent and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman, through the abdomen. So the plague on the sons of Israel was brought to a halt. 9 But those who died from the plague were twenty-four thousand in number.” (Nu. 25:7-9). God punished these men who embraced their flesh “[b]ecause the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God . . .” (Ro. 8:7). “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Ro. 8:8). For “. . flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 15:50). “For the mind set on the flesh is death . . ” (Ro. 8:6). Thus, “[i]f you live according to the flesh, you must die. . . ” (Ro. 8:13). You must therefore repent and be purified of your sins so that God can use you. If the Church is filled with hypocrisy, will anyone listen when we preach against the sins of the world? Is your voice compromised?
Phinehas confronts a man who openly takes a harlot2
Phinehas foreshadowed Christ. God commended Phinehas for his zeal in aggressively rooting out sin by slaying the Jewish man Zimri and the Midianite cult prostitute Cozbi “10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 11 ‘Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has averted 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. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I am giving him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and for his descendants after him, a covenant of a permanent priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’ 14 Now the name of the dead man of Israel who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s household among the Simeonites. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s household in Midian. 16 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 ‘Be hostile to the Midianites and attack them; 18 for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the matter of Peor and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was killed on the day of the plague because of Peor.” (Nu. 25:10-18). Phinehas was not a vigilante engaged an “honor killing.” He was instead an appointed “judge” (Nu. 25:5) given authority to judge sin (Ro. 13:3). He was later remembered as a hero amongst those who resisted foreign conquerors and their influences (Ecc. 45:23-24; 1 Maccabees 2:26). After Eleazar’s death, the office of the priesthood would be led first by him and then led by his descendants (1 Chr. 6:4-15). Phinehas foreshadowed Christ. Like Phinehas, Christ was zealous in seeking to save God’s people from sin. He was so zealous that he gave His own life so that we might live (Jo. 3:16). One day, like Phinehas, Jesus will also judge the enemies of God (Is. 11:4; Rev. 9:6). Like Phinehas, Christ became our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-15). Like Phinehas, He was given an “everlasting covenant” (Matt. 26:28; 2 Cor. 3:5-6; Heb. 7:22; 8:6-10; 12:24). Knowing that the Messiah will come with the same vengeance as Phinehas, are you warming nonbelievers?
Be a Phinehas against sin in society. Phinehas’s name had an Egyptian origin. Some believe that it meant “black” in Egyptian. Ironically, he would become the hero of the Jews in purging ungodly influences. His name suggests that you can come from a dark background but still be champions of purity within the Church. In other words, if you have engaged in sexual sin in the past and repent of it, you too can be a hero of the faith in fighting for purity within the Church. Will you be like the Jewish leaders who stood by and watched as men defiled themselves on the edge of the Promised Land? Or, will you be like Phinehas and zealously seek to keep God’s Church pure of worldly influences? Phinehas proved that even one person acting alone can make a difference. Every believer has been given the gift of intercessory prayer. You also have a mouth to speak God’s truth. Are you doing either?
Be a Phinehas toward sin in your own life. God told the Jews to be holy and to draw a distinction between the clean and the unclean because He is holy (Lev. 11:44-7). Jesus said that the consequence of sin in your own life is so severe that you would be better to cut out an eye, an arm, or a leg if it causes you to sin (Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8; Mk. 9:43-45). Jesus warns that “if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” (Matt. 6:23). Like Phinehas, will you cut off the entertainment and other things in your life if they fill your eyes with darkness?
Christ offers you the covenant of peace if you repent. In addition to the perpetual priesthood covenant, God offered Phinehas a “convent of peace.” (Nu. 25:12). We are God’s priests (2 Pet. 2:5, 9). He also offers you the covenant of peace through Jesus (Isa. 54:10; Mal. 2:4-5; Phil. 4:7). He delivered the Jews from slavery in Egypt (Ex. 20:2). He can also deliver any person from any type of bondage (Phil. 4:13). He is not just the God of the Spirit, He is also “the God of the flesh.” (Jer. 32:27; Jo. 17:2). He made you a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). He can also wash your flesh of any iniquity or bondage (Ps. 51:1-3, 7). You must first read the Word to know your sins (Eph. 5:26). If you confess and repent of “unrighteousness,” God is faithful to forgive you (1 Jo. 1:9; Jo. 15:3; 1 Cor. 6:11). You must then renew your mind every day (Ro. 12:1-2). Is there unconfessed sin in your life?