The Zeal of Phinehas

The New Testament, the law of God which applies to us today (Heb. 8:7-13), tells us that the Old Testament still has much value for the Christian.  The accounts of what happened to the Israelites provide instruction, admonition, encouragement, hope, and an example to us today (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:1-11).  Therefore, it is proper for modern seekers of God to study the Old Testament, because through it we can find out a lot about how our Creator looks at things.

For example, consider Phinehas (Num. 25:6-13), a little known man in the Old Testament who lived during the time of Moses.  While the Jews were wandering in the wilderness, one of them brought a foreign woman into the camp in front of everyone, presumably either to marry her or to fornicate with her.  While the idea of marrying a foreigner may seem trivial to us today – possibly due to the New Testament giving no prohibition between races (Gal. 3:28) – it was a sin under Old Testament law (Ex. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:3-4).  Phinehas apparently recognized this and was very upset that one of his Jewish brothers would so blatantly disobey his God, and so he picked up a spear, went into the man’s chamber, and killed both him and the woman.  As a result, God took away the plague he had thrown upon Israel, and even praised the actions of Phinehas.

What lessons can we learn from this?  First, let me make it clear that I am not advocating killing someone whom you see blatantly disobeying God’s Word.  While the Old Testament allowed that (Josh. 7) due to being the lawbook of a singular theocratic nation, the New Testament – the lawbook of Christians of all nations – tells us to deal with sinners among our brethren in a firm but non-violent way (Matt. 18:15-17; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Cor. 5; Eph. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15; 2 John 9-11).  Under the New Testament, only the various secular governments have the authority from God to use capital punishment to punish evildoers (Rom. 13:1-4), and anyone – including Christians – who would purposely take a man’s life outside of governmental parameters would be guilty of sin (Gal. 5:19-21).

That said, what I would like us to consider is the zeal Phinehas must have possessed in order to do such a thing as take a man’s life because that man was sinning against God.  We need to remember that Phinehas was putting his own life in danger by going into that man’s tent and attacking him.  The man could have defended himself and maybe even taken Phinehas’ own life.  Yet, Phinehas cared so much about God’s Word being obeyed that he would not allow sin to be in his presence for one minute…and God praised him for that attitude.

“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Pet. 2:12)

Do we have that attitude?  Do we hate sin that much?  When someone tells a dirty joke or uses foul language in your presence, do you have enough zeal for God to politely ask them to stop?  If your friends are involved in fornication, do you care enough about God and them to tell them that what they are doing is wrong?  Or do you look the other way and maybe even join in so that they won’t think you’re weird?  If that’s the case, where’s your zeal for God?  More importantly, where is God’s approval for you?

I hope we all can have Phinehas’ zeal for standing up for what is right in the sight of God.  It’s something to think about, and a goal for us to have.

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