“Deaden, therefore, your body members that are on the earth as respects sexual immorality, uncleanness, uncontrolled sexual passion, hurtful desire, and greediness, which is idolatry.”—COLOSSIANS 3:5.
1, 2. How did Balaam scheme to cause harm to Jehovah’s people?
THE fisherman goes down to his favorite spot. He has a particular kind of fish in mind. He selects a lure and casts his line into the water. Moments later, the line goes taut, the rod bends, and he reels in his catch. Smiling, he knows he has chosen the right lure.
2 In the year 1473 B.C.E., a man named Balaam gave much thought to a lure. His intended prey, though, were God’s people, who were camped on the Plains of Moab, at the border of the Promised Land. Balaam professed to be a prophet of Jehovah, but he was really just a greedy man hired to curse Israel. However, through Jehovah’s intervention, Balaam was only able to bless Israel. Set on earning his reward, Balaam reasoned that perhaps he could induce God to curse his own people, if only they could be tempted to commit gross sin. With that goal in mind, Balaam cast the lure—the seductive young women of Moab.—Numbers 22:1-7; 31:15, 16; Revelation 2:14.
3. To what extent did Balaam’s scheme succeed?
3 Did this strategy work? To an extent, yes. Tens of thousands of Israelite men took the lure by committing “sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab.” They even began to worship Moabite gods, including the disgusting Baal of Peor, a god of fertility, or sex. As a result, 24,000 Israelites perished right at the border of the Promised Land. What a monumental tragedy that was!—Numbers 25:1-9.
4. Why did thousands of Israelites fall prey to immorality?
4 What paved the way for this calamity? Many of the people had developed a wicked heart by drawing away from Jehovah, the very God who had delivered them from Egypt, fed them in the wilderness, and led them safely to the land of promise. (Hebrews 3:12) Reflecting on the matter, the apostle Paul wrote: “Neither let us practice sexual immorality, as some of them committed sexual immorality, only to fall, 23,000 of them in one day.”*—1 Corinthians 10:8.
5, 6. Why is the account about Israel’s sin on the Plains of Moab valuable to us today?
5 The account in Numbers has many important lessons for God’s people today, who stand at the threshold of a far greater promised land. (1 Corinthians 10:11) For example, the world’s obsession with sex reflects that of the ancient Moabites but on a larger scale. Moreover, each year thousands of Christians fall prey to immorality—the same basic lure that caught the Israelites. (2 Corinthians 2:11) And in imitation of Zimri, who boldly paraded a Midianite woman right into the Israelite camp to his own tent, some who associate with God’s people today have become a corrupting influence within the Christian congregation.—Numbers 25:6, 14; Jude 4.
6 Do you see yourself on the modern-day Plains of Moab? Can you see your prize—the long-awaited new world—on the horizon? If so, then do everything in your power to remain in God’s love by heeding the command: “Flee from sexual immorality!”—1 Corinthians 6:18.
WHAT IS SEXUAL IMMORALITY?
7, 8. What is “sexual immorality,” and how do those who practice it reap what they sow?
7 As used in the Bible, “sexual immorality” (Greek, por·neiʹa) applies to illicit sexual relations outside of Scriptural marriage. It includes adultery, prostitution, and sex relations between unmarried individuals, as well as oral and anal sex and the sexual manipulation of the genitals of an individual to whom one is not married. It also includes such acts between individuals of the same sex as well as bestiality.*
8 The Scriptures are very clear: Those who practice sexual immorality cannot remain in the Christian congregation and will not receive everlasting life. (1 Corinthians 6:9; Revelation 22:15) What is more, even now they bring much harm to themselves in the form of a loss of trust and self-respect, marital discord, a guilty conscience, unwanted pregnancies, disease, and even death. (Read Galatians 6:7, 8.) Why start down a path that is littered with so much misery? Sadly, many do not think that far ahead when they take the first wrong step—which quite often involves pornography.
PORNOGRAPHY—A FIRST STEP
9. Is pornography harmless, as some claim? Explain.
9 In many lands, pornography is featured on newsstands, in music, and on television, and it virtually saturates the Internet.* Is it harmless, as some claim? Absolutely not! Those who view pornography may become habitual masturbators and nurture “uncontrolled sexual passion,” which may result in an addiction to sex, perverted desires, serious marital disharmony, and even divorce.* (Romans 1:24-27; Ephesians 4:19) A researcher likens sex addiction to cancer. “It keeps growing and spreading,” he says. “It rarely ever reverses itself, and it is also very difficult to treat and heal.”
10 Consider the words recorded at James 1:14, 15, which reads: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn sin, when it has been carried out, brings forth death.” So if a bad desire enters your mind, take immediate action to get rid of it! For example, if you inadvertently see erotic images, quickly look away, or turn off the computer, or change the TV channel. Do whatever is necessary to avoid succumbing to immoral desire before it races out of control and overcomes you!—Read Matthew 5:29, 30.
11. When fighting wrong desires, how can we demonstrate our trust in Jehovah?
11 For good reason, the One who knows us better than we know ourselves exhorts: “Deaden, therefore, your body members that are on the earth as respects sexual immorality, uncleanness, uncontrolled sexual passion, hurtful desire, and greediness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5) True, doing so may be a challenge. But remember, we have a loving and patient heavenly Father to call on. (Psalm 68:19) So turn quickly to him when wrong thoughts enter your mind. Pray for “power beyond what is normal,” and force your mind to focus on other matters.—2 Corinthians 4:7; 1 Corinthians 9:27; see the box “How Can I Break a Bad Habit?”
12. What is our “heart,” and why must we safeguard it?
12 The wise man Solomon wrote: “Above all the things that you guard, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Our “heart” is our inner self, what we really are as a person in God’s eyes. Moreover, it is God’s estimation of our “heart”—not what we may appear to be in the eyes of others—that determines whether we receive everlasting life or not. It is that simple. It is also that serious. So that he would not look improperly at a woman, faithful Job made a covenant, or formal agreement, with his eyes. (Job 31:1) What a fine example for us! Showing the same mind, a psalmist prayed: “Turn my eyes away from looking at what is worthless.”—Psalm 119:37.
DINAH’S UNWISE CHOICE
13. Who was Dinah, and why was her choice of friends unwise?
13 As we saw in Chapter 3, our friends can exert a powerful influence on us for good or for bad. (Proverbs 13:20; read 1 Corinthians 15:33.) Consider the example of Dinah, a daughter of the patriarch Jacob. Despite her good upbringing, Dinah unwisely made friends with Canaanite girls. Like the Moabites, the Canaanites were notoriously immoral. (Leviticus 18:6-25) In the eyes of Canaanite men, including Shechem—“the most honorable” of his father’s household—Dinah seemed to be legitimate prey.—Genesis 34:18, 19.
14. How did Dinah’s choice of friends lead to tragedy?
14 Dinah probably did not have sexual relations in mind when she saw Shechem. He, though, did what most Canaanites would have considered natural when sexually aroused. Any last-minute resistance on Dinah’s part meant little, for he “took her” and “violated her.” It seems that Shechem later “fell in love” with Dinah, but that did not change what he had done to her. (Read Genesis 34:1-4.) And Dinah was not the only one to suffer as a result. Her choice of associates triggered events that brought disgrace and reproach on her whole family.—Genesis 34:7, 25-31; Galatians 6:7, 8.
15, 16. How can we gain true wisdom? (See also the box “Scriptures for Meditation.”)
15 If Dinah learned an important lesson, she learned it the hard way. Those who love and obey Jehovah do not have to learn life’s lessons the hard way. Because they listen to God, they choose to ‘walk with the wise.’ (Proverbs 13:20a) Thus they come to understand “the entire course of what is good” and avoid needless problems and pains.—Proverbs 2:6-9; Psalm 1:1-3.
16 Godly wisdom is available to all who yearn for it and who act on that yearning by persisting in prayer and by regularly studying God’s Word and the material provided by the faithful and discreet slave. (Matthew 24:45; James 1:5) Also important is humility, which is reflected in a willingness to heed Scriptural counsel. (2 Kings 22:18, 19) For example, a Christian may accept in principle that his heart can be treacherous and desperate. (Jeremiah 17:9) But when the situation calls for it, is he humble enough to accept specific, loving counsel and help?
17. Describe a situation that may arise within a family, and show how a father might reason with his daughter.
17 Imagine this situation. A father does not allow his daughter and a young Christian man to go out unchaperoned. The girl responds: “But Dad, don’t you trust me? We won’t do anything wrong!” She may love Jehovah and have the best of intentions, yet is she walking “in [godly] wisdom”? Is she ‘fleeing from sexual immorality’? Or is she foolishly trusting “in [her] own heart”? (Proverbs 28:26) Perhaps you can think of additional principles that would assist such a father and his daughter in reasoning on the matter.—See Proverbs 22:3; Matthew 6:13; 26:41.
JOSEPH FLED FROM SEXUAL IMMORALITY
18, 19. What temptation arose in Joseph’s life, and how did he deal with it?
18 A fine young person who loved God and fled from sexual immorality was Joseph, Dinah’s half brother. (Genesis 30:20-24) As a child, Joseph saw firsthand the fruits of his sister’s folly. No doubt these memories, as well as Joseph’s desire to remain in God’s love, protected him years later in Egypt when his master’s wife tried to seduce him “day after day.” Of course, as a slave Joseph could not simply hand in his resignation and leave! He had to deal with the situation wisely and courageously. This he did by repeatedly saying no to Potiphar’s wife and, in the end, by fleeing from her.—Read Genesis 39:7-12.
19 Consider: If Joseph had fantasized about the woman or had habitually daydreamed about sex, would he have been able to keep his integrity? Most likely not. Instead of entertaining sinful thoughts, Joseph prized his relationship with Jehovah, which was evident in his words to Potiphar’s wife. “My master,” he would say, “has not withheld from me anything at all except you, because you are his wife. So how could I commit this great badness and actually sin against God?”—Genesis 39:8, 9.
20. How did Jehovah maneuver matters in the case of Joseph?
20 Imagine the joy that Jehovah must have felt as he observed young Joseph, far from his family, maintaining his integrity day after day. (Proverbs 27:11) Later, Jehovah maneuvered matters so that Joseph was not only released from prison but also made Egypt’s prime minister and food administrator! (Genesis 41:39-49) How true the words of Psalm 97:10: “O you who love Jehovah, hate what is bad. He is guarding the lives of his loyal ones; he rescues them from the hand of the wicked”!
21. How did a young brother in an African land show moral courage?
21 Likewise today, many servants of God demonstrate that they “hate what is bad, and love what is good.” (Amos 5:15) A young brother in an African land recalls that a female classmate boldly offered him sex in exchange for his help during a mathematics test. “I immediately rejected her offer,” he says. “By maintaining integrity, I have kept my dignity and self-respect, which are far more valuable than gold and silver.” True, sin may give “temporary enjoyment,” but such cheap thrills often bring much pain. (Hebrews 11:25) Moreover, they pale into insignificance when compared with the lasting happiness that results from obedience to Jehovah.—Proverbs 10:22.
ACCEPT HELP FROM THE GOD OF MERCY
22, 23. (a) If a Christian commits a serious sin, why is his situation not hopeless? (b) What help is available to a wrongdoer?
22 Being imperfect, we all struggle to subdue fleshly desires and do what is right in God’s eyes. (Romans 7:21-25) Jehovah is aware of this, “remembering that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) Sometimes, though, a Christian may commit a serious sin. Is his situation hopeless? By no means! Granted, the wrongdoer may reap bitter fruitage, as did King David. Nevertheless, God is always “ready to forgive” those who are contrite and “openly confess” their sins.—Psalm 86:5; James 5:16; read Proverbs 28:13.
23 In addition, God has kindly provided the Christian congregation with “gifts in men”—mature spiritual shepherds who are both qualified and eager to render help. (Ephesians 4:8, 12; James 5:14, 15) Their goal is to assist a wrongdoer in restoring his relationship with God and, in the words of the wise man, in acquiring “understanding” so that he does not repeat the sin.—Proverbs 15:32.
‘ACQUIRE GOOD SENSE’
24, 25. (a) How did the young man described at Proverbs 7:6-23 show that he was “lacking good sense”? (b) How can we ‘acquire good sense’?
24 The Bible speaks of a person “lacking good sense” and of one who “acquires understanding.” (Proverbs 7:7) Because of spiritual immaturity and inexperience in God’s service, someone “lacking good sense” may lack discernment and good judgment. Like the young man described at Proverbs 7:6-23, he may more readily fall victim to serious sin. However, “whoever acquires good sense” gives serious attention to the inner person by means of regular, prayerful study of God’s Word. And to the extent possible in his imperfect state, he harmonizes his thoughts, desires, emotions, and goals in life with what God approves. Thus he “loves himself,” or blesses himself, and “will find success.”—Proverbs 19:8.
25 Ask yourself: ‘Am I fully convinced that God’s standards are right? Do I firmly believe that adherence to them results in the greatest happiness?’ (Psalm 19:7-10; Isaiah 48:17, 18) If you have even a tiny doubt, address the situation. Meditate on the consequences of ignoring God’s laws. In addition, “taste and see that Jehovah is good” by living the truth and by filling your mind with wholesome thoughts—things that are true, righteous, chaste, lovable, and virtuous. (Psalm 34:8; Philippians 4:8, 9) You can be sure that the more you do so, the more you grow to love God, to love what he loves, and to hate what he hates. Joseph was no superman. Yet, he was able to “flee from sexual immorality” because he allowed Jehovah to mold him over many years, to give him good sense. May the same be true of you.—Isaiah 64:8.
26. What important topic will be considered next?
26 Our Creator formed our reproductive organs, not to be toys for mere thrills, but to enable us to reproduce and to enjoy intimacy within marriage. (Proverbs 5:18) God’s view of marriage will be discussed in the following two chapters.
The figure given in Numbers evidently included “the leaders” of the people executed by the judges, which may have amounted to 1,000 men, and those executed directly by Jehovah.—Numbers 25:4, 5.
For a discussion of the meaning of uncleanness and brazen conduct, see “Questions From Readers” in The Watchtower of July 15, 2006, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Pornography,” as used here, refers to the depiction in pictures, in writing, or by voice of erotic material that is intended to cause sexual excitement. Pornography may range from a picture of a person in an erotic pose to depictions of sexual acts of the most sordid kind between two or more individuals.
Masturbation is discussed in the Appendix article “Gain the Victory Over Masturbation.”