Almost 40 years had passed, and the Israelites were nearing the time when they would enter into the Promised Land. A generation had died in the wilderness because they failed to trust that God would guide them, protect them, and give them the good things he had promised. God had used the Israelites’ wilderness wanderings to teach them about his holiness and to teach them to trust in him more. However, not all of the Israelites were sanctified through this time.
In Numbers 25, the Israelites are staying in the country of Moab. Because of intermarriage and lack of loyalty, they turn away from God and begin to worship Baal, a pagan god. Leading the way in this idolatry are several leaders of the people. God sends a terrible plague among the people that eventually killed 24,000 people and orders Moses to strike the idolatrous leaders down. So, Moses and Aaron’s great-grandson, Phinehas, gather the people together. The people are in mourning for the loved ones they lost in the plague, and all gathered together at the tabernacle, they are mourning in supposed repentance. However, Phinehas sees one of the Israelites blatantly bring a Moab woman into the tent of meeting! While the people are weeping in repentance, this person acts in a way that would indicate that he was not repentant at all. He was going to continue in his sin. The repentance was only caused by the negative experiences the Israelites faced, but it wasn’t true, heart-changing repentance that would cause them to change their actions.
Phinehas, in a zealous passion, takes a spear and kills both the man and the woman who are doing this. Because of that harsh measure, the plague stops and God promises the priesthood would continue with Phinehas for generations. This seems like a brutal action. But, the reason why God praised Phinehas for doing it was because this action shows (1) Phinehas understood the concept of the holiness of God and his tabernacle and (2) Phinehas recognized how sin has to be stopped so it won’t continue to do its damage. Sin spreads like a plague, which, once it gets started, is very difficult to eradicate. If we recognize the importance of holiness and trying ourselves to live a lifestyle of holiness, we cannot continue to allow sin to spread in our lives. We have to be willing to act zealously to snuff it out.
In Luke 3, we read about the ministry of John the Baptist in his own wilderness. He cries out to the people to ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!’ He urges those who come out to see him to “produce fruits consistent with repentance” because “every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:8-9). Recognition of the severity of sin and true repentance from that sin are crucial to producing good fruit. If we do not recognize and repent from sin, we will not produce good fruit. We will not live lives that glorify God.
Evaluate your life. Is it characterized by a right understanding of sin? Of an understanding of the importance of holiness? What about true repentance and good fruit? As John and Jesus said, “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is near!”
~ Stephanie Schlegel