Categories: Men in the Old Testament, Moses
- Phinehas or Phineas is the grandson of Aaron.
- His father is Eleazar. He appears to be an only child.
- The meaning of his name is uncertain. Scholars think it might mean “the Negro,” or “the bronze-colored one.” Others think it is comprised of two words: one meaning “mouth,” the other “brass.” This has led to some saying the name means “mouth of brass.”
- Phinehas is relatively unknown until Numbers 25.
- While on their way to the Promised Land, some Israelite men begin having sex with local Moabite women.
- The women invite the men into their tents and soon include them in worshipping their gods.
- God instructs Moses to put an end to such untoward behavior.
- Moses tells the leader of each tribe to execute people within their tribes that are following other gods.
- Many of the people come to weep at the entrance to the tent of meeting.
- During these proceedings, one man (Zimri) parades a Midianite woman into his family by taking her into his tent in abject defiance of Moses’ orders.
- Moses and everyone else sees them, but all are silent.
- Phinehas sees them too, follows them into the tent, and impales them with a spear in accordance with the instructions God has given.
- His actions stop the plague that has already killed 24,000 people as a punishment for worshipping the other gods.
- God speaks to Moses about Phinehas and says He halted the plague because Phinehas is “as zealous for my honor as I myself am.”
- Additionally, God makes a “Covenant-of-Peace” with him.
- The text says, “He and his descendants are joined in a covenant of eternal priesthood.”
- He receives these honors because he makes atonement for the people of Israel.
- Yet his actions raise many questions for readers.
- It helps to know that the Israelites hold that idolatry, sexual impropriety, and intermarriage are grave sins.
- It is expected that anyone committing these sins will be punished.
- Killing the offenders is understandable; the death of 24,000 by plague is harder to understand.
- Presumably, not all of these people were offenders.
- Yet, once the punishment (plague) begins, there is no distinction between the guilty and the innocent.
- The punishment (plague) can be stopped by ritual intercessions.
- The three options are incense, sacrifice, or blood.
- Phinehas’ actions meet these conditions on several levels.
- Scholars believe Moses plays a minor role in this event because he has a Midianite wife.
- It might also be a venue to brings Phinehas to the forefront.
- This is not Phinehas’ last encounter with the Midianites.
- Prior to his death, Moses is instructed to fight them.
- Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, goes along as priest to the army.
- He is in charge of the holy vessels and the signaling bugles.
- Scholars think he is chosen instead of his father because Moses believes he has already started the battle with them and should be there when it is finished.
- The Israelites prevail in battle. The Midianites are destroyed.
- Another major event in the life of Phinehas occurs after the Israelites have settled in the land of Canaan.
- Three of the tribes return to their land East of the Jordan.
- Upon settling there, they build a huge altar on the banks of the Jordan facing Canaan.
- The Israelites want to go to war with them, but send Phinehas and a chief from each of the remaining tribes to investigate.
- The tribes say that this altar is a reminder that “the Lord is God,” and is not an act of idolatry.
- After listening to their explanation, Phinehas and the tribal chiefs are satisfied.
- They return home, and war is averted.
- It serves as a witness of their relationship with God.
- Sometime later, Eleazar dies. He is buried on land given to Phinehas in the mountains of Ephraim.
- Phinehas is, then, the third high priest of Israel.
- He serves for 19 years.
- Lastly, Phinehas is instrumental in conveying the order of the Lord to keep attacking the tribe of Benjamin after they raped and killed a woman.
- According to the Psalmist, Phinehas is to be honored for his zealousness for the law.