Keep your zeal ablaze

The weekly Torah portion (Hebrew: פָּרָשַׁת הַשָּׁבוּעַ Parashat ha-Shavua, popularly just parasha) is a section of the Torah read publicly and aloud in weekly Jewish prayer services, usually in full during the Shabbat (Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath). Each week, the ECI Young Adults are providing us with a commentary on the week’s parasha.

Weekly Parasha: Pin’has ~ Numbers 25:10-30:1

This week’s parasha although long is full of drama: the punishment of Israel’s sin for worshipping the gods of Moab and Phinehas’ zealous response; the census of the new generation, of which the only survivors from the first census were Joshua and Caleb; the passionate plea of Zelophehad’s five daughters to inherit their father’s land; God’s instruction to Moses to commission Joshua, because He would not allow him to enter into the promised land; and finally, God’s commandments for the daily, monthly and annual offerings. Could there be a thread running through it all that we can learn from and apply to our lives today? Certainly. And it’s important to note the order in which each set of events is recounted.

The first scene is set as one of serious degradation: Israel had done what God hated the most: given themselves in worship to foreign gods, in this case Baal of Peor, the god of Moab. Interestingly, God’s punishment was drastic and directed exclusively to the leaders of the people who committed this sin: to be executed in broad daylight for the Lord’s anger to be turned away from Israel. The political leaders of our nations have been instituted by God (Romans 13:1) and He will hold them to account. That’s why they need our prayers more than ever.

What happens next in our parasha reading must have taken all those present by surprise: one of the Israelites presented a Midianite woman to his relatives – in front of Moses and the whole congregation! Did this guy think the love from his family would save him and his “girlfriend” from punishment? More importantly, what did this act show? A complete ignorance and disregard of the “clues” around him pointing that what he was about to do was a very bad idea! The Bible notes he did this while people were weeping at the doorway to the Tent of Meeting. They were weeping over God’s judgment taking place at that very moment – a plague that ended in 24,000 deaths (see Numbers 25:9).

It gets worse, we are actually told who this Israelite man and Midianite woman were – both children of leaders of their households (Numbers 25:14-15). Their actions were considered to set an example for their generation to follow. They presented themselves before their relatives, thinking their family’s love would turn a blind eye to what God had explicitly prohibited – to interrelate with the people of the land. Why? God said it clearly in Deuteronomy 9:5, “It is not because you are so good or have such integrity that you are about to occupy their land. The LORD your God will drive these nations out ahead of you only because of their wickedness, and to fulfil the oath he swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” To interrelate with those in the land would go against God’s purposes for Israel, they would instead share their fate of judgment and punishment for their wickedness if they did.

This deserves a moment to reflect. Should true love, which comes from God, turn a blind eye to sin? Yet in our present day, with terrorist atrocities committed in Western countries in the name of foreign gods we are afraid to call the evil behind it sin. We are told to turn a blind eye and show tolerance, be “politically correct” and not speak out against it.

Our parasha passage gets even more dramatic as Phinehas, grandson of Aaron the priest, is moved by an intense zeal and pierces the Israelite and Midianite’s body with a spear. God then makes a clear statement: Phinehas acted with the same jealousy or zeal He had. Phinehas’ prompt action against sin immediately stopped the plague. Wow. Zeal, defined as great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective, is the thrust that will make our holiness avert judgment. How zealous are we for God and His Word? He’s placed his Spirit in us to take us on a greater journey of holiness to become like his Son Jesus. But have we lost our zeal for holiness? As the next generation living in challenging times, those without a Saviour are looking for a cause to stand behind and be enthusiastic and zealous about. We must take the lead and show them with our example the only One worth being zealous for. Moreover, our nations are facing God’s judgement for the sin of disregarding His commands, what else but our zeal for His holiness will bring redemption and salvation?

Phinehas’ zeal not only stopped the plague and saved the nation, it brought a reward from God – a covenant of peace and of everlasting priesthood for him and his descendants. You know that you have pleased God when He promises to bless not only your life but all your descendants after you – just like He did with Abraham and David!

What follows is a sequence that is repeated three more times in the rest of the parasha – God first deals with sin, then he can release the inheritance. In chapter 26, after Moses and Phinehas deal with sin, God instructs Moses to divide the land, their inheritance.

At the end of the chapter we are reminded that none of those who complained against God when the first census was taken were alive, only Joshua and Caleb were left. Once again, no inheritance given without holiness.

In chapter 27 we see the five daughters of Zelophehad who boldly asked for their share of inheritance. They first recognized their father died for his own sin and so they could now inherit the land that belonged to him. The Lord justifies their cause and instructs Moses to do as they ask.

Further on in verse 14 God deals with Moses’ sin for striking the rock twice with his rod instead of speaking to it as God commanded him, at the waters of Meribah. He had not been a faithful reflection of God to His people. For that, he would not receive the inheritance of setting foot in the promised land, but only see it from a distance. He then instructs him to commission Joshua who would lead the people to the promised land.

Finally in chapters 28 and 29 God specifies the offerings to be made to produce a pleasing aroma to Him – daily offerings (morning and twilight), Sabbath offerings, offerings at the beginning of each month and offerings for each of the annual feasts. Paul, in the same spirit, reminds us in Romans 12:1 we should present ourselves as a living sacrifice, entirely, to the Lord which is our act of worship. These offerings were instituted to be acts of worship to Him, so Israel’s hearts and zeal would be kept ablaze. Coming full circle – if the people of Israel would have presented themselves daily as an act of worship to the Lord, their zeal would be intact.

God’s covenant to Israel has not changed – He has promised them the entire land from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Euphrates (Joshua 1) as an inheritance. God has also promised us as individuals an inheritance (Ephesians 1:11). Let our prayer be for God to restore His zeal for holiness in our lives. A zeal for His commands, His living Word, a zeal to follow in the footsteps of our Saviour. That zeal will restore what we have lost to sin and will avert judgement toward our nations.

The European Coalition for Israel is a unique grassroots movement, which is seeking to promote better relations between Europe and Israel through advocacy and education. More information: www.ec4i.org