King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Numbers 25

The Israelites enticed by the daughters of Moab and Midian. (1-5) Phinehas puts Zimri and Cozbi to death. (6-15) The Midianites to be punished. (16-18)

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The Israelites enticed by the daughters of Moab and Midian

1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.

2 And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.

3 And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.

4 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.

5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.

Phinehas puts Zimri and Cozbi to death

6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;

8 And 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 belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

9 And those that died in the plague were twenty and four thousand.

10 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

11 Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.

12 Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:

13 And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.

14 Now the name of the Israelite that was slain, even that was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a chief house among the Simeonites.

15 And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian.

The Midianites to be punished

16 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

17 Vex the Midianites, and smite them:

18 For they vex you with their wiles, wherewith they have beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, which was slain in the day of the plague for Peor’s sake.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. Settim, which had Abel, “mourning,” prefixed to it, (C. xxxiii. 49,) on account of the slaughter of 24,000 of the Israelites, v. 6. 9. It was situated in the plains of Moab, near the Jordan, and was the last station of the Hebrews. C. — In this neighbourhood all the following transactions occurred, which are recorded, till the end of the Pentateuch. M. — Balaam, being convinced that the Hebrews would be invincible, as long as they continued faithful to God, advised the nations, who had sent to consult him, to let their daughters converse freely with the Israelites, but not to yield to their impure desires, unless they consented to offer sacrifice to their idols. C. — Thus they first captivated their hearts, and then subverted their understanding: For some rejecting a good conscience, have made shipwreck concerning the faith. 1 Tim. i. 19. H. — By the same method many have been drawn into heresy. W. — The counsels of an able but wicked man, are often followed by the most dreadful effects. That these women were sent by the Moabites, and also by the Madianites, (v. 6. 17,) instigated by the perverse counsels of Balaam, (C.) appears not only from the event being recorded in this place, but also by the express declaration of Moses, C. xxxi. 7. 8, and of the Apocalypse, C. ii. 14. Salien, Mic. vi. 5. H.

Ver. 3. Initiated to Beelphegor. That is, they took to the worship of Beelphegor, an obscene idol of the Moabites, and were consecrated as it were to him. Ch. — Heb. “Israel was attached, or married to Beelphegor,” the sun, Adonis or Osiris, whom the psalmist (cv. 28,) styles, the dead, because the people were accustomed to bewail the death of Adonis every year, with great solemnity. C. — S. Jerom supposes this god “of opening, or nakedness,” Beelphegor, to be the obscene Priapus. M. — The people fell by degrees into the depth of abomination. They first defiled their bodies with women, then their souls were contaminated by the sacrifices of their idols, till they began really to adore them, and even to consecrate themselves to their service, meaning to ratify their base apostacy from the true God. H. — Yet it is probable all those who were cut off by pestilence, were not thus initiated: but only those who were the princes or ringleaders, and who are sentenced to be gibbeted. Salien. — The mother of Asa, king of Juda, was not ashamed to preside over the mysteries of this obscene idol, (3 K. xv. 13,) which people worshipped by prostitution. Villalpand. S. Jer. in Osee iv. 9. T.

Ver. 4. People. Assemble the judges, and by their sentence, hang them who have been most guilty. Onkelos. — If any of the judges, or princes themselves, have gone astray, let them not be spared. H. — The Jews assert, that the malefactor was always killed before his body was hung on a gibbet; and that crucifixion was not known among them. But the contrary is asserted by many. It is not clear whether these criminals were hung by the neck, or crucified, after they had been first stoned, as guilty of idolatry, or whether they were fastened to the gibbet alive, for greater torment and disgrace. C. — Sun; publicly. See 2 K. xii. 11. M.

Ver. 5. Judges, who had not been guilty. Sept. “to the tribes.” The judges, and even private individuals, were thus authorized to exterminate the guilty, as the Levites had been before, Ex. xxxii. 27. While punishment was inflicted but slowly, and some perhaps of the more noble were spared, so that Zambri, even became more insolent. God began to supply the defect of his ministers, by sending the plague among the people, as Onkelos insinuates. H.

Ver. 6. One, Zambri, v. 14. M. — Went in. Heb. “brought unto his brethren, or came…with a woman of Madian.” Sept. “introduced one of his brethren to a Madianite woman.” But the Sam. copy agrees with the Vulg.; and the ancient edition of the Sept. must have done so too, since the Fathers explain it in the same sense. Philo de vita Mos. Origen, &c. Josephus (iv. 6,) pretends that Zambri had married the most noble Cozbi, and that Moses finding fault with such infractions of this laws, this prince of the house of Simeon, arraigned him publicly of cruel tyranny and imposture in thus imposing his own laws upon a free people, adn that for his part, he would retain his wife and ingratiate himself with many gods, that he might discover the truth. Phinees heard this with just indignation, and following him to his tent, transfixed him with Cozbi, his wife, while those young men who were desirous of imitating his zeal, treated similar offenders in like manner. “God destroyed the rest by the plague, so that not less than 14,000 perished,” as Epiphanius translates, omitting dis, or ten thousand, though many copies have only 23,000, which agrees with the number specified by S. Paul, if indeed he allude to this transaction. 1 Cor. x. 7. Philo observes, that Phinees slew the Israelite who had sacrificed to the idols, and was in the company of the harlot; and , “that 24,000 perished in one day.” H. — Perhaps 1000 of the heads might be gibbeted, and 23,000 of the common people slain. D.

Ver. 7. Dagger. Josephus translates romach, by romphaia, “a sword.” Sept. by seiromasten, a long and sharp iron rod, like a spit, such as people used to try if any smuggled goods be concealed. H. — It denotes any sort of offensive weapon. C. — The Vulg. sometimes translates, a lance or spear. M.

Ver. 8. Parts. Ovid says, Lethifer ille locus, “That place where wounds so often deadly prove.” Heb. kubbak, means brothel-house just before, a bead, vault, cistern, belly, &c. Sept. translate, “through her womb.” The plague, inflicted by God, instantly ceased, to shew the divine approbation of this exemplary punishment, and all were so much filled with terror and repentance, that it was no longer necessary for the judges to sentence any more to death. An effectual stop was also put to the spreading disorder of both carnal and spiritual fornication. H.

Ver. 9. Slain. Heb. adds, “in the plague,” or pestilence sent by God, (Ps. cv. 29,) and in the punishments inflicted by the judges, “twenty and four thousand.” H. — The tribe of Simeon, lying to the south, had given way to greater disorders with the Madianites; (C.) so that they were found to have 37,100 fewer than when they were numbered before. C. ii. 13. See C. xxvi. 14. H.

Ver. 12. Peace. He has the honour of restoring the people to peace and to my favour, so that my covenant shall still subsist with them. He shall surely be his father’s successor in the high priesthood, and shall not be prevented by death.

Ver. 13. Seed. A short interruption of 150 years (from Heli to Abiathar, of the race of Ithamar) may be accounted trifling in a duration of so many ages, during which the posterity of Phinees enjoyed this dignity. Phinees succeeded Eleazar and had for his successors, Abiezer Bocci, and Elsi. C. — Some add Zararias, Meraioth, and Amarias, upon whose death, 1157 years before Christ, Heli got possession, by some means, and was followed by Achitob, Achielech, and Abiathar, of the same family, till David joined Sadoc with the latter, and he was acknowledged sole pontiff on the rebellion of Abiathar. B.C. 1014. See Lenglet’s tables. H. — We have no proof that the succeeding high priests were of a different family, (C.) till our Saviour’s time, who re-united in his person the right both to his priesthood and to the kingdom of Israel for ever. See S. Aug. C. D. xvii. 6. H. — God did not promise that no interruption should take place. He only granted a perpetual right to the family of Phinees, (Cajetan) which they might forfeit by their misconduct. T. — He was certainly always disposed to comply with his promise, and really granted the effects of it to the posterity of Phinees, at least for almost 1000 years, even if we grant that the Machabees were not his lineal descendants, of which there is no positive proof either way. Thus, for ever, often denotes a long duration. Though Phinees was entitled already to the high priesthood, in quality of the eldest son of Eleazar, he had before no assurance of surviving him, nor of having a succession of children who might be capable of the high office, and free from every blemish; (C.) so that the promise made to him was not only a ratification of his title, but a new and real benefit. H. — Zealous. The Jews allow any person to kill one who publicly, or in the presence of ten people, commits idolatry, sacrilege, fornication with a strange woman, and also a priest who, being unclean, approaches to the altar. This they call the judgment of zeal. Seld. Jur. iv. 4. Grotius ii. 20. This practice they authorize by the example of Phinees, Mathathias, &c. 1 Mac. ii. 24. Such liberty was carried to a great excess, by the Zealots, in the last siege of Jerusalem; and it would be very criminal, where such a law is not in force. C. — Phinees was, however, either one of the judges, and thus gave an example of just severity to his fellow magistrates, or he was inspired by God to resent the public injury done to his name. It is never lawful to kill by private authority. Catec. Rom. p. 3. C. vi. 5. S. Thomas ii. 2. q. lx. 6. W. — Those who act under the influence of inspiration must be very careful not to give in to any delusion; and the examples of holy persons who are mentioned, with applause, in Scripture, for having been the instruments of God’s vengeance, will not authorize us to do the like, unless we can produce the like testimony. H. — Atonement, by averting the scourge of God, (v. 8. 11,) and by putting a stop to the corruption of the people, which might otherwise have greatly increased, if Zambri had escaped with impunity. C.

Ver. 14. Kindred. Heb. “of a chief house among the Simeonites,” as Sur was of equal nobility, “head over a people, and of a chief house in Madian,” v. 15. H. — He is styled king, and one of the five princes of the nation. C. xxxi. 8.

Ver. 17. Madianites. God spared the Moabites for the sake of Lot (Deut. ii. 19,) and of Ruth, of whom David and Christ should be born. They were perhaps less guilty, but they did not escape due chastisement under David, 2 K. viii. 2. M. — The war against Madian was the last which the Hebrews waged in the lifetime of Moses. C. xxxi. H.