Highlights From Bible Reading ‒ Numbers 22, 23, 24, 25
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Highlights From the Book of Numbers 22-25*** w04 8/1 p. 27 Highlights From the Book of Numbers ***
Scriptural Questions Answered:
22:20-22—Why did Jehovah’s anger blaze against Balaam? Jehovah had told the prophet Balaam that he should not curse the Israelites. (Numbers 22:12) However, the prophet went with Balak’s men with the full intention of cursing Israel. Balaam wanted to please the Moabite king and receive a reward from him. (2 Peter 2:15, 16; Jude 11) Even when Balaam was forced to bless rather than curse Israel, he sought the king’s favor by suggesting that Baal-worshiping women be used to seduce Israelite men. (Numbers 31:15, 16) Thus, the reason for God’s anger against Balaam was the prophet’s unscrupulous greed.
*** w03 5/15 pp. 13-14 par. 19 Christ Speaks to the Congregations ***
19 Christ also spoke of “the teaching of Balaam.” Greedy for material gain, the false prophet Balaam tried to curse Israel. When God turned his curse into a blessing, Balaam worked with Moabite King Balak and lured many Israelites into idolatry and sexual immorality. Christian elders need to be as firm for righteousness as was Phinehas, who acted against the workings of Balaam. (Numbers 22:1–25:15; 2 Peter 2:15, 16; Jude 11) In fact, all Christians must be on guard against idolatry and the infiltration of sexual immorality into the congregation.—Jude 3, 4.
*** w02 3/15 p. 16 par. 12 Christ Leads His Congregation ***
Despite receiving repeated divine warnings, Balaam tried to curse God’s people for a financial reward. (Numbers 22:5-28, 32-34; Deuteronomy 23:5) Korah had his own fine responsibility in Israel, but it was not enough for him. He fomented rebellion against God’s servant Moses, the meekest man on earth. (Numbers 12:3; 16:1-3, 32, 33) Calamity befell Cain, Balaam, and Korah. How vividly these examples teach us to listen to the counsel of those whom Jehovah uses in positions of responsibility and to respect them!
*** w07 10/15 p. 14 Move Toward the Light ***
Moabite King Balak tried to curse Israel by means of the false prophet Balaam. However, Jehovah foiled this plot by making Balaam utter blessings instead of curses. (Numbers 22:1-7; 24:10) Undeterred, Balaam embarked on another sinister scheme, one designed to disqualify God’s people from receiving the land. How? By luring them into immorality and Baal worship. While overall this strategy also failed, it did result in the seducing of 24,000 Israelites. They had immoral relations with Moabite women and attached themselves to Baal of Peor.—Numbers 25:1-9.
Think of that! Many of those same Israelites had seen Jehovah lead them safely through “that great and fear-inspiring wilderness.” (Deuteronomy 1:19) Yet, on the threshold of their inheritance, 24,000 of God’s people caved in to fleshly desires and died at Jehovah’s hand. What a warning this is to God’s servants today as they approach a vastly superior inheritance!
In his last-ditch attempt to prevent Jehovah’s modern-day servants from attaining their reward, Satan does not need new strategies. In a strategy that reminds us of what happened on Israel’s first approach to the Promised Land, Satan often tries to inspire fear and doubt, whether by means of threats, persecution, or ridicule. Some Christians have given in to such intimidation. (Matthew 13:20, 21) Another time-tested machination is that of corrupting individuals morally. On occasion, some who have crept into the Christian congregation have tried to corrupt those who are spiritually weak and who are not walking confidently in divine light.—Jude 8, 12-16.
*** w07 10/15 pp. 16-17 “Ships of Kittim” Ply the Seas ***
Bible students have been intrigued by references, some prophetic, to “Kittim” and “the ships of Kittim.” (Numbers 24:24; Daniel 11:30; Isaiah 23:1) Just where was Kittim? What do we know about its ships? And why should the answers interest you?
The Jewish historian Josephus referred to Kittim as “Chethimos,” associating it with the island of Cyprus. The city of Kition (or, Citium) on the southeastern part of the island further links Kittim to Cyprus. Geographically located at the crossroads of ancient trade routes, Cyprus was ideally positioned to benefit from its proximity to maritime centers of the eastern Mediterranean. Forced by its geopolitical status to take sides between warring nations, Cyprus also became either a potent ally or a bothersome obstacle.
*** w06 1/15 p. 30 Oppose Satan, and He Will Flee! ***
Oppose the Devil, and He Will Flee
19 We can be successful in our spiritual warfare against the Devil and the wicked spirit forces under his direction. There is no reason to quake in fear of Satan, for the disciple James wrote: “Subject yourselves . . . to God; but oppose the Devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) One way to go on the offensive in opposing Satan and the wicked spirit creatures in league with him is by having nothing to do with occult or magical practices and those indulging in them. The Scriptures clearly show that servants of Jehovah must refuse to look for omens or to engage in astrology, divination, and spiritism. If we are spiritually active and strong, we need not be afraid that someone will cast a spell on us.—Numbers 23:23; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Isaiah 47:12-15; Acts 19:18-20.
*** w11 9/15 pp. 30-31 Can You Be Like Phinehas When You Face Challenges? ***
“He at Once Got Up”
Phinehas was a young man when the Israelites were encamped on the Plains of Moab. The Bible reports: “The people started to have immoral relations with the daughters of Moab. . . . And the people began to eat and to bow down to their gods.” (Num. 25:1, 2) Jehovah afflicted the wrongdoers with a death-dealing scourge. Can you imagine how this report of wrongdoing and the scourge it caused must have affected Phinehas?
“Look!” the account continues, “a man of the sons of Israel came, and he was bringing near to his brothers a Midianite woman before Moses’ eyes and before the eyes of all the assembly of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” (Num. 25:6) What would priest Phinehas do? He was relatively young, and the offending Israelite was a chieftain who took the lead in worship among the people.—Num. 25:14.
But Phinehas feared Jehovah, not men. When he caught sight of the two, he at once took a lance in his hand and went after the man into the tent and pierced both of them through. How did Jehovah view Phinehas’ courage and decisiveness? Jehovah immediately ended the scourge and rewarded Phinehas with a covenant that the priesthood would remain in his line “to time indefinite.”—Num. 25:7-13.
Of course, Christian elders today do not resort to violence. But like Phinehas, elders must be ready to be decisive and courageous. For example, Guilherme had been serving as an elder for only a few months when he was asked to serve on a judicial committee. The case of wrongdoing involved an elder who had helped Guilherme when he was younger. “I felt awkward being in that position,” he says. “I found it difficult to sleep at night. I kept going over in my mind ways to handle this case without letting my emotions blur my spiritual vision. I prayed for several days and researched Bible publications.” This helped him to have the needed courage to handle the unique situation and render spiritual assistance to his erring brother.—1 Tim. 4:11, 12.
By acting with courage and decisiveness when situations in the congregation require such, elders become examples of faith and loyalty. Of course, other Christians also need to act courageously, reporting serious wrongdoing that they may become aware of. Likewise, it takes loyalty to discontinue association with a friend or relative who is disfellowshipped.—1 Cor. 5:11-13.
*** w04 8/1 p. 27 Highlights From the Book of Numbers ***
Lessons for Us:
25:11. What an example of zeal for Jehovah’s worship Phinehas set for us! Should not the desire to keep the congregation clean move us to report any knowledge of gross immorality to Christian elders?
*** w13 5/15 p. 27 par. 5 Safeguard Your Inheritance by Making Wise Choices ***
5 To hold fast to our wonderful inheritance, though, we must remain alert to Satan’s ploys. Satan has always tried to influence God’s people to make choices that could cost them their inheritance. (Num. 25:1-3, 9) Aware that his end is near, Satan has stepped up his efforts to mislead us. (Read Revelation 12:12, 17.) If we are to keep on ‘standing firm against the machinations of the Devil,’ we must continue to value our inheritance highly. (Eph. 6:11) In this regard, the warning example of the patriarch Isaac’s son Esau provides lessons we do well to take to heart.
*** it-1 p. 779 Exodus ***
That there was a fearful number of fighting men the Bible record attests: “Moab became very frightened at the people, because they were many; and Moab began to feel a sickening dread of the sons of Israel.” (Nu 22:3) The fear on the part of the Moabites was, of course, based partly on the fact that Jehovah had worked such wonders for Israel but was also because of their great number, which could not be said of a mere few thousand people. The population figures of the Israelites actually changed very little during the wilderness journey because so many died in the wilderness as a result of unfaithfulness.—Nu 26:2-4, 51.
*** it-1 p. 244 Balaam ***
(Ba′laam) [possibly, One Swallowing Down].
Son of Beor, of the 15th century B.C.E. He lived in the Aramaean town of Pethor in the upper Euphrates Valley and near the Sajur River. Though not an Israelite, Balaam had some knowledge and recognition of Jehovah as the true God, speaking of him on one occasion as “Jehovah my God.” (Nu 22:5, 18) This may have been because devout worshipers of Jehovah (Abraham, Lot, and Jacob) formerly lived in the vicinity of Haran, not far from Pethor.—Ge 12:4, 5; 24:10; 28:5; 31:18, 38.
*** it-1 p. 245 Balak ***
” At first Balaam declined to go, but after Balak sent a more honorable delegation of princes and raised his offer, the greedy prophet finally accepted, with Jehovah’s allowance. Upon coming to the bank of the Arnon, Balak chided him: “Why did you not come to me [at first]? Am I not really and truly able to honor you?”—Nu 22:2-37.
*** it-2 p. 703 Proverbial Saying ***
God also caused Balaam to make a series of proverbial utterances, and these, too, are put down in the form of poetry. (Nu 23:7, 18; 24:3, 15, 20, 21, 23) Far from expressing any scorn for Israel in these proverbial utterances, Balaam “blessed them to the limit,” though he did prophesy woe for other peoples. (Nu 23:11) The proverbial aspect here is not because of any popular repetition of what Balaam said nor because his statements were concise expressions of wisdom. Rather, these are termed proverbial utterances because of the power and rich meaning of what was said, along with his use of a variety of likenesses or comparisons in some of his statements.
*** it-1 p. 80 Aloe, Aloeswood ***
The prophet Balaam’s comparison of the tents of Israel with “aloe plants that Jehovah has planted, like cedars by the waters,” may relate to the spreading shape of these lofty trees, a cluster of aloe trees resembling an encampment of tents. (Nu 24:6) This text, however, has occasioned some discussion, since the Aquilaria agallocha trees are not found in Palestine. Their absence today, of course, would not necessarily prove that such trees were not present in that land nearly 3,500 years ago. On the other hand, Balaam’s reference to the trees does not require that they be growing right in the area where he spoke. If the “cedars” mentioned immediately afterward in this text were cedars of Lebanon, then they would be trees growing outside that area, and the same could be true of the aloes. The other texts dealing with aloes refer only to their aromatic qualities and would allow for them to have been foreign imports.
*** w92 7/15 p. 5 Does the Bible Contradict Itself? ***
Since Agag was a contemporary of Israelite king Saul, was not Balaam’s much earlier reference to an Amalekite ruler of that name a discrepancy?
In about 1473 B.C.E., Balaam foretold that a king of Israel would be “higher than Agag.” (Numbers 24:7) No subsequent reference was made to Agag until the reign of King Saul (1117-1078 B.C.E.). (1 Samuel 15:8) This was not a discrepancy, however, for “Agag” may have been a royal title similar to that of Pharaoh in Egypt. It is also possible that Agag was a personal name repeatedly used by Amalekite rulers.
*** w92 15/7 pág. 5 ¿Se contradice la Biblia? ***
▪ En vista de que Agag fue contemporáneo de Saúl, rey de Israel, ¿no era una discrepancia el que Balaam hiciera referencia a un soberano amalequita de ese nombre mucho antes?
Alrededor del año 1473 a.E.C., Balaam predijo que un rey de Israel sería “más alto que Agag”. (Números 24:7.) No se vuelve a mencionar a Agag hasta el reinado de Saúl (1117-1078 a.E.C.). (1 Samuel 15:8.) Ahora bien, este hecho no constituye una discrepancia, pues “Agag” puede haber sido un título de la realeza semejante al de Faraón de Egipto. También es posible que Agag fuera un nombre común entre los soberanos amalequitas.
*** it-1 p. 218 Attitudes and Gestures ***
Clapping the hands might be a gesture merely to command attention, as at Joshua 15:18. More often it was a sign of anger (Nu 24:10), contempt or ridicule (Job 27:23; La 2:15), sorrow (Eze 6:11), or animosity, rejoicing at bad that befell a rival, a hated enemy, or an oppressor; it was sometimes accompanied by stamping of the feet.—Eze 25:6; Na 3:19.
*** it-2 pág. 690 Posturas y ademanes ***
Palmotear. Podía tratarse simplemente de un ademán para llamar la atención de alguien, como se muestra en Josué 15:18, pero con más frecuencia indicaba cólera (Nú 24:10), desprecio o burla (Job 27:23; Lam 2:15), pena (Eze 6:11), animosidad o que la persona se regocijaba por el mal que le acaecía a un rival, a un enemigo odiado o a un opresor. En ocasiones, además de palmotear se pateaba con los pies. (Eze 25:6; Na 3:19.)
*** it-2 p. 206 Last Days ***
Balaam’s Prophecy. It was before the Israelites entered the Promised Land that the prophet Balaam said to Moab’s King Balak: “Do come, let me advise you what this people [Israel] will do to your people afterward in the end of the days. . . . A star will certainly step forth out of Jacob, and a scepter will indeed rise out of Israel. And he will certainly break apart the temples of Moab’s head and the cranium of all the sons of tumult of war.” (Nu 24:14-17) In the initial fulfillment of this prophecy, the “star” proved to be King David, the subduer of the Moabites. (2Sa 8:2) Evidently, therefore, in that fulfillment of this particular prophecy, “the end of the days” began with David’s becoming king. Since David foreshadowed Jesus as Messianic King, the prophecy would also apply to Jesus at the time when he subdues his enemies.—Isa 9:7; Ps 2:8, 9.
*** re chap. 10 p. 53 par. 19 Abhorring the “Deep Things of Satan” ***
Jesus himself later explains what this “star” is, saying: “I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:16) Yes, it is Jesus who fulfills the prophecy that Jehovah forced from the unwilling lips of Balaam: “A star will certainly step forth out of Jacob, and a scepter will indeed rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:17) How will Jesus give “the morning star” to those who conquer? Evidently, by giving himself to them, by taking them into the closest, most intimate relationship with him. (John 14:2, 3) Surely a powerful inducement to endure! Stimulating it is, too, for the great crowd to know that “the bright morning star” will soon exercise his Kingdom authority in restoring Paradise here on earth!
*** it-2 p. 146 Kenite ***
The Bible does not specifically report what happened to the Kenites, also called Kain. Balaam’s proverbial utterance concerning them posed the question: “How long will it be till Assyria will carry you away captive?” (Nu 24:21, 22) So it may be that some Kenites lived in the northern kingdom of Israel and surrounding areas and were taken captive along with them by the Assyrians.—2Ki 15:29; 17:6.
*** w07 10/15 pp. 18-19 “Ships of Kittim” Ply the Seas ***
Interestingly, about the estimated time of this shipwreck, Balaam referred to ships from Kittim in his “proverbial utterance.” (Numbers 24:15, 24) Evidently, Cypriot ships had become well-known in the Middle East. What were these ships like?
Many clay models of ships and boats have been discovered in burial chambers at the ancient city of Amathus in Cyprus. These give valuable indications as to the types of Cypriot vessels, and some are on display in museums.
The models show that early ships were obviously used for peaceful trading. The smaller craft were usually powered by 20 oarsmen. The broad, deep hulls were designed to transport goods and passengers on short trips hugging the coast of Cyprus. Pliny the Elder mentions that the Cypriots designed a small, light ship that was oar propelled and that could carry up to 90 tons.
Then there were the larger merchant ships like the one found off the coast of Turkey. Some could carry up to 450 tons of cargo on the open seas. Large ships might have as many as 50 oarsmen, 25 on each side, and be 100 feet [30 meters] long with a mast over 30 feet [10 meters] high.
“Kittim” Warships in Bible Prophecy
The spirit of Jehovah was responsible for this pronouncement: “There will be ships from the coast of Kittim, and they will certainly afflict Assyria.” (Numbers 24:2, 24) Did this prediction come true? How were vessels from Cyprus involved in the fulfillment? Those “ships from the coast of Kittim” were not peaceful trading vessels that plied the Mediterranean Sea. They were warships bringing affliction.
As the needs of war changed, the basic designs were adapted to produce swifter and more powerful vessels. The earliest Cypriot warships were probably represented in a painting discovered in Amathus. It depicts a long slender ship with the stern curving upward and inward, similar to a Phoenician warship. It has a ram and circular shields on either side near the stern and toward the bow.
The eighth century B.C.E. saw the first biremes (ships with two tiers of oars) in Greece. These ships were about 80 feet [24 meters] long and 10 feet [3 meters] wide. At first, the ships were used to transport warriors, the actual fighting taking place on land. Before long, the advantage of adding a third tier of oars was recognized, and a bronze-clad ram was fitted to the bow. The new ship became known as a trireme, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. This type of ship gained prominence during the battle of Salamis (480 B.C.E.) when the Greeks defeated the Persian navy.
Later, Alexander the Great, in his quest for domination, mobilized his fleet of triremes eastward. Such ships were designed for battle, not for long voyages on the high seas, since there was limited room for storing supplies. This called for stops at Aegean islands for provisions and refits. Alexander’s aim was to destroy the Persian fleet. To succeed, however, he first had to overcome the formidable island fortress of Tyre. Cyprus was a stopover on the way.
The Cypriots rallied to Alexander the Great during the siege of Tyre (332 B.C.E.), providing a fleet of 120 ships. Three kings of Cyprus led fleets to join Alexander. They shared in a siege of Tyre that lasted seven months. Tyre fell, and Bible prophecy was fulfilled. (Ezekiel 26:3, 4; Zechariah 9:3, 4) To express his gratitude, Alexander granted special authority to the Cypriot kings.
A Remarkable Fulfillment
First-century historian Strabo relates that Alexander commissioned ships from Cyprus and Phoenicia for his campaign into Arabia. These ships were light and easy to dismantle, so they reached Thapsacus (Tiphsah) in northern Syria within just seven days. (1 Kings 4:24) From there it was possible to travel downriver to Babylon.
Hence, a seemingly obscure statement in the Bible had a remarkable fulfillment some ten centuries later! In line with the words of Numbers 24:24, the military machine of Alexander the Great advanced relentlessly eastward from Macedonia and conquered the land of Assyria, finally defeating the mighty Medo-Persian Empire.
*** it-1 p. 244 Balaam ***
When it says that Balaam “returned to his place” it does not necessarily mean he actually reached his home back in Pethor. The words themselves do not imply that Balaam left more than the immediate vicinity of Mount Peor. As Cook’s Commentary observes on Numbers 24:25: “Returned to his own place . . . Not to his own land, for he remained amongst the Midianites to plot by new means against the people of God, and to perish in his sin. . . . The phrase, which is of frequent recurrence (cf. e.g. Gen. xviii. 33, xxxi. 55; I S.xxvi. 25; 2 S. xix. 39), is idiomatic, meaning merely that Balaam went away whither he would.”
*** it-1 p. 229 Baal ***
Each locality had its own Baal, and the local Baal was often given a name denoting his being attached to a specific locality. For instance, the Baal of Peor (Baal-peor), who was worshiped by Moabites and Midianites, took his name from Mount Peor. (Nu 25:1-3, 6) The names of these local Baals later came to be transferred through a figure of speech (metonymy) to the localities themselves, as, for example, Baal-hermon, Baal-hazor, Baal-zephon, Bamoth-baal. However, although there were many local Baals, officially, among the Canaanites, it was understood that there was actually just one god Baal.
Israel’s sin in connection with Baal of Peor resulted in Jehovah’s sending a death-dealing scourge that killed thousands of Israelites. A question arises as to the number of those actually killed by the scourge in view of a seeming discrepancy between Numbers 25:9 and 1 Corinthians 10:8. Apparently 23,000 were directly killed by the scourge, whereas 1,000 “head ones” or ringleaders were killed by the judges of Israel and then hung up, exposed to public view.—Nu 25:4, 5; see BAAL No. 4.
*** w04 4/1 p. 29 Questions From Readers ***
Why does 1 Corinthians 10:8 say that 23,000 Israelites fell in one day for committing fornication, while Numbers 25:9 gives the figure as 24,000?
There are several factors that may account for the difference in the figures given in these two verses. The simplest one could be that the actual number is somewhere between 23,000 and 24,000, thus allowing it to be rounded off in either direction.
Consider another possibility. The apostle Paul cited the account of the Israelites at Shittim as a warning example to Christians in ancient Corinth, a city notorious for its licentious way of life. He wrote: “Neither let us practice fornication, as some of them committed fornication, only to fall, twenty-three thousand of them in one day.” Singling out those who were put to death by Jehovah because they committed fornication, Paul gave the number as 23,000.—1 Corinthians 10:8.
Numbers chapter 25, however, tells us that “Israel attached itself to the Baal of Peor; and the anger of Jehovah began to blaze against Israel.” Then, Jehovah commanded Moses to execute “all the head ones of the people.” Moses, in turn, ordered the judges to carry out that command. Finally, when Phinehas acted quickly to put to death the Israelite who brought a Midianite woman into the camp, “the scourge was halted.” The account ends with the statement: “Those who died from the scourge amounted to twenty-four thousand.”—Numbers 25:1-9.
The figure given in Numbers evidently included “the head ones of the people” executed by the judges and those executed directly by Jehovah. There might well have been a thousand of those head ones who died at the hands of the judges, bringing the number to 24,000. Whether these head ones, or ringleaders, committed fornication, participated in the festivities, or gave consent to those who did, they were guilty of having “an attachment with the Baal of Peor.”
Regarding the word “attachment,” one Bible reference work explains that it can mean “to bind one’s self to a person.” The Israelites were a people dedicated to Jehovah, but when they formed “an attachment with the Baal of Peor,” they broke their dedicated relationship with God. Some 700 years later, through the prophet Hosea, Jehovah said of the Israelites: “They themselves went in to Baal of Peor, and they proceeded to dedicate themselves to the shameful thing, and they came to be disgusting like the thing of their love.” (Hosea 9:10) All those who did so were deserving of adverse divine judgment. Thus, Moses reminded the sons of Israel: “Your own eyes are the ones that saw what Jehovah did in the case of the Baal of Peor, that every man who walked after the Baal of Peor was the one whom Jehovah your God annihilated from your midst.”—Deuteronomy 4:3.
*** it-1 p. 26 Abishua ***
. The son of Phinehas and a great-grandson of Aaron. He was the father of Bukki. (1Ch 6:4, 5, 50, 51) At Ezra 7:1-5 he is shown to have been one of Ezra’s forefathers. Josephus (Jewish Antiquities, V, 361, 362 [xi, 5]; VIII, 12 [i, 3]) refers to Abishua (called Abiezer in Book V) as the high priest, which, if accepted, would make him the fourth high priest of Israel. This would harmonize with Jehovah’s promise made to Abishua’s father, Phinehas, that the priesthood would remain in his family.—Nu 25:11-13.
References consulted on: Watchtower Library 2013 CD‒ROM
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