Cozbi, Daughter of Zur
Cozbi was a Midianitish princess who was slain for idolatry and immorality after being brought by Zimri, an Israelite chief of the tribe of Simeon, into his tent. The Hebrews were encamped near Mount Peor. A plague had ravaged their numbers. The mountain of Peor was the last the Israelites had to ascend before they could cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan. But with Hebrew immorality running rampant, and the plague decimating the population, the Lord instructed Moses to kill his own leaders and to display them in daylight. In that way, the wrath of God could be appeased.
Who were the Moabites and Midianites?
The Moabites were a peaceful people dwelling east of the Dead Sea in modern-day Jordan. The Midianites were mainly nomadic shepherding families living in the desert of what is now northwest Arabia. They descended from Abraham and Keturah, who dwelled in the land of the East (Genesis 25:1–6). Moses took a Midianite wife, Zipporah (Exodus 2:21).
When Moses and the Hebrews heard God's pronouncement, they began to weep at the door of the tabernacle. Some of the men had sinned with Moabite and Midianite women; they had worshipped and made sacrifices to the god Baal at Peor. Many Hebrews felt their own people bore responsibility for bringing the plague upon the rest of them.
According to the Bible, Cozbi's father, Zur, was the leader of a people and head of an important house in Midian. Zimri was the son of Salu, and a Hebrew tribal leader with a bright future ahead of him when he became hopelessly infatuated with Cozbi. According to some sources, Zimri confronted Moses, asking why he couldn't cohabitate with Cozbi if Moses could take a gentile woman as a wife and have her accepted within the Jewish nation. Allegedly, Moses did not answer, but when Phinehas, his nephew, cited a principle that zealots could slay anyone who cohabitated with non-Jewish women, Moses may have nodded agreement.
Cozbi and Zimri possibly loved each other. Perhaps they had been lovers for a while. That day, their timing could not have been worse. When Zimri escorted Cozbi past the Israelites, those assembled became incensed. Phinehas, grandson of Aaron (the high priest and brother of Moses), watched them walk toward the tent, possibly thinking that they were about to commit an act of fornication. Phinehas rose, followed the couple into the tent, and thrust a spear through Zimri, killing him. He then turned his spear upon Cozbi, plunging it through her belly. The Hebrews considered it a righteous act, since God had told Moses to smite the Midianites.
If Phinehas had killed Cozbi and Zimri out of rage, he had simply murdered two people. However, as a zealot committing the act, Phinehas earned God's blessing of “…the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel” (Numbers 25:13).