When Zimri Strolls – Numbers 25:1-15
1Now Israel remained in Acacia Grove, and the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab.
2They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.
3So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel.
-In order to understand what’s going on in Numbers 25, I must backtrack a bit and show the events leading up to this passage.
-This event takes place after the 40 years Israel spent going in circles in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula. They are now ready to enter the Promised Land; the entire generation of adults who had left Egypt has died off and a new generation has risen who had been born free from slavery.
-They were camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River, on the northern border of the region of Moab. This is where the story gets interesting. The King of Moab, a guy named Balak, knew about Israel and was scared to death! He’d heard how 40 years before, the God of Israel had brought low the mighty Egyptians in the plagues and at the Red Sea. As he sees Israel now camped on his northern border, he concludes Moab must be the next region they intend on attacking.
-So Balak sent for a well-known prophet named Balaam to put a hex, a curse on Israel. Now, we see in Numbers chapters 22-24 that God used Baalam in the role of a prophet in which Balaam was only able to pronounce blessings on Israel when he was trying to curse them.
– Balaam was a greedy man who lusted after the hefty reward Balak was offering him if he would just do the job he’d been hired for – to bring a curse on Israel. It’s in the NT that we find some additional information about Balaam.
– In 2 Peter 2:15 Peter reveals the motivation of false teachers and prophets when he says, “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.
-Balaam knew Israel’s blessing by God was dependent on her obedience to Him. To be blessed, she needed to abide in the place of blessing; if Israel strayed into disobedience, then God’s judgment would fall. So while essentially no one could curse the people of God directly, the Israelites would curse themselves through disobedience.
-So Balaam counseled King Balak on how to encourage Israel’s slide into rebellion. What he counseled is spelled out in Revelation 2:14 where Jesus says to the church at Pergamos, “I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine [teaching] of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.
-Balaam told Balak to gather the prettiest women of Moab along with their allies the Midianites and have them enter the camp of Israel to seduce the men. Once the men were hooked, the women would then suggest they join them in the worship of Baal, a ritual which was both sensual and immoral. Balaam knew when the people of Israel began to practice idolatry, God’s judgment would be swift.
– The plan worked as we see in verse 3. God’s anger was stirred against the people, manifest as a plague.
-With this judgment, God gave to Moses a means by which it could be stayed . . .
4Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the Lord, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.”
5So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor.”
– God told Moses to instruct the leaders of the nation to immediately execute everyone who had committed idolatry.
6And indeed, one of the children of Israel came and presented to his brethren a Midianite woman in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.
-There was a group of people who were crushed with grief over what was happening. They knew the plague that was killing hundreds was the judgment of God and they were broken over the sin the idolaters were committing and how their sin was harming others. So they gathered at the tabernacle to repent and pray, seeking God for forgiveness.
-But right in the middle of their time of corporate repentance, a guy came strolling by holding the hand of one of the Midianite hussies.
-Look on down to verse 14 –
14Now the name of the Israelite who was killed, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s house among the Simeonites.
15And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur; he was head of the people of a father’s house in Midian.
–The man, Zimri, was a leader of the tribe of Simeon and Cozbi, the woman, was well- known among her own people. So right there, as Moses and the rest were earnestly seeking the Lord, along comes these two, making it clear that they intend to engage in immorality.
-This is a bold and defiant act of rebellion, not just against Moses’ authority but against God’s command. As a leader, Zimri ought to have been resisting such sin; instead he’s publicly promoting it.
-There was one there who did more than just shake his head in disbelief at Zimri’s bold defiance; one who said, “Okay, we can’t let this go! God’s told us what to do, and if no one else will do it, I will.”
7Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand;
8and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel.
9And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.
-Phinehas, the son of the Eleazar the high priest, grabbed a spear and followed Zimri to his tent. Entering in, he found the two already locked in a lovers tangle and stuck it to them. This brought an immediate end to the plague. God then commended Phinehas for his drastic action . . .
10Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
11”Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.
12Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace;
13and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.’”
-God rewarded Phinehas with the promise of carrying on the line of the high priest of Israel.
-This story teaches us an crucial lesson; it teaches us about our journey of faith in Christ. So what is it we’re to learn? Should we take this as a cue that we ought to line up errant Christians and shoot them? No, of course not! Jesus taught us how to deal with those who call themselves Christians but who refuse to walk in obedience to Christ in Matthew 18, and execution was not the way.
-What this story gives us, is not a paradigm for dealing with sin in others, but in ourselves!
-The Christian life is one of continual growth. Perfection is not something we arrive at after 10 or 20 years of walking with the Lord, it is, rather, a goal we ought always to move closer toward but won’t attain until the day we step from this world into heaven. As long as we are in these Colemans, these tents, these bodies of mortal flesh, we will struggle with sin.
– Now, the majority of sins we deal with as believers are things which the simple process of spiritual growth overcomes. As we walk with the Lord, the Spirit convicts us of something, we repent, and in a relatively short time, the thing falls away.
-We’re at church and listening to the Word of God being taught, or it’s during our devotions, or at a home group, maybe listening to the radio, and some passage of scripture will reveal something we had no idea was a sin. We then feel that gentle conviction of the Spirit about the need to change (i.e. a behavior we need to put down, an attitude that’s unrighteous, some habit we discover that displeases the Lord).
-The fact is, this is the way it is with most sins; they’re just dealt with in the process of normal spiritual growth and maturity. But then there are those sins that are stubborn, persistent, and perennial; they don’t go away. No, they hang around and trouble us, not for weeks or months, but for years!
-For generations, Christians have referred to these as “besetting sins.” They’re actions and attitudes that have set themselves to defiantly oppose our progress in Christ.
Classically, Christians have struggled with things like –
* Bitterness & Unforgiveness
-These are the root sins, but they manifest themselves in countless way –
* Sexual Immorality
* Chronic dishonesty
-Most Christians fail at overcoming besetting sin because they only attack the symptom. The gossip will never overcome his/her sin until he/she repents of unforgiveness. The one who struggles with pornography will never overcome until he/she repents of lust & sensuality.
-Here’s what happens with besetting sin . . .when it begins, we sense the Lord’s conviction about some behavior or attitude we need to change. At first, it seems just like other sins that we see fall away in the process of normal spiritual growth, but it doesn’t fall off – it resurfaces and we go through the process of conviction and repentance all over again. And again, and again.
-Confusion sets in; why doesn’t this thing go away like the other things the Lord has given me victory over? And how can it be that it’s still here and I’m still struggling with it because I hate it! And though I hate it, I still do it!
-Maybe I don’t hate it – maybe I love it! Yeah, that’s it, I love it and that’s why I keep doing it. Then why do I want to stop it if I love it? I AM SO CONFUSED!
-With the Apostle Paul we cry out – “The good I want to do, I don’t do, and that which I don’t want to do, I end up doing. Please! Who will deliver me?”
-Besetting sin becomes like Zimri in Israel. It strolls in front of us while we’re weeping tears of repentance at the altar of God, sincere in our longing to be free, and it defies us and our desire to move forward in holiness. “Here I am,” it says! “Remember me – that sin you keep so well hidden from everyone because you’re ashamed of me? I’m never going away! I defy you and your attempts to defeat me. You’ve tried to stop me dozens of times, and I’m still here. Even now I’m going to overwhelm you and drag you into sin once again.”
-Zimri represents our old nature, what the NT calls the old man. Before we were born again and became new creatures in Christ, we were lost sinners, but in Christ, we are new men and women.
-The problem is this, the old dies reluctantly, and sometimes, it needs help. It needs to be PUT TO DEATH! Most of the sins we deal with are like the elders who died of old age; the simple process of spiritual growth with see them drop off. But some sins are like Zimri – they have to be dealt with more directly, more certainly, with greater zeal.
-With these besetting sins, like Phinehas, we will need to get up from weeping tears of repentance and go after them. We will need to take the battle to them instead of sitting back passively and wishing they’d go away.
-Just as Phinehas ran both Zimri and Cozbi through with the spear, so we need to deal radically with those things that need to be put away.
-Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 5:29-30 about dealing with besetting sin –
If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.
-Jesus is not calling for literal amputation here. He’s using exaggeration, a well-known idiom of that day to make a point -and that point was this – sin, left unchecked, will damn you! So do WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO to defeat it! Root it out!
-I’ve known people who struggled with lust who made a commitment to never attend a R-rated movie. What was sad was to see other Christians who chided them for being prudish. I’ve known good solid brothers and sisters who struggled with sensuality who unplugged their TV set who were accused by other Christians as being legalistic. I’ve heard of men who have their wives cut the full page lingerie ads out of the newspaper before they read it – who’ve been labeled as religious fanatics.
-Why all this criticism? Friends, when Jesus says we ought to pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands, He’s not saying we ought to negotiate with sin – He’s saying we need to gut it, kill it, be radical in the way we deal with it.
-There can be no compromise with sin!
-The Apostle Paul frequently called Christians to adopt a Phinehas mindset regarding sin.
-In Ephesians 4, he says . . .
22Put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,
23and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
24and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
-In Col. 3 he says much the same thing . . .
8You are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.
9Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,
10and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.
-In both of these passages, the verb tense for putting off and putting on speaks of a definitive action – something we do in a moment, that settles the issue once and for all – just as when Phinehas grabbed the javelin and followed Zimri & Cozbi into the tent and ran them through. That was a moment of righteous action that brought an end to the plague and secured God’s favor and blessing for Phinehas.
-Christian – you’ve made a decision to follow Jesus and have placed your faith in Him. You believe He died for your sins and rose for your justification, but have you arrived at the place of dying to what you were, your old man, your identity as a lost sinner in Adam.
-Are you more like Zimri or Phinehas today? Are you still hanging on to the world, is Cozbi holding your hand? Or is there a spear in your hand – a settled decision that you are a new person in Christ and will kill anything that represents the old.
-There is one more passage I want to finish with.
11Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin,
-We see Zimri here.
but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
-That’s Phinehas. The key word here is “reckon.” It means to think seriously about and add to one’s outlook.
12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
13And do not present your members [body parts] as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members [bodies] as instruments of righteousness to God.
-That’s Cozbi. Once we’ve reckoned ourselves no longer sinners but saints, then we offer our bodies as living sacrifices to work that which is holy, good and pure, not that which is sin.
-Every one of us here has had, does have, or will struggle with besetting sin. When Zimri strolls defiantly by – let repentance manifest itself like Phinehas – grab the spear of decision and go after him! Do whatever you have to do to end sin’s tyranny.
-Your friends may accuse you of taking your religion too far. Your relatives may resist you for becoming too fanatical. Even other Christian may criticize you for being legalistic.
-But if, like Phinehas, what you’re doing is battling your own besetting sin, not judging others for how they deal with theirs, then God’s favor and delight rests on you as it did on Phinehas.
Adapted from a sermon by Pastor Lance Ralston