Beginning of the End


How Balaam Led Israel into Sin

This chapter is based on Numbers 25.

With renewed faith in God the victorious armies of Israel returned from Bashan and were confident of conquering Canaan immediately. Only the Jordan river stood between them and the Promised Land. Just across the river was a rich plain watered with streams and shaded by fruitful palm trees. On the western border rose the towers and palaces of Jericho, “the city of palm trees.” BOE 224.1

On the eastern side of Jordan was a plain several miles wide and extending some distance along the river. This sheltered valley had a tropical climate. The Israelites camped here and found a good resting place in the acacia groves. BOE 224.2

But in the middle of these beautiful surroundings they were to encounter an evil more deadly than hosts of armed men or wild beasts of the wilderness. That country, rich in nature’s beauty, had been spoiled by its inhabitants. In the public worship of Baal, the most shameful scenes were acted out. All around them were places known for idolatry and sexual immorality. Even the names suggested corruption. BOE 224.3

The Israelites’ minds became familiar with the degrading thoughts constantly suggested. Their life of ease produced its demoralizing effect, and almost unconsciously they were departing from God into a condition where they would easily fall to temptation. BOE 224.4

During the time of their camping beside the Jordan river, Moses was preparing for the occupation of Canaan. The great leader was fully employed in this work, but this time of suspense was very difficult for the people. Before many weeks had passed their history was marred by frightful departures from virtue and integrity. BOE 224.5

Midianite women began quietly entering the camp. These women planned to seduce the Hebrews into violating the law of God and to lead them into idolatry. They hid these motives very carefully under the cloak of friendship. BOE 224.6

At Balaam’s suggestion, the king of Moab declared a grand festival in honor of their gods. It was secretly arranged that Balaam should persuade the Israelites to attend. They regarded him as a prophet of God, and it was easy for him to accomplish his goal. Great numbers of the people joined him in by going to the festivities. Drawn in with music and dancing, and charmed by the beauty of the women dedicated to heathen worship, they cast off their loyalty to the true God. Wine clouded their senses and broke down the barriers of self-control. Having defiled their consciences by indecent acts, they were persuaded to bow down to idols. They offered sacrifices on heathen altars and participated in degrading rites. BOE 224.7

The poison spread like a deadly infection through the camp of Israel. Those who would have conquered in battle were overcome by the tricky temptations of women. The people seemed to have lost their judgment. The rulers and leading men were among the first to sin, and so many of the people were guilty that the apostasy became national. “Israel was joined to Baal of Peor.” When Moses became aware of the evil, not only were the Israelites participating in the sensuous worship at Mount Peor, but the heathen rites were carried on in the camp of Israel. The aged leader was filled with indignation, and the wrath of God was kindled. BOE 225.1

Their evil practices did to Israel what all the magic spells of Balaam could not do—they separated them from God. A terrible plague broke out in the camp, in which tens of thousands died. God commanded that those people who had led in this apostasy be put to death, and this order was promptly obeyed. Then their bodies were hung up in the sight of all Israel so that the congregation, seeing the leaders so severely dealt with, might have a deep sense of God’s hatred of their sin. Everyone felt that the punishment was fair, and with tears and humiliation the people confessed their sin. BOE 225.2

While they were weeping before God at the door of the tabernacle, Zimri, one of the nobles of Israel, came boldly into the camp accompanied by a Midianite prostitute, whom he brought to his tent. Never was wicked behavior more bold or stubborn. Zimri was showing himself to be as sinful as Sodom, and he was proud of his shameful acts. BOE 225.3

The priests and leaders had bowed low in grief and humiliation, pleading with the Lord to spare His people, while this prince in Israel was showing off his sin in the sight of the congregation, as if to defy the vengeance of God and make fun of the judges of the nation. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the high priest, got up, and seizing a javelin “went after the man of Israel into the tent” and killed them both. So the plague was stopped, and the priest who had carried out the divine judgment was honored in front of all Israel. BOE 225.4