25:1 1 When 2 Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to commit sexual immorality 3 with the daughters of Moab. 25:2 These women invited 4 the people to the sacrifices of their gods; then the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 5 25:3 When Israel joined themselves to Baal-peor, 6 the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel.
25:4 The Lord said to Moses, “Arrest all the leaders 7 of the people, and hang them up 8 before the Lord in broad daylight, 9 so that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.” 25:5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must execute those of his men 10 who were joined to Baal-peor.”
1 sn Chapter 25 tells of Israel’s sins on the steppes of Moab, and God’s punishment. In the overall plan of the book, here we have another possible threat to God’s program, although here it comes from within the camp (Balaam was the threat from without). If the Moabites could not defeat them one way, they would try another. The chapter has three parts: fornication (vv. 1-3), God’s punishment (vv. 4-9), and aftermath (vv. 10-18). See further G. E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation, 105-21; and S. C. Reif, “What Enraged Phinehas? A Study of Numbers 25:8,” JBL 90 (1971): 200-206.
2 tn This first preterite is subordinated to the next as a temporal clause; it is not giving a parallel action, but the setting for the event.
3 sn The account apparently means that the men were having sex with the Moabite women. Why the men submitted to such a temptation at this point is hard to say. It may be that as military heroes the men took liberties with the women of occupied territories.
4 tn The verb simply says “they called,” but it is a feminine plural. And so the women who engaged in immoral acts with Hebrew men invited them to their temple ritual.
5 sn What Israel experienced here was some of the debased ritual practices of the Canaanite people. The act of prostrating themselves before the pagan deities was probably participation in a fertility ritual, nothing short of cultic prostitution. This was a blatant disregard of the covenant and the Law. If something were not done, the nation would have destroyed itself.
6 tn The verb is “yoked” to Baal-peor. The word is unusual, and may suggest the physical, ritual participation described below. It certainly shows that they acknowledge the reality of the local god.
sn The evidence indicates that Moab was part of the very corrupt Canaanite world, a world that was given over to the fertility ritual of the times.
7 sn The meaning must be the leaders behind the apostasy, for they would now be arrested. They were responsible for the tribes’ conformity to the Law, but here they had not only failed in their duty, but had participated. The leaders were executed; the rest of the guilty died by the plague.
8 sn The leaders who were guilty were commanded by God to be publicly exposed by hanging, probably a reference to impaling, but possibly some other form of harsh punishment. The point was that the swaying of their executed bodies would be a startling warning for any who so blatantly set the Law aside and indulged in apostasy through pagan sexual orgies.
9 tn Heb “in the sun.” This means in broad daylight.
10 tn Heb “slay – a man his men.” The imperative is plural, and so “man” is to be taken collectively as “each of you men.”