It is not surprising that Moses watered down God’s sentence somewhat. The chiefs of the people had an authority comparable to modern cabinet ministers, and it is hardly likely that they would have acceded to a demand for their own execution, even if it would have brought national salvation.
This was further aggravated by Zimri, son of a minor chieftain, bringing a Midianite girl right into the camp. Up to this point intercourse with foreign girls had taken place outside the camp. Now under the nose of Moses and the other people, Zimri showed his contempt for the covenant and the divine sentence pronounced against leaders like his father.
One day the priestly line of Zadok will trace its descent from the zealous Phinehas, who acted out of a passion for God’s holiness. But a young Midianite widow, Ruth, will become an ancestor of King David—and Jesus.
It is within this context that Phinehas’ bloody and brutal act must be viewed. He took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the inner room, and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman, through her body. Thus the plague was stayed from the people of Israel.
She led astray an Israelite man with her body and therefore she is pierced through the organ of his downfall. The description of the crime may be intended to suggest that Phinehas slew them in the very act of intercourse.
25:9 twenty-four thousand This includes the last remaining survivors of the original generation that came out of Egypt and were doomed to die before entering the promised land (14:29; 26:64–65).
25:11 my anger As evidenced by the plague (v. 8).