Last modified on 1 September 2010, at 12:00

Hebrew Roots/Torah observance/Pinchas

Pinchas-Phineas (Dark-skinned) Numbers 25:10-30:1

The name of this week’s Torah portion directs us back to the final verses of Balak where in the opening verses of Bamidbar/Numbers 25, Pinchas is introduced in one of the most dramatic events recorded in the Torah. Balaam has just made four consecutive prophecies over the children of Israel that all turned out to be blessings rather than Balak’s desired curses. The last prophecy as chapter 24 concludes has a specific reference to the Messiah of Israel and the ultimate destruction of the nations who seek to destroy Israel. But for his own gain he gave the advice which was to be the downfall of Israel to lead them into harlotry with the women of Moab.

According to the narrative account (Numbers 25), while Israel was encamped in Shittim, the men of Israel engaged in immorality with the women of Moab. This activity was linked to the idolatrous worship of Baal of Peor. As a result God brought a plague on Israel in which 24,000 died. The sin of Baal-Peor has to do with vile sexual rites

Parashat Pinchas, found in Numbers 25:10–30:1, begins with the story of how God commended Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, for slaying an Israelite man for engaging in idolatrous fertility rites with a Moabite woman. Pinchas was exonerated for this killing because he was trying to safeguard the holiness of God and the holiness of God’s people.


The Ordination of Phineas to High Priest

Pinchas (Phineas) was a younger man who was being groomed to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and father. He was zealous for the things of Yahweh and had undoubtedly heard or perhaps even seen as a young child the dramatic execution of his uncles Nadab and Abihu when they offered up strange fire at the altar some thirty-nine years earlier. He had observed his great uncle Moshe and his grandfather Aaron handle their responsibilities for years. Now that his father was the High Priest, he was watching with great anticipation how the duties of the High Priest were conducted, because one day he would be given that great responsibility. He was a man of the new generation that had risen up that was zealous for Yahweh and his truth.

Israel was in the process of being punished for their sin and Yahweh told Moshe to execute this judgement by taking the chiefs of the people, who had led the way into the sin of idolatry and participating in Moabite temple prostitution, and hang their dead bodies on display to all of Israel as a warning. As Moshe and other leaders were carrying out this gruesome task, one chief had the audacity to flaunt his intentions of consummating a union (thereby assimilating) with the daughter of a Midianite chief in open view. Pinchas took a spear and ran them both through with one thrust and in doing so committed an act of zeal for the glory of God. As a result of this zealous act that brought an abrupt end to the debauchery, Pinchas was rewarded with a covenant of peace for himself and all of his future generations. “Pinchas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood,because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel'” Numbers 25:11-13).

The Targum of Johnathan gives an enlightening account of this saying, “Behold, I decree to him My covenant of peace, and will make him an angel of the covenant, that he may ever live, to announce the Redemption at the end of the days. ........behold, I will make him to possess the high priesthood; and because he took the lance with his arm, and struck the Midianitess in her body, and prayed with his mouth for the people of the house of Israel,”

In this act of zeal, Pinchas took no account of his own life in regard for personal consequences in killing these two people. He could have been judged for premeditated murder and lost his own life as a result of his actions or else have been subject to acts of revenge by members of the tribe of Simeon. However, for honouring Him, Yahweh Himself honoured Pinchas. The Jerusalem Talmud records that the elders at the time did not approve of Pinchas actions and for that reason Yahweh vindicated him.

Years later we read other examples of men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit to do the will of the Father regardless of the consequences. Men like Elijah, John the Immerser and the apostle Paul all come to mind as men who were totally sold out in their belief in the word of God and the instructions of the Holy One to His people Israel.

Yahweh’s principle has always been to remove sin out of the midst of His people. Sin corrupts the community of the righteous and therefore the wrongdoer(s) must be removed. Sin, like leaven, in whatever form it comes, contaminates the whole group. For this reason Paul warns the believers to beware of any root of bitterness amongst them which is spread by the tongue, drawing others into the same defilement of attitude and practice - See Hebrews 12:14-17; 1 Corinthians 5: 6-8, 13. Paul’s instruction was to put out from among themselves the wicked person. To Israel as a nation living under Yahweh’s laws, the instruction was to put them out from this life as judgement upon them for their sin and so cleanse the community. See Numbers 25: 5


The Spoil and the Inheritance

Following the commendation of Pinchas, Yahweh spoke to Moshe and told him to go and “harass” the Midianites because of what they did to them. The Aramaic Targums bring out strongly that it was a punishment for their act of harassing them without provocation. “And Yahweh spake with Moshe, saying: Punish the Midianites and slay them, for they afflict you with their snares, with which they ensnare you; as by the occasion of Pheor, and by that of Kosbe, daughter of a prince of Midian, their sister, who was slain on the day of the pestilence in the matter of Pheor”. (Targum Onkelos XXV) Josephus says that they made a complete slaughter of the Midianites taking much spoil. (Josephus Book 4 Chapter 7:1)

The Midianites had joined the Moabites in the treachery against Israel being sister nations. They kept the virgin women alive of the Midianites and after the necessary procedures of purification and separation were allowed to marry them and divide the spoils of war. It was such a miraculous victory that not one man was lost in the war. (31:48-49) Ramban says that usually no one was lost in their wars in Moshe’s time when they were in right standing with Yahweh. (Munk op. cit. p.381) As a result they came with a thanksgiving offering to Yahweh in the next parasha. (v.50)

In accordance with this a census is taken of all the men of war and which will establish the division of the Promised Land.


The Census

Moshe is commanded to take of the remaining sons of Israel, and to deal with the case of families who do not have male heirs (Zelophehad) The last census was taken 38 years previously at Mt. Sinai to assess them after having come out of the land of Egypt. Now before they go into the land another census is required before he hands them over from being under his care to the care and leadership of Yehoshua. An assessment was required for their future military projects in the land as well as for the distribution of the tribes and their inheritance in the land.

Rashi suggests that there were two reasons for taking a census at this point. Firstly, it is like a shepherd accounting for his sheep after the wolf has been through his flock and checking them over. Also, the first census was when Israel was first handed over to his leadership at Sinai and now, at the termination of his ministry, before he hands them over to their new leader, he again counts them and surveys their passage through the trials and testings of the wilderness. (Rashi S.S.& R edition p. 271)

This census showed that several tribes had lost entire divisions since the time that passed between the entrance of Israel into Egypt, and their entrance into the promised land. Among the tribes that had perished were such as had already lost their lives in Egypt, those, namely, who had died during the days of darkness before the exodus because they were such sinners that they did not want to leave Egypt. But heaviest of all were the losses in the tribes of Benjamin and of Simeon, for in the battle between the Levites and the other tribes after Aaron’s death, when the latter, for fear of the Canaanites, wanted to return to Egypt, the Benjamites lost no less than seven divisions. All of the twenty-four thousand men that died from the plague at Shittim in regard to the sin with the Midianites, belonged, however, to the tribe of Simeon which, at the end of the march through the desert, had dwindled down to less than half its number. The tribe of Dan, on the other hand, had turned out to be very fruitful, for whereas at the entrance of Egypt it had consisted of only one division, it later exceeded in number all the other tribes, excepting the tribe of Judah.

“These are the families of the Shim’oni, twenty-two thousand two hundred."(26:14 HNV) - In Numbers 1:23, it is written, “those who were numbered of them, of the tribe of Shim’on, were fifty-nine thousand three hundred.” When we compare these two texts, we see that the tribe of Shimon had lost 37,100 men since the first census. It was seriously damaged by the plague, because its leader had made a breach through the sin with Kozbi, the Midyanite woman.


Moshe Gathered to his People

According to Yahweh’s decree, Moshe is not to enter the promised land and so at the fulfilment of the forty years, Yahweh tells him that his time has come and that he is to go up the mountain and die there. Most Jewish literature records that Moshe was ascribed special favours from Yahweh on the day of his passing which is recorded as being the seventh day of Adar, thirty days before the nation entered the promised land. (thirty days would have been observed as a time of mourning for him) It is believed that being prepared for the day of his passing, he set in order the scrolls he had written and the Torah, together with psalms he had written for each of the eleven tribes (Simeon excluded) which were later included with the rest of the psalms of the other patriarchs (Adam, Melchizedek and Abraham) with those of David and Solomon.

Mount Abarim, which he was told to ascend is one of the peaks of Mount Nebo. Both Aaron and Moshe are taken from the people in the mountain heights not far from each other (27:12) just before entry into the land.

Before he departs he prays for their spiritual welfare and for another to shepherd them. “Let Yahweh, the God of the spirit of all flesh set a man over the congregation who may go out and go in before them, who may lead them out and bring them in, that all the children of Israel may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.” (27:15-17) Moshe does not make his own request of the one to follow him but leaves the choice to Yahweh.


Appointment of Yehoshua as Leader

Moshe came before Yahweh and asked Him to appoint someone to lead Israel after his death. His concern is that he does not want the congregation of Israel to become like sheep without a shepherd because Moshe knows that without a strong, God fearing, Spirit filled individual to lead Israel they will become like sheep who will wander this way and that with no idea of where they are going.

When a shepherd takes his sheep to pasture, the sheep run ahead and he walks behind them with a stick. He does this to keep the herd together and so that if they are attacked, it will be easier for him to flee and save his own life. Thus, a herd of sheep in the pasture can appear to lack a shepherd. Moshe prayed to Yahweh to appoint a leader for the people, who would not walk behind them and keep a low profile, but one who would take the initiative and give direction, a leader, in short, who would always be a trailblazer for the people to follow. The expression of “going out before them and coming in before them” is an idiomatic expression for being amongst the people as one of them, able to talk to them and give them leadership.

Moshe does not make any request for the succession of leadership, even though he has trained Yehoshua for that purpose, but submits the final choice to Yahweh for confirmation and approval. Yahweh instructs Moshe to appoint Yehoshua his successor and to invest him ceremoniously with leadership: “And you shall put your honor/majesty upon him that all the congregation of Israel may listen. “ And so he does in the sight of all Israel.

Yehoshua was a man who had their respect, whose values they knew and who had faithfully stood alongside Moshe for the whole period during the wilderness. He had lived before them and had thoroughly shown himself to them as steadfast and trustworthy to the commission and one of the three that remained who came out of Egypt, the others being Moshe himself and Caleb.

Then Moshe spoke to Yahweh, saying, “May Yahweh, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of Yahweh will not be like sheep which have no shepherd. “ So Yahweh said to Moshe,"Take Yehoshua (Joshua) the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit,and lay your hand on him; and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation,and commission him in their sight. “You shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him. “Moreover, he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before Yahweh. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation. “

Moshe did just as Yahweh commanded him; and he took Yehoshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. 23 Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as Yahweh had spoken through Moshe. Numbers 27:15-23

Whereas Moshe had met “face to face” with Yahweh is His Presence, Yehoshua was to go through the ministry of the priesthood which would assume it full operation in the leadership of the nation in hearing from Yahweh. And so, Moshe did as he was instructed and inaugurated Yehoshua into the leadership of the nation.


The Appointed Times

Numbers 28–29: Yahweh warns Israel, “You shall be careful to present My offering…at their appointed times.” (28:2) Numbers 28–29 is an ancient priestly calendar, a detailed list of the prescribed Temple sacrifices for each festival day. The verses refer to the Sabbath day and the biblical festivals as moadim, i.e. appointed times. They are Yahweh’s appointed times for meeting with man. They are also appointed times for sacrifice. The sacrifices are to be performed in the temple and so today they cannot be performed, but we are still obligated to keep the appointed times.

The word translated as “careful” in Numbers 28:2 is the Hebrew verb shamar, the same word typically translated as “observe.” For example, the famous passage that says “the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath,” translates the same verb as “observe.” Thus we learn in this passage that we are to be scrupulously careful to keep the appointed times at the appointed times. If we can make the appointment whenever it is convenient for us, then it is really not God’s appointed time. They are to be kept at their ‘appointed times’.

The rest of this Parashah contains a summary of the sacrifices that all the people must present at the appointed times:

28:3-8::Daily, morning and evening 28:9-10::Weekly, each Shabbat 28:11-15::Monthly, each Rosh Chodesh 28:16-25::Annually, at Pesach and Chag HaMatzot 28:26-31::Annually, at Bikurim, Shavuot 29:1-6::Annually, at Yom Teruah 29:7-11::Annually, at Yom HaKippurim 29:12-34::Annually, at Sukkot 29:35-38::Annually, at Shemini Atzeret

In 28:1-8 the daily prayers and their offerings are listed. The Chumash says the a quarter of a hin of oil and wine is approx. equivalent to one quart and a tenth of an ephah about two quarts of wheatmeal.

The times when the daily offerings were presented in the temple, together with incense, were the times when the people came to pray and these are still the times to come before the Eternal in prayer. See Luke 1:10, “The whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense." We see Daniel followed this practice even when exiled from the land when no sacrifices were being offered. (Ch. 6:10)

“Offering by fire” - is repeated three times. Yahweh is emphasizing the necessity of presenting the offerings with fire. Our dedication must be accompanied by a heart that is on fire in order to be a pleasing aroma to Him. (28:3, 6, 8 )

The same thing applies with the drink offering. The wine was not to be burned up on the fire. Therefore there was a canal on the side of the altar where the wine was poured before the Eternal as a drink offering. However, the wine had to be “burning”, i.e. fermented. The Torah commands that the drink be strong, intoxicating, in Hebrew “shechar”, (Strong H7941 she^ka^r, shay-kawr’, From H7937; an intoxicant, that is, intensely alcoholic liquor: - strong drink, + drunkard, strong wine.) see verse 7.

Wine has gone through a fermenting process and is more “burning” than grape juice. This is necessary in order for it to be pleasing as a drink offering. Here we find the same principle as with the offering by fire. There must be fire in our hearts when we pray in order for our prayer to be pleasing before Yahweh God. This teaches us that prayer without kavanah, a clear intention, is useless and will not ascend to heaven as a pleasing aroma. Let us come before Yahweh with burning, passionate prayers!

One who gave an animal to be sacrificed in the temple had to be present while it was slaughtered. However, when the sacrifices for the whole people of Israel were presented, all the people could not be present. Therefore, groups of Israelites who could represent all the people were appointed, and they were present during the sacrifices. Just as there were twenty-four groups of priests and Levites who took turns in the ministry, there were twenty-four groups of Israelites, both of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and of all the other cities in the land, who took turns to come into the temple and be present during the offerings that were given for the whole people.

When Yeshua came He taught them to come back to the course that had begun at Mount Sinai. He wanted them to return to Torah as Yahweh had given it to Moshe and Moshe had given it to the people. Yeshua wanted Israel to turn back to Him as their first love and then to Torah. This is what Moshe desired when he asked God to appoint a leader who could lead the people after him. This has always been at the heart of God’s desire. His desire could not be fulfilled through the men Israel chose but it would come to pass through His anointed heir, His Son, Yeshua. He would be the Shepherd who will finally lead Israel in unity.