Defending God's Honor

Numbers 25-27

Phinehas did a hard thing. He chose to do what was right in order to defend God’s honour. Israel had sinned by worshipping pagan gods promoted by women the Israelites had been told to avoid. God was angry and the punishment took the lives of 24,000 people until Phinehas stepped in, made a decisive move, and the angel of death removed his hand from God’s people.

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites’” —Numbers 25:10-13.

My curiosity bump is working overtime as I read this passage. The Lord told Moses to punish the leaders of those who had committed the sin (25:4). Moses told the judges that they must put to death anyone who had sinned (25:5). Then we have this gap of information until Phinehas, a priest, actually seems to obey the orders. In the meanwhile 24,000 people die, not from the actions of the judges, but from a plague. It almost seems that the leaders did not carry out their instructions and God stepped in.

Phinehas proved to be the only one who stood up for God and carried out the instructions.

The passage doesn’t encourage us to go around killing wrong-doers. Rather our spiritual leaders need to defend God and preserve his honor by doing what is right in condemning sin even when it is hard to do so. None of us escape the application because all of us in our own way, give spiritual leadership. In our 21st century context, doing what’s right might mean taking the risk of offending others or even putting our jobs on the line.

Phinehas' act of "atonement" is another beautiful, though brutal illustration of what Christ would do so many years later to save us.

God honoured Phinehas for honouring him. Is there any other “bottom line?”


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