Israel has been wondering through the desert for 40 years now. God has protected and provided for them in numerous miraculous ways. God has literally saved them from over 400 years of slavery under the Egyptians and has finally brought them to a land of their own--the promised land. However, before this, multiple times Israel greatly rebelled during the journey, and experienced grave consequences. At times God would have mercy on them via Moses's and/or Aaron's pleadings. As their journey reaches its end, we see another picture of God's commitment and love for them contrasted against their continual rebellion and love for sin, even at the last minute, the minute in which they are to receive that which was promised.
For context, Israel has just defeated Og, king of Bashan, and the people have arrived and settled in the plains of Moab along the Jordan, across from Jericho. King Balak was neither happy nor comfortable with the sight and thought of the Israelites being that close to their land. He grew very insecure and wanted them cursed. He knew that God was with them but I guess he didn't really know God since he thought he could change God's mind through the demonic act of divination/sorcery. His plan was to use divination to cause God to abandon the Israelites so that he might defeat them. Balak requests for Balaam, a sorcerer, to help him accomplish his evil plan. Long story short, God uses this sorcerer, Balaam, to save Israel from Balak's evil plan. We also have the famous story of a donkey being used by God in this excerpt.
Instead of cursing them, Balaam blesses Israel, all in front of the king that wants their destruction. It doesn't happen once but 4 times. This is not what Balaam was really planning nor what Balak wanted or expected of the sorcerer. But all we know is that this was God's plan for Israel from the beginning. This was God's plan for Israel since Abraham. This was God's plan for Israel during the centuries of slavery in Egypt. And it remained His plan even as the Israelites turned away from Him many times in the desert. This ordeal between Balak and Balaam ends as Balaam is sent away in anger by the king. To read the details of the interactions between king Balak and Balaam, read Numbers chapters 22-24. Keep in mindm, Israel remains clueless of what the king in their backyard is planning and what God is working on their behalf.
Shortly after the aforementioned ordeal with Balaam and Balak, we see a very familiar picture of rebellion in the Israelite's community. It's familiar because this same pattern of rebellion occurred in their journey from Egypt. It's also familiar because it looks so much like the rebellion God's people today undertake in varying forms and measures. The Bible records in Number 25:1-4 that "while Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who [also] invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord's anger burned against them."
Notice that they didn't simply "fall" into sexual immorality with the Moabite women but that they indulged in it. They were addicted, completely submerged, and I think it's appropriate to say they greatly enjoying the deed that they continuously returned for more. They developed sexual relationships with these women. It was so bad that at one point, an Israelite man by the name of Zimri had no shame in bringing a woman, Cosbi (possibly a prostitute), back to his home where his family was, with the intention of having sex with her in full view of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel (v. 6). Read Numbers chapter 25 to see what happened.
Sexual Sin Continues to Subvert God's People Today
It's so easy to read into others' sins and miss the compass pointing back into our hearts. Earlier, I mentioned how familiar this rebellion, specifically towards sexual sin is. It worked in demoralizing the Israelites, who were God's chosen people, set apart and commanded to be different in every way from the rest of the nations--the nation they left, the nations they passed, and the nation they were settling into. It indubitably still works today. And in fact, it works pretty well, as evident in my and your own life, and also as evident in the body of Christ today. We have heard the scandals. We know the struggles (I know the struggle a little too well). We see and some of us have experienced broken marriages and families because of sexual sins. Sex outside of marriage has become the norm. Sexual immorality is as rampant (if not worse) in Christians as it is among non-Christians. Pornography addiction is skyrocketing, and is no longer just a man's or a non-Christian's problem. Women and children are being exposed to pornography at increasingly younger ages. As of 2009, it is reported that 50% percent of Christian men and twenty percent of Christian women report being “addicted” to pornography (Convenant Eyes). The facts speak for themselves and as you are reading this and as I am writing this, the failings of your and my own heart are the only facts we need. The consequences are grave! Sexual sin hinders our fellowship with God, hurts our families and loved ones, affects generations to come, and can even lead to the eternal death of our souls as we continue to drag the grace of God through the mire and filth of habitual and intentional sins; especially that sin that is committed against our own bodies as Paul describes in 1st Corinthians 6:18.
So if Israel fell for sexual sins, use it as a warning for yourself and your people. Sexual sin and the idolatry that comes with it is still real and even more effective in subverting God's people today. Mighty men and women of God have and continue to fall for it. People that genuinely love God have been taken down by it. Families have been destroyed by it. Millions, if not billions, of unborn babies have been killed by it. Needless I go on. I like to repeat what the Bible says: Without and outside of Christ we are extremely wicked and unrighteous in deed and thought. Our hearts are inclined to sin at any given moment in many ways. It doesn't matter how amazing God has been to us. We are quick to forget how He [God] saved us through Christ's righteous life, death, and resurrection. We are quick to forget God's holiness, majesty, and wrath. We are quick to forget his love, patience, care, and concern for our well being. We often fall into patterns of sin, some subtle, others blatant; some private, others public; some intentional, others unintentional. But there is hope. Christ is the hope for our salvation from all sin. Christ is enough to forgive your yesterday and today's sins. But we often forget that forgiveness is not the end of it. God desires that we live in freedom from all sin. The same power (of God) that lived in Christ and resurrected Him from death can resurrect our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11) as we die to sin and live in righteousness. In other words, you don't have to live under the influence of that sexual sin, and any other sin in this case.
If you are struggling with sexual sins, see your Bible first. Most likely you haven't been spending consisten time in it. After you do that, then see this and this.
I recently wrote a blog post entitled "What Can We Learn From God's Will and Character". It might be a good sequel (or prequel) to this post.