The point of Pinchas
Balaam may have failed to curse Israel, but he did not give up. If he couldn’t control God, he would at least get the Israelites to fall away from God. The rot from within is always more powerful than from without. He advised them to commit idolatry with the Midianite women (ref: Numbers 31:16 and Revelation 2:14. In the judgement that followed, some 24,000 people died; stopped only by the swift action of Pinchas.
The actual Pinchas event is given quite a small column space in contrast to other areas, notably the daily, Shabbat, monthly and festive sacrifices, all of which follow on from this event. We seem to start with a zealous ‘righteous’ act and move onto sacrifices regularly brought. Why so? Read Num 28:1-3. Day by day, every day forever we are to bring sacrifices, to come before the Lord to worship, to acknowledge our sins and receive forgiveness, atonement, DAILY. Our hearts are to be directed towards God every day, to know and to understand that without Him we are lost, unforgiven and not the recipients of His mercy.
David put it this way in Psalm 95:7-11 (read it also in Hebrews 3:7-19); unbelief grew because of a hardened heart. If we fail to connect daily with God through worship, asking forgiveness and praying, spending time on His Words, a hardened heart will grow silently and eventually wreak its own destruction upon a life. Sin becomes easier when we are not called to account for it every day. TODAY if you hear God’s voice…
In simple terms it is very difficult to walk righteously before God in this world. Anyone who has genuinely tried it will tell you that we struggle to be upright in a world of coconut shies, where every ball is aimed at those who dare to stand up for what is righteous in God’s eyes. It is difficult to keep committed to God when the constant swimming against the tide exhausts you; it’s so much easier to just stop and go with the flow.
I felt the Lord gave this situation a title this week: mitzvah fatigue. We know we should be doing the acts of righteousness and mercy allotted to us each day. Yet in the face of a tide of rising anti-God (and anti-Semitic) sentiment, where righteousness is mocked and ungodliness is vaunted as human freedom underpinned by tolerance, we can feel as if it is all too much. I know how this feels but the antidote is found in the word TODAY – every day. It is only by insisting that we put the Lord first every day in terms of our routine and lifestyle, reminding ourselves of our utter dependency on Him alone for everything, that we stop the slow rot of cutting corners, gradual compromise and spiritual decline. Failure to come before Him daily, to apply atonement and worship leads us to a place where we find no rest. A shifting, troubled heart finding no solace is a hallmark of a hardened heart that is resisting God.
Which brings us back to Pinchas and the question of why the sacrifices and this event are connected. By acting in a zealous, quasi righteous manner (which we know is open to rabbinic debate!) he ‘turned back’ God’s wrath. Because He is a just and righteous God we MUST expect that His judgement will fall. And I include us, Israel in that. If God is not pleased with us (and certainly we see His displeasure daily too), then what hope is there for the nations? Judgement begins at the household of God.
As Jews we MUST continue daily to come before God, to refresh and renew our walk with Him, to be ever more ready to rise up to the righteousness He demands of us, so we can continue to be the salt of the Land and hence weaken the onslaught of evil. Only once the salt is removed does the real rot set in…
Mashiach also had to persevere to the bitter end when surrounded by ungodly men and a painful physically challenging end; He did not give up ‘doing good’. His final mitzvah was to be the offering, the atonement for sin that we all need. Unrighteousness is overcome by not becoming weary of doing good and that only happens if we continue to ensure that our lives are focused on the One who alone can give us that inner spiritual strength to persevere: our Lord. DAILY we are to come before Him and not forget to lay hold of the sacrifice He has given to us, so we can return to Him the sacrifice of a righteous life.