You may recall that all the way back in Exodus 32, we read about the infamous incident when Moses came down from the mountain to find Israel worshipping a golden calf that was made by his brother, Aaron. On the one hand, this seemed crazy: Israel had just witnessed some of God’s extraordinary signs and wonders, which had gained them their freedom from Egypt. On the other hand, we could understand what was going on because in Moses’ absence Israel turned back to religious practices they had picked up in Egypt – in much the same way as you or I might go back to a bad habit (or sin) when we feel lost, lonely, overtired, afraid, etc.
Our readings this week begin with an echo of that incident. Once again, Israel finds itself worshipping a foreign god… but the difference is that this is a new sin and not an old habit. Where Balak had failed in his attempts to get Balaam to curse Israel, the Israelites bring on their own misfortune in their worship of a new god, Ba’al of Peor, as a consequence of their relationships with the Moabite women (Numbers 25:1-3). The results for Israel are disastrous as 24,000 men die as a result of this decision, setting the stage for the second census found in this book which reports that the first generation that had been led out of Egypt had passed away (Numbers 26:64) – all except for Caleb, Joshua, and Moses (who was to die himself very soon).
The book ends with God beginning to set the liturgical calendar for Israel (Numbers 28-29), laws regarding vows (Numbers 30), and the preparations needed to enter the promised land (Numbers 31-36).
Here’s the scheduled readings for this week: