Article of the Month
Rev. Marinus Schipper
That preaching, shall it reach God’s purpose, must be positive as well as negative. To be sure, it must be positive! It must declare all the truth of God’s Word for the instruction in the way of righteousness. No doctrine may be neglected. But it must also be negative! It must warn against the temptation to forsake the truth. It must show in no uncertain terms the pitfalls Satan and the world will lay on the path of God’s people to destroy them.
Therefore from time to time the church must expect that the preaching will sound a warning. Not only will it sound an alarm respecting the evils of our time, but it will also show from sacred history, from history past, examples of departure from the truth into sin and corruption that was meant to be dinned into our ears, upon whom the end of the ages is come.
Such an example from history we have in the words of our text.
Amazing is this history which speaks of the sin of God’s people who are about to enter the promised land. You might think that the closer Israel came to Canaan the promised land and the type of heaven, the holier that people would become. But such was evidently not the case, for it was then that they revealed themselves to be most corrupt. You ask, How can this be? And the answer is two-fold. In the first place, it must be remembered that Israel always dwells in the flesh that never wills any good thing, that never wants to go to heaven, and which, of course, will never go to heaven, for flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God. And, in the second place, it must not be forgotten that as the history of God’s covenant in the world develops, the carnal element also increases in number, which number when it becomes a majority causes iniquity to abound.
Amazing, too, is the fact that the history referred to in our text is repeatedly called to our attention in the Scriptures. Hundreds of years after the historic fact the psalmist calls the attention of the church of his day to it (Psalm 106:28-31). “They joined themselves also unto Baal-peor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead. Thus they provoked Him to anger with their inventions: and the plague broke in upon them. Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed...” Still hundreds of years later the prophets Hosea and Micah speak unto apostatizing Israel about to go into captivity, of this historic incident (Hosea 9:10; Micah 6:5). And, lest you and I should conclude that this history had only to do with some miserable Jews in the old dispensation that sinned to their destruction, we point out that this history is repeated in the New Testament more than once. Peter speaks of it in his second epistle (II Pet. 2:15), as does also Jude (verse 11). “Which have forsaken the right way and gone astray following the way of Balaam . . . ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward And if you are inclined to conclude (falsely, of course) that Peter and Jude were writing to the church of two thousand years ago, let me point out to you that this history is prophetically set forth in the letter to the Church in Pergamos (Revelation 2:14) where the Lord Jesus is describing the condition of the church as it reaches to the time of His second coming, and therefore most significantly for us. Listen to what He says: “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”
Make no mistake about it, the history recorded in our text was written for us, upon whom the end of the ages is come. And when we write concerning the matter of Baal-peor, we are calling attention to history that repeats itself, and is therefore related to us.
To be noticed, first of all, in connection with the matter of Baal-peor, is Israel’s sin.
Israel’s sin, as described in the text, was occasioned by Balaam, the son of Beor. Balaam, we remember, lived in Mesopotamia. This is the land to which Abram and his family moved after the Lord first called him in Ur of Chaldees. After the Lord called him the second time to go to the land He would show him, the relatives of Abram remained in Mesopotamia. Terah, Abram’s father, and Nahor, Abram’s brother with his family, these all remained in the land. This most probably accounts for the fact that Balaam knew so much about Jehovah and reckoned so much with the doctrine concerning Jehovah in his prophetic utterances; while we know that Balaam loved not Jehovah, but the wages of iniquity, and used his knowledge for his own advantage.
We recall also how Balak, king of Moab, called for Balaam to curse the people of God, who now appeared a threat to the very life and well-being of his nation. Balaam, with an outward show of piety, replies that he cannot come without Jehovah’s permission, nor can he utter anything but what Jehovah shall put in his mouth. Balak entices him with silver, gold, and high honors; and finally Jehovah also permits him to go to Mount Peor, only to pronounce the blessing upon Israel, not the curse. Balaam, however, after his dismissal by the king of Moab, was not satisfied to let the matter rest. As we learn subsequently (Numbers 31:16) he gave instruction to the king of Moab as to how he can bring a curse upon that people Israel. Let Balak cause the fair daughters of Moab to entice the young men of Israel to commit fornication. And because such fornication was related to the worship of Moab’s gods, Israel would be brought to worship the gods of the heathen. This advice of Balaam was followed by the king of Moab. And so, we learn in the text: “they (the daughters of Moab) called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods . . . and Israel joined himself unto Baal-peor.”
Israel joined to Baal-peor!
Peor, of course, stands for Mount Peor from which Balaam could only bless Israel with prophetic utterances; but Peor also becomes the place where Israel merits the curse.
Baal was the common Canaanitish male god, the son of El, the father of gods and head of the Canaanite pantheon. Baal was the farm god, reputed to increase the family, the field, the flocks and herds. In one word, Baal was the god of material prosperity. Animal sacrifices, ritualistic meals, and licentious dances accompanied the worship of this heathen god. And close to the temples for worship were constructed houses for prostitution both for males with males, and males with harlots. An attraction it was to the carnal nature of the children of Israel. The urge became magnified when the sin is clothed in religious garb. Then the temptation works that leads to the conclusion: it is good to sin.
That Israel joined himself to Baal-peor meant that what the majority of Israel did according to the lust of the flesh, they did purposely, with evil intent. Not only was Israel enticed as Balaam suggested they would be, but they willingly gave themselves over to this sin. Mind you, this evil is magnified when you consider the fact that Israel sins with better knowledge, and that, too, just when they were about to enter the promised land. Understand well, not all Israel fell for this sin; for as we will see in a moment, some, the remnant according to the election of grace, are found weeping at the door of the tabernacle. But when the majority becomes carnally minded, you witness the awful depravity of which human nature is capable. Such is the description of Israel’s sin. But there is more!
We must also pay attention to this sin in its bold defiance. This became evident in the example of that Israelitish man who came into the camp with that Moabitish woman.
That we may never forget them they are mentioned by name. Zimri, the son of Salu, prince of the chief house among the Simeonites; and Cozbi, daughter of Zua, head over a people and of the chief house in Midian. These two were not therefore of the so-called scum of society, but of the elite of both Israel and Midian. Had they been of the so-called scum, one might conclude that they did not know better, or that their environment was largely the cause of their depraved act. But the Scripture makes the point of clearly identifying them to show that they knew what they were doing. What they did was in open defiance of all that is called holy and refined.
Mind you, the man of Israel brought the Midianitish woman into the camp of Israel. This cannot be interpreted in any other way than that he openly defies the strict mandate Jehovah had imposed upon His people, namely, Israel shall dwell alone. This was the divine intention as Moses had interpreted it when the Lord called him to lead Israel out of Egypt, the house of bondage. “For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? is it not in that Thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth” (Exodus 33:16). Later Moses declares, “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone” (Deut. 33:28a). And even Balaam prophesied: “From the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations” (Num. 23:9). But in defiance of all this the young man of Israel brings the heathen woman into the camp of Israel. A devilish attempt to make Israel lose its distinction, its separatistic character. Then he commits fornication with her. Not bad enough was it that the Israelites went into the camp of Moab to commit fornication; here he takes the woman into Israel’s camp to commit his sinful act.
In the sight of all the congregation!
You must see it with me: this was done purposely, in open defiance. Not with shame would he commit his act in some secluded and secret spot, but openly, before the eyes of all, that all might witness what they were doing.
Before the eyes of Moses, the God-appointed leader and saviour of Israel, as if to say to Moses, See what I think of the law of God which you gave us. You have imposed upon us the stringent rule of Jehovah: “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but I say unto you that I hate that law of God, and I’m going to violate it now before your very eyes.
Before repentant Israelites, who were humbled before God at the door of the tabernacle. Here, indeed, was the remnant according to the election of grace who had not followed in the sin of Israel to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. When they saw the wickedness of Israel, they fled immediately to the tabernacle to pray for mercy upon Israel. But this defiant young Israelite virtually says to this repentant people: You silly ones! This is what I think of all your fear of God.
One stands amazed at its audacity!
Yet it is not so amazing when you consider that these are the depths of sin into which the carnal seed will fall apart from the grace of salvation.
And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. He orders Moses to behead the leaders. He brings a plague upon Israel whereby twenty and four thousand were slain.
In the midst of this dispensation of God’s holy wrath rises up one who was zealous for his God, one who would defend His righteous prerogatives: Phinehas, of the priesthood of Aaron. Taking a javelin in his hand, he followed the wicked pair into the tent and slew them both while they were in the act. We learn later in the chapter that Jehovah exalted him for his righteous deed by giving unto him His covenant of peace forever. So, the plague was stayed.
What must we learn from this history?
In the first place, we learn that the doctrine of Balaam is still with us today, and that it will continue to the end of history.
In the second place, we learn that apostasy will continue even until the Lord comes in judgment to slay all the wicked, and that apostasy will not only be realized through an enticement to forsake the cardinal truths of the Scriptures, but also through the enticement to fornication, such as Balaam proposed.
And, finally, we learn that there will always be the remnant according to the election of grace. That remnant not only rushes to the door of the tabernacle to confess Israel’s sin and to plead for Jehovah’s mercies, but, like Phinehas, rises up when the majority falls, to stand zealously to defend the cause of Jehovah in the world. That remnant shall be exalted, and that remnant shall enter the Canaan of rest.
DISCUSS THIS TOPIC
Please join others who have commented upon this and other topics in our Discussion Group.