• Jason HRM

Phineas: The Broken Man


Torah Portion Phineas 25:10 – 30:1

Context

In order to grasp the context of the situation we find ourselves in, we will start at the beginning of chapter 25.

Numbers 25:1–9 (The Scriptures)

And Yisra’ěl dwelt in Shittim, and the people began to whore with the daughters of Mo’aḇ,

2 and they invited the people to the slaughterings of their mighty ones, and the people ate and bowed down to their mighty ones.

3 Thus Yisra’ěl was joined to Ba‘al Pe‘or, and the displeasure of יהוה burned against Yisra’ěl.

4 And יהוה said to Mosheh, “Take all the leaders of the people and hang them up before יהוה, before the sun, so that the burning displeasure of יהוה turns away from Yisra’ěl.”

5 And Mosheh said to the judges of Yisra’ěl, “Each one of you slay his men who were joined to Ba‘al Pe‘or.”

6 And see, one of the children of Yisra’ěl came and brought to his brothers a Miḏyanite woman before the eyes of Mosheh and before the eyes of all the congregation of the children of Yisra’ěl, who were weeping at the door of the Tent of Meeting.

7 And when Pineḥas, son of El‘azar, son of Aharon the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation and took a spear in his hand,

8 and he went after the man of Yisra’ěl into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Yisra’ěl, and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague among the children of Yisra’ěl came to a stop.

9 And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand.

Even before this incredible incident happened, we must remember that Balaak attempted to have Bilaam curse Israel. Hopefully you have read your Bible (go home and do that now if you haven’t), and you’ll remember that Bilaam, despite his attempts to curse, could only bless Israel.

Having not learnt his lesson, Balaam helps the Moabite King against Israel and makes a very deadly suggestion, and though it is not explicitly mentioned in this part of the Torah, the idea of sending the Moabite women to tempt Israel came from Bilaam himself.

Numbers 31

16 Look, these women caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to trespass against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.

Thus, Bilaam failing to curse Israel, let Israel curse itself through sin and sexual immorality.

And it is quite the scene.

The leaders of the men, of those committing harlotry, were taken and hung before YHWH and the congregation of Israel, incredible to think that whilst this is happening, people are still committing adultery, and that a plague struck the camp causing even more people to die.

Even further, as verse 2 says;

They (the Moabite women) invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods which Israel participated in. Therefore, the incident of which we are reading of is not just a case of sexual immorality and a literal joining (that is what sex does) of Israel to Moab, but of immorality, adultery, with the gods of Moab. The scene in this portion should therefore be of no surprise to people because in the ancient world, worship of the pagan gods included acts of immorality and things like temple prostitution (sex as pagan worship) was common.

Not surprisingly then, Baal Peor is a fertility god and simply put, Moab believed that the act of sex would remind Baal to ‘impregnate’ the earth and send rain. They were essentially simulating, what they wanted Ba’al to do.

Baal was also associated with the sun and worship of the sun. Quite the statement when you re-read this chapter seeing that the leaders of the adulterers where hung therefore ‘before the sun’.

As we read on in chapter 25 the act of cult prostitution becomes more explicit.

From verse 8 we see Phineas react. The Scripture tell us of a man who brought a Midianite woman into a tent, within eye sight of the tabernacle, in order to participate in the immorality. It is these people who blatantly thought that they would scorn the tabernacle and YHWH himself who Phineas kills. In verse 14 and 15 the Scripture names these two people, one, Zimri, a prince of the Israelite tribe of Simeon, and Kozbi, a princess of Midian.

Verse 8 is fascinating.

Numbers 25:8 (The Scriptures)

8 and he went after the man of Yisra’ěl into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Yisra’ěl, and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague among the children of Yisra’ěl came to a stop.

Now we miss this in the English but there are specific words always used in the Hebrew for a tent, or a dwelling place, and if you’ve read other articles by myself than you should know that there are many Hebrew words that can be translated the same way into English, causing us to miss the nuances of what is been communicated.

Here the word for tent, means tent, but it is not a normal tent. The word is Qubbah and describes a large vaulted tent or a pavilion. This is the only place in the Torah this word is used indicating that this is a truly unique tent. The word Qubbah sticks out like a sore thumb in the Hebrew.

A qubbah, unlike a normal tent, was a sacred place in which these cultic sex acts would take place. Interestingly enough, the root Hebrew word for qubbah, which is qabab, can mean ‘to malign something’, or ‘to curse’.

This tent was within close proximity to the tabernacle and verse six confirms that the qubbah was within eye sight of the tabernacle. Remember Zimri brought Kozbi within the eye sight of the people who were weeping at the tabernacle, and then immediately takes her into the qubbah.

This is very important to understand. The qubbah was set up on the threshold of the tabernacle. The very doorway itself to the tabernacle and they dared engage in worship of a pagan god here?

Can you imagine the insult to YHWH? And even if you would like to argue that the qubbah was not set up on the tabernacle threshold then it is still within the camp of Israel. For those that understand the concept of encroachment within the ancient world, it was still encroaching upon the holiness and majesty of YHWH, and as we know sin defiles the tabernacle and YHWH holy place. For our holy God, this simply cannot stand and Phineas, knowing the desecration this is causing, knowing that this is causing the plague to spread upon the camp, intervenes.

So this is the context, this is the scene upon which we enter when we start reading the Torah Portion Phineas.

The Everlasting Priesthood

Most amazingly, in verse 11 – 13, Phineas is rewarded by YHWH with an everlasting priesthood.

11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; 13 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.’”

That Phineas was blessed after killing a man causes many problems for people

.

To be honest, we will gloss over some of the more simple issues people have with this.

If you are someone who thinks God is incapable of violence (or that this is wrong) then there is a point in your walk when you must understand that God is a Father (truly understand this). If you hurt his children there will be consequences. If His wife is raped, there will be consequences; if His wife commits adultery, there will be consequences. And rather than debate whether or not God is a God of peace, or of war, we must understand that He is the God of all things. He is both the God of war, and a God of peace, and you most definitely cannot be quoting the New Testament saying that something changed when there is a book called the Book of Revelation in your New Testament.

Grace and mercy have always existed. He remains the same, and He is Lord of all things, including war and violent intervention (righteously).

Exodus 15:3 (NKJV)

3 The Lord is a man of war;

The Lord is His name.

The Passion of Phineas

But let’s press forward and see what we can learn from Phineas and his reaction

.

Typically, Phineas is about passion, commitment, and ultimately his zeal.

This is a good lesson.

I remember one of my teachers saying that he studied apologetics, actually doing his doctorate in apologetics and that this basically means that he has a degree in arguing with people. This teacher said that in all his years of debating and studying apologetics that not once did an atheist, in a debate, repent of their sins and turn to Yeshua. No academic argument and no rational reason was able to win over an atheist to Yeshua.

This teacher I’m referring to was a Christian man who debated atheists in universities for a living.

But the lesson we draw forth from this teacher’s experiences; and of Phineas’, is that it takes true heart to actually connect with someone. Maybe don’t skewer them (if you do don’t blame me or the Bible), but there are definitely times when a little bit of passion and zeal for YHWH is what’s required.

There’s a time to sit back and think, and there’s a time to really stand up.

This is a good lesson, and Phineas is a good example of this.

The problem that I have with this though is that it is quite often used for our own ego, so people who put down someone else in their so called ‘zeal’ for God and use the example of Phineas to do so. Now, the common teaching in response to this, which I agree with, is that ultimately YHWH alone can see a person’s heart and motive for doing something. Judaism agrees with this and the sages of old teach us that YHWH rewarded Phineas with the priesthood because his motives were pure. They say he was blessed with a pure priesthood, for his pure motives.

The Broken Vav

If we stop with the above discussion though, which is good, we would sadly sell ourselves short. There is much to learn when it comes to Phineas and to begin going deeper, let’s look at his covenant of peace

.

The covenant of shalom.

The word for Shalom in Hebrew is;

Shin

Lamed

Waw

Mem

Now, there is a mystery here because the vav, in the original manuscripts of the Bible, is broken

.

(For those that don’t see the importance you must understand this is the word of God. Every detail is worth investigating and the little details like this are referred to in the Hebrew as ‘jot and tittles’. Jesus himself said ‘not one jot or tittle shall by no means pass away...’. Additionally, every manuscript of the Bible shows this vav as been broken, been split in two.)

There is an immense amount of commentary on the broken vav which finds itself in Phineas’ covenant of peace.

The sages teach therefore, that the peace the scripture is speaking of here, whilst eternal, will at some points be broken. The sages further understand that Israel then, whilst having peace, will need to acquire peace through fighting (so very true).

This is one interpretation of the broken vav, but this covenant was given to Phineas, so let’s apply the broken vav to him personally

.

The Vav – The Man

Let me explain;

Vav is the 6th letter of the Hebrew alphabet. 6 is the number of man, so, let’s say the broken man is referring to Phineas. It is his covenant of peace after all.

Knowing this then, I see that whilst Phineas acted purely, whilst he did the will of YHWH, that the act he fulfilled broke him in doing so. Whilst Phineas did the right thing here, the act of killing a brother broke him.

How many of us feel good when we win a fight? (most)

You see I think Phineas is very different. I believe that his action on that day, was something He truly wanted to do, but that it broke his heart to do so. Zimri was a bad man. But that doesn’t change the fact that Zimri was made in the image of our God. We are all sons of the one Father, everyone here has the God given potential to achieve whatever YHWH has planned for them.

I think Phineas knew all this, and I’m suggesting that what we see as aggressive zeal, often twisted in our minds to be something brutish, is very different, and I think it broke Phineas’ heart to do this thing.

Broken peace after all, leads to broken men.

Let me back that thought up by showing you another place where this same ‘zeal’ shows up in Scripture.

It’s found in Psalm 69, which we know is all about Yeshua, but understand that the same zeal Ps. 69 mentions is the same zeal Phineas possesses in our reading today.

(What I’m doing here is using what we can call a ‘verbal tally’. It’s where we can connect different places of scripture in order to further understand certain concepts and things. So by using the world zeal, and finding elsewhere where zeal is helps us to understand and grasp truly what the zeal of YHWH is.)

Psalm 69:7–13 (The Scriptures)

7 Because I have borne reproach for Your sake;

Shame has covered my face.

8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,

And a foreigner to my mother’s children;

9 Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up,

And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

10 And I wept in my being with fasting,

And it became my reproach.

11 And when I put on sackcloth,

I became a proverb to them.

12 They who sit in the gate talk about me,

And I am the song of the drunkards.

13 But as for me, my prayer is to You, O יהוה‎,

At an acceptable time, O Elohim.

In the greatness of Your kindness,

Answer me in the truth of Your deliverance.

This zeal, the same zeal of Phineas, is balanced with mercy, and grief.

The Prayer of Phineas

In Psalm 69, the zeal of this person, leads them to prayer.

This is the other lesson Phineas leaves us with.

Zeal needs to be the zeal of God. As it is written in verse 11 of Numbers 25, YHWH says Phineas acted with my zeal and there is no way you can act with the zeal of God, if you’re not connected with God. You cannot be connected to YHWH if you are not constantly in prayer.

And that’s actually what scripture tells us Phineas did. Recounting the events in Numbers 25 we read in Psalm 106.

Psalm 106:30 (The Scriptures)

30 Then Pineḥas stood up and intervened,

And the plague was stopped.

The word ‘intervened’ here, is deeply connected in the Hebrew to prayer.

The word is yepalel and the root of this Hebrew word is palel. Palel is ‘to pray, to mediate, intervene, and to pass judgement’.

So to ‘stand up’ for God, at a deeper level, is to pray.

The Talmud highlights this in tractace Berakhot which comments thus;

Abraham got up early in the morning to the place where he had stood” (Gen. 19:27), and “standing” refers only to reciting the Prayer, as it is said, “Then Phineas stood up and prayed” (Ps. 106:30).[1]

So, Phineas truly intervened in Numbers 25, through prayer.

I’ve seen Psalm 106 used to suggest however that Phineas did not actually spear Zimri and Kozbi in Numbers 25. But, thinking like a Hebrew now you must understand that both of these verses are true at the same time. The Bible is not dualistic. The Bible does not argue over apparent contradictions but wants you, thinking like a Hebrew, to understand that both verses are true.

Accepting that, we can therefore learn that if you’re seriously going to act for God than you better be connected and in sync with YHWH like Phineas, because Phineas was man of prayer, he knew what YHWH wanted and acted according to the will of God.

So, short of telling you to spear people when you’re next in a Biblical fight, I want you to take home that if you truly want to intervene in someone’s life then it has to come from the heart, but a heart that is connected with YHWH.

Perhaps like the vav that is broken in the peace of Phineas, perhaps true intervention, comes from a broken heart.

There’s this great Chassidic saying which is so true. That nothing is as whole as a broken heart.

As it is written;

Psalm 34:18 (NKJV)

18 The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart,

And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Psalm 51:17 (NKJV)

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,

A broken and a contrite heart—

These, O God, You will not despise.

Who Was Phineas?

In order to further understand this story, what really happened, and why, we need to understand who Phineas actually is. People seem to think that Phineas was just a priest, but really, he was no normal priest.

I want to draw your attention to Psalm 69 again, verse 12.

12 They who sit in the gate talk about me,

And I am the song of the drunkards.

I know this is about Yeshua, but it is connected to Phineas (you need to think in layers) through this person possessing the same zeal, but also in the fact that these people, talking in the gates, are in the threshold of the gate. The threshold, like I keep alluding to, is a very important place. The threshold is a doorway, in the case of Numbers 25 it is the doorway to the tabernacle, but the threshold is the place where covenants are made. This fact is very basic in the ancient world but very important.

In looking at the threshold itself, we can understand exactly who Phineas is.

1 Chronicles 9 speaks of those who guard the threshold, and keep in mind that the ‘gate’ and ‘threshold’ and synonymous.

17And the gatekeepers: Shallum, and Aqquḇ, and Talmon, and Aḥiman, and their brothers – Shallum the chief.

18And up till then they were gatekeepers for the camps of the children of Lĕwi at the Sovereign’s Gate on the east.

19And Shallum son of Qorĕ, son of Eḇyasaph, son of Qoraḥ, and his brothers, from his father’s house, the Qorḥites, were over the work of the service, guards of the thresholds of the Tent. And their fathers had been guards of the entrance to the camp of יהוה.

This is a description given of the Temple guards in 1 Chronicles 9. If you don’t know, then please understand that the Temple, and the Tabernacle, had armed guards protecting the threshold and they killed anyone that incorrectly approached the tabernacle.

This is a very holy and sacred place.

Numbers 1

50 but you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the Testimony, over all its furnishings, and over all things that belong to it; they shall carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they shall attend to it and camp around the tabernacle. 51 And when the tabernacle is to go forward, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall set it up. The outsider who comes near shall be put to death. 52 The children of Israel shall pitch their tents, everyone by his own camp, everyone by his own standard, according to their armies; 53 but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the Testimony, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the children of Israel; and the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the Testimony.”

Now Chronicles 9 is fascinating. Whilst it is a description of the threshold guards in the time of the Temple then, it identifies who their ancestors were in the time of the Exodus.

So, going back to Chronicles 9:17 – 19 it should interest you to know that one of the forefathers identified, of the Temple guard, who earlier held the same job, was a man called Korah.

Remember the rebellion a few chapters earlier in the book of Numbers which Korah lead? Well, Korah, was one of the guards of the tabernacle.

Interestingly enough this gives so much meaning to Psalm 84:10;

10 For a day in Your courts

Is better than a thousand days.

I have chosen rather to be a doorkeeper

In the House of my Elohim,

Than to dwell in the tents of the wrong.

Because this Psalm was written by the Sons of Korah, sons of the doorkeeper who led the rebellion against God. No doubt, as they penned the words ‘I have chosen rather to be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of the wrong’ that they were thinking of their forefather who rebelled against YHWH.

At any rate and reading on in 1 Chronicles 9, which is further describing the Temple/Tabernacle guard, we find a bit of vital information;

20 And Pineḥas son of El‛azar was leader over them in time past. יהוה was with him.

Thus Phineas, of whom we are reading of in Numbers 25, was the leader of the armed guard who protected the threshold of YHWH.

Essentially, in Numbers 25, Phineas is doing his God given job. He was not one Levite of many who simply rose up at the correct time. He didn’t live a life wondering about his calling to miraculously seize it in a glorious moment of zeal. Phineas was an armed guard, Phineas was doing what God put him on this planet to do.

For those that teach that Phineas was a random Levite who just so happen to have the courage to stand up - I hold that this is no less a beautiful picture. The one Levite priest, been Phineas, who rose up out of the blue is a great story, but I hold that it is just as sweet to be in a position where you know your calling. Contrary to popular belief, Phineas knew his job within Israel and he nailed it (pun intended).

Atonement?

But let’s keep going, because how did Phineas killing someone make atonement?

Verse 13;

...he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.’

Really think about this, Phineas made atonement. As in, the same atonement that gets made when the priests sacrifices something for sin. Think this through, Phineas somehow killed a man and that atoned for sin? ‘Normal’ priests don’t exactly kill people to atone for sin (and I’m not suggesting you can either).

This is interesting, because there’s even more to Phineas than meets the eye.

For example, he leads the army of Israel into battle;

Numbers 31;

3 So Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Arm some of yourselves for war, and let them go against the Midianites to take vengeance for the Lord on Midian. 4 A thousand from each tribe of all the tribes of Israel you shall send to the war.” 5 So there were recruited from the divisions of Israel one thousand from each tribe, twelve thousand armed for war. 6 Then Moses sent them to the war, one thousand from each tribe; he sent them to the war with Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand.

Further, in Judges 20, Phineas inquires at the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH on behalf of Israel.

Judges 20

26 Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God[c] and wept. They sat there before the Lord and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the Lord. 27 So the children of Israel inquired of the Lord (the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28 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 my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?”

And when we read Deuteronomy 20, about the priests leading men to war, it’s really Phineas that would have been saying these words;

Deuteronomy 20;

2 So it shall be, when you are on the verge of battle, that the priest shall approach and speak to the people. 3 And he shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel: Today you are on the verge of battle with your enemies. Do not let your heart faint, do not be afraid, and do not tremble or be terrified because of them; 4 for the Lord your God is He who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.’

So, Phineas is extraordinary and the Bible gives us a wealth of information about him.

For those interested, even the ancient traditions say some very fascinating things of Phineas, describing him as a Priest Anointed for Battle, a Priest Anointed for War, and in some traditions, Phineas is referred to as a second High Priest, only one which operates outside of the Temple, as opposed to Aaron, who was High Priest within the Temple.

Some of the traditions are found as follows if you’re interested;

Talmud - Mas. Sotah 43a - Thus it states: And Moses sent them, a thousand of every tribe, to the war, them and Phinehas* — ‘them’ refers to the Sanhedrin; ‘Phinehas’ was the [priest] Anointed for Battle;

Midrash Rabbah - Leviticus XX:2 - Elisheba the daughter of Amminadab did not enjoy happiness in the world. True, she witnessed five crowns [attained by her relatives] in one day: her brother-in-law was a king, her brother was a prince, her husband was High Priest, her two sons were both Deputy High Priests, Phinehas her grandson was a Priest anointed for war.

Perhaps this knowledge that we have now helps us to understand how through killing a man, that Phineas was able to make atonement for Israel.

But regardless of what one thinks of that, we can all agree that Phineas is a foreshadow of Messiah, the one who would truly bring a covenant of peace, and the one who in His second coming, will be at the helm of the armies of Israel, just like Phineas, when he intervenes and redeems Israel. Can you see now why Phineas was able to make atonement? Why the Jewish tradition of there been another High Priest, not one restricted to the Temple, but one able to wage war speaks of the second coming of Messiah?

In the same vein, speaking of the second coming of Messiah, of the same zeal of Phineas (of YHWH), and arguably, describing the same events, but in a different time, Isaiah 59 says;

Isaiah 59;

15 And the truth is lacking, and whoever turns away from evil makes himself a prey. And יהוה saw, and it displeased Him that there was no right-ruling.

16 And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no intercessor. So His own arm saved for Him, and His righteousness upheld him.

(Phineas is very much a picture of this)

17 And He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of deliverance on His head. And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.

18 According to their deeds, so He repays, wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies. He repays recompense to the coastlands.

This is a describing the High Priest Yeshua (the arm of God is an idiom for Messiah), who girded himself for war, and as we know is the one leading the armies of God in the days of vengeance, just like Phineas.

It’s a hard thing to explain, to just say it, but hopefully, having made connections to Phineas’ position and relationship with the Messiah, you can see why it is that Phineas was able to make atonement through killing. Unlike you and I, Phineas was appointed to do so where we are not.

Phineas: The Broken Man

Let’s return to our broken vav again.

You’ll recall I said that the vav is the number six, the number for mankind. Not only is this man’s number but a reference to the six thousand years that man has to dwell on earth. As we know from elsewhere in Scripture, it is on the seventh day, when Phineas, the Messiah, will stand up for Israel and that peace, the broken peace of Phineas, will be restored. It is in the seventh day that we will truly live in unity with YHWH.

Furthermore, when you break that vav in to two, as it is in scripture, the vav becomes the letter yud on the top half with a little vav on the bottom.

The yud alludes to the name of YHWH whose name starts with the letter yud, and the letter vav, been man, paints a picture of the separation between God and mankind. It is also a picture of God’s desire to dwell with man.

For now though, how do we breach that gap and unite with God?

Sure, having read this far you can rightly say that through having zeal for God, through prayer, and passion; these are the ways we breach that gap and connect with Him.

But it is not without Messiah, God’s very own son.

This is the man of whom the broken vav speaks of in the word peace in the Torah Portion Phineas.

This is the man, the broken man, who truly connects us with God.

The sages point out that the number of the word Shalom is 376. (Hebrew letters double as numbers which may not be big in Christian thinking but is in Hebrew thinking.)

This number, 376, the sages say is the equivalent to a Hebrew phrase pronounced ‘zehu moshiach’

Translating;

This is the Messiah.

The vav that was broken to bring us peace.

Philippians 4:7 (The Scriptures)

...the peace of Elohim, which surpasses all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds through Messiah יהושׁע‎.

Be Blessed,

Jason HRM

#Phineas #Numbers25 #Zimri #Kozby

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