Chapter 43 A Model Of Zeal

The Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned My wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for My sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in My jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel (Numbers 25:10-13).

Balaam was a subtle, wretched man of the world. He was divinely restrained from cursing God’s people, but this restraint did not regenerate his spirit to make him a child of God. He did not cross over from Moab to Canaan, nor did he leave his heathen friends to identify with the people of God. The poison of sin still worked within Israel through Balaam and, though prevented from cursing God’s people, he plotted to entrap them by suggesting to Balak that he invite the young men of Israel to idolatrous feasts and entice them to fornication with the women of Moab.

The Zeal of Phinehas

With the vile lusts of strong nature still predominant in the young men of Israel, they fell for this trap and went over to Moab like fluttering moths around a bright but destroying flame. God’s vengeance slew them so that thousands perished for this iniquity. Pestilence broke out, and the penal death it brought piled up the toll of death. It is indeed an awesome and frightful spectacle.

But Phinehas acted. Zeal for God’s glory rose in his soul. His arm was made bare, and he took after the chief offender, Zimri, the son of a prince of the tribe of Simeon, and slew him with his javelin and, with him, his partner in crime, the woman Cozbi, daughter of a chief of Midian.

For this zealous act to guard the glory of God, the Lord stopped the plague and brought respite. And God rewarded Phinehas with great honor. “Behold I give unto him My covenant of peace: and he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.” It was the reward of zeal for the honor of God. “He was zealous for his God.” He could not look on and see God’s holy law breached, His commandment defied, His will despised. He rose in righteous indignation to vindicate the honor of God’s holy character. He spared not a prince—a prince at least in the line of succession.

The zeal of Phinehas was not based upon natural passion, nor was it the flame of natural temper. He moved in God’s will. He did what God would have done. He was an instrument of vengeance in the hand of His God. And that zeal, God testifies, “hath turned My wrath away from the children of Israel.” It was a kind of atonement. With the punishment of sin there was a righteous basis for God to stay His wrath. The greatest honor was that the priesthood was given to Phinehas and would be a perpetual priesthood through the ages.

The Antitype in Christ

Phinehas is but a reflection of all that was ever in the heart of his Lord. In him we see the heart and zeal and work and will of God’s beloved Son.

It is first seen in our Lord’s entering the fray and coming to grips with a rebellious race. For this He left His home on high, assumed our nature, set His face like a flint to deal with man’s mountainous iniquities. And let us not forget that this zeal was first of all for His Father’s honor and glory. “Lo, I come…I delight to do Thy will, O my God” (Psalm 40:7-8). As He moves to the cross, it is with the words: “The hour is come… Father, glorify Thy name” (John 12:23, 28). “Glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son also may glorify Thee” (John 17:1).

Thus it was first for His Father’s honor that, despising the shame and reproach of the cross, He kept steadfast along that forlorn and wretched way to Calvary. It is not first to secure man’s redemption, not first to snatch man from the flames of hell, but first to secure His Father’s honor and to bring glory to His name.

This is why our Lord chose that punishment of sin be borne in His own body and absorbed in His own being. God’s righteous law could not be changed to accommodate the sinful acts of man. Absolute holiness demands that sin be punished. Only due punishment can maintain God’s righteous character. So the Lord Jesus bore all our sins in His own body on the tree.

To Him, therefore, is given the covenant of grace and power to transmit that grace to His ransomed seed. Thus there is a way through that covenant grace for man to rise out of his sins and to pass into God’s holy presence as without blemish.

It is God’s glory that is the brightest beam in the outshining of redemption’s story. Justice is honored. The law is magnified. Truth is exalted. Holiness remains unstained. Righteousness is kept without flaw. Grace rides in triumph and mercy sings its sweet song of salvation. It is all the fruit of Jesus’ zeal. Bless God, then, for the Saviour’s zeal. Praise God for His glory—His own glorification because His beloved Son fought for that glory and glorified Him on the earth. He who once laid down His life in His zeal to atone for the sins of man now reigns on high as the High Priest of His people forever.

Behold, what wondrous love and grace!
When we were wretched and undone,
To save a helpless, ruined race,
The Father gave His only Son!
Of twice ten thousand gifts divine
No gift like this could ever shine!

O gift of love unspeakable!
O gift of mercy all divine!
We once were slaves of death and hell,
But in Christ’s image we shall shine!
For ev’ry gift a song we raise,
But this demands eternal praise!

Praise shall employ these tongues of ours
Till we with all the saints above,
Extol God’s name with nobler powers,
And see the ocean of His love:
Then, while we look, and wond’ring gaze,
We’ll fill the heavens with endless praise!

William Saunders