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25 Now it happened that while Israel was biding its time at Shittim, on the edge of the wilderness near Jericho, some of the men got mixed up with Moabite women. They got friendly and had sexual relations. The Moabites invited these Israelites to participate in Moabite religious rituals and worship of their gods, and God’s people bound themselves to the deity Baal of Peor, which made the Eternal One furious at Israel.

Eternal One (to Moses): Grab them! Every wicked leader of this people. Then in broad daylight, in front of the Eternal, string them up on stakes to twist and turn so that My burning rage doesn’t consume the entire population.

Moses (to the Israelite judges): Look to your people, and kill whoever pledged himself to the deity Baal of Peor.

Just then, even as people were dying right and left, one Israelite returned from among the Midianites with a woman whom he planned to make a part of his family. With her in tow, he walked right past Moses and everybody else while they were mourning in front of the congregation tent. When Priest Aaron’s grandson Phinehas (Eleazar’s son) saw them, he took a spear in his hand. He charged into the Israelite’s tent and ran the spear straight through the bellies of the couple. That one act appeased God’s anger and put an end to the death cascading through the Israelite camp. Nevertheless, 24,000 people died before it was all over.

10 The Eternal One explained to Moses what had happened.

It is difficult in our age of diversity, tolerance, and equality to accept the prohibition of intermarriage between the Israelites and the peoples of the land and the command to eliminate the natives as the Israelites later occupy the land. Now this is not a command about ethnicity or purity of race; it is about shared purpose and complete devotion. The people cannot tolerate devotion to other deities and still serve the Lord. It is for their protection and well-being that God aggressively punishes those who pollute the faith.

Eternal One: 11 Phinehas (Eleazar’s son and Priest Aaron’s grandson) has done well. He saved the Israelites. Because he was so zealous on My account, tolerating no compromise, I did not consume the people of Israel with My jealousy. 12 So I want you to declare this: “I, your God, do pledge to Phinehas a covenant of peace, 13 not only for him but for his descendants too. I promise they will always be priests because in his jealousy for Me, Phinehas covered the wickedness of the Israelites.”

14 For the record, the Israelite man killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri (son of Salu, a leader of the Simeonite extended family). 15 The Midianite woman’s name was Cozbi. She was Zur’s daughter, and Zur was the leader of one of the extended families in Midian.

16 The Eternal One spoke to Moses.

Eternal One: 17 It’s time to go after the Midianites. Frustrate them, and crush them; 18 after all, they frustrated you by luring you into that Peor affair, including the business with Cozbi, who was killed to stop My punishing destruction from the plague, also because of that Peor affair. She was a Midianite leader’s daughter.

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