Worship of Baal of Peor. 1While Israel was living at Shittim,#Shittim: the full name was Abel-shittim, a locality at the foot of the mountains in the northeastern corner of the plains of Moab (33:49). Prostituting themselves: the application to men of such traditional language for apostasy clearly suggests apostasy was taken to be an inevitable consequence of intermarriage with the Midianite women. the people profaned themselves by prostituting themselves with the Moabite women.#Nm 31:16. 2These then invited the people to the sacrifices of their god, and the people ate of the sacrifices#Ex 34:15–16. and bowed down to their god. 3Israel thereby attached itself to the Baal of Peor,#Ps 106:28; Hos 9:10. and the Lord’s anger flared up against Israel. 4#Dt 4:3. The Lord said to Moses: Gather all the leaders of the people, and publicly execute them#Publicly execute them: the same phrase occurs in 2 Sm 21:6–14, where the context shows that at least a part of the penalty consisted in being denied honorable burial. In both passages, dismemberment or impalement (perhaps subsequent to the actual execution) as a punishment for the breaking of covenant pledges, is a possible interpretation of the Hebrew phrase. before the Lord, that the blazing wrath of the Lord may turn away from Israel. 5So Moses told the Israelite judges, “Each of you kill those of his men who have attached themselves to the Baal of Peor.”#Thereby Moses apparently alters the Lord’s command to execute all the leaders.
Zeal of Phinehas. 6At this a certain Israelite came and brought in a Midianite woman#Midianite woman: according to 22:4, 7, the Midianites were allied with the Moabites in opposing Israel, while 31:16 claims that Balaam had induced the Midianite women to lure the Israelites away from the Lord. They were weeping: on account of the plague that had struck them; cf. v. 8. to his kindred in the view of Moses and of the whole Israelite community, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7#Ps 106:30. When Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw this, he rose up from the assembly, and taking a spear in his hand, 8followed the Israelite into the tent where he pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman. Thus the plague upon the Israelites was checked; 9but the dead from the plague were twenty-four thousand.
10Then the Lord said to Moses: 11Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned my anger from the Israelites by his being as jealous among them as I am; that is why I did not put an end to the Israelites in my jealousy.#My jealousy: God’s desire to maintain an exclusive hold on the allegiance of the Israelites. 12#1 Mc 2:26, 54; Ps 106:31; Sir 45:23–24. Announce, therefore, that I hereby give him my covenant of peace,#Covenant of peace: by means of this covenant between God and Phinehas, Phinehas can expect God’s protection, especially from any threat of reprisal for his action; cf. Is 54:10; Ez 34:25; 37:26. 13which shall be for him and for his descendants after him the covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was jealous on behalf of his God and thus made expiation for the Israelites.
14#The noble lineage of the slain couple is mentioned in order to stress the courage of Phinehas in punishing them. The zeal of Phinehas became proverbial; cf. Ps 106:30; Sir 45:23; 1 Mc 2:26, 54. The name of the slain Israelite, the one slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri, son of Salu, prince of a Simeonite ancestral house. 15The name of the slain Midianite woman was Cozbi, daughter of Zur, who was head of a clan, an ancestral house, in Midian.
Vengeance on the Midianites. 16#The account of the execution of this command is given in 31:1–18. The Lord then said to Moses: 17#Nm 31:2–12. Treat the Midianites as enemies and strike them, 18for they have been your enemies by the deceitful dealings they had with you regarding Peor and their kinswoman Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite prince, who was slain at the time of the plague because of Peor.