Phinehas was the grandson of Aaron and the son of Eleazar, 1 Chr. 6. 3, 4. As such, Phinehas became the third man to wear the High Priest’s holy garments ‘for glory and for beauty’, Exod. 28. 2. However, Phinehas did not merely look beautiful – he possessed a beautiful character.

We presume that Phinehas was under twenty years old when Israel commenced their wilderness journey, Num. 14. 29, so he was a relatively young man in the service of God. We see him on the frontline of the battle, 31. 6, 7, fighting the enemy. The presence of the priest reminds us that Israel needed to rely on God in every circumstance, if they were going to triumph.

‘Did we in our own strength confide,

Our striving would be losing;

Were not the right Man on our side,

The Man of God’s own choosing:

Dost ask Who that may be?

Christ Jesus, is it He;

Lord Sabaoth His name,

From age to age the same,

And He must win the battle’.1

When we engage in spiritual conflict, we have a heavenly Phinehas, a great High Priest, who helps us, Heb. 4. 16.

Phinehas’ greatest day, which is accorded the most biblical column inches, was a different kind of battle altogether, Num. 25. 1-15. As a young man, he achieved victory over immorality and idolatry; Phinehas demonstrated how to ‘overcome the wicked one’, 1 John 2. 13, 14.

The prophet

Balaam, a renegade prophet for hire, attempted to curse the Israelites at the instigation of Balak, Num. 22-24. After this strategy failed, Balaam tried corrupting Israel instead of cursing them, Rev. 2. 14. Although God had chosen them and saved them, Deut. 33. 29, His people were susceptible to temptation. Balaam was aware of their weakness. So, he advised the Midianites to attract Israel with immorality, Num. 25. 1, and idolatry, v. 2. The people of God formed an unholy alliance with their enemies, v. 3. Immorality expresses unfaithfulness with our bodies, 1 Cor. 6. 18-20. Idolatry expresses unfaithfulness with our spirits, 2 Cor. 6. 14-18. Both activities are frequently linked when God’s people disobey Him, 1 Cor. 10. 6-8.

The Lord pronounced immediate judgement on the leaders of Israel, Num. 25. 4, who seem to have incited this sin. The death sentence was carried out at once, v. 5. Evil must be extinguished. We observe a similar sentiment in the Lord Jesus’ words, Matt. 5. 29, 30, where He commands direct disavowal of evil, and removal of the cause of sin. We might translate this into the modern world – do we need to cancel our Netflix subscription, or avoid certain acquaintances?

The priest

We have considered the background – evil was contaminating God’s people. The Lord pronounced judgement. Then we see Phinehas spring into action.

A prince of Israel named Zimri, Num. 25. 14, was about to commit sexual immorality with a Midianite princess, v. 15. Zimri was either unaware of God’s anger, or unafraid of God’s judgement. That’s what happens in our minds when we sin; we diminish God in our thinking – we reason that our wants are more important than God’s commandments. This crooked logic has been operative ever since the original sin in Eden.

We notice that Zimri’s actions were inconsistent with Israel in general, v. 6. They were weeping in repentance, standing by the ‘door of the tabernacle’, the place where the sin offering would be brought and killed, Lev. 4. 4.

Phinehas made a prompt decision. He took a spear to wage war against sin. He felt a sense of holy outrage. Phinehas killed both man and woman, as they were engaged in immoral union. This brought an immediate end to the plague, Num. 25. 8, although there were tragic and widespread consequences, v. 9.

The promise

God spoke to Moses, vv. 10-13, to acknowledge the zeal of Phinehas. God delighted to see the priest’s holy passion, in contrast to Zimri’s immoral lust. Phinehas was motivated by sanctified fervour, a holy energy for God. This kind of zeal distinguishes true spiritual leadership, ‘the one who leads, with zeal’, Rom. 12. 8 ESV.

Phinehas received a special gift from God – the guarantee of ‘an everlasting priesthood’ for him and his family, Num. 25. 13. We learn that the Aaronic priesthood will continue into the millennial temple, Ezek. 44. 15, fulfilling the ‘covenant of peace’ with Phinehas.

I think the ‘covenant with Levi’, Mal. 2. 4-6, refers to this Phinehas promise. Malachi describes how a priest:

  1. is governed by God’s word – ‘He feared me’, Mal. 2. 5;
  2. serves God’s interest – ‘He walked with me’, v. 6;
  3. preserves others from sin – ‘[He] did turn many away from iniquity’, v. 6

These are priestly features – supremely evident in the Lord Jesus Christ. Could they also be developed in us, as they were in Phinehas?



Martin Luther, Hymn: A mighty fortress is our God.