Israel hasn’t even made it out of the wilderness and already they are going after other gods. This is NOT going to be tolerated!
Israel is enjoying sitting still and living in the land they have disposed the people from. They are still receiving the provisions of God for their daily needs. They were still gathering and eating the mana during this time. They still had their camp set up in the order God commanded. They still made daily sacrifices and offerings.
We are not told that Israel planted crops or occupied the houses left behind. We are told they dwelt in the cities and towns though. I’m assuming that they didn’t because we are told that they lived in tents during the whole 40 years but I could be wrong.
What we do know is that Israel started looking to their neighbors for something different. Why is it we always want what we don’t have, even when we have something just as good or better? The men of Israel started looking at the women of Moab as more desirable. This wasn’t just one man slipping across the border but HOARDS of men doing it. We are told that 24,000 died as a result of this wandering eye.
Israel was in danger because the wanted the “grass on the other side of the fence.” They wanted the women of Moab enough that they were willing to compromise their values. “It won’t hurt to go with her “church” just this once.” But that once opened the door for the rest that followed. The men were willing to do whatever the woman asked to prove his love and win her hand. “Worship in your temple? Sure.” “Bow down to your god? Ok.” “Eat of your sacrifice. Let me get my fork.” “Surely our God won’t mind. After all, we are just trying to be friendly to our new neighbors.”
Thinking about Israel’s behavior reminds me of when I was a teenager. We kids often invited friends to go to church with us. One time my sister and I asked a friend to go to church with us and her mom insisted that we go with her once in exchange. I felt VERY strange in hers because they had different practices and different beliefs than I grew up with. I’m sure she probably felt the same way about my church. Another experience was when we would date our mom insisted that our boyfriends were Christians too so some of them would go with us to church. My first husband confessed to me years later that he only went with me because he liked me. He didn’t believe as I did but acted as if he did to win my parents over. He traded in his beliefs for mine. I pray my God became his God too but that is something that has to be answered between him and God personally.
God called the people away from this kind of behavior. He called them to be separate and to serve Him only. That was their promise to Him too. He would NOT let this go unchallenged or unchecked. He called for the PUBLIC deaths of all those who should have kept their people in line. It is interesting that the priests and Moses didn’t get in trouble too. They were head over everyone. I imagine they were trying to keep the people in line but were being ignored.
EVERYONE who engaged in this activity paid for it with their lives. The whole camp felt the loss and were in mourning. All except one self-absorbed man. I’m going to call him what he was, a narcissist. He cared so little about the rest of the people that he flaunted his sin in their faces and in God’s face in the middle of their grief!
I applaud Eleazar’s indignation. The people were in the process of repenting and returning to God. Nothing could have been more damaging than that man’s attitude. I’m assuming by the fact that both were pierced through with one blow that they were in the act of copulation at the time. The most intimate act between a man and woman and the consecration of a union God explicitly forbade.
God wasn’t being a prude or a purist when He told Israel to remain separate. He was protecting their hearts from the influences of those who would lead them away from Him. “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). His people not bowing down to ANY other gods was commandment number ONE. He knew what their bowing down would lead to and He wouldn’t not tolerate it. Out of love for us He could not tolerate it.
Father God I know that bowing down physically to other gods is something I would NOT do. But I have found myself putting other things on Your throne in my life sometimes. Forgive me Father. Help me ALWAYS keep Your throne clear of all other gods. They hold NOTHING for me. Money, fame, recognition, fine things, fun toys, and even “being skinny” are NEVER to replace You. Help me keep each piece in its place. Some of these things have a place in my life but it is NEVER to be my priority or my source. That place belongs to You and You alone. Thank You Lord for ordering my life again. Please help me maintain the order YOU set for me even now as I struggle with the last one again. Help me with balance and perspective. Help me to know what is my obsession taking over and what is healthy behavior that You are trying to inspire in me.