From Eternity Past


Chapter 41—How Balaam Led Israel Into Sin

This chapter is based on Numbers 25.

With renewed faith in God the victorious armies of Israel had returned from Bashan and were confident of the immediate conquest of Canaan. Only the river Jordan lay between them and the Promised Land. Just across the river was a rich plain watered with streams and shaded by luxuriant palm trees. On the western border rose the towers and palaces of Jericho, “the city of palm trees.” EP 320.1

On the eastern side of Jordan was a plain several miles in width and extending some distance along the river. This sheltered valley had the climate of the tropics. Here the Israelites encamped and in the acacia groves found an agreeable retreat. EP 320.2

But amid these attractive surroundings they were to encounter an evil more deadly than hosts of armed men or wild beasts of the wilderness. That country, rich in natural advantages, had been defiled by the inhabitants. In the public worship of Baal, the most degrading scenes were enacted. On every side were places noted for idolatry and licentiousness, the names suggestive of corruption. EP 320.3

The Israelites’ minds became familiar with the vile 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 fall prey to temptation. EP 320.4

During the time of their encampment beside Jordan, Moses was preparing for the occupation of Canaan. In this work the great leader was fully employed. But to the people this time of suspense was most trying, and before many weeks had elapsed their history was marred by frightful departures from virtue and integrity. EP 320.5

Midianitish women began to steal into the camp. It was the object of these women to seduce the Hebrews into transgression of the law of God and lead them into idolatry. These motives were studiously concealed under the garb of friendship. EP 321.1

At Balaam's suggestion, a grand festival in honor of their gods was appointed by the king of Moab. It was secretly arranged that Balaam should induce the Israelites to attend. He was regarded as a prophet of God, and had little difficulty in accomplishing his purpose. Great numbers of the people joined him in witnessing the festivities. Beguiled with music and dancing, and allured by the beauty of heathen vestals, they cast off their fealty to Jehovah. Wine beclouded their senses and broke down the barriers of self-control. Having defiled their consciences by lewdness, they were persuaded to bow down to idols. They offered sacrifice upon heathen altars and participated in degrading rites. EP 321.2

The poison spread like a deadly infection through the camp of Israel. Those who would have conquered in battle were overcome by the wiles of women. The people seemed infatuated. The rulers and leading men were among the first to transgress, and so many of the people were guilty that the apostasy became national. “Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor.” When Moses was aroused to perceive the evil, not only were the Israelites participating in the licentious worship at Mount Peor, but the heathen rites were observed in the camp of Israel. The aged leader was filled with indignation, and the wrath of God was kindled. EP 321.3

Their iniquitous practices did that for Israel which all the enchantments of Balaam could not do—they separated them from God. A terrible pestilence broke out in the camp, to which tens of thousands fell prey. God commanded that the leaders in apostasy be put to death, and this order was promptly obeyed. Then their bodies were hung up in sight of all Israel that the congregation, seeing the leaders so severely dealt with, might have a deep sense of God's abhorrence of their sin. All felt that the punishment was just, and the people with tears and humiliation confessed their sin. EP 321.4

While they were thus weeping before God at the door of the tabernacle, Zimri, one of the nobles of Israel, came boldly into the camp accompanied by a Midianitish harlot, whom he escorted to his tent. Never was vice bolder or more stubborn. Zimri “declared his sin as Sodom” and gloried in his shame. EP 322.1

The priests and leaders had prostrated themselves in grief and humiliation, entreating the Lord to spare His people, when this prince in Israel flaunted his sin in the sight of the congregation, as if to defy the vengeance of God and mock the judges of the nation. Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the high priest, rose up, and seizing a javelin “went after the man of Israel into the tent” and slew them both. Thus the plague was stayed. The priest who had executed the divine judgment was honored before all Israel. EP 322.2