Towards the end of their 40 years sojourn in the wilderness, the Israelites camped in the valley of Shittim. [Num. 25:1] This was a valley on the eastern side of the Jordan, north of the Dead Sea. It was there that the Israelite men consorted with the daughters of Moab, and committed spiritual fornication, by participating in the worship of Baalpeor.
Numbers 25:1, 3
And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. ... And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor.
Because of their transgression, a plague killed 24,000 of the people. An account of it is included in Psalm 106.
28 They joined themselves also unto Baalpeor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead.
29 Thus they provoked him to anger with their inventions: and the plague brake in upon them.
30 Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and so the plague was stayed.
31 And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore.
The men who followed Baalpeor were destroyed.
Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you. But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.
The effects of this judgment were evident many years after. When some of the tribes of Israel set up an altar, which was not authorized, the other tribes protested. This was their message:
Is the iniquity of Peor too little for us, from which we are not cleansed until this day, although there was a plague in the congregation of the LORD, But that ye must turn away this day from following the LORD?
The prophet Hosea referred to Israel's infidelity in the valley of Shittim as a shameful abomination.
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baalpeor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.
The prophecy of Micah called on God's people to remember what happened at Shittim. He wrote:
1 Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.
2 Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.
3 O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.
4 For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
5 O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD.
The prophet Joel also referred to the valley of Shittim, where the Israelites sinned against God. Joel said that the waters from the temple of God would "water the valley of Shittim."
And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth out of the house of the LORD, and shall water the valley of Shittim.
Since the valley of Shittim is located east of the Jordan valley, the prophet Joel could not have meant to say that a literal river from Jerusalem would water that valley; that would require a completely different geography in the region. Joel spoke of a spiritual fountain, and its waters represent the Spirit of God. His prophecy indicates that the events at Shittim were typical of events that would occur in the church.
Paul said people would give heed to seducing spirits, "in the latter times."
1 Timothy 4:1-3
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.
Seducing spirits would deceive some in the church. Abstaining from meats, in the Greek, does not refer to avoiding animal flesh, but simply "solid food." Those false teachers apparently want people to limit their spiritual nourishment to "milk." But the author of Hebrews says:
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
"Strong meat" refers to the "meat" of the gospel. It is not simplistic teaching, but requires some mental "chewing." A commandment to abstain from meat" probably also insists on literal interpretations, whereas the true meaning of scripture is often only obtained by a proper interpretation.
In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul referred to Christians who became deceived by false teachers as "seduced."
2 Corinthians 11:2-3
For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
In the days of ancient Israel, when they were camped in Shittim, the anger of the Lord was kindled against them, because they worshipped Baalpeor, and many thousands died of the plague. According to Paul the death toll was 23,000 people in a single day.
1 Corinthians 10:8
Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.
Zechariah's prophecy describes living waters flowing from Jerusalem, in summer and winter.
And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be.
Summer and winter are figurative; the harvest, which occurs in the fall, represents the resurrection of the saints at the end of the world. [Matt. 13:39]
The Mount of Olives is part of a long ridge east of Jerusalem. The city itself lies on a divide or a watershed, so the natural drainage is toward the east on one side, and toward the west on the other. However, the "living waters" emerging from Jerusalem would not be confined to the existing drainage. In John's Gospel, "living waters" are identified with the Spirit of God [John 7:39]. Zechariah's prophecy describes the formation of a spiritual valley through the Mount of Olives.
Zechariah's prophecy mentions "tents." The Israelites in Shittim dwelt in tents. Zechariah's prophecy suggests those who commit spiritual fornication, and follow seducing spirits, are affected with a spiritual plague, which affects the eyes, the tongue, and the flesh. Interpreting this, it would seem those affected are spiritually blind, and say or write foolish things, and are prone to the sins of the flesh.
IMO, Zechariah's prophecy of the mount of Olives being cleaved in the midst, and half moving towards the north and half moving towards the south pictures two flawed interpretations of the Olivet discourse of Jesus, preterism and dispensationalism. They are examples of rival suitors of the church, who Christ fights against. The doctrines of John N. Darby, and other dispensationalist authors, are represented by the half of the Mount of Olives that is moved towards the south, while the teachings of preterists who follow the views of Jesuit priest Luis De Alcasar, and the preterists, are represented by the half of the mountain displaced towards the north. Of course there are many other false teachings to which Christians give heed.
Zechariah said the plague would affect "the horse, of the mule, of the camel, and of the ass, and of all the beasts that shall be in these tents." Do horses and mules live in tents? The prophecy refers to horses and mules as symbolic of people with no understanding; Psalm 32:9 says: "Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee."
In Ezekiel 47, a stream emerges from the temple of God, and soon becomes a wide river, with multitudes of fish. It flows eastward, and heals the Dead Sea. Ezekiel's temple is figurative, representing the church, and the river flowing from it is a spiritual river, picturing the knowledge of God and the gospel flowing from the church to the world. Zechariah's prophecy of a wide valley being formed in the midst of the Mount of Olives suggests that the figurative valley is a channel for the prophetic spiritual rivers of Joel, and Zechariah, and Ezekiel. The spiritual waters, and the knowledge of the Gospel, that flow from God's church, provide a remedy for spiritual "fornication" in the church.
Copyright © 2010 by Douglas E. Cox
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