Numbers 25-26, John 4

Truly Spiritual Worship.

Numbers 25-26, John 4

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. – John 4:23 ESV

What does it mean to worship God? In our day and age, worship has become synonymous with an event held on Sunday morning or evening that involves a mixture of music and message. In essence, we have made worship a noun, rather than a verb. In fact, often speak of having been to “worship.” But what did God consider true worship to be? Was it the keeping of a set of rituals or rules? Was is what took place in the Tabernacle when the priests offered the sacrifices on behalf of the people? It is interesting that God referred to their attempts at worship in some fairly less-than-flattering terms:  “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Worship had become an event or an occasion, rather than an expression of the heart.

In the story of Phinehas, revealed in Numbers 25, we once again discover the people of God disobeying the expressed will and commandments of God. It presents the nature of the problem in fairly graphic terms: “The people began to whore with the daughters of Moab” (Numbers 25:1 ESV). Against God’s expressed command to separate themselves from the nations living in the land, the people of Israel began to interact with their neighbors in a very intimate and immoral way. After having wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, they found themselves, yet again, standing on the border of the Promised Land – waiting to enter in and take possession. And yet, they also found themselves succumbing to the temptations of their enemies. The Moabites, who had attempted to defeat Israel by hiring a seer to curse them, decided to try another plan of attack. If they couldn’t curse them, they would join them. They found the Israelites exceptionally vulnerable in the sexual and spiritual integrity areas. Not only did the Israelite men willingly have sexual relationships with the Moabite women, “the people ate and bowed down to their gods” (Numbers 25:2 ESV).

Rather than worship God alone, they began to worship the false god of the Moabites. “So Israel yoked himeslf to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel” (Numbers 25:3 ESV).

What does this passage reveal about God?

God wanted more than lip-service. He desired their heart-felt worship of Him alone. He demanded it. Over in the gospel of John, we read of Jesus‘ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. This woman was a social outcast because of her immoral lifestyle. But she was also a spiritual outcast from the nation of Israel, because she was a Samaritan. The Jews considered these people to be racial half-breeds and religious compromisers. When the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated by the Assyrians and deported, a small remnant of people were left in the land. These people ended up intermarrying with the nations around them. When the Jews were restored to the land years later, they refused to have anything to do with these people, viewing them as religious heretics and virtually sub-human. And yet they worshiped Yahweh just as the Jews did, but from a rival temple on Mt. Gerizim. So when Jesus and the Samaritan woman find themselves engaged in their rather awkward and unusual conversation, it naturally turned to the topic of worship. For her, the only difference between herself and Jesus was their place of worship. For her, like many today, worship was an event that took place at a specific location. But Jesus quickly clarified that “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24 ESV). As far as Jesus was concerned, neither the Jews or the Samaritans were worshiping God correctly. He was looking for “truly spiritual” worship. God wants to be worshiped from the heart. It is not an event, but an attitude that flows from within the spirit of the individual. Jesus was letting her know that the time was coming when the true worship of God would be motivated and empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, men and women would have a new capacity to worship God truly and truthfully, because of the transformative presence of the Spirit of God. Jesus’ discussion with her regarding living water was a reference to the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual who would place their faith in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). God would provide man with the ability to worship Him in spirit and truth, internally and with integrity. But it would also manifest itself externally.

What does this passage reveal about man?

In the story of Phinehas we a picture of the people of God living in relationship with God falsely and unfaithfully. They were giving their time and attention to false gods. They were disobeying the revealed will of God. And God dealt with them harshly for their sin against Him. He commanded that every man who had “yoked” himself to the false god, Baal, should be killed. And in the midst of all this, one of the men of Israel had the audacity to parade his Midianite mistress in full view of God and the entire nation of Israel. No remorse. No repentance. No fear. All while the people of God were weeping in the entrance of the Tabernacle. So Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron the high priest, “rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly” (Numbers 25:7-8 ESV). He saw what was going on and he dealt with it. As a result, God’s plague against the people was stopped. And God clarified exactly why Phinehas’ actions brought an end to God’s judgment on the people. “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” (Numbers 25:11-12 ESV). God literally says, “Phinehas was zealous with my zeal.” The word “zeal” means a passionate intensity to protect or preserve divine or social institutions. This man cared about the things of God. He cared for the reputation of God. He desired to protect the honor of God. He wanted to preserve the spiritual integrity of the people of God. And God says that his actions “made atonement for the people of Israel.” By sacrificing the lives of the guilty couple, he satisfied God’s righteous judgment. Their sin was punished by death, and God was free to end the plague and pardon the people. In a real sense, Phinehas worshiped God that day. He worshiped Him in spirit and truth. His inner zeal for God’s holiness showed up in a determination to follow the will of God faithfully and truly.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

There is a zeal required of all of us who claim to be followers of Christ and children of God. Our worship of God is to show up in spiritual, yet practical ways. The zeal of Phinehas for the things of God caused him to step out and risk all for God. He dealt with sin in a drastic manner, because he saw sin as a slight to God’s character and a blight on the honor of God’s people. It’s interesting that when the disciples returned and found Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman, they were shocked. They wanted to know why Jesus, a good Jew, would be talking to a woman, and a Samaritan at that. Then they changed the subject and asked if Jesus had eaten yet. His response threw them for a loop. “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32 ESV). Then because they were confused by this statement, He clarified His words by saying, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Ultimately, the worship of God comprises obedience to God. Jesus found nourishment and refreshment simply doing what God had called Him to do. His obedience brought glory to His Father and sustenance to His own soul. Jesus’ entire life was characterized by His worship of God, and not just when He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath or to the Temple to sacrifice. His life was a living sacrifice to God. Paul encourages us to live with the same attitude. “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1 NLT). Whole-hearted, Spirit-led obedience to the will of the Father. That is the kind of worship God desires from each of us.

Father, help me to learn how to truly worship you. Don’t let me get satisfied with simply going through the motions, or offering you some kind of lip service. I want my worship of You to be continual and from the heart, not just the head. May I learn to be zealous for Your zeal like Phinehas. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men