What is Going on With Numbers 25:6-12?

What is Going on With Numbers 25:6-12? February 3, 2024

Seeing Eye
The Seeing Eye     Pixabay Image by Tom

What is the big deal about Numbers 25:6-12?

What is the big deal about Numbers 25:6-12?  What is the Torah talking about?  What kind of god do we see here?  If this is the same deity Yeshua talks about, something is very wrong here!

Let’s explore the text (KJV).

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.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;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.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:

and the less obscure English Standard Version (ESV):

6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. 9 Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.

The Zeal of Phinehas
10 And the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace,

What does the Bible say?

The narrative is actually clear.  It has been occluded by those who would use scripture to control the behavior of other people have turned and twisted and interpreted and redacted until we have absolutely no idea what the original story was and that is presuming that there was an original story.  It is just as likely that this incident was a fabrication of the Priestly author as he appended the Yahwist text of Numbers 25:1-5.

In both translations, the people of Israel have rebelled against YHWH, their primary deity.  It seems that the men of Israel have been consorting with Moabite women (in one part of the chapter) and Midianite women (in another part).

An anonymous author, writing for the LDS Scripture Teachings, explains:

Numbers 25 has a serious contradiction that should not be missed: there seem to be two oral traditions present in this text: an earlier version where the Moabites, specifically Moabite women, lead the Israelites to follow Baal, and a later reworking of this story where the Midianites replace the Moabites. This makes sense, as the Priestly author came later after the Yahwist textual tradition 4. The Priestly author made the case against Moses as the legitimate leader of the House of Israel, and one way he did this was to denigrate Midian, since Moses is married to a Midianite woman, Zipporah (Exodus 2:16-21). By belittling Midian, the author of the P text is lessening the status of Moses.

What is going on here?

For those who need to see the Bible as a monolithic text, without flaw and entirely lucid in all things, I don’t have much that I can say to you.  The Hebrew Bible was compiled by likely hundreds of individual scribes, writing in different places, in different times and with different biases.

One can review the composition of the Hebrew Bible and explore the reasons why it was compiled in the way that it was.

How does the story proceed?

The people, while wandering in the desert following their deliverance from Egypt,  have begun to worship the Canaanite god Ba’al in defiance of YHWH.  The chapter is not clear, however, whether it is the women of Moab or the women of Midian who are leading the men of Israel astray is not clear.  Two of the schools of writing which produced the Hebrew Bible contributed to this narrative.  The Yahwist (J) source blames the women of Moab.  In order to denigrate Moses, the Priestly (P)  source blames the women of Midian.  Moses’s own wife is a Midian woman.

As the story goes, one of the Israelite men has brought a woman of Midian into the Israelite camp.  That is all that the Bible says about her.

Please note here that many of those who have interpreted this chapter have inferred that the Midianite woman and the Israelite man were copulating when the incident occurredNothing in the chapter says this, however, at least not in the English translations available..  It simply says they went into a tent.  One might infer the “tent of meeting” but that is not specified.

After the Israelite man and the Midianite woman enter the the tent, one Phineas, a descendent of Aaron, the high priest, enters the tent behind them and runs the man through with his spear and stabs into the belly of the woman.

What outcome does Phineas’s willful murder produce?

Keep in mind that people have been taught that the man and woman were having relations in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle.  The Bible does not say this.  The authors infer that a “plague” which has afflicted 24,000 Israelites has, by this act, suddenly ended.  YHWH punished the Israelites by killing 24,000 of them.  This rampage ended at once as soon as Phineas’s spear had penetrated the offending man and woman.

As it is said, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

For more than 2,000 years, the church, in its many forms, has rationalized this incident to the extent that they will profess that there is no inconsistency here between the acts of YHWH and the merciful all-loving deity described by Yeshua. Anyone with a tiny bit of reason can easily see that this, like many teachings of the church,  is without textual foundation.

Stay tuned.

About William T. Orr, Jr.
William T. Orr, Jr. is a retired educator, most recently the principal of a high school named in the Top 10 in the nation by Newsweek magazine. His school was also named to the Newsweek Top 100 each year while he was principal. Orr has been a teacher, a counselor, and a school administrator. He was influential in working in the district and state to lobby for more equitable pay for educators, and has long been a vocal advocate for more academic freedom for educators. Orr has a B.A. in English Language and Literature, a M.Ed. in Education Administration and Supervision, and an Ed.D. in Education leadership. He’s also completed Postdoctoral study at Yale Divinity School and Dallas Theological Seminary. Shortly after retirement, Orr began to study Abrahamic religions with a focus on why and how small religious sects among an often conquered people became what evolved into three of the most dominant and influential religions in the world today. Orr grew up in the American South and the Christian religion. His studies have shown him that what is taught to the children of religion in the 1960s to the 2020s is woefully inaccurate and downright wrong in some cases. These unfortunate facts have informed politics and society in dangerous ways. You can read more about the author here.
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