Questions From Readers
There are several factors that may account for the difference in the figures given in these two verses. The simplest one could be that the actual number is somewhere between 23,000 and 24,000, thus allowing it to be rounded off in either direction.
Consider another possibility. The apostle Paul cited the account of the Israelites at Shittim as a warning example to Christians in ancient Corinth, a city notorious for its licentious way of life. He wrote: “Neither let us practice fornication, as some of them committed fornication, only to fall, twenty-three thousand of them in one day.” Singling out those who were put to death by Jehovah because they committed fornication, Paul gave the number as 23,000.—1 Corinthians 10:8.
Numbers chapter 25, however, tells us that “Israel attached itself to the Baal of Peor; and the anger of Jehovah began to blaze against Israel.” Then, Jehovah commanded Moses to execute “all the head ones of the people.” Moses, in turn, ordered the judges to carry out that command. Finally, when Phinehas acted quickly to put to death the Israelite who brought a Midianite woman into the camp, “the scourge was halted.” The account ends with the statement: “Those who died from the scourge amounted to twenty-four thousand.”—Numbers 25:1-9.
The figure given in Numbers evidently included “the head ones of the people” executed by the judges and those executed directly by Jehovah. There might well have been a thousand of those head ones who died at the hands of the judges, bringing the number to 24,000. Whether these head ones, or ringleaders, committed fornication, participated in the festivities, or gave consent to those who did, they were guilty of having “an attachment with the Baal of Peor.”
Regarding the word “attachment,” one Bible reference work explains that it can mean “to bind one’s self to a person.” The Israelites were a people dedicated to Jehovah, but when they formed “an attachment with the Baal of Peor,” they broke their dedicated relationship with God. Some 700 years later, through the prophet Hosea, Jehovah said of the Israelites: “They themselves went in to Baal of Peor, and they proceeded to dedicate themselves to the shameful thing, and they came to be disgusting like the thing of their love.” (Hosea 9:10) All those who did so were deserving of adverse divine judgment. Thus, Moses reminded the sons of Israel: “Your own eyes are the ones that saw what Jehovah did in the case of the Baal of Peor, that every man who walked after the Baal of Peor was the one whom Jehovah your God annihilated from your midst.”—Deuteronomy 4:3.