“Then stood up Phinehas, and wrought judgment, and so the plague was stayed. And that was counted unto him for righteousness, Unto all generations forever (Psalms 106:30-31).”
The Back Story
This brief account in Psalms comes from Numbers 25 where the children of Israel are being confronted with local Canaanite deities that appeal to their sensual appetites. Leading into the back story was the account of Israel moving through the wilderness into territories already possessed by other people groups. The Amorites who had actually subjugated other tribes (such as the Moabites) were a specifically strong people denying Israel passage through their lands. As a result, warfare ensued with Israel winning the war and possessing the Amorite lands. Balak, king of the Moabites, saw what Israel did to the Amorites (to whom he was a vassal). Israel was on the move toward Moab, and Balak, rightfully, was concerned about preserving his dominion. As a result of his fear of the Israelites, Balak contacted his near neighbors, the Midianites, looking for a solution to this advancing horde of people.
The Midianites and Moabites came up with a plan to appeal to the supernatural because they did not think that they had the physical power to repel these people who were “coming out from Egypt.” After all, they had seen what Israel did to the regional powerhouse of the Amorites. This M&M delegation gathered up gifts and rewards to entice a regional prophet to curse these people making incursion on their lands. Balaam the prophet had enough insight to seek Lord Yahweh on this request for cursing wherein the Lord told him to NOT return with this delegation and NOT to curse Israel because they were “blessed” (Numbers 21:21-22:13). Eventually, Balaam did return with the delegation, confronted by an avenging angel and rebuked by a speaking ass. Very clearly, the Lord told Balaam that he could not say anything to the king of Moab except, exactly, what the Lord told him to say. Balaam’s profit motive was seriously impeded by the Most High. Upon arrival at Moab, he instructed the king to make a total of 21 sacrifices to Yahweh from Whom Balak could not acquire a cursing of Israel from the prophet. The king’s insistence that Israel be cursed ended up becoming a blessing on Israel three consecutive times. Included in the third blessing was a reminder of an ancient promise given to Israel’s progenitor four-hundred years earlier. “Blessed be every one that blesseth thee, And cursed be every one that curseth thee (Numbers 24:9b) (Genesis 12:3).”
Even with the blessed status of Israel, these blessings did not ensure that Israel would wholly make the right choices. As they were camped near the Moabites, the Israelite men began to commit harlotry with the foreign women. The sexual enticements were just too much for them to resist, which led them to attend Moabitish religious festivals, eating food offered to idols and bowing down to those gods. The Lord’s anger was kindled at His people because they were breaking their word of loyalty professed to Yahweh. In fact, the fear of the Lord has dissipated in some men to the point that one man flaunted his disobedience by bringing a Midianite woman into the camp within eyesight of Moses and the congregation as they were weeping at the tent of meeting over the judgment of God pronounced on them for their sin. The grandson of Aaron, Phinehas, “…rose up from the midst of the congregation, and took a spear in his hand (Numbers 25:7).” Notice that the confirming account in Psalms 106 said that he stood up. Acting upon Moses’ injunction for the judges of Israel to slay every man whom had joined themselves to Baal-peor, Phinehas followed the Israelite man and Midianite woman into their chamber, thrusting them both through with the spear. Phinehas took a stand. This event was not just about a weak moment of sexual misconduct, Yahweh judged these acts as infidelity to Him. These were His special people in the midst of the nations who were abdicating their special relationship with the Most High God in lieu of worshipping a lesser god, Baal. His people were embracing an ancient Canaanite god who was a self-appointed rival of Yahweh, infringing on His claim to this special people. The psalmist said that Phinehas “wrought judgment” which means that he intervened, interceded – coming from the idea of prayer and supplication. This awful action was perpetrated by love for Yahweh. A violation of the Sinai covenant that Israel made with Yahweh required a just response by the Almighty. This was the covenant agreed upon. The plague of judgment ensued – 24,000 dead. Phinehas’ faith stopped the plague. Phinehas stood in the gap for the people of God. Justice was appeased by one man loving God so much that he took inordinate action to align himself with a righteous God committed to having a holy people. In our age of extreme individualism, declaration of personal value and rights that trump the masses, we can only explain such fanaticism as brutish, barbaric and unenlightened…perpetrated by a cruel God who can be charged with inciting murder.
However, the God of the universe sees things quite differently from our own myopic, self-centered perspective. Perhaps, this act of Phinehas could be more metaphorically described as removing a cancerous tumor for the prospective health of the entire body. This young man understood the mutual exclusivity of the relationship between Yahweh and His people. This resulted in the Lord granting to Phinehas His covenant of peace – a covenant of an everlasting priesthood. Does this not point to the messianic prophecy, “Thou art a priest forever after the manner of Melchizedek (Psalms 110:4)?” Does not the Apostle Paul point back to the ascribing of the Lord’s covenant of peace on Phinehas when he writes that “…Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:20-22)?” Phinehas was the grandson of Aaron, a rightful recipient of the Aaron priesthood. However, in this believing act of jealousy for his God, Phinehas became a priest after the order of the everlasting Melchizedekian order (from which the Messiah later would be ordained) which had nothing to do with his inherited right to the Aaronic priesthood. While Phinehas would continue to carry out the duties of his Aaronic priesthood as Israel settled into the promised land; more importantly, he was established by faith into the everlasting priesthood by the Lord’s oath saying, “…it shall be unto him, and to his seed after him, the covenant of an everlasting priesthood… (Numbers 25:12).” Not only did Phinehas proceed with the inherited mantle of his grandfather’s title, he went into Canaan with the mantle of the everlasting priesthood ministering in the tabernacle not made with man’s hands. That supernatural power which Balak wanted Balaam to appropriate as a curse on Israel was now appropriated onto Phinehas who was a warrior-priest carrying the holy vessels and trumpets into war with the Midianites (which Israel eradicated (Numbers 31:6-8).) Note also that the Israelites slew Balaam during this expedition.
Our text from Psalms 106 indicated that this act of jealousy (zeal) was accounted to Phinehas as righteousness. This language can only lead us to father Abraham whom believed Yahweh when he was told that he would have a son at 100 years of age! Such a belief was “…accounted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:13-22).” My contention is that somehow the faith residing in Abraham was evidenced in Phinehas some 400 years later because both acts were reckoned to those men as righteousness. As the psalm indicates, this faith is extended unto all generations forever. May we embrace the understanding that these forefathers demonstrated, regarding the necessity of maintaining a firm commitment to the singularity and fidelity to the Most High. As Phinehas, may we take a stand against the gods of our age and intervene in the folly of our generation.
Genesis. The Holy Scriptures – Masoretic Text. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955. Print.
Hebrews. The Holy Bible – NKJV. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2010. Print.
Numbers. The Holy Scriptures – Masoretic Text. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955. Print.
Psalms. The Holy Scriptures – Masoretic Text. Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 1955. Print.
Romans. The Holy Bible – NKJV. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2010. Print.