While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. 2 These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. 4 And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang[a] them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” 5 And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
6 And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. 7 When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand 8 and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. 9 Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.
The Zeal of Phinehas
10 And the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. 12 Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, 13 and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.’”
14 The name of the slain man of Israel, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, chief of a father’s house belonging to the Simeonites. 15 And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the tribal head of a father’s house in Midian.
16 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, 18 for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.”
Today is the first Lord’s Day in which faithful pastors in Canada have illegally preached the gospel as it regards sexual sin. Many of you are aware that Canada has recently passed a law that is now in effect which makes “conversion therapy” illegal with up to six years of prison threatened. Conversion therapy is what their name is for biblical counseling that is specific to particular sexual sins. Conversion therapy would be counseling a homosexual or a transgender person to stop sinning by ceasing to sin in those ways and going back to the way God created you. To do that is now illegal in Canada. You can counsel someone to “transition” into another gender, which is not possible, but you cannot counsel them back to their God-given nature. They use sociological language like “conversion therapy” to mask what it really is. It is making illegal the preaching of the gospel to sexual sinners. It is outlawing calling on all men everywhere to repent. And so, like any faithful pastor should do when they are told by the authorities that they are no longer allowed to preach the gospel, the faithful pastors in Canada are preaching it even harder on this Lord’s Day. We pray that God would be with them, and protect them, and that their testimony may light a flame such that will not be put out or quenched in all the western world. And unless we be prideful as Americans we have to recognize that the federal regime and their millions of supporters in America would absolutely love for a law like that to be in place here. And unless God’s people stand up and intervene and God grants repentance and reformation to our people.
For definition’s sake, what is biblical sexuality? In a very short nutshell, it is that God created man, male and female He created them. Both men and women are created in the image of God. Gender is not something that is chosen by any individual based on how they feel, rather, they will know that they are either a male or a female, by Divine Providence – how they were born. In a word – God decides. As creatures, everything that God gives to us, including our gender, is to be received with thankfulness, without bitterness or pride. In creating male and female God also created marriage to be between a man and a woman and no others, and no other combination. Since God created marriage, He defines what is, we do not get to define it how we want. The state can call homosexual relationships “marriages” but that does not make it so. Furthermore, God created marriage, one man and one woman, to be the place, and the only place where all sexual activity is to take place. Any sexual activity outside of the marriage covenant is a sin. And even though our American evangelical elites would tell us that the Bible whispers about sexual sin, as people who read our Bibles, we know that it does not. These types of sins are very serious and the Bible warns us in places like 1 Corinthians 6, “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Those who would advocate for the banning of “conversion therapy” would even more so have us leave off what immediately follows in 1 Corinthians chapter 6, verse 11, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The Canadian, regime, and those like her in the U.S. actually hate homosexual, transgender, and other sexual sinners. They don’t want us to preach the gospel to them. They desperately do not want such people to know that not only is what they do sin, but their sins, the worst of the worst kind, absolutely can be forgiven in an instant through the blood of Jesus Christ. And not only can these sins be forgiven, but such a person whose entirety is wrapped up in their sin, absolutely can be changed by Jesus Christ, and if their sins are forgiven, they will change. We believe that God raises the dead, He can certainly change someone’s lifestyle. And that is why we preach the gospel to such persons, as such were some of us, for as we have experienced, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. And so it is that love for God and love for neighbor compels our Canadian brothers and sisters to break this iniquitous new law that has been thrust upon them, and so it would compel us were we ever to find ourselves in the same situation.
I would have us now consider what we may learn, particularly considering these things from the passage of Scripture we read – Numbers 25. As we read, the Israelites fall into great sexual sin, and then also into idolatry, so far as yoking them to the Baal’s, as the text says.
The Enemy’s Tactic
I would have you notice the enemy’s tactic. Previous to Numbers 25 the Israelites had conquered other nations and now they have moved into this land of Moab, and the King of this people is greatly afraid of Israel, having heard of how they came out of Egypt and conquered other kingdoms. So this King, Balak sent for the diviner named Balaam, many of us may be familiar with the story of Balaam. The King Balak sought to pay Balaam very nicely to curse the people of Israel. Balaam could not curse Israel, but that wasn’t because he didn’t want to. It was because he could only say what Yahweh put into his mouth to say. And that does not make Balaam a good guy. The Bible speaks very negatively of Balaam, and Revelation actually tells us why. Speaking in the letter to the Church at Pergamum, Jesus says, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.”
So apparently, Balaam, though he did not curse Israel, he essentially advised King Balak to send out the Moabite women to seduce the sons of Israel in order to cause them to turn to the Baal’s and so not overtake and destroy Balak. This of course is not something unheard of in terms of military strategy. Even people today, it has been found out that they have been compromised in this way, in positions of power.
So this is the enemy’s tactic that I would have you note: it is a tactic of seducing, compromising, and neutralizing strong men, and it even has gone so far as to totally take men for captives.
As we can tell from reading Numbers 25, the fact that this is a strategic attack from the enemy does not give any excuse for anyone’s sin. In fact, the text of Numbers 25 doesn’t even mention Balaam advising Balak to do this, it allows no excuse for the Israelites, simply saying “the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab.”
For us today, knowing that this is a tactic of the enemy, this means that we cannot play it soft thinking we have some sort of excuse should we fall.
Knowing this, as Christian men and women, knowing that the enemy is scheming to entrap and ensnare us, this means that we must always be on guard for the devices of Satan. We must always be alert, sober-minded, and aware of the devil’s strategies against us. And being aware of them we should take all godly means possible to be on the offensive, to carry out counter-attacks. We should constantly be on the offensive in equipping and preparing for the day of battle by hiding God’s Word – a double edged sword – in our hearts, heeding the warning of Scripture, continuing in fellowship together, and beholding Christ in every day. And it is wise that we be aware of these tactics and so take all sorts of godly practical steps to protect and fight against the various temptations of lust.
Sin’s Progression (Numbers 25:1-25:2)
Along these lines I want you to notice the progression of sin in Numbers 25. It began with lust, fornication, adultery, whoring after the daughters of Moab, as we see in verse 1. Then what does that sexual sin become in verse 2? “These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.” So they give in to the enticements of their flesh and before they know it they are worshiping false gods.
Apostasy typically does not happen overnight. Professing Christians usually don’t just wake up and say, “I’m going to apostatize today.” It always begins with sin that is tolerated and entertained, and more times than not it is a sin of the sexually immoral sort that leads to apostasy and the worship of false gods. If you think about former evangelical leaders who have left the church and apostatized in recent years, and “deconstructed” their faith, as they say, you will notice a pattern. They will announce that they are no longer an evangelical and then shortly after that, between 3 and 10 weeks it will then come out – oh and I’m getting a divorce – and there is all kinds of unfaithfulness that has been going on underneath that.
Sin doesn’t start full blown. It begins with a seed and then grows to give birth to death. This is why it is so important to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, as the apostle Paul says, and not allow even our minds to wonder with images and imaginations of sin.
So the incredible tyranny and Statism we see happening in Canada and not as far along in our own nation, has not happened overnight. If you have Statism and tyranny, you can pretty much guarantee that you first had vast sexual immorality, rebellion, and sin. A people who cannot govern themselves in a godly way and exercise self-control, and carry out dominion under God will be given over to others to govern them, control them, and have dominion over them. In short, if you are a slave to sin, then you greatly increase the possibility that you will become a slave to someone else.
You cannot have a sexually immoral and rebellious society and also have a free society. Freedom comes to those who are able to practice godly self-government. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s we have seen a rapid increase in Statism. In the book of judges when the people did each what was right in their own eyes, God gave them to be ruled over by someone else. You can’t govern yourself? Then someone else will. You cannot have a sexually immoral society and a have a free society.
The Idols Fail
Another way to think about it is to say that if you want to mess around with other gods, then if you are not in Christ, God will just go ahead and give you over to your gods. In Numbers 25 the people yoked themselves to the Baal’s. Baal was a more general term, there were different Baal’s. There are some theologians who believe that the particular god Israel worshiped here in this passage was the sun god. If that is the case, it makes a lot of sense with God’s judgment in verse 4. God tells Moses to take the chiefs of the people and hang or impale them in the sun. It is as if God was putting it right in this Baal’s face as it was made plain to all that their god could not save them. Their gods failed them. This is exactly the case with all those who are being given over to the gods of Statism. When you look to the state to be your savior and provider in all things, it will fail you.
Sin that is Cultivated in Private, will not be able to Stay There
In Numbers 25:6, there is a congregation of Israel weeping outside the tent of meeting. They’ve seen the rebellion, the executions, the plague that God sent among the people and the thousands dying from it, and then out in the open, pridefully, in front of everyone comes an Israelite with a Midianite woman that he is taking into his tent. In the face of all the weeping and suffering and death and executions, to then have the audacity to do something like this in broad daylight is stunning.
Sin that is cultivated in private, that is not repented of and put to death, but is nurtured in the dark, will not be able to stay there in the dark, in private. To do so is to nurture a baby monster that looks cute and harmless, but one day you will wake up and it won’t be so cute and harmless anymore and it will come roaring out. I plead with you church, do not nurture these little deadly monsters in your private life, put them to death, bring them into the light to die. You cannot handle them, if you think you can.
Think about it in our own society. The gay movement began just saying ridiculous things like “just stay out of our bedroom.” But that didn’t last long. Now even greater perversions are being pushed to be accepted and approved of by everyone in society, including children in the elementary schools. It was never going to stay just as a secret in the bedroom. Sin cultivated and nurtured in private, will not be able to stay there.
Numbers 25:7-8, “When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped.”
This story of Phinehas is an epic story of godly masculinity and righteous zeal for the things of God. Phinehas was not afraid to give righteous offense, yet did not offend foolishly or unnecessarily. He turned away God’s wrath, and God bestowed upon him a covenant of peace.
Our world is far too concerned about offending other people, and not nearly concerned about offending God. Phinehas was clearly ordered rightly. Phinehas was obviously in the right position of authority to do what he did with the laws of Israel, the approval of God, and another passage of Scripture calls Phinehas an officer, indicating that he may have been some kind of civil magistrate or even among those who Moses called up to hang or impale the chiefs of the people in the sun. There were sufficient witnesses and the death penalty had been given.
These are essential elements when we think about having a righteous zeal. It is essential that we act properly within the bounds that God has given us, in our property sphere of responsibility. We don’t want to be those who have zeal without knowledge. Calvin says that, “In order, therefore, that our zeal may be approved by God, it must be tempered by spiritual prudence, and directed by His authority…”
This leads me to note another essential component of the righteous zeal of Phinehas. Where was Phinehas when he was emboldened to righteous zeal? He was with the congregation of people who were weeping at the tent of meeting, presumably weeping himself over this rebellion and sin of his people. He was himself, sorrowful, weeping, in prayer, over sin, that he was then emboldened with courage to stand up and righteously intervene.
Psalm 106:28-31 recounts this incident and says of Phinehas that he “stood up and intervened” and it “was counted to him as righteousness.”
The Phinehas Option
Obviously we don’t live in the societal structure and circumstances of Phinehas, so we are not to go around literally impaling people in the act, but how might we righteously stand up and intervene out of love for neighbor and the glory of God?
The spear of Phinehas in our hands is the Word of God. It is first thrust into us and impales us, that we might first die. It first cuts our flesh up that we might be burnt up as living sacrifices to God. Our flesh and our sin and our old man is put to death by the Word of God and the power of the Spirit, that we might be resurrected and righteous, that we might go forth and take up the spear of the Word of God and let it fly, that it might do it’s work on our fellow man, that he too might have his flesh flayed and put to death by Christ, so he would also be raised again to life, redeemed from his sin. This gospel spear we are to take to sinners, to those in the act of sinning and let it fly, for if they die by their sin they are lost, but if they die by being lifted up on a stake with Christ, being crucified with Him, they will live again.
The Word of God is a double edged blade, fit precisely for direct incision and confrontation. Like Phinehas, it is imperative that we apply direct incision to the sins and idols of our day and people. It is our sins that we are committing and the sins that our people are committing that we need to take the confrontation to. There is a lot of evangelicals out there who will say just preach the gospel and don’t talk about someone’s specific sexual sin – just preach the gospel because we’re all on our own journey. Such thinking is foolishness. The gospel is for sin. It was made to go head on with it, so that sin could be forgiven. It’s easy to stay insulated from the skirmishes of our time. It takes Christian courage and zeal to stand up and intervene. Sexual sin absolutely destroys people’s lives. Feminism destroys peoples lives. If I love my neighbor, I’m going to call on them to stop it, to repent, to confess their sin, and they will receive free and full forgiveness in Jesus Christ and have eternal life and be redeemed and renewed with life and happiness that those things could never give them.
It is also imperative that we guard our own “camp” with the zeal of Phinehas. In 1 Corinthians 10 in talking about the Israelites it says, “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were…” and verse 8, “We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty three thousand fell in a single day.” There you can see Paul referring to this instance. It is to be a warning to us not to indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and thousands died because of it. May each one of us with the zeal of Phinehas guard our own lives and our own homes from this great sin. As Owen said, “be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”
Phinehas as a Type of Christ
But as we think about this story and things of our day, the truth is that many of us have been like the rebellious Israelites. We’ve been immoral and have gone after many other idols. We are just as deserving of God’s wrath as they were. All of us are deserving of God’s wrath for our sin and rebellion, in whatever sinful way it may manifest itself in each of our lives. We deserve to be impaled and bare before the scorching heat of God’s wrath. We deserve to be rung through with the spear of justice. Yet, as the apostle says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
How did this happen? How did we experience such grace and mercy and transformation? By the fact that it was God’s own dear Son that was lifted up on a stake for us, bare before the scorching heat of God’s wrath, impaled with the spear of justice, that we might receive mercy and grace, and be changed.
Phinehas is a powerful type of Christ here in Numbers 25.
We see Christ in Phinehas’ righteous zeal for the things of God. From the Psalter it was said of Christ, “zeal for your house will consume me.” Christ displayed and maintained the ever perfect zeal for God for us, that we so lack so often in our apathy and laziness and misguided zeal.
We see Christ in Phinehas’ removal of God’s wrath. In Numbers 25 the LORD said that Phinehas “turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy.” This is what the Lord Jesus has done for us. We were headlong in sin headed for destruction and wrath, and the Lord Jesus stood up and intervened, as it were, so that it turned back God’s wrath from us. What saved the congregation of Israel from being consumed by God’s wrath? It wasn’t their weeping or this or that that they did. It was that one man stood up and intervened on behalf of the many and so turned back God’s wrath. This is the Lord Jesus Christ for us. No amount of tears or weeping will satisfy divine justice. It is only that the Lord Jesus intervened on behalf of the many. One man on behalf of the congregation.
Similarly we also see Christ in Phinehas’ atonement on behalf of the people. In Numbers 25:13 God is making the covenant of peace with Phinehas and God says of him that “he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.” After all, Phinehas was a priest. So is Christ for us, as our perfectly jealous priest, the only one fit for making atonement for His people. He atoned for sin, not ourselves.
We also see Christ in that Phinehas was purifying and protecting his people when he ran through the adulterers. This was an act of purification and refining and protecting people from further judgment and death by doing so. So Christ does this for His people, His bride. He washes her, purifies her, sanctifies her, prunes the branches, so as to present her fruitful and spotless, unblemished before God. Christ does so corporately and in our own lives in our sanctification, mortification of sin, and living unto God. In doing so, sometimes Christ has to take a scalpel and cut into us and remove tumors and lusts and ugly sins deep in the flesh, but they are life giving cuts and wounds from the Great the Physician, to cleanse us and purify us and protect us from the highly toxic sin deep within us. Sometimes it really hurts and we would rather not be cut open and laid bare before God, flayed and on the operating table. But on the other side we will look by sweet at that time that gave us life.
We also see Christ in Phinehas’ purity before God. Presumably Phinehas did not partake with the other Israelites in this sin and so was able to intervene on their behalf. So also Christ for us. The pure and spotless one. Many of us have been immoral or impure at times in our lives. Have we repented and come to Christ we need not have a guilty conscience remain. For Christ is pure white in purity, and He was and is that for us, and gives that purity to us. Though our sins be as scarlet, He shall make them white as snow. And we need to believe that, more than the sin we have committed. Christ is more pure than our sins are filthy.
We also see Christ in the Covenant of Peace given to Phinehas. This is typological of the covenant of peace with Christ. Christ has forever made peace with us and God by atoning for our sin and satisfying divine justice and wrath. He is made our perpetual priest, having offered Himself once and for all as the final sacrifice for sins. And when Christ did so, it was for all of our sins, past, present, and future. So that even though we will sin again in the future, we remain in a covenant of peace with God, because that sin has been dealt with by our Great High Priest. God’s wrath is turned away from us in Christ, never to be turned back upon us again.
So to the sexually immoral, we are to tell them what has been told to us, that such ones will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But that former adulterers and fornicators and such do, in the Lord Jesus. We have a greater Phinehas. One who will either kill you to remove you from the land, or one who will drive you through with His Word, in order to resurrect you to new life, as a new creation. The old has passed, the new has come. If we our neighbor, we will tell them, no matter who tells us to stop, that we believe in death and resurrection. That in Christ, you have died, and in Him, you are raised a new creation. The old is gone, the new has come. The old sins, the old lifestyle, the old addictions, the old lusts, can be shed and buried six feet deep never to rise again, through Christ. And you can in fact be made new, and changed, and sanctified, and be given new and godly desires. And this is all because Jesus died and rose from the dead, and this is what He does to us. He puts us to death, so that we might rise again.