Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Settim,
which had Abel, "mourning," prefixed to it, (chap. xxxiii. 49,) on account of the slaughter of 24,000 of the Israelites,
ver. 6, 9. It was situated in the plains of Moab, near the Jordan, and was the last station of the Hebrews. (Calmet) --- In
this neighbourhood all the following transactions occurred, which are recorded, till the end of the Pentateuch. (Menochius)
--- Balaam, being convinced that the Hebrews would be invincible, as long as they continued faithful to God, advised the nations,
who had sent to consult him, to let their daughters converse freely with the Israelites, but not to yield to their impure
desires, unless they consented to offer sacrifice to their idols. (Calmet) --- Thus they first captivated their hearts, and
then subverted their understanding: For some rejecting a good conscience, have made shipwreck concerning the faith,
1 Timothy i. 19. (Haydock) --- By the same method many have been drawn into heresy. (Worthington) --- The counsels of an able
but wicked man, are often followed by the most dreadful effects. That these women were sent by the Moabites, and also by the
Madianites, (ver. 6, 17,) instigated by the perverse counsels of Balaam, (Calmet) appears not only from the event being recorded
in this place, but also by the express declaration of Moses, chap. xxxi. 7, 8, and of the Apocalypse, chap. ii. 14. (Salien,
Mic. vi. 5.) (Haydock)
Ver. 3. Initiated
to Beelphegor. That is, they took to the worship of Beelphegor, an obscene idol of the Moabites, and were consecrated
as it were to him. (Challoner) --- Hebrew, "Israel was attached, or married to Beelphegor," the sun, Adonis or Osiris,
whom the psalmist (cv. 28,) styles, the dead, because the people were accustomed to bewail the death of Adonis every
year, with great solemnity. (Calmet) --- St. Jerome supposes this god "of opening, or nakedness," Beelphegor, to be
the obscene Priapus. (Menochius) --- The people fell by degrees into the depth of abomination. They first defiled their bodies
with women, then their souls were contaminated by the sacrifices of their idols, till they began really to adore
them, and even to consecrate themselves to their service, meaning to ratify their base apostacy from the true God.
(Haydock) --- Yet it is probable all those who were cut off by pestilence, were not thus initiated: but only those
who were the princes or ringleaders, and who are sentenced to be gibbeted. (Salien) --- The mother of Asa, king of Juda, was
not ashamed to preside over the mysteries of this obscene idol, (3 Kings xv. 13,) which people worshipped by prostitution.
(Villalpand) (St. Jerome in Osee iv. 9.) (Tirinus)
Ver. 4. People.
Assemble the judges, and by their sentence, hang them who have been most guilty. (Onkelos) --- If any of the judges, or princes
themselves, have gone astray, let them not be spared. (Haydock) --- The Jews assert, that the malefactor was always killed
before his body was hung on a gibbet; and that crucifixion was not known among them. But the contrary is asserted by many.
It is not clear whether these criminals were hung by the neck, or crucified, after they had been first stoned, as guilty of
idolatry, or whether they were fastened to the gibbet alive, for greater torment and disgrace. (Calmet) --- Sun; publicly.
See 2 Kings xii. 11. (Menochius)
Ver. 5. Judges,
who had not been guilty. Septuagint, "to the tribes." The judges, and even private individuals, were thus authorized to exterminate
the guilty, as the Levites had been before, Exodus xxxii. 27. While punishment was inflicted but slowly, and some perhaps
of the more noble were spared, so that Zambri, even became more insolent. God began to supply the defect of his ministers,
by sending the plague among the people, as Onkelos insinuates. (Haydock)
Ver. 6. One,
Zambri, ver. 14. (Menochius) --- Went in. Hebrew, "brought unto his brethren, or came....with a woman of Madian."
Septuagint, "introduced one of his brethren to a Madianite woman." But the Samaritan copy agrees with the Vulgate; and the
ancient edition of the Septuagint must have done so too, since the Fathers explain it in the same sense. (Philo, de vita Mos.;
Origen; &c.) Josephus ([Antiquities?] iv. 6,) pretends, that Zambri had married the most noble Cozbi, and that Moses finding
fault with such infractions of his laws, this prince of the house of Simeon, arraigned him publicly of cruel tyranny and imposture
in thus imposing his own laws upon a free people, and that for his part, he would retain his wife and ingratiate himself with
many gods, that he might discover the truth. Phinees heard this with just indignation, and following him to his tent,
transfixed him with Cozbi, his wife, while those young men who were desirous of imitating his zeal, treated similar offenders
in like manner. "God destroyed the rest by the plague, so that not less than 14,000 perished," as Epiphanius translates, omitting
dis, or ten thousand, though many copies have only 23,000, which agrees with the number specified by St. Paul, if indeed
he allude to this transaction, 1 Corinthians x. 7. Philo observes, that Phinees slew the Israelite who had sacrificed to the
idols, and was in the company of the harlot; and , "that 24,000 perished in one day." (Haydock) --- Perhaps 1000 of the heads
might be gibbeted, and 23,000 of the common people slain. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 7. Dagger.
Josephus translates romach, by romphaia, "a sword." Septuagint by seiromasten, a long and sharp iron
rod, like a spit, such as people use to try if any smuggled goods be concealed. (Haydock) --- It denotes any sort of offensive
weapon. (Calmet) --- The Vulgate sometimes translates, a lance or spear. (Menochius)
Ver. 8. Parts.
Ovid says, Lethifer ille locus, "That place where wounds so often deadly prove." Hebrew kubbak, means a brothel-house
just before, a bed, vault, cistern, belly, &c. Septuagint translate, "through her womb." The plague, inflicted by God,
instantly ceased, to shew the divine approbation of this exemplary punishment, and all were so much filled with terror and
repentance, that it was no longer necessary for the judges to sentence any more to death. An effectual stop was also put to
the spreading disorder of both carnal and spiritual fornication. (Haydock)
Ver. 9. Slain.
Hebrew adds, "in the plague," or pestilence sent by God, (Psalm cv. 29,) and in the punishments inflicted by the judges, "twenty
and four thousand." (Haydock) --- The tribe of Simeon, lying to the south, had given way to greater disorders with the Madianites;
(Calmet) so that they were found to have 37,100 fewer than when they were numbered before, chap. ii. 13. See chap. xxvi. 14.
Ver. 12. Peace.
He has the honour of restoring the people to peace and to my favour, so that my covenant shall still subsist with them. He
shall surely be his father's successor in the high priesthood, and shall not be prevented by death.
Ver. 13. Seed.
A short interruption of 150 years (from Heli to Abiathar, of the race of Ithamar) may be accounted trifling in a duration
of so many ages, during which the posterity of Phinees enjoyed this dignity. Phinees succeeded Eleazar, and had for his successors,
Abiezer, Bocci, and Elsi. (Calmet) --- Some add Zararias, Meraioth, and Amarias, upon whose death, 1157 years before Christ,
Heli got possession, by some means, and was followed by Achitob, Achielech, and Abiathar, of the same family, till David joined
Sadoc with the latter, and he was acknowledged sole pontiff on the rebellion of Abiathar, B.C. 1014. See Lenglet's tables.
(Haydock) --- We have no proof that the succeeding high priests were of a different family, (Calmet) till our Saviour's time,
who re-united in his person the right both to the priesthood and to the kingdom of Israel for ever. See St. Augustine,
City of God xvii. 6. (Haydock) --- God did not promise that no interruption should take place. He only granted a perpetual
right to the family of Phinees, (Cajetan) which they might forfeit by their misconduct. (Tirinus) --- He was certainly always
disposed to comply with his promise, and really granted the effects of it to the posterity of Phinees, at least for almost
1000 years, even if we grant that the Machabees were not his lineal descendants, of which there is no positive proof either
way. Thus, for ever, often denotes a long duration. Though Phinees was entitled already to the high priesthood, in
quality of the eldest son of Eleazar, he had before no assurance of surviving him, nor of having a succession of children
who might be capable of the high office, and free from every blemish; (Calmet) so that the promise made to him, was not only
a ratification of his title, but a new and real benefit. (Haydock) --- Zealous. The Jews allow any person to kill one
who publicly, or in the presence of ten people, commits idolatry, sacrilege, fornication with a strange woman, and also a
priest who, being unclean, approaches to the altar. This they call the judgment of zeal. (Selden, Jur. iv. 4.; Grotius,
ii. 20.) This practice they authorize by the example of Phinees, Mathathias, &c. (1 Machabees ii. 24.) Such liberty was
carried to a great excess by the Zealots, in the last siege of Jerusalem; and it would be very criminal, where such a law
is not in force. (Calmet) --- Phinees was, however, either one of the judges, and thus gave an example of just severity to
his fellow magistrates, or he was inspired by God to resent the public injury done to his name. It is never lawful to kill
by private authority. (Roman Catechism p. 3., chap. vi. 5.; St. Thomas Aquinas, ii. 2. q. 60. 6.) (Worthington) --- Those
who act under the influence of inspiration, must be very careful not to give in to any delusion; and the examples of holy
persons who are mentioned, with applause, in Scripture, for having been the instruments of God's vengeance, will not authorize
us to do the like, unless we can produce the like testimony. (Haydock) --- Atonement, by averting the scourge of God,
(ver. 8, 11,) and by putting a stop to the corruption of the people, which might otherwise have greatly increased, if Zambri
had escaped with impunity. (Calmet)
Ver. 14. Kindred.
Hebrew, "of a chief house among the Simeonites," as Sur was of equal nobility, "head over a people, and of a chief house in
Madian," ver. 15. (Haydock) --- He is styled king, and one of the five princes of the nation, chap. xxxi. 8.
Ver. 17. Madianites.
God spared the Moabites for the sake of Lot (Deuteronomy ii. 19,) and of Ruth, of whom David and Christ should be born. They
were perhaps less guilty, but they did not escape due chastisement under David, 2 Kings viii. 2. (Menochius) --- The war against
Madian was the last which the Hebrews waged in the lifetime of Moses, chap. xxxi. (Haydock)