Last week’s portion ended with the children of Israel engaged in immorality and idol worship in Shittim; the men of Israel were being seduced by the women of Midian and Moab into complete depravity and wickedness. A plague had broken out because of this, yet some of Israel’s leaders were still participating and approving of the immoral, idolatrous behavior going on around them. Zimri was a leader in the tribe of Simeon, but instead of “…weeping at the door of the tabernacle of meeting…” as the rest of the congregation was doing, he paraded a Midianite woman before Moses and Israel. He does this right after Moses commands that Israel’s judges kill all the men “…who were joined to Baal of Peor.” Zimri was not only walking in immorality and idolatry, but also in direct rebellion to Moses’ authority, contrary to God, and was responsible for leading others astray.

It was at this point in the story when “…Phineas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel…”
Verse 7 begins in Hebrew, “V’Yar Pinchas…”—“And Phineas saw…” What did he see? Chizkuni writes in his commentary on Numbers 25:7:1, “When Pinchas saw that no one acted upon Moses’ instructions.” He took it upon himself to execute Moses’ instructions posthaste. Rashi writes that Phineas “…saw what was being done and he was thereby reminded of the law on this subject…” He took to mind the Torah given at Sinai concerning immorality and then acted accordingly. He wasn’t thinking about himself, he wasn’t thinking about his own ritual purity, he wasn’t thinking about the fact that he could be tried for murder. He instead “…was zealous with [God’s] zeal among them, so that [God] did not consume the children of Israel…”

The commentary Siftei Chachamim tells us, “Pinchas had to rise up of his own accord and take action.”  Phineas didn’t have the option to stand back and let someone else do the “dirty work.” Besides, he wouldn’t have wanted it anyway, Phineas was a man of action. Psalm 106:30 says, “Then Phineas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stopped. And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore.”

Because of his actions, the nation of Israel was spared from the plague of God. God Himself chose Phineas and made a covenant with him, a “…covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.” Phineas was zealous for God and stood in the gap for the nation of Israel, so God made an everlasting covenant of peace and gave the priesthood to him.

God raises leaders from those who show themselves zealous for Him and His Torah. We see another leader raised up later in this portion in Numbers 27. Moses is preparing to die and asks God to “…set a man over the congregation, who may go out before them and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in…” God hears Moses’ plea and tells him to “…Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and inaugurate him in their sight… At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him—all the congregation. ” Joshua was also a man who zealously stood for the Torah and for God’s promises. He was not one to shrink back or cower even when others were unwilling to rise. He was a man whose zeal was unmovable. As it states above, Joshua was known as a “…man in whom is the Spirit [of God].…” In Numbers 13-14 we read more about him, but we should all be familiar with the story because we just recently read through this portion, right? Joshua and Caleb return carrying a huge cluster of grapes between them along with 10 other spies bringing other fruits, and give a report of the land of Canaan. We know that the other 10 spies gave a negative report, but here are the words of faith spoken by Joshua and Caleb, they “…tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, ‘The land we passed through…is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord…the Lord is with us….” Joshua stood before the nation of Israel and zealously took a stand on God’s word. 
Phineas also stood before the nation of Israel and zealously defended God’s word.

It is interesting that in this week’s portion we see a lot of changes and examples of authority and leadership. Chapter 25—Phineas and his descendants receive the covenant from God of an everlasting priesthood. Zimri and other leaders of Israel die for their sin. Chapter 26—Census of the children of Israel who are being counted according to their father’s households. But we also read of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram who died in the wilderness because of their attempted coup. Chapter 27—Inheritance laws. The daughters of Zelophehad are given authority to receive an inheritance among their father’s brothers and possess their father’s portion in the land. Also, Joshua is appointed to become the next leader in Israel to replace Moses. Looking at all the phrases above, we can see these few chapters have a lot to do with family, community, and national structure. Priesthood, Fatherhood, and Leadership are all highly emphasized in these 3 chapters.

What we are seeing in this portion is the preparation of the nation to enter into the Promised Land. A new generation of leaders is being raised up to lead Israel into the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Joshua and Phineas had shown themselves zealous on account of God and were therefore chosen to be leaders in the community.
Joshua becomes the leader of Israel
 Today, Israel is again entering into the Promised Land “little by little.” It is definitely not a cakewalk, or a stroll in the park, or a beachside vacation.
It is hard. But God is calling a new generation of Joshuas’ and Phineas’ to the forefront of what He is doing in the world in our time. God wants people who walk with zeal for Him, He doesn’t want benchwarmers, sideline-sitters, or cheerleaders. He wants people who are saying “Hineni-Here am I” and then “Shlacheni-Send Me.” I feel so blessed to walk among the Jewish people living on the mountains of Judea and Samaria. They truly are walking in the faith and spirit of Joshua and Phineas. They stand on God’s promises, the promises given in His word. They are zealous to see God’s word come true and believe that with the restoration of Israel comes the restoration of the whole world!

Which leads to us… the ones living in the “rest of the world.” God is calling for people who will be zealous for Him. Ones who will stand in the face of opposition with a smile. Who know that all God wants is someone to stand for Him, and He “…will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” God is looking for people willing to take a stand for Him. Sometimes, we don’t even need to ask. God will put us in the position to act— as in the case of Phineas. Other times we’re appointed as in the case of Joshua, and it’s up to us to stand as God’s representative before men, even when it’s not popular. However we end up taking a stand, let us remember, “Today if you will hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts….” Don’t say “Hineni-Here am I” and then go your own way. Be ready for the good works He has prepared specifically for you, and be open to say “Shlacheni—Send me!” And as we walk in the faith and spirit of those gone before, may we see the light, fragrance, and sound of Messiah ever drawing nearer in our world…through us! Shabbat Shalom,

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