Pinchas - פנחס - "Phinehas"
And the Lord said to Moses, Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel. (Numbers 25:10-13)
We now come to the point in our Torah studies where Israel is just about ready to enter into the Promised Land. From here until the end of Numbers, we are going to see a lot of loose ends getting tied and the story of Phinehas is one of those situations. In order to truly understand what is happening with Phinehas, we must take a trip back to the book of Genesis.
In Genesis chapter 34, we see a situation where Dinah, the daughter of Leah, gets violated by a young man named Shechem who seemed to have genuinely fallen in love with her. This violation made the sons of Jacob understandably angry. However, rage was not enough for Simeon and Levi who took their anger to the highest level possible by deceiving the Hivite men into getting circumcised. While the Hivite men were weakened on the 3rd day of their circumcision, Simeon and Levi killed them all, and the rest of the brothers came after to plunder the people. It is very important to point out that the Bible does not mention Simeon and Levi going back with their brothers to plunder; it is possible they may have, but it is not clear according to the Bible. If they did not, then this was a righteous act based on Deut 13:13-19 which restricts the act of plundering in righteous war situations.
The word zeal means fervor for a person, cause, or object; eager desire or endeavor; enthusiastic diligence; ardor. It was zeal that caused Simeon and Levi to kill the Hivites for the offense of violating their sister. And as if it wasn’t bad enough, Dinah was staying with Shechem during this whole thing. The Bible does not say whether or not Dinah was being held against her will, but it is safe to assume so, since they took her out of there. Although this was a zealous act for the sake of their sister, Jacob did not see it as such; and later on, he cursed them for it.
“Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. “Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. (Genesis 49:5-7)
We can find verses that echo the words of Jacob in the book of Proverbs. In case you ever wondered, this curse is the reason why Levi was never given land and why the tribe of Simeon mainly assimilated into Judah later on. Now let us go back to this week’s Torah Portion.
Phinehas was a Levite (a descendant of Levi) and just like his forefather, when he saw evil, he acted without thinking in the most extreme way possible. This time, instead of acting for the sake of a sibling, Phinehas acted for the sake of God which stopped a plague and restored a level of honor to the Levite tribe. The Levites already had a special covenant with God, because they chose to side with Him during the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:25-29). But the zealous act of Phinehas sealed that covenant as a “covenant of a perpetual priesthood.” Because of Phinehas, the Levi priesthood is to be respected forever, even those who are in active duty today.
For zeal for Your house has consumed me, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. (Psalm 69:9)
My zeal has consumed me, because my adversaries have forgotten Your words. (Psalm 119:139)
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. (Revelation 3:19)
Zeal for God is something very precious and rare in today’s world. We live in a world where political correctness is taught from the elementary school level, a world where it is ok to “agree to disagree.” Many of us do not like ruffling any feathers; it is easier for us to ignore evil when we see it in hopes that it will work itself out. We want everything to be smooth. We do not want to offend, but for the sake of God, there are times when offense must happen; sometimes righteousness is an offense to those who dwell in sin.
If the Holy Spirit of God is within you, then you have that same zeal that Phinehas had. This is the same zeal that Yeshua displayed when He entered the temple courts. There are times when we have to unleash that zeal for the glory of God; for the sake of His holiness; and for His honor. The world is killing the zeal of God. It has been for thousands of years. Phinehas was not the only one who saw what Zimri and Cozbi were doing.
Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. (Numbers 25:6)
Why Moses or Eleazar didn’t stand up for what was right is unknown, but we see this same dilemma in many congregations today. Keep in mind that I’m only speaking in regards to the body of Messiah. When it comes to the world, let the world do what it will do. We should not be judging those in the world, because they do not live within the laws of God’s kingdom. However, when it comes to the Body of Messiah, we are all responsible to keep sin out of the body by focusing on ourselves first, then focusing on our brothers and sisters in Yeshua. Remember that God not only deals with us on individual levels, but He also deals with us on a larger corporate level. When one sins, we all sin; when one is blessed, we all benefit from that blessing. Despite the corruption of the Levites throughout the Bible, Israel was still blessed by them.
Far too often, many of us fall prey to the idea, “How can I correct someone else when I’m messed up?” God hates sin, and as His ambassadors, we must hate it too. Yeah we mess up, but it is our love for God which leads to Godly sorry when we do sin. It’s the love of God that should drive us to correct each other when we see sin in one another. This is why John said, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.” (1 John 5:2)
Sometimes we may see something that appears to be sin, but it may not be. I say confront it anyway, because if you do, at least one of two things will happen. If you are right, then sin will be exposed and you would have helped a brother or sister draw closer to God which will strengthen the body. If you are wrong, it will still discourage others from sinning, because they know that they are being watched. And there is nothing wrong with that, because we should be looking out for one another.
Do not accept sin in your own life, and do not accept sin in the life of anyone who claims to be a believer. If we fight sin with all we’ve got, we can succeed, because the Holy Spirit that dwells within us helps us to succeed. If we all commit to hating sin, then I believe that we can see the zeal of God in action on a more consistent basis. This is a very good thing, because the zeal of God is the white blood cells that fight the virus of sin within the body. This is what the story of Phinehas shows us.