Numbers / Bemidbar 25:10 30:1
For the week of July 18, 1998 / 24 Tammuz 5758
Dont Just Stand There!
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 as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them." (Numbers 25:10,11).
The Hebrew word "torah" means "teaching" or "direction." In the Torah we discover God's direction for our lives. As we read the stories and the various regulations there, we encounter God's perspective of life. In the face of so many opinions from so many sources, the Scriptures provide us with an anchor that keeps us from being carried off into all sorts of destructive places.
Our so-called liberated society has tried to teach us that moral restrictions prevent us from living life to its fullest. Its motto, "If it feels good, do it!" insists that there is no such thing as right and wrong. It also denies the existence of objective truth.
The Torah, of course, presents a different picture. Here we find God, the Creator and Master of the universe, revealing, not only himself, but also his righteous standards to us. We come into the world with nothing, groping around as if in the dark. We need God's light - his knowledge - to show us how to live.
In the story of Pinchas (in English translations, Phinehas I prefer his Hebrew name and it is also the title of this week's portion), we see God making a positive statement about an action that many of us would feel uneasy with. The people of Israel were engaging in immoral acts with foreign women and worshipping their gods. God was angry and sent a plague. The plague was stopped when Pinchas slew an Israelite man and Midianite woman "in the act." This week's portion begins with God commending Pinchas for his actions.
As we look at this story we are exposed to God's thinking about life. We may not like how Pinchas dealt with the situation. But over and over again in the Scriptures we encounter stories such as this, which make us uneasy. But if we let ourselves be turned off too quickly, we miss the point.
I do not think it was what Pinchas did exactly that won him God's commendation. Rather, it was his zeal for God's honour that was commendable.
The Israelites had cast off all moral and spiritual restrictions. If they had continued this course, they would have been the cause of their own demise. God's reaction to their actions was to help them see this. But the death of thousands was not sufficient for them to realize what it was they were really doing. It wasn't until Pinchas did what he did that this hideous escapade was brought to an end.
Pinchas had eyes to see the situation for what it was, and he was willing to do something about it. In contract we so often just shake our heads, sigh heavy sighs, and wish someone somewhere would do something about the dismal state of our society.
God is looking for people who are zealous for his honour. People who are not just going to sit by and not say anything or do anything.
We also need to see how bad immorality and false spirituality is for people both individually and corporately. We should not be embarrassed to tell others that there is such a thing as right and wrong, that the God of the Bible is the only true God, and that what we need to do is turn from sin and turn to Him. This is the greatest act of love and service that we can do for anyone. To do otherwise is to let the plague go on.
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