“While Israel was staying at Shittim, the people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab. These women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods. The people ate and bowed down to their gods. Thus Israel yoked himself to the Baal of Peor. Yahweh’s anger was kindled against Israel. Yahweh said to Moses. ‘Take all the chiefs of the people. Impale them in the sun before Yahweh, in order that the fierce anger of Yahweh may turn away from Israel.’ Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you shall kill any of your people who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.’”
Israel was staying at Shittim, which is about 6 miles south of the Jordan River near Mount Peor. Shittim is a kind of wood, and the name of a town on the northeast corner of the Dead Sea. From here the Israelites will cross the Jordan. The people began to have sexual relations with the women of Moab and sacrifice to the Midianite gods, especially Baal of Peor. They ate and bowed down to Baal. Thus Yahweh was not happy with Moses. He wanted to impale all the chiefs of the people in the sun before Yahweh. Moses then told the judges of Israel that anyone who bowed down to Baal of Peor should be killed.
“Just then one of the Israelites came. He brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the Israelites. This was while they were weeping at the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he got up and left the congregation. Taking a spear in his hand, he went after the Israelite man into the tent. He pierced the two of them, the Israelite and the woman, through the belly. So the plague was stopped among the Israelites. Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.”
When an Israelite man brought a Midianite woman into his tent, in the sight of Moses and the whole congregation, Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it. The grandson of Aaron took a spear in his hand and pierced both of them in the belly. By killing those two, he stopped a quick moving plague that had already killed 24,000 Israelite people.
“Yahweh spoke to Moses. ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf so that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. Therefore say, `I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. It shall be for him, and for his descendants after him, a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God. He made atonement for the Israelites.’”
Yahweh was happy with Phinehas who was a priest and grandson of Aaron. He became a hero because he killed both the man and woman involved. So Yahweh told Moses to give him my covenant of peace, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood because he was zealous for his God. He made atonement for the Israelites. There will be other biblical people later with this same name of Phinehas.
“The name of the slain Israelite man, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, head of an ancestral house belonging to the Simeonites. The name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi daughter of Zur, who was the head of a clan of an ancestral house in Midian.”
Now we find out the name of the slain man Zimri the son of Salu, head of his ancestral house belonging to the Simeonites. The name of the Midianite woman was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was a leader in Midian.
“Yahweh said to Moses. ‘Harass the Midianites. Defeat them. They have harassed you by trickery with which they deceived you in the affair of Peor, and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of a leader of Midian, their sister. She was killed on the day of the plague that resulted from Peor.’”
This is quite a story, the love/sexual affair of Cozbi, the daughter of a leader of Midian and Zimri, the Simeonite, the Israelite. Obviously the Israelites were against intermarriage and of course worshiping anyone except Yahweh, who is a jealous God. The chiefs had to die as atonement for the sins of the people, a common theme. This led Yahweh to tell Moses, to harass the Midianites. Defeat them. This affair at Peor would be a rallying cry for the Israelites.