Phinehas: Zeal for God

By Robert Thomas

Tucked away in a small chapter in the book of Numbers is a powerful story, in which a man who had zeal for God made a very bold decision that would impress the Lord. In Numbers 25, Phinehas showed his obedience and ardent dedication to God’s honor by making a decision that would affect the history of God’s people.

But first, take a few steps back with me to Numbers 22 for the beginning of the story.

Balak was king of Moab, and Israel struck fear into his heart because Israel defeated every enemy they came across, by the power of their God. Balak heard Israel had made camp near his people, the Moabites.

Balak decided to hire a magician named Balaam. Balaam’s reputation was for cursing people, so maybe Balaam would be able to defeat Israel where no others could. However, Numbers chapters 22-24 tell us that regardless of how many times Balaam attempted to curse Israel, they were utterly protected by God. No attack would prosper.

Balaam shrewdly decided to entice Israel to engage in sin. Perhaps temptation would accomplish what no attack could. This is where we enter into the story in Numbers 25, as Israel enters into a sinful relationship with the daughters of Moab, joining in their sexual immorality and idol worship.

God sees His children disobeying His commands and disciplines them. The leaders of this rebellion were to be executed and a plague overcame Israel. Tens of thousands would die and the whole of Israel mourned outside the tent of meeting. To make matters worse, an Israelite man, flippantly disobeying God’s commands, paraded through the Israelite camp with his pagan girlfriend, showing complete disregard for God’s commands.

Phinehas, the son of Israel’s priest, watched these things play out. In the middle of a weeping congregation, Phinehas watched this Israelite man publicly ignore God and decided he could not sit by and allow this to happen. Wordlessly, Phinehas took a spear, followed the man to his tent, and stabbed both the man and the woman with a spear. At that moment, God’s anger toward Israel abated, because of the actions of one man who stood up and attacked sin head-on.

By acting against sin, Phinehas revealed his strong desire to protect God’s honor amongst his people. He understood the holiness of God. He chose to confront the sin, acknowledging that sin came with a great cost. As a result of Phinehas’ actions, God was pleased with Phinehas’ zeal. He decided to make a covenant with Phinehas, that his entire lineage would serve as priests in God’s temple forever, and the Priestly Covenant was established.

Even though Israel could not be attacked from the outside, they were vulnerable to their own temptation. But Phinehas’ zeal for God’s honor and glory is an example for Christians everywhere. His decision to end sin at the source was celebrated by God. This example is challenging for us today. I ask myself, how often am I caught blatantly welcoming sin into my heart? Even more importantly, do my actions show any regard for the holiness and greatness of the God of the universe?

Phinehas is one of the Bible’s many great heroes of faith, due to his passionate dedication to God’s honor.

This week, I challenge you to pray this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24: Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Listen to The Great Ones sermon series here.

Robert Thomas is a graduate of UNM, and is currently a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, pursuing a master’s degree in Christian Education. He leads the 5th and 6th grade Preteen ministry at AFBC, and works as a substitute teacher for Albuquerque Public Schools. In his spare time, he enjoys surfing the internet on his laptop, watching a movie with his friends, or hanging with his preteens at the church.