Shabbat Readings & Commentary

Friday, July 14, 2006 |  Michael Schneider
Pinkhas – Phinehas : Numbers 25:10-30:1; 1 Kings 18:46-19:21

In our previous Torah portion we read how Israel was saved by God from the curses of the Moabite king Balak and his seer Balaam. Instead of cursing, Balaam “gave counsel to trespass against the LORD” (31:16).

Balaam became the Biblical prototype of a false teacher. In Jude and Revelation 2:14, he is mentioned as one ‘who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality’ and a prototype of a money-hungry false teacher.

But in this week’s reading, “…the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor” (25:1-3).

The seducing charm of a woman has always been a danger the Bible warns us about, especially from unbelievers who encourage worship of their idol gods. And it is a weakness of some men, for example the wise King Solomon and the mighty Samson.

Ruth was also a Moabitess, but she followed the God of Israel. It can be thinkable that this consequence of a plague in our reading was a strong warning for the ‘daughters’ in this region – and I am sure that it was passed down to Ruth.

A plague ensued as punishment for the immorality and idol worship and only a drastic intervention of the wrath of God could stop it. He used the high priest Phinehas, a descendant of Aaron.

“Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body” (Num 25:6-8).

What he did could be seen as brutal, even ungodly. But Phinehas was zealous for God, that’s why he did it, and God blessed him with an everlasting covenant of peace. This act saved many, the plague stopped – although 24 000 people already paid with their life.

“He (Phinehas) turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them” (25:11). In the same way, we as believers should strive to zealously uphold God’s Word, so that you may turn away God’s wrath over His people!

In chapter 26 we read about the enlistment of all man above 20-years-old to military service. Ironically, Israel, again forced to defend herself on two fronts today, has called up some of its military reserves.

In chapter 27, we read about the five daughters of Zelophehad from the tribe of Manasseh. Legally, when parents do not have sons and the father dies, who gets the inheritance? “Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son?” one of the daughters asked Moses. A legitimate question! The humble Moses went immediately before the Lord for counsel. God’s legal order followed: In this case, the inheritance should be passed to the daughter.

Then we read about the nomination of Joshua Ben Nun, “a man in whom is the Spirit” as Moses’ successor.

In Chapter 29 we read about a very interesting point regarding the Feast of Tabernacles (Succot) in the seventh month. According to Genesis 10, the Bible speaks about 70 nations of the world. We also know that this Feast of Tabernacles in Zechariah 14 has a universal and end-time significance, providing atonement for all 70 nations in the world.

Here the Jewish sages interpret and connect it to the seven-day festival sacrifices during this feast. In Numbers 29:12-32 we read about the exact allotment of the sacrifices: on the first day 13 cows, on the second day 12 cows, on the third day 11 cows till the seventh day with 7 cows. The outcome of this is that there been 70 sacrifices for the 70 nations. That is the unique part of this universal feast!

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