Numbers records the story of Balak and Balaam. Balaam wanted the wages of unrighteousness. He was a prophet of the LORD but sold out his office for material gain. God would not allow Balaam to curse Israel, but Balak hired him to do so. Balaam was sent away without his reward.
Balaam could not curse God’s people, but he knew another way for Balak to have what he wanted. If Israel could be entrapped and led away from God, they would lose God’s favor and protection. If Balak could get Israelite men to commit sexual immorality with Moabite women and form alliances with Moab, then these men could be drawn away from the LORD. Balaam’s advice was sound and also evil. He would have succeeded if it had not been for one man.
The history behind Phinehas is recorded in Numbers 25. Israel’s men intermingled with the women of Moab. Israel also bowed down to Moabite gods and aroused the anger of the LORD. The LORD ordered that all the offenders be hanged out in the sun so that the anger of the LORD would turn away from Israel. An Israelite man presented his Midianite woman to his brethren in the sight of Moses and the congregation of Israel. These men were weeping over God’s judgment.
Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, saw this. He came out from the congregation, took a javelin, and pursued the man and his Midianite woman into the tent. There he thrust the spear through both the man and woman. A plague of judgment had broken out. It only stopped when Phinehas acted. 24,000 people had died by that point.
The LORD said that Phinehas turned back His wrath from Israel “because he was zealous with [the LORD’s] zeal among them.” He was zealous for his God (Numbers 25.13).
Psalm 106 recounts Phinehas’ history:
“Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stopped. And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore”
– Psalm 106.30-31
The operative concept taught in this man’s life is zeal. Phinehas was jealous for his God. Zeal or godly jealousy is a characteristic that can either be good or bad. It is more often bad in people. It all depends on what drives zeal in our lives. It’s good to be zealous in doing good, but it must be remembered that evil people are zealous in doing evil.
If a man or woman does not have zeal, as soon as the road gets tough, they will quit. Nothing difficult can be accomplished without zeal. Indifference and apathy produce nothing but laziness.
Sometimes you run into a very bright, gifted individual who can do much without much effort. But that person is superficial in the long run. There will come a time when everyone will recognize that they need to be more diligent. Not all diligence meets with success, but if a great work is accomplished, we are sure to know that zeal has been poured into it.
The best sermons require a lot of time, thought, prayer, study, and preparation. The greatest cures in medicine require great effort, expense, and research. Olympians monitor what they eat and practice self-discipline and great rigor in their exercise program in order to obtain a corruptible medal. If we are going to prove beneficial to others, godly zeal will be the impetus for it.
Phinehas saw how God was dishonored by this nameless man. He saw what it would do to the nation, and he avenged God’s cause with great zeal. His zeal for God elevated him above his countryman and solidified his eternal testimony in God’s Word. The actions still shock us even though we are told they were godly. Verse 31 says it is accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore. What was accounted to him for righteousness? The fact that he ran his spear through both the man and the woman? Yes, but more importantly, the zeal and godly jealousy that motivated him to do so! But there’s more to it.
We know Phinehas was a righteous man because of the fruit of his zeal for his God. His zeal did not make him righteous, but it proved he was righteous. And it continues to prove that. It will to all generations forevermore.
Zeal for the Father’s house consumed our Lord Jesus (John 2.17). The zeal of the Corinthian church for Paul moved him to rejoice (2 Corinthians 7.7). And yet the Jewish people had a zeal for the true God, but it was not fortified with knowledge. It was misdirected and misinformed.
Jesus’ zeal moved him to steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem and then to His death. The early church had a zeal that compelled them to continue steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, communion, and prayer. Let us continue steadfastly in prayer. Let us be steadfast, immovable, and always abound in the work of the Lord. Don’t fall from your own steadfastness and zeal. If you do, you’ll be led away with the error of the wicked.