Numbers 25-26

A Passion For God’s Honor

“Through Phinehas, and because of his passion for my honour, my wrath has been turned away from the children of Israel, so that I have not sent destruction on them all in my wrath. – Numbers 25:11 BBE

Chapter 25 of the book of Numbers contains a watershed moment. It is a pivotal point in the lives of the Israelites and in their relationship with God. They stand on the brink of the Promised Land, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness – their punishment for having doubted God and listening to the negative report of the spies (Numbers 14:26-31). Here they are, ready to enter the land they have been waiting for all these years. God has just ordained a blessing on their behalf out of the mouth of Balaam, when their enemies were trying to get them cursed (Numbers 24). And while this was happening, the people were busy aligning themselves with the daughters of Moab. The Expositors Bible Commentary has this to say about this important point in time:

The issue is that of apostasy from the Lord by participation in the debased, sexually centered Canaanite religious rites of Baal worship—that which would become the bane of Israel’s experience in the land. This chapter is an end and a beginning. It marks the end of the first generation; it also points to the beginning of a whole new series of wicked acts that will finally lead to Israel’s punishment…

The whole scene is reminiscent of what happened when the Law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. While God was blessing them with the giving of the Law, the people were busy creating a golden calf that they could worship. In other words, they were turning from God and turning to another god. And here they were doing the same thing all over again. Verse two makes it clear that this was not just about sex, it was about religion. “It started when the women invited the men to their sex-and-religion worship. They ate together and then worshiped their gods” (Numbers 25:2 NLT). Rather than remain set apart as God had commanded, the people were intimately joining themselves with the people of the land. They were violating the commands of God in order to enjoy the sensual and sexual pleasures all around them. I am sure there was all kinds of justification going on. “We’re just trying to fit in!,” some probably said. “We’re being ecumenical!,” others claimed. “We don’t want to be judgmental do we?,” a few might have asked. Rationalization reigned and the people brought dishonor on the name of God. So God brought a plague on them. He ordered the execution of all those who led in this rebellion against His authority. But this thing was so out of hand that one of the Israelites had the audacity to bring one of the Midianite women into camp, right in front of Moses and the people as they weeped in front of the Tabernacle. He took her straight into his tent. No shame. No remorse. But he was totally controlled by his sensual desires.

But one man took action. His name was Phinehas. We are told that Phinehas couldn’t stand by and watch this happen. So he took his spear in his hand, ran after this man, followed him into his tent, and speared the man and the Midianite woman through with the same spear at the same time. His actions halted the plague that God had sent on the people. And God acknowledges that it was the actions of this one man that spared the lives of the people of Israel. “Phinehas son of Eleazar and grandson of Aaron the priest has turned my anger away from the Israelites by displaying passionate zeal among them on my behalf. So I have stopped destroying all Israel as I had intended to do in my anger” (Numbers 25:11 NLT). The actions of Phinehas were motivated by a passionate zeal for God. He was not going to let the name of God get dragged through the mud. The literal translation is ““he was zealous with my zeal.” The repetition of forms for “zeal” in the line stresses the passion of Phinehas. The word “zeal” means a passionate intensity to protect or preserve divine or social institutions. Phinehas didn’t just stand by and watch. He acted. He couldn’t contain himself. And the Israelites are fortunate he couldn’t contain himself. Because it was his quick response that saved their lives.

Where is the Phinehas of today? Where is the man or woman who will be zealous with the zeal of God for His people and His name? We live in a day where the church is having an affair with the world. We are in love with the things of this world. Rather than being salt and light, we tend to cozy up with society, trying to fit in, rather than stand out. We have been set apart by God. But many of us would rather blend in. We have become intimate with the world, borrowing their ways and worshiping their gods – the gods of pleasure, power, prosperity, materialism, and popularity. We have become callous to the sin in our midst. Rather than speak up, we look the other way. And God is looking for those who will step up like Phinehas and stand up for the honor of His name. Phinehas was a priest for God. He was of the tribe of Levite and of the family of Aaron. He was doing exactly what a priest was to do. He was protecting the name of God and interceding on behalf of the people of God. He was looking out for the spiritual well-being of the nation. Ignoring sin does not make it go away. Turning our eyes to the sin in our midst doesn’t turn away the wrath of God. Like Phinehas, we need to see the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God. We are His priests today. We are to stand up for His honor in a world where His name is trampled in the dirt each and every day. God is looking for those who will be zealous with His zeal.

Father, I want to be a Phinehas. I want to have his passion and zeal for Your honor and name. I want to be appropriately appalled at the sin I see among your people – including myself – and take action. I want to be someone who stands up for Your name. I don’t know what that looks like right now, but I ask that You would show me. Open my eyes to the sin in our camp and show me what the right response should be. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men

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