Priests of the Bible – 5. Phinehas

Priests of the Bible – 5. Phinehas

As we continue on with our journey where we are looking out for named priests of the Bible who did something significant and / or those from which we can learn important lessons, we now come to Phinehas, grandson of Aaron, son of Eleazar and nephew of Nadab. All of which, we have already covered, and surprisingly perhaps, all have something to teach us that in the past we could well have easily overlooked since doing deep dives into priests of the Bible is not something typically done, even in set ups where the Bible is highly regarded and is studied. We first come across Phinehas early in the Exodus account, before the Wilderness journey began: “And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bare him Phinehas: these are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families” Exodus 6:25.

According to Wikipedia: “Phinehas was the grandson of Aaron and son of Eleazar, the High Priests (Exodus 6:25). He distinguished himself as a youth at Shittim with his zeal against the heresy of Peor. Displeased with the immorality with which the Moabites and Midianites had successfully tempted the Israelites (Numbers 25:1–9) to inter-marry and to worship Baal-peor, Phinehas personally executed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman while they were together in the man’s tent, running a javelin or spear through the man and the belly of the woman, bringing to an end the plague sent by God to punish the Israelites for sexually intermingling with the Midianites. Phinehas is commended by God in Numbers 25:10-13, as well as King David in Psalms 106:28–31 for having stopped Israel’s fall into idolatrous practices brought in by Midianite women, as well as for stopping the desecration of God’s sanctuary. After the entry to the land of Israel and the death of his father, he was appointed the third High Priest of Israel, and served at the sanctuary of Bethel (Judges 20:28)”.

It was therefore toward the end of that forty years Wilderness journey when Phinehas comes to our attention. The stand out quality Phinehas showed was zeal, although not one particularly regarded by a modern culture that sees something like tolerance as far more important. But as far as God is concerned, Phinehas was to be commended for turning away the wrath of God and was promised a blessing for his descendants in generations to come. Not long after and just prior to Moses death, God told him to take vengeance on the Midianites, where Phinehas again played a key role: “And Moses sent them to the war, a thousand of every tribe, them and Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, to the war, with the holy instruments, and the trumpets to blow in his hand” Numbers 31:6. He was later given a place of honour in the Psalms (106). The story behind what happened began in Numbers 22 when we read “And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho” (22:1) followed a behind the scenes account of the prophet Balaam being asked to curse Israel by the king of Moab and ending up blessing Israel. What he failed to do through sorcery he almost succeeded, as the historian Josephus pointed out, through infiltration with forbidden practices in what was to later become a recurring theme in Israel’s history: idolatry and sexual immorality, a view we find confirmed by Jesus’ words in the Book of Revelation.

The obvious lesson we can draw from the life of Phinehas is the importance of zeal for God. One of his important jobs at the time he summarily executed the two high ranking lovers and thereby put an end to God’s plague of judgment was that of a doorkeeper at the Tabernacle. Centuries later, we are told: “In earlier times Phinehas son of Eleazar was the official in charge of the gatekeepers, and the Lord was with him” 1 Chronicles 9:20. The couple had violated the sanctity of that sacred area and it caused him to be righteously indignant for the Lord and take on implementing the remedy in the harshest of ways, something no-one else did, including Moses and Eleazar. Zeal can be misplaced for laudable reasons. Some of the 26 Bible usages are to do with misdirected zeal, e.g. Paul before his conversion. Understandably, many today are suspicious and wary when they come across people particularly zealous (often an attribute of those dealing judgment or terror in the name of religion). In the Joshua account, this is what Phinehas almost did, but when he found what was a right understanding, by listening to what others had to say, he did the right thing. Zeal rightly exercised (e.g. in doing good works) is to be commended!

Finally, as we consider Phineas, who we are introduced to early in the Book of Exodus and find a lot more about in Numbers, who continues often behind the scenes throughout the Book of Joshua, when at the end he becomes High Priest upon the death of his father, Eleazar, crops up again in Judges: “And Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, stood before it in those days,) saying, Shall I yet again go out to battle against the children of Benjamin my brother, or shall I cease? And the Lord said, Go up; for tomorrow I will deliver them into thine hand” Judges 20:28. The back story that begins in Judges 19 is a terrible one involving murder and civil war, but Phinehas, now old and how old we don’t know, showed his true mettle, once again taking a lead, doing what was needed. May it be so for us as we show a right zeal for God.


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