The Zeal of Phinehas

Numbers 25:11-12  Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel…(12)  Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:

Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, is someone you may have heard of, but probably not too much. What little is written about him reveals a whole lot of content about his character and his love for God.

At this point, Israel was now in their second 40 year journey in the wilderness. This event was after many of them chose not to go into the Promise Land, and so God sent them back into the wilderness in Numbers 13 – 14.

Ever since Israel was sent back into the wilderness, many events took place up to this point. There was the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in Numbers 16, God establishes the official duties of the Priests and Levites in Numbers 18, Miriam and Aaron die in Numbers 20, and you can read about the exchange between the prophet Balaam and Balak (the king of Moab) in Numbers 22 – 24.

What Happened to Israel?

The opening verse of this chapter reads a lot differently from what was just written in the previous few chapters! How did we go from Numbers 23:21  He (God) hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob (Israel), neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel to reading Numbers 25:1  and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. This is definitely one of those places where you could say, “That escalated quickly!”.

In short, we know that King Balak called the prophet Balaam to curse Israel, but Balaam would only bless Israel. Balaam then left to go back home. But, before leaving, he shared some information with King Balak about how to get Israel to brings God’s curses upon themselves.

We learn this insight from the Lord Jesus in Revelation 2:14  But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. Balaam may have thought he had gotten away with it. He may even have justified his actions by saying, “I didn’t curse Israel. They brought it on themselves!”. Either way, God saw it and we know the truth today!

God then gets angry about Israel’s idolatry and commands Moses to carry out judgement upon the people for their disrespect of God’s ways! Numbers 25:4-5  And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.  (5)  And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.

The Midianites Get Involved

Numbers 25:6  And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.

So, now apparently Midian has gotten involved in trying to bring down Israel. It seems that this man, we later learn is named Zimri, was unaware of the judgment that was coming to pass when he arrived back at the camp with his one night stand. He even takes her into his tent. So, apparently no one let Zimri know what was happening. But, someone was about to inform him!

The Zeal of Phinehas

This is where the story gets interesting! When Phinehas sees this disrespect of God’s ways, he immediately jumps into action!

Numbers 25:7-8  And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;  (8)  And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

Now, of course, this is not how things are handled by God today, but God did things differently in the Old Testament. So, we ought to be glad for New Testament grace and mercy!

Though I would never encourage this kind of action, I think we can certainly appreciate the zeal of Phinehas! We are not sure what his thoughts were. His actions were not borne of any priestly duty. The closest justification for his actions were probably from the command of Moses in Numbers 25:5  And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.

Whatever his reasons, we can see he cared so much about the purity of the things of God that he took the initiative to make an example out of Zimri and this Midianitish woman named Cozbi.

Honoring Phinehas

For his zeal, God gave Phinehas great honor! Numbers 25:10-13  And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,  (11)  Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy.  (12)  Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace:  (13)  And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.

The Character of Phinehas

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t read a whole lot about Phinehas in the Bible, but it’s these kinds of passages that reveal that he had a great amount of character and love for God!

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Published by Jason Fulmer

Jason Fulmer is a Pastor, Human Resources Professional, and Development Teacher. He currently operates two blogs:, where he posts Bible-based development articles, and, where he posts personal and professional development articles. His life's goal is to encourage men and women to go to THEIR next level of living and leading. He believes the best way to accomplish this goal is through Education and Example!

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