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And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.
And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.
And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.
And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.
And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.
And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.
Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.
Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:
And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.
Now the name of the Israelite that was slain, even that was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a chief house among the Simeonites.
And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian.
Vex the Midianites, and smite them:
For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor's sake.

New Defender's Study Bible Notes

25:3 Baal-peor. This was the introduction of Baal worship into Israel, a practice which plagued them off and on until the Babylonians carried them into exile over a thousand years later. Baal-peor was evidently the shrine to Baal on the mountain of Peor (Numbers 23:28). When Balaam was not allowed by God to curse Israel directly, he counseled Balak to infiltrate the armies of Israel through using the Moabite women to seduce them. This action resulted in immediate capital punishment for all who became involved in this way. Balaam himself was later slain because of this counsel (Numbers 31:8,16).

25:4 heads of the people. The “heads of the people” were their leaders (compare Numbers 7:2) whom God held responsible for the sudden apostasy. The priests of Baal had inveigled many of the people to participate in a pagan feast to their fake god, one of the temptations being the prostitution which was part of the “worship.” Both the idolatry and the fornication were contrary to God’s law, and were the very sins which God had commissioned His people to exterminate from the promised land. It was essential, especially at this crucial juncture of their mission of conquest, that these gross and presumptuous sins be severely punished, before the corruption could spread further.

25:9 twenty and four thousand. According to I Corinthians 10:8, 23,000 fell “in one day.” Evidently another thousand died a day or so later.

25:14 Zimri. Of all the 24,000 who died in the judgment, only one man is named, along with the Midianite woman with whom he committed sin. Both were prominent leaders and apparently the sin was committed flagrantly and defiantly (Numbers 25:6), intended probably to incite others to follow them in the act. Phinehas took immediate bold action to punish it, no doubt risking his own life in the process. He is said thereby to have “made an atonement for the children of Israel” (Numbers 25:13) because of his zeal.

25:17 Vex the Midianites. The Midianites–even though related to the Israelites as descendants of Abraham through Keturah (Genesis 25:2), and even though Moses’ father-in-law was a priest of Midian (Exodus 3:1)–had become inveterate enemies of Israel by this time, joining up with the Moabites to oppose the coming of Israel into their lands (Numbers 22:3,4).

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