The Matter Of Baalpeor
April 30, 2000 / No. 2991
The purpose for which God has given to us the infallible Scriptures is clearly stated in II Timothy 3:16, 17: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
God’s purpose in giving to us the Bible is, first of all, very positive. It is given for doctrine and instruction. God has given to us the Holy Scriptures in order that we might be fed a steady and wholesome spiritual diet. That we might hear all the truths of the Word of God for our instruction and for our comfort.
But God has also given us the Bible for what may be called a negative reason. He has given to us the Bible for reproof, for correction. The Word of God warns us. The Word of God instructs us in what is evil, in order that we might know the truth, and in order that we might know what it is to live to the glory of God in this world. If we are to know the truth and what it is to live a God-pleasing life, we must take heed to the warnings that are given to us in the Word of God.
Especially the Bible warns us through the examples that are given us in the Scriptures. From the example of the lives of God’s people recorded in the Scriptures we are warned and instructed in a very practical and pointed way in a life of righteousness and goodness before God.
An example of warning that the Bible gives to us is recorded in Numbers 25:1-9. I am calling it the “Matter of Baalpeor.”
It happened just before the nation of Israel was to enter into the land of Canaan. They were encamped before Moab. The king of Moab feared them. He had asked a prophet named Balaam to curse them. But God did not allow this wicked prophet to curse His people. So the prophet instead told the king of Moab that he should tempt the men of Israel to sin.
We read in Numbers 25 that the daughters of Moab enticed the people of Israel to commit whoredom, fornication, sexual uncleanness. This whoredom, this sexual uncleanness, led immediately to idolatry as the men of Israel went with these women to sacrifice to their heathen gods. This provoked the severe wrath of God upon such sin and His severe chastening upon His children.
This matter of Baalpeor, for that is where it happened, is often referred to or mentioned again in the Scriptures. From the many references to this event in the Scriptures, it becomes very plain that the Bible holds this event up for us as important for our instruction. For instance: Psalm 106:28-30;Micah 6:5. Micah, a contemporary of Hosea, lived in the latter part of the Old Testament. Micah also felt that this event that happened to Israel was instructive for the people of his day, that they had to remember what had happened there in order that they might be warned not to do it again. That this event is important for us today is made plain when we consider that it is mentioned also in the book of Revelation. When the Lord speaks to the churches in Asia Minor, He says the following in Revelation 2:14: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” This event that happened just before Israel was to enter into the land of Canaan, when the daughters of Moab enticed them to commit fornication and the fornication led to idolatry, the Word of God tells us is very important for us to remember. We must remember what happened there.
It is rather striking, is it not, that just before they were to enter into the promised rest of Canaan, just before the accomplishment of the promises of God to them, the people of God fell so dreadfully into sin. This certainly shows that the Christian, the child of God, has an evil nature which remains within him right up to the end of his life. You would think that just before Israel is to enter into Canaan, holiness and pleasing God would be foremost in their minds. The next day they would pass over Jordan and enter into the promised land. You would think that they would want to prepare their lives to be ready to enter into this rest of God. But did they do that? No, they fell into a dreadful sin. That certainly warns us of the power of evil within us.
What was that sin? It was occasioned by a wicked prophet named Balaam. Balaam was from the land of Mesopotamia, the land that Abraham had moved out of when he came to Canaan. There must have been a knowledge of God where Abraham had lived and where Balaam now lived. Balaam as a wicked prophet knew very much. He had a knowledge of the true and living God. The king of Moab, Balak by name, wanted Balaam to come and curse Israel. Balak knew that it was useless to fight against Israel, for the Lord fought for them. He thought, instead, that an incantation or some spiritual curse, if that could be cast upon Israel, would solve his problems. To do that, he hired a wicked prophet and asked this prophet to curse the people of Israel.
But, as you might know from the Word of God in Numbers 21-24, Balaam was not able to curse Israel. Every time he arose to curse them, God, controlling his voice, caused blessings to come out of his mouth.
Balaam had been promised a sum of money if he could curse Israel, if he could get God’s displeasure to fall upon them. And he was not willing to let go of the money. Therefore he suggested something to Balak. In effect, he said, “I know how we can get God to arise in anger against these people. If we entice them unto sin, if we entice them to commit fornication, and then after committing fornication, if we can further entice them to sacrifice unto our gods, our idol gods, then God’s wrath will be upon them.”
That is always the way it happens. The sin of fornication, spiritual or physical fornication, always leads to idolatry. There is a direct tie between sexual uncleanness, pornography, and spiritual apostasy from the truth of God. The appeal to the flesh, to the sexual sins, when that appeal is indulged, it turns the heart from God. When one breaks the fence of sexual purity, then one is not bound by any fence whatsoever. So if you begin to dishonor yourself through fleshly lusts, then soon you will also dishonor God by forsaking Him entirely.
That is what happened. Many in Israel began to worship at Baalpeor. The mountain was called Peor. And Baal was the god of the Moabites. He was an idol. People of Israel began to worship him. And in that worship they fell into further sins. Israelites, who had been brought up under the law of God, the law of God which told them that they must preserve themselves pure and holy before the Lord their God, now thumb their nose at that law of God. They say, many of them, “We don’t care!” They see the beautiful women of Moab enticing them to sin, they go with these women to sin, these women bring them into idolatry, profaning at every turn the law of God. The men of Israel were simply saying, “We don’t care anymore. We’re going to do what we feel like. We are human beings. We have cravings, desires, needs which must be satisfied. So, forget the whole business of God’s law. It doesn’t suit us. That law holds us down. It’s too narrow.”
We read that Israel joined himself to Baalpeor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
You say that is terrible, a terrible thing for the people of God then to do. Just when they are going to enter into Canaan these people to whom God had shown His marvelous kindness and given His promises sinned so pervertedly against Him. That is terrible! Yes.
But, dear friend, do you know that that is the truth of our nature? Our evil nature is always attracted to what satisfies our own lust. Our evil nature always wants to go beyond the bounds of God’s law. So we find our own corrupt minds saying to us, “It doesn’t matter whom we marry; it doesn’t matter what I do. The most important thing is simply the gratification of my own desires.” That is born and bred into our nature.
That is because, the Bible tells us, even the child of God still has the old man of sin ( Eph. 4). And that old man of sin, that remaining sin within us, needs only a little enticement and it begins to lust. From lusting it turns away from God and becomes hardened to His call of repentance. You know that, do you not? As a child of God, you would know that. That grieves you. You must be constantly on your guard against it.
We read, further, in this account that the sin of Israel came to a very bold defiance. The result was that one of the children of Israel brought unto his brethren one of these women who was a daughter of a prince, and he began to commit fornication with her right in the middle of the camp of Israel. He took her into his own tent. We read, as we follow the passage in Numbers 25, that Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, when he saw what this man was doing, he arose, took a javelin in his hand, and went into the tent and killed both of them with one thrust of his sword.
We might ask the question, How did that man who committed the sin have the nerve to do that? The answer is: That is always what happens. Sin, of course, may begin with a cover-up, with a feeling that one must be sneaky and lie about it. But if that sin is indulged, it always turns to brazen defiance. The men of Israel had gone up to Mount Peor to sin, to join themselves to fornication, to worship at the idol Baal. But it did not stay up there. A man comes back to the camp of Israel and commits fornication right in the camp. He brought her, we read, to his brethren. He meant to say, “There’s nothing wrong with what I do. And this is what you must do, too. You don’t have to live in spiritual separation. You may mingle, you who are of the church, you may mingle with the world and be conformed to the values of the world, and you may throw off all those legalistic values that the church has been teaching you about sexual purity and chastity and obedience to God. Just throw it away. You may live as the world.” That is what he was saying to them.
That is a very important word for us to hear, is it not? God’s people who are purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ are called to be separate, separate from the filth of the world. The Scriptures make it very plain that Christ, having redeemed us with His own blood, now calls us to come out of the world, not to continue in the sins of our flesh and not to company with fornicators and idolaters and evil workers. The Word of God is very plain to the child of God: do not seek your entertainment in the values of this world. Do not seek your entertainment in the movies which promote every sexual impurity, movies which stand in defiance against God. The Word of God is plain. It says to us that our spiritual safety will be found in dwelling in the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, which is His church, and then not dwelling on the fringes of the church, barely hanging on to the church, but right in the middle of that church, with a loving, faithful involvement in that church, hearing the Word of God and joining the company of those who call upon the name of God. If Christ is working in your heart as a child of God, then you want to preserve yourself pure and holy to the Lord. Then the Word of God says to us: “Flee youthful lusts. Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace with them that call on God out of a pure heart.”
But this particular young man who committed this bold, defiant sin said, “No, no I won’t do that. I’m going to follow my own way.” And he did it right in the sight of Moses and the whole congregation of the children of Israel who were weeping, we read, at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. He did it right in front of Moses. He said by this act, “This is what I think of the law that you brought down from Mount Sinai – those tablets of stone. This is what I think of those laws. I’m simply going to cast them aside!” He was saying to the people who were weeping, weeping because they saw so many fall into sin and begin to worship the idol Baal, “This is what I think of your tears. You can cry all you want. That’s all religious sentiment. I’m going to walk right over those tears. I’m going to have this woman. I’m going to live my life the way I want. And you had better get used to it. You can forget about Jehovah’s law and Jehovah Himself.” That was bold defiance.
But the point is that this bold defiance was not simply an extreme case. This is a reflection of the hardening of the human heart. This is what must happen when one gives himself over to a life of sin. It does not stay nice. It does not stay pretty. The heart becomes hardened. Give your heart to your own way and you will turn from God, and it will come out, finally, in defiance of God.
It may begin with something you think is very innocent. But it will not stay with that innocency. Once a person’s heart is joined to the way of evil and transgression of God then that sin, apart from the grace of God which calls us to repent and forsake that way, must result in a terrible hardening that is revealed in defiance: “I’m going to do it and I don’t care what anybody else says!” Hardness in sin makes one defiant.
We need to be warned about that. We need to be warned about that in order that we might see it in ourselves, in order that we not play with sin, in order that we might see the enemy that we are facing. If you are to live a holy life, pleasing to the Lord; if you are to experience the joys that are to be found at the right hand of God, then you cannot live as a fool, ignorant of the sin that yet dwells within you and ignorant of what will happen when that sin has its free course and reign in you. The call of the gospel of Jesus Christ is: Repent! But, you see, repentance is the need of the child of God every day. “Lord, we pray, keep my heart close and tender – tender to Thee, tender to Thy law, tender to a way of obedience to Thee.”
The passage in Numbers 25 tells us that when God saw all of this He became angry and sent a plague upon the people. Twenty-four thousand of them were killed. God also raised up the righteous Phinehas. I read to you a moment ago about Phinehas who was the grandson of Aaron. The grace of God worked within his heart a zeal for the honor of God. He rose up when he saw what this man was doing, grabbed a javelin, followed the man into his tent, and thrust both this man and the woman through in the very act of their sin. And we read that after this, the plague was stayed. Phinehas was zealous for the name of God among the people of God. God, then, maintained His own holiness. And God revealed that the way of evil shall never succeed but shall merit the just retribution of the holy God.
But we also see God’s grace in all of this. We see God’s grace, first of all, in that God’s people wept – wept by the door of the congregation. When they saw all of this sin taking place they wept. Do you know such tears – tears which are rooted in the love of God? God revealed His grace, also, in Phinehas who took a stand for the honor of God’s name. Is that true of you? Would you have God’s name glorified in you? Then let us receive the clear warning of the Word of God. Do not take your place as a Christian in this world thoughtlessly. Be on your guard against the lust of the flesh. Remember that your deadly enemy, even though it appears in all of its glitter in the world, is your own sinful lust. And, by the grace of God, stand in the Lord Jesus Christ. The love and the holiness that is found in Christ – make these your treasure. Vow to keep yourself pure and holy before Him.
Let us who have soiled and spotted our confession with our own sins go to Him and confess our sins. Let us go to Him for forgiveness and let us look to the Savior.
Repeat these words: “Thou, O Lord, art the God of our salvation. By Thy grace we love Thee. We love Thee because Thou hast first loved us. We would serve Thee and belong to Thee in a life of obedience. Make us a holy people unto our God that we might be those who are waiting for the day when Thou wilt return and take us to heaven, the heaven of perfect rest, where we will sin no more. And we shall be like unto our Savior.”
May God grant you to be faithful even unto the end.
Let us pray.
Father, bless the Word of God to us. Cause, O Lord, that also the warnings of the holy Scripture may pierce our hearts, to turn us from every evil way and to set our feet upon the sure way of obedience to Thee. In Jesus’ name, Amen.