One of the Israelite men brought a Midianite woman to his brothers. He did this right in front of Moses and the whole community of Israel while they were crying at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Phinehas, son of Eleazar and grandson of the priest Aaron, saw this. So he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and went into the tent after the Israelite man.Numbers 25:6-8
The type of vigilance required for maintaining righteousness is extreme and rarely practiced. Yeshua spoke of it in hyperbolic terminology, that even if your eye or hand causes you to sin, you should be prepared to gouge it out or chop it off.
In the example of Phinehas, a priest in Aaron’s line at the time of the wandering in the desert, he demonstrated this commitment to righteousness in an extreme way that he is famously remembered for to this day.
The men of Israel had become complacent in their commitment to Yahweh. They began to succumb to the idolatry of the local Midianite population as they were being seduced by the women of Moab.
While Israel was staying at Shittim, the men began to have sex with Moabite women who invited the people to the sacrifices offered to their gods. The people ate the meat from the sacrifices and worshiped these gods. Since the Israelites joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor, the LORD became angry with Israel.Numbers 25:1-3
Due to this rampant idolatry, God sent a plague among the general population that was killing thousands of people. He revealed to Moses and the leaders what must be done to put things right.
The LORD said to Moses, “Take all the leaders of the people, and execute them in broad daylight in the LORD’s presence. This will turn the LORD’s anger away from Israel.” So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must kill the men who have joined in worshiping the god Baal of Peor.”Numbers 25:4-5
There were no compromises, no discussions, no negotiations; those who had sinned in idolatry had to be removed from the population of Israel. The offenders had become so brazen in their sinfulness that they proceeded in their practices, even as Moses and the assembly leaders were seeking God’s direction and favor.
Upon seeing this, Phinehas instantly jumped into action in obedience to God’s command. He didn’t hesitate or wait for a committee to decide on the right timing; he simply got up, grabbed a spear, and followed the offenders into their tent.
So he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand, and went into the tent after the Israelite man. He drove the spear through the man and into the woman’s body. Because of this, the plague that the Israelites were experiencing stopped.Numbers 25:7-8
Phinehas is remembered because he unhesitatingly did a difficult thing that God required, and in so doing, saved the rest of the assembly. In his vigilance for righteousness, he saw the iniquity and took immediate action.
This story is a metaphor for us today. The example is extreme because God wants to make sure we understand how serious it is for us to remain in blatant disobedience to his purposes.
In like fashion to the men of Israel, we can be easily seduced by the surrounding idolatry of our day and age. The culture and technology we are immersed in provide ample opportunities for us to be led away, seduced as by Midianite women, from our commitment to the one true God.
It is only when those disobedient thoughts and actions are decisively put to death that we can be restored to wholeness with God. Yeshua used the example of gouging out eyes and chopping off hands (Matt. 5:29-30). Paul writes about it this way:
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.Romans 8:12-13
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.Colossians 3:5
The same vigilance and determination of Phinehas for the righteousness of his people needs to be evidenced in us today for our own standing in God’s presence. The only way we can be truly set apart for God’s purposes is by brutally putting to death, gouging out, chopping off, and stabbing a spear through the heart of those things in our lives that offend God.
This is the determination needed to remain on God’s path. This is the vigilance it takes to be a child of God. Be a Phinehas, not waiting, but taking immediate and decisive action on the habits and practices in your life that are offensive to God.