Keyword:

Light from the Sidra

Pinchas

Numbers 25:10 - 30:16

It is good to be zealous in the things of God and Pinchas was certainly a zealous man. Many Israelites were sinning with the Moabites and Midianites. Because of this, pious Israelites assembled before the tabernacle, weeping. Pinchas was among them. The sight of another Israelite flagrantly bringing a Midianite woman into the camp stirred him so deeply that he acted to stem the tide of evil. For this he was highly commended because the zeal of Pinchas was the LORD’s own zeal.

By the action of Pinchas God’s judgement was averted and the plague ceased. Numbers 25:13 states that by slaying the Israelite man and the Midianite woman Pinchas “made atonement” for the children of Israel. Unfortunately, some teachers have drawn the wrong conclusion from this verse and assume that such acts of obedience to God are all that is needed to atone for our sins. An eminent rabbi once taught that the sins of a notorious sinner in Israel were all wiped away in an hour because his repentance was so intense.

Such teaching shows a seriously misunderstanding of the text because it neglects what is clearly taught elsewhere in Sidra Pinchas. In the list of offerings commanded by the Most High in chapters 28 and 29, it becomes very clear that there was never a moment in which there was not an offering on the altar of bronze. This was particularly so with regard to the two lambs offered each day, one in the morning and one in the evening, described as layom olah tameed. This is surely of great significance.

The first thing to note is that the morning and evening offerings were commanded by the LORD. They were not the voluntary offerings of an individual. God provided something for the people, not vice versa. The LORD provided a permanent atonement for them so that there was always an acceptable offering on the altar as a “sweet-smelling savour” to God. Without that divinely appointed means of atonement the Almighty could have no dealings with them. Such a pure being could dwell with sinners only if there existed an adequate and permanent covering for their sins.

This, of course, did not minimise the need for repentance on the part of the sinner. But, as the sin offering was commanded to be brought in such cases, it underlined the fact that all the LORD’s dealings with his people were established on an offering which he provided, and which covered them permanently.

It was like a man who owes debts he can never repay but which a wealthy friend offers to cover for him on the understanding that the debtor will live prudently afterward. He does not bail his friend out so he can continue living profligately. Hopefully a sense of gratitude will motivate the former debtor to live a life of service to others. And so it was for Israel. God covered the nation’s debt, as it were, not so they could continue to sin, but as an incentive to live zealously for him. This was so in the case of Pinchas; that was the sort of man he was.

The action of Pinchas, therefore, prevented the plague spreading further and, in that sense, covered the people from God’s wrath. But without the covering (the kapparah on the altar), all Israel — including Pinchas — would have stood guilty before God and certain to be judged by him.

Isaiah understood this when he wrote in 61:10, “My soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness”. The prophet understood that salvation and righteousness were gifts from God to cover us.

Where can we find such a covering now that the temple exists no longer? There is no olah tameed on the altar. Is Israel therefore naked and uncovered before God? It would seem so. But God is not merciless. God took away the temple because he had replaced it with an offering of eternal value, made once and for all by his Messiah. Jesus the Messiah died as an offering for sin, and God raised him from the dead. Through him your sins can be covered from the gaze of the eternal God.


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