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Phineas – Zealous for his God

In every generation, there needs to be a Phinehas if the truth is to thrive and survive the onslaught of immorality.
Read Time: 8 minutes

The fourth instalment of our series on Faithful Family Legacies takes us to a well-known Bible character: Phineas.

What may be less known is the amazing legacy he began and the extent to which it flowed through Israel’s history. In every generation, there needs to be a Phinehas if the truth is to thrive and survive the onslaught of immorality. As such, this man’s influence has great relevance to us living in the age before the return of Christ. In a world that is blasé about everything, we can be encouraged by Phinehas’s zeal for God. 

We can be encouraged by Phinehas’s zeal for God.

The first occurrence of Phinehas in the Bible is found in Exodus 6:25. It is interesting to note how Divine inspiration records the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. It begins with the “heads of the fathers’ houses” following Rueben down to Levi, where the line then turns to follow only Levi’s family. Then, it continues to focus the line right down to Phinehas as if stopping at him. God doesn’t do this randomly; we have a Divine highlighting of this man for a reason. 

Furthermore, when we take into account the events of Leviticus 10:1-11, we see that Aaron’s line is further focused on Eleazar and Phinehas due to the disobedience of Nadab and Abihu. Imagine Phinehas, as a younger man, witnessing God’s immediate judging fire come down on these men, followed by Moses declaring; “This is it that which Yahweh spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified.” (Lev 10:3).

Phinehas was deeply moved by the power of God.

How important was the righteousness of God in matters of holiness and worship? Such a statement is hard for those in our world to appreciate because mankind has moved so far from God’s honor and glory that they can’t understand why holiness is so important.

Phinehas, however, was deeply moved by the power of God. This made a massive imprint on his mind and began a desire to distinguish between “holy and unholy, clean and unclean.” (Lev 10:10). Aaron and his family were not even allowed to be sad for Nadab and Abihu because this would be condoning their immoral behavior. Instead, they were commanded to stay “at the door of the tabernacle,” (Lev 10:7) continuing God’s mission for them. This is a theme that will become part of Phinehas’s legacy from this moment on.

The Counsel of Baalam 

Significantly, our second meeting with Phinehas is found in Numbers 25. The context of this chapter is vitally important to appreciate. Going back to Numbers 22, we see the beginning of the well-known story of Balaam who was hired by Balak to curse Israel. This is one of the biggest exhortations for us today and a study (and legacy) all by itself. In summary, we see in the Numbers record that Balaam was unable to curse Israel because God had blessed her. Amazingly, God commanded Balaam to say “He [God] hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel: the LORD his God is with him.” (Num 23:21). 

Despite all this, Balaam wanted the reward of Balak and so “ran greedily after it.” (Jude 11). So how do you defeat a people so blessed by a compassionate God? The answer is our greatest warning today—you teach them the ways and errors of the world!

Balaam couldn’t curse Israel, so he taught Israel to be like the world. This is “the counsel of Balaam” (Num 31:16), who “consulted with Balak and answered him” with evil, because it was against the “righteousness of God.” (Mic 6:5). This was “the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.” (Rev 2:14). 

The mere fact Jesus picks up this lesson in his letter to Pergamos in Revelation 2 shows how vital it is for us also today. As we have “the truth” of God’s word, it is rare to see people fall away because of being convinced it is wrong. But sadly, we see many fall away because they have been taught the philosophies of the world, which break down the difference between holy and unholy, clean and unclean, teaching them to commit fornication with the world and follow its idols. 

Israel failed to heed this lesson in Numbers 25. It was “the daughters of Moab” (note Gen 6:2) that became the stumbling block, and so Israel was “joined to Baal-peor.” (Num 25:1-2). This euphemism for the sexual immorality that thousands participated in must be appreciated if we are going to be exhorted (Hos 9:10, 1 Cor 6:13-20).

Those of us who think we stand, take heed lest we also fall, knowing that no temptation takes us but that which is common to man (1 Cor 10:8-13). If we doubt we would ever have been caught up in this evil, just take stock of what TV programs, movies, music, and magazines our families and those in our ecclesias are watching now. These are filled with sex, immorality, alternative lifestyles, violence, disrespect, and everything unclean and unholy. If this is what we get entertained by, we slowly become increasingly desensitized to the evil that is a direct affront to the righteousness of God. 

Not only were the common people caught up in this evil, but it was also the heads of some tribes, and in particular Zimri, a head of the tribe of Simeon (Num 25:14). Zimri was so brazen that he thought to parade his evil in front of the whole nation, despite Moses commanding the leaders to “hang them up before the people.” (Num 25:4). To parallel this to our times, it would be as if an arranging brother of our ecclesia was flaunting his sin before us all and no one was taking action.

Enter Phinehas! Although many were upset at these events, they stood weeping at “the door of the tabernacle.” (Num 25:6). Yet it was Phinehas who rose up, from the door of the tabernacle because he was “zealous for his God.” (Num 25:13). It was Phinehas who enacted the very judgment of God by taking a spear and thrusting Zimri and Cozbi through in the very act of their immorality.

Like Moses’ command to hang them up (Num 25:4; Heb 6:6 LXX where the word is “crucify”), Phinehas enacted the righteousness of God by making a public display of what is due to sin (Psa 98:2, Rom 3:25-26). 

God was not only honored by Phinehas’s zeal but saw in his actions the very work He would do through the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 13:20). It was God’s own “covenant of peace” (Num 25:12), which was based on God’s own character (Exod 34:6-7, 14-16–compare “jealous God” in Exod 34:14 with Num 25:11).

God’s own promise of an eternal priesthood and covenant in the work of Phinehas should cause us to elevate this man’s deeds and see in it the type of our Lord Jesus Christ (Mal 2:4-7, Isa 54:10-17), and how God will account righteousness those who follow in the zeal of Phinehas (Psa 106:30-31). This is the very means by which God makes “Atonement” (Num 25:13) because it is a vindication of His righteousness.

The Legacy of Phineas  

This is the power of the legacy of Phinehas. He was a man whose zeal to see the righteousness of God revealed from the door of the tabernacle (Num 25:6-7) would now be pressed into the generations he would influence. The door of the tabernacle became the place where firstly the offerings would be brought (Lev 1-4, 8, 12), but also where the glory of God would appear (Exod 29:42, Deut 31:15). It was this location that became the place of Phinehas’s “seed after him” and the place of the “everlasting priesthood” (Num 25:13). 

So, who is this seed and legacy of Phinehas? When we piece together some key passages in the Old Testament, we find out how powerful this is. Comparing Numbers 16 and 1 Chronicles 9 (especially verses 19-21), we see that Phinehas became a “father” to the sons of Korah, who stood apart from their literal father in his rebellion with Dathan and Abiram.

The common love of God’s righteousness drew together Phinehas and the sons of Korah, and Phinehas taught them to remain faithful to God’s ways above all else. Yet the fascinating detail in 1 Chronicles 9:19 is that they were “keepers of the door” of the tabernacle! 

A further comparison of 1 Chronicles 6:33-39 with 1 Samuel 1:1 shows us that Samuel was also a son of Korah. We see Samuel’s zeal for God, even at a young age, and how he stood up against the evil of Hophni and Phinehas (the bad one). Yet another fascinating link to the legacy of Phinehas (the good one) is how he saw his role at the door of the tabernacle (1 Sam 3:11-19).

To think that Samuel in his life set up the “School of the Prophets in Naioth” (1 Sam 19:18-24, 2 Kgs 2:1-5), anointed the kings of Israel and had a massive influence on David’s establishment of the temple and worship in the nation (1 Chr 9:22), we can begin to see how huge the influence of Phinehas all those years ago on the sons of Korah really was!

How profound is God’s inspired word!

One of the biggest ways to see the legacy of Phinehas in the sons of Korah is to read the wonderful psalms they penned. Psalms ascribed to the Sons of Korah are 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49 (in Book 2) and 84, 85, and 87 (in Book 3). Both Psalms 46 and 88 have the inscription too, but according to J. Thirtle, these Psalms have a repeated superscription and so are not of the sons of Korah, most likely belonging to the preceding psalms. 

Take time to go through these psalms and link them to the stories of Numbers 16 and 25. How profound is God’s inspired word, and how wonderful is the legacy of Phinehas to imprint these principles on their minds for generations! Despite the lack of room in an article, these verses are a must to quote:

Thy right hand is full of righteousness. Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments. Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. (Psa 48:10-13).
For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Psa 84:10-11). 

I love the ideas here. God will “give grace AND glory.” Think of what occurred at the door of the tabernacle; it was the location to bring your offering (hence to receive God’s grace and forgiveness) but also where the glory of God would appear from! How beautiful that the sons of Korah would rather be there than in the tents of wickedness (Korah, Dathan, and Abiram). 

God’s atonement and covenant of peace are found in the coming together of His righteousness and the extension of His forgiveness. 

Surely His salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. (Psa 85:9-11). 

How powerful the thoughts of those who listened to the ways of Phinehas are! 

The greatest legacy of Phinehas is of course the Lord Jesus Christ. It was said of Jesus that it was God’s zeal that ate him up and caused him to act on the evil of his generation (John 2:14-17). Yet it was also Jesus who was described as “the door” (John 10:7-9), the place and offering through which we can find a covenant of peace with our God (Heb 13:20-21).

Because of this work, we can be born in Zion (Psa 87:5). As such, God “loves the gates of Zion more than the dwellings of Jacob” (Psa 87:2, note Num 24:5) because those that follow the legacy of Phinehas, who are zealous for our God, will be part of the number that God writes up as being born in Zion! May the legacy of Phinehas impact our life so that we may be part of that faithful number. 

 James McCann,
(Riverwood Ecclesia, Australia)

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