- The sin of Israel, verse 1-3.
- Their punishment, verse 4, 5.
- The zeal of Phinehas, with the promise annext to it, verse 6-15.
- The command to slay the Midianites, verse 16-18.
Shittim - And this was their last station, from whence they passed immediately into Canaan. This is noted as a great aggravation of their sin, that they committed it, when God was going to put them into the possession of their long-expected land. The people - Many of them. Whoredom - Either because they prostituted themselves to them upon condition of worshipping their God: or because their filthy God was worshipped by such filthy acts, as Priapus and Venus were. The daughters of Moab - And of Midian too; for both these people being confederated in this wicked design, the one is put for the other, and the daughters of Moab may be named, either because they began the transgression, or because they were the chief persons, possibly, the relations or courtiers of Balak.
They - The Moabites being now neighbours to the Israelites, and finding themselves unable to effect their design by war and witchcraft, fell another way to work, by contracting familiarity with them, and, perceiving their evil inclinations, they, that is, their daughters, invited them. Unto the sacrifices - Unto the feasts which were made of their parts of the sacrifices, after the manner of the Jews and Gentiles too, the participation whereof, was reckoned a participation in the worship of that God to whom the sacrifices were offered. Of their gods - Of their God, Baal-peor, the plural Elohim being here used, as commonly it is, for one God.
Joined himself - The word implies a forsaking God to whom they were joined and a turning to, and strict conjunction with, this false God. Baal-peor - Called Baal, by the name common to many false Gods, and especially to those that represented any of the heavenly bodies, and Peor, either from the hill Peor, where he was worshipped, Numbers 23:28, rather from a verb signifying to open and uncover, because of the obscene posture in which the idol was set, as Priapus was: or because of the filthiness which was exercised in his worship.
Take all the heads - Take, that is, apprehend, all the heads, that is, the chief, of the people, such as were chief in this transgression, and in place and power, who are singled out to this exemplary punishment for their concurrence with others in this wickedness, which was more odious and mischievous in them. Hang them up before the Lord - To the vindication of God's honour and justice. Against the sun - Publickly, as their sin was publick and scandalous, and speedily, before the sun go down.
Every one his men - Those under his charge, for as these seventy were chosen to assist Moses in the government, so doubtless the care and management of the people was distributed among them by just and equal proportions.
One came - This was done, when Moses had given the charge to the Judges, and, as it may seem, before the execution of it; otherwise it is probable he would not have been so foolish to have run upon certain ruin, when the examples were frequent before his eyes. To his brethren - Into the camp of the Israelites. In the sight of Moses - An argument of intolerable impudence and contempt of God and of Moses. Weeping - Bewailing the wickedness of the people, and the dreadful judgments of God, and imploring God's mercy and favour.
Thrust them thro' - Phineas was himself a man in great authority, and did this after the command given by Moses to the rulers to slay these transgressors, and in the very sight, and no doubt by the consent of Moses himself, and also by the special direction of God's spirit.
Twenty four thousand - St. Paul says twenty three thousand, 1 Corinthians 10:8. The odd thousand here added were slain by the Judges according to the order of Moses, the rest by the immediate hand of God, but both sorts died of the plague, the word being used, as often it is, for the sword, or hand, or stroke of God.
My covenant of peace - That is, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood, as it is expounded, Numbers 25:13, which is called a covenant of peace, partly with respect to the happy effect of this heroical action of his, whereby he made peace between God and his people; and partly with regard to the principal end of the priestly office, which was constantly to do that which Phinehas now did, even to meditate between God and men, to obtain and preserve his own and Israel's peace and reconciliation with God, by offering up sacrifices and incense, and prayers, to God on their behalf, as also by turning them away from iniquity, which is the only peace-breaker, and by teaching and pressing the observation of that law, which is the only bond of their peace.
At everlasting priesthood - To continue as long as the law and common-wealth of the Jews did. But this promise was conditional, and therefore might be made void, by the miscarriages of Phinehas's sons, as it seems it was, and thereupon a like promise was made to Eli of the line of Ithamar, that he and his should walk before the Lord, namely, in the office of high-priest, for ever, which also for his and their sins was made void, 1 Samuel 2:30. And the the priesthood returned to Phinehas's line in the time of Solomon, 1 Kings 2:26,27,34.
The Midianites - And why not the Moabites. It is probable the Midianites were most guilty, as in persuading Balak to send for Balaam, Numbers 22:4,7. So in the reception of Balaam after Balak had dismissed him, Numbers 31:8, and in farther consultation with him, and in contriving the means for the executing of this wicked plot.
With their wiles - For under pretence of kindred and friendship and leagues, which they offered to them, instead of that war which the Israelites expected, they sought only an opportunity to insinuate themselves into their familiarity, and execute their hellish plot of bringing that curse upon the Israelites, which they had in vain attempted to bring another way.