PHINEHASThe 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. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites." Numbers 25:10-13
Phinehas appears, as a rainbow on the bosom of a storm. He is as a flower on a wild heath--a fertile spot in a parched desert--pure gold in a crude quarry--a fragrant rose upon a thorny hedge--faithful among faithless.
The wretched Balaam, held back from cursing, returns not sorrowing to his distant home. He is restrained, but not reformed. Deep seeds of evil often live, though not permitted to break forth. So it is in him. He lingers still in Moab's godless land. Though often foiled, venom still works within. It seeks an outlet in secret and abominable plots. He counsels Balak to spread lustful lures, and to entice the people to the idol-feast. Let weapons be now laid down--banquets prepared--and blandishments displayed. "Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality." Rev. 2:14.
Ah! what destruction may one bad man cause! One spark may kindle desolating flames. One evil thought may be the seed of many a poison-tree.
Balak adopts the evil plan. The fascinating and enticing net is spread. The people rush in crowds, like fluttering moths to a destroying flame. And thus they fall self-slain. A bosom-traitor yields the fort.
Reader, your greatest danger is from SELF. Bar fast the heart. Chain your own thoughts. Satan's outward malignity may fall innocuous, like Balaam's stifled curse. But, if the heart gives up the door, lusts in vile troops will enter, and do murderous work. How many die--the slaughtered of a yielding will!
While thus the people sin, God's vengeance rises with a giant-arm. Sentence of death is passed upon the guilty. The judges raise the gallows. The offenders perish ignominiously. And, as if executions were too tardy, a pestilence moreover comes, and sweeps its thousands into penal graves.
This is a moment of terrific dread. All sights and sounds of death appear. The frightful scene seems as a picture of the last-day wrath.
Surely now the stoutest heart will quake! Surely one cry for mercy will wail tremblingly in every tent! It is not so. Judgments, apart from grace, may harden. The bit may only chafe ungovernable steeds. Thus this appalling moment witnesses the outbreak of increasing sin. Zimri, a prince of loftiest rank, whose station made him the observed of all, dares wrath--sneers at the legal sentence--braves the plague's withering stroke--raises his rebel-hand against all decency and fear, and openly, in plainest vision of the weeping crowds, stalks boldly into sin's embrace. Amid the annals of iniquity, madder contempt of God cannot be found. Sin has sinned vilely, but this is among its most unblushing acts.
Phinehas, the priest, beholds. And zeal for God swells through his soul. He cannot stop the impulse to wipe out the stain. His arm must hasten the just punishment. Thus, with his javelin, he indignantly sweeps hence the titled culprit, and the high-born partner in filth.
So Phinehas felt; and so he acted. What is the result? The Lord gives respite. The plague is stayed. And an approving voice honors the righteous zeal. Behold "I give unto him My covenant of peace--and he shall have it, and his seed after him--even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood."
Reader, now pause, and mark the mighty principle, which rolled like a torrent in the heart of Phinehas. The Spirit leaves it not obscure. The praise is this, "He was zealous for his God." He could not fold his arms, and see God's law insulted--His rule defied--His will despised--His majesty and empire scorned. The servant's heart blazed in one blaze of godly indignation. He must be up to vindicate his Lord. His fervent love--his bold resolve--fear nothing in a righteous cause. The offending Zimri was a potent prince--nevertheless he spared him not.
Believer, can you read this and feel no shame? Do your bold efforts testify your zeal? Sinners blaspheme God's name. Do you rebuke? His Sabbaths are profaned. Do you protest? False principles are current. Do you expose the counterfeits? Vice stalks in virtue's garb. Do you tear down the mask? Satan enthralls the world. Do you resist? No, rather are you not dozing unconcerned? Whether Christ's cause succeeds, or be cast down, you little care. If righteous zeal girded your loins, and braced your nerves, and moved the rudder of your heart, and swelled your sails of action, would God be so unknown, and blasphemy so daring?
Mark, next, the zeal of Phinehas is sound-minded. It is not as a horse without rein--a torrent unembanked--a hurricane let loose. Its steps are set in order's path. It executes God's own will in God's own way. The mandate says, let the offenders die. He aims a death-blow, then, with obedient hand. The zeal, which heaven kindles, is always a submissive grace.
This zeal wrought wonders. It seemed to open heaven's gates for blessings to rush forth. God testifies, "He has turned my wrath away from the children of Israel." He has made atonement for them. My name is rescued from dishonor. The haughty sinner is laid low. Therefore I can restrain my vengeance. Men see, that sin is not unpunished--mercy may now fly righteously to heal.
ZEAL is indeed a wonder-working grace. It scales the heavens in agonizing prayer. It wrestles with omnipotence, and takes not a denial. Who can conceive what countries, districts, cities, families, and men have sprung to life, because zeal prayed? It also lives in energetic toil. It is the moving spring in hearts of apostles, martyrs, reformers, missionaries, and burning preachers of the Word. What hindrances it overleaps! What chains it breaks! What lands it traverses! It encompasses earth with efforts for the truth--and pyramids of saved souls are trophies to its praise. My soul, bestir your every power for Christ. The labor will not be in vain.
Next mark, how heavenly smiles beam on the zeal of Phinehas. Honor decks those, who honor God. The priesthood shall be his. It shall live in his line from age to age. He and his sons shall bear the name of Israel on their breast-plate, and make atonement in the sanctuary. Grand privilege! Such is the fruit of zeal.
Brave works for God win crowns. There is no merit in them. But the grace, which gives the will, and nerves the arm, and brings success, awards a recompense. Among earth's happiest sons, and heaven's most shining saints, devoted laborers hold foremost place.
This lesson ends not here. Phinehas forever stands a noble type. He reflects faith's grand object--salvation's precious champion--Christ Jesus. Yes. Christ is here. In Phinehas, we see Christ's heart, and zeal, and work, and mightily constraining impulse. In Phinehas we see Christ crowned, too, with the priesthood's glory.
Let thought here pause and commune with salvation's story. What brought Christ from the highest heavens? What led Him, firm amid reproach--unchecked by hindrances--along earth's wretched paths? What nailed Him, a curse, to the accursed tree? They answer well, who say--His love for souls--His burning eagerness to snatch them from hell's flames. But the reply falls short.
True! tender mercy throbbed in His every pulse. But there were mightier motives urging Him with mightier force. The deepest depth was ZEAL FOR GOD. His strongest impulse was to bring glory to His Father's name. Hear His own words, "Lo! I come. I delight to do your will, O my God."
Come, now, view in this light redemption's work. Behold the law--dazzling in purity--wide as infinity in its demands--incapable of change. If it be set aside, God's honor suffers loss. If its decrees are thoroughly fulfilled, God's honor is maintained. Jesus places Himself, as man, beneath its yoke. It asks for nothing, which He gives not. He lives a life of pure compliance. What it exacts, He yields. Can God be honored more? The covenant of grace permits Him to impute this obedience to the ransomed seed--and thus heaven's courts are filled with crowds, in whom no flaw, no speck, no blemish, can be found. All pass those thresholds robed in sinless obedience. Thus Christ exalts God's law. He put on a panoply of zeal, and wrought this magnifying work.
This zeal, too, led Him to the accursed tree. All, whom He saves, are by nature and by act deeply plunged in guilt. Each sin is linked to the unalterable curse. If it descend not, where is God's truth? But Jesus meets it in man's form. Each vial of pledged wrath is outpoured on Him. No sin of His vast family escapes the scourge. Tremendous threats are ratified tremendously. Christ's zeal for God takes the full cup, and drinks it to the dregs. What follows? Justice is just--truth remains true--holiness appears most holy and righteousness most righteous--while grace exults, and mercy sings, and souls are saved, and every attribute is honored.
See then, that God's glory is the brightest jewel in redemption's diadem. The Gospel is Jehovah glorified. If all sin's race had passed to endless woe, justice and truth would have sat sternly on an iron throne--compelling dues--but never satisfied--while loving-kindness would have pined powerless to help. But Jesus's zeal crowns all with glory. Reader, study the Gospel. It is a god-like scheme.
But Phinehas received reward for zeal--even the covenant of everlasting priesthood. So Jesus passed through a low valley to a glorious height. "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name." Philip. 2:8-9. "I have glorified You on the earth," is the strong plea. "And now, O Father, glorify me, with Your own self, with the glory which I had with You, before the world was," is the vast prayer. John 17:5.
The plea was mighty, and the prayer was heard. Jesus has turned away eternal wrath. He has brought in eternal reconciliation. Therefore He sits a Priest upon His throne. "All power is given unto Him in heaven and in earth." He sways the scepter of all rule. Thus He consummates redemption's scheme. He takes away the heart of unbelief. He implants love. He engrafts faith. He sows the seeds of righteousness. He waters the tender plants of grace. He matures the precious fruit. He intercedes a conquering Advocate. He perfumes with sweet incense the cry and work of faith. So He, who once laid down His life in zeal, now reigns an all-prevailing Priest.
Believer, such is your Lord. Such was His zeal. Such is His glory. Be then conformed to Him. Let the same mind be the one flame in you. Work for Him--with Him. "It is a faithful saying, For if we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him."
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