Read Numbers 25-26
Midianite women allure Israelite men into promiscuity and the worship of Baal. This act threatens the very existence of Israel and challenges the heart of their relationship with God. Someone must act to stop this national tragedy.
On June 17, 2002 Federal authorities arrested a United States Forest Service employee for starting the largest fire in Colorado’s history. Terry Barton was a 38-year-old woman and had worked every summer for the Forest Service for 18 or 19 years. She had ventured into the forest to burn a letter form her estranged husband. She had evidently become angry with him and burning the note was perhaps her emotional release. Yet, because of dry conditions in the Pike National Forest, she was unable to extinguish the fire as quickly as she had desired and the fire burned out of control.
At the time the fire began, Barton was under orders to patrol for fires in the vicinity where she had started the fire. This fire that was to be the largest in the state’s history burning over 130 homes with an estimated total cost of damage ranging anywhere from $27 million to almost $40 million dollars. In all, more than 137,000 acres burned causing Colorado Governor Bill Owens to say, “It looks as if all of Colorado is burning.”
In this strange juxtaposition of events, Terry Barton who was to prevent fires in the Colorado forest had now begun a fire. The irony of the one who protects instead causing destruction cannot be lost on us. In today’s reading, Phinehas, a priest, shows courage and does the exact opposite of Terry Barton, the forest service worker. Where she failed at her duty, Phinehas rose to the challenge to protect the worship of His God.
Be sure to see how skilled Moses is at composing this story for he tells this incident at Peor so that it mirrors the people’s sin at Sinai. In fact, it is obvious Moses wants us to compare the two incidents and see a pattern.
- At both Sinai and Peor, the people worshipped false gods. At Sinai, the people worshiped the golden calf (Exodus 32) but at Peor, the people worship false god, called Baal (25:1-2).
- At both places, the fierce anger of God called for drastic action and those guilty of breaking the first commandment (Exodus 20:3) were put to death (Compare Exodus 32:26-28 to Numbers 25:7-8).
- The tribe of Levi was set aside to especially serve God after the golden calf debacle (Exodus 32:29) while Phinehas is promised his descendants will always be priests (25:11-13).