While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women. These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab. In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the Lord’s anger to blaze against his people.
The Lord issued the following command to Moses: “Seize all the ringleaders and execute them before the Lord in broad daylight, so his fierce anger will turn away from the people of Israel.”
So Moses ordered Israel’s judges, “Each of you must put to death the men under your authority who have joined in worshiping Baal of Peor.”
Just then one of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman into his tent, right before the eyes of Moses and all the people, as everyone was weeping at the entrance of the Tabernacle. When Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest saw this, he jumped up and left the assembly. He took a spear and rushed after the man into his tent. Phinehas thrust the spear all the way through the man’s body and into the woman’s stomach. So the plague against the Israelites was stopped, but not before 24,000 people had died.
Dealing with emotions and desires can be tricky. When do you listen to them, and when do you hold them in check? This story illustrates both sides of that issue.
Phinehas’s actions reveals that some anger is proper and justified. Phinehas was angry because of his zeal for the Lord. But how can we know when our anger is appropriate and when it should be restrained? Ask these questions when you become angry: (1) Why am I angry? (2) Whose rights are being violated (mine or another’s)? (3) Is the truth (a principle of God) being violated? If only your rights are at stake, it may be wiser to keep angry feelings under control. But if the truth is at stake, anger may be justified, although violence is usually the wrong way to express it.
The Bible doesn’t say how the Israelite men got involved in with the Midianite women. At first, they didn’t think about worshiping idols; they were just interested in sex. Before long they started attending local feasts and family celebrations that involved idol worship. Sacred prostitution was a common practice among Canaanite religions. Soon the Israelite men were in over their heads, absorbed in the practices of the pagan culture. Their desire for pleasure loosened their commitment to God’s laws.
Have you relaxed your commitment in order to indulge your desires? Are you tempted to redefine God’s standards to get what you want? When you are overwhelmed by your emotions and desires, talk with God about them and where they’re coming from. Ask God for strength to handle your emotions rightly—whether to act on them or to control them—and ask for strength to live his way.