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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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 Free Reformed Churches of Australia - FRCA
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
Title:The holy zeal of the LORD must be our zeal
Text:Numbers 25:1-18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Old Book of Praise (1984)

Ps. 106: 1, 2

Hymn 8: 1, 2, 7, 12, 13, 14

Ps. 119: 43, 45, 48

Ps. 106: 14, 15, 19, 20, 23, 24

Ps. 139: 11 – 13


Scripture reading:       1 Cor. 10: 1 – 13; Numbers 25

Text:                          Numbers 25

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

The holy zeal of Phinehas                17/11/2013

Ps. 106: 1, 2

Hymn 8: 1, 2, 7, 12, 13, 14

Ps. 119: 43, 45, 48

Ps. 106: 14, 15, 19, 20, 23, 24

Ps. 139: 11 – 13


Scripture reading:       1 Cor. 10: 1 – 13; Numbers 25

Text:                          Numbers 25


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,


This history where Israel was joined to Baal by harlotry and idolatry is recorded for our sake.   It remains relevant also for the church in the New Testament.  


In 1 Corinthians chapter 10 the apostle Paul reminds the congregation of this history.  He reminds them of the fact that the people of Israel all shared in the same covenant blessings.   They were all redeemed from Egypt, they were all under the cloud whereby God guided and protected them, they all passed through the sea as on dry ground, they all ate the same spiritual food and they all drank the same spiritual drink, but with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.


Yes, they were all in the covenant and they all enjoyed the same covenant blessings, but most of them were rejected and perished in the wilderness.


It contains a serious warning also for us.    We read:


“… these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.   And do not become idolaters as were some of them.   As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’   Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell...” – 1 Cor. 10: 6 – 8


And then the apostle again repeats that this history, including what happened at Baal-Peor, happened to Israel “as examples” and that they “were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” – 1 Cor. 10: 11.


Let us then submit ourselves to this instruction of the Holy Spirit and hear the Word of God as it comes to us in this revealed history.


It is not only about sexual immorality and idolatry.   Our text also speaks about the way in which Phinehas, the son of the high priest, sided with the LORD and was filled with the zeal of the LORD to protect the holiness and honour of God’s Name in the midst of church deformation.  

I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme…


The holy zeal of the LORD must be our zeal

We will note…

  1. How Israel was joined to Baal of Peor
  2. The holy zeal of Phinehas
  3. The Lord’s promise to Phinehas


In the first place we note…

How Israel was joined to Baal of Peor

Israel was camping east of the Jordan River.  The city Jericho was just on the other side of the river (Num. 22: 1).   Israel has already defeated Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and took possession of their land (Num. 21).   They are starting to take possession of the Promised Land which God has promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


Now, in the previous chapters we read Balak, king of Moab, become very afraid when he saw how Israel defeated the Amorites.   He therefore sent for Balaam, with the message:


“Look, a people has come from Egypt.   See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me!   Therefore, please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me.   Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.” – Num. 22: 6


But you know the rest of the history how the LORD did not allow Balaam to curse Israel.   Every time Balaam tried to curse Israel he pronounced only blessing.   It became clear that only God, the Almighty, is able to bless and to curse.   He has blessed Israel, and therefore Israel will remain blessed.


But then, when Balaam saw that all his efforts to curse Israel were turned upside down, he advised king Balak to give the daughters of Moab to Israel so that they may entice Israel to harlotry and idolatry.   Then Israel will not only be deprived of the LORD’s protection, but by their own doing they will bring God’s wrath on themselves.


In Numbers chapter 31 Moses refers back to the events here at Baal-Peor and says that “through the counsel of Balaam” these heathen woman caused Israel to sin.

It happened through the counsel of Balaam.

And thus we also read in the book of Revelation about the “doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.” – Rev. 2: 14


The result of Balaam’s advice is now described here in our text:


“...the people (of Israel) began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab.   They invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.   So Israel was joined to Baal of Peor, and the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel.”


Baal was a common name for the heathen idols.    Baal means lord, or master, or owner.

Sometimes the name of Baal was connected to a specific region.   We read for example of a place called Baal Hazor – 2 Sam. 13: 23.   And we read of Mount Baal Hermon – Judges 3: 3

And here in our text we read of Baal Peor.   Peor was the mountain from which Balaam tried to curse Israel (Num. 23: 28).   It was here at Baal Peor that God proved His love and covenant faithfulness towards Israel when He did not allow Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel; but it was also here at Baal Peor that Israel, from their side, became unfaithful to the Lord and broke His covenant, joining themselves to Baal of Peor.


It was then that the fierce anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel.   The LORD then commanded Moses, saying:


“…Take all the leaders of the people and hang the offenders before the LORD, out in the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” – verse 4


Our translation says that the leaders of the people had to hang the offenders.

However, the Hebrew text says: “Take the leaders of the people and hang them…”

The leaders had to be hung.   That is: the leaders who partook in the harlotry and idolatry at Baal Peor.   Instead of setting a godly example these leaders in Israel took the lead in joining themselves to Baal.   As the rest of the people were looking up to their example, and easily followed like sheep, the responsibility of these leaders was therefore greater.   And thus the LORD commands that these unfaithful leaders, who joined themselves to Baal, had to be killed and hung in public, so that the rest may see and fear, and not follow their example.


“So Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Every one of you kill his men who were joined to Baal of Peor.” – verse 5


The judges had to slay these unfaithful leaders, and then had to hang their bodies in public for everyone to see.


So then, what exactly was the transgression of these men who joined themselves to Baal of Peor?

First they were enticed to befriend the Moab women. 

The LORD has put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.

God has separated His people from the world.   It is a separation which is also upheld in the New Testament.   And whenever this separation is denied harlotry and idolatry follows.

We think for example of the words of James where he says:


“Adulterers and adulteresses!   Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity against God?   Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” – James 4: 4


We are either on God’s side, or on the side of this world.   We cannot be on both sides.

Whoever tries to be on both sides becomes an adulterer, unfaithful to the marriage covenant with LORD.


Or think of that passage where the Lord calls His people in the New Testament to come out of Babylon, saying:


“Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.” – Rev. 18: 4.


When the men of Israel started to befriend the woman of Moab, apostasy was bound to follow.   And so it happened there at Peor that Israel became joined to Baal.   Literally the Hebrew text says: Israel was yoked to Baal Peor.   The apostle Paul uses the same image of a yoke when he says to the church at Corinth:


“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers…what part has a believer with an unbeliever? ... ‘Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord.   Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you.   I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty’.   Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” – 2 Cor. 6: 14 through to chapter 7: 1


There we find the same instruction to the church in the New Testament, which was so often repeated in the Old Testament, and clearly displayed in the history of Baal Peor.


These Moabite women, then, invited the men of Israel to come and feast with them.   It was certainly not from the start the intention of these Israelite men to go and join themselves to Baal, but they were drawn in bit by bit.   There at the feast the pretty young women of Moab would be dancing, half naked.    They tempted the men of Israel to have intercourse with them, and harlotry followed.  

At the same feast animals were also slaughtered as sacrifices to Baal.   And the meat of these sacrifices served as food at the feast.   By eating the meat Israel partook in the sacrifices to Baal.   And as part of the rituals, they also bowed down to Baal.


It went from one sin to the next: first the friendship with the Moabite woman, then sexual immorality, and once they were joined to the daughters of Moab in this way, participation in their idolatry was bound to follow.


Yes, they were enticed bit by bit, and not without the scheming and plotting of the princes of Moab and Midian.   And so it happened that Israel’s own lust and their harlotry became the means by which they were drawn into idolatry, to worship other gods.  


In the broader context we see how the LORD kept His covenant with Israel here at Baal Peor in the case of Balaam; how the LORD remained faithful to His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to bless them and their descendants, and how He did not allow their enemies to curse them.   But then it happens that many in Israel, on their part, broke the covenant and were cut off.


The scheme devised by Balaam and implemented by Balak and the princes of Midian, also had a stage 2.   Not only did the daughters of Moab and Midian invite the men of Israel over to their feast, but afterwards entered the gathering of Israel to continue their harlotry within the holy gathering of the LORD.   It is then that we read about the holy zeal of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, who was zealous to hallow God’s Name in the midst of the apostasy and amalgamation.


We note this in the second place…


The holy zeal of Phinehas


It happens at the tabernacle.  

The congregation of Israel is gathered before the entrance of the tabernacle.   They are there weeping before the LORD, terrified by what happened and by the plague of the LORD which has already started in the camp.  

Then a man comes walking to the front.   They know this man.   He is a very prominent leader from the tribe of Simeon.   His name is Zimri.   He comes and brings a Midianite woman and presents her to his brethren.   Moses and the whole gathering, gathered there in front of the tabernacle, are watching.   Her name is Cozbi.   She is a princess of Midian, the daughter Zur, a head and a leader in Midian, a king, as we read in chapter 31: 8.

She was among the royalty, the best trophy among the daughters of the land! 

Before the eyes of the gathering Zimri then takes this Midianite woman into his tent.

Our translation speaks in verse 8 of “the tent”, but the Hebrew text uses here an exceptional word which may also be translated inner room, or bedroom.

Zimri took her into his tent to continue the fornication which has already aroused the wrath of the LORD!


The LORD has already commanded that these leaders had to be put to death.

And the LORD has already sent a plague among the gathering of Israel.   Thousands were dying in the plague.   And now this man, in spite of God’s display of wrath and punishment, does not only continue with the fornication, but makes it a public event by first presenting this Midianite woman to the congregation in front of the tabernacle before the eyes of Moses and the whole gathering, and then takes her into his tent.


He has no fear for the LORD and no fear for the judgements of the LORD.

He is indeed brave in committing evil.  

Maybe, because of his high position as leader among the tribe of Simeon he thought that no one would dare to touch him.  

He has no shame and no fear, even while thousands are being slain by the LORD all around him!

This man openly despised the LORD and His commandments.   He was openly teasing the LORD.


At first it may seem to us as if this event happened only by co-incidence.   At first it may seem as if Zimri has simply lost his mind, but at the end of the chapter we read that this event regarding Zimri and Cozbi was the execution of a plan, a “scheme”, devised by the Midianites.   

Cozbi was sent with a purpose.   The sins at Baal-Peor had to be carried into the gathering of Israel.   By doing this before the eyes of the whole congregation, openly practising the fornication and amalgamation with the heathens in the midst of Israel’s gathering, the Name of the LORD would be openly despised.

And that is what happened.


Then Phinehas stood up, took a spear in his hand, went after them, and killed them.   And the plague stopped.   The plague stopped because of what Phinehas has done.


Dear congregation, Phinehas did not act on his own initiative.   He obeyed the LORD’s command.   The LORD has already instructed the judges to slay these unfaithful leaders.  Phinehas, the son of the high priest, was one of the judges who had to execute the LORD’s command.  

Also in the case of the golden calf we read that it was the Levites who sided with the LORD and were commanded to kill the transgressors – Ex. 32: 26 – 28.

Phinehas acted in obedience to the LORD’s command, and he did so with great zeal for the LORD to hallow the LORD’s Name, and to remove this great offence from the midst of Israel.


Then the LORD said to Moses:


“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.” – verse 11


Phinehas sided with the LORD.   He made the LORD’s zeal his own.  

Phinehas revealed the same Spirit which was also in Christ.   When Jesus saw that men were selling the sacrificial animals in the temple, He acted with holy zeal and drove them out with a whip, and poured out their money, and overturned their tables – He did so with holy zeal.

It is the holy zeal and the holy indignation of each true believer when God’s Name is dishonoured.

It is the holy zeal that characterised each reformer in times of church deformation.

It is the zeal of all the saints to upheld the honour and holiness of the Lord’s Name, when His name is being defiled.


The LORD says of Phinehas:  “he was zealous with My zeal”.   It was not the zeal of Phinehas; it was the LORD’s zeal that filled Phinehas.

It is a proof of the love and respect which Phinehas had for the LORD.   His love for the LORD was strong enough to side with the LORD and to stand up against the enemies of the LORD.


Dear congregation, Phinehas was not a harsh man without love.   Instead, he knew what true love means.   Whoever loves the LORD also fears and honour Him.   Whoever loves the LORD hates all evil (Ps. 97: 10).   Yes, whoever loves the LORD hates everything that brings dishonour on the LORD’s Name.   Whoever loves the LORD has a holy zeal for the LORD and for the holiness of His Name.

Love for the LORD also means that you obey the LORD and execute church discipline on His command.


Dear brother, sister, do you still become angry when the Name of the LORD is blasphemed?   Are you consumed with zeal when the Word of the LORD is being despised and exchanged for manmade religion, which is idolatry?

Or has the zeal of the LORD, and the zeal of Phinehas, maybe become a strange concept to us?

Are you still able to say with the LORD: Blessed is Phinehas the son of Eleazar!


Can you still say with David: “I hate the assembly of evildoers…” – Ps. 26: 5

Are you still able to say with David: “I hate the double-minded, but I love Your law” – Ps. 119: 113

Are you one spirit with David where he says:


“Do I not hate them, O  LORD, who hate You?   And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?   I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.” – Ps. 139: 21, 22


“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil…” – Prov. 8: 13


Brothers and sisters, do not say this is Old Testament theology.   There is no Old Testament theology and New Testament theology.   The Bible is one.   God has not changed.   Neither did we receive a different Spirit than these saints of old.  

Also in the New Testament the LORD recommend the church of Ephesus for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, saying:


“But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” –

Rev. 2: 6


We have to hate what the LORD hates.   We have to love what He loves.   The zeal of the LORD must also become our zeal.


Dear congregation, we live in a time of harlotry and idolatry – physically and also spiritually.   Baal of Peor can be seen all around us.   It has infiltrated many churches.   The enmity between church and world is disappearing, and the need for separation from the world is being more and more denied.

The sons of Israel are joining themselves to the daughters of Moab, and to the gods of this world.   In short, many churches are conforming to the world around us; the church worldwide is in a state of deformation.   


Like Zimri, the unfaithful leaders are no longer able to blush, and they have no fear for the judgments of the Lord.  

Church leaders, even theologians and professors, promote sexual immorality.   In many churches young men and women are allowed to live together without marrying, without church discipline.    In many churches homosexualism is being defended and accepted.  

Church leaders tell us that we are not able to know the truth of God’s Word, that the truth of God is something mysterious beyond our reach, and that the Bible is unclear, and that the Bible needs re-interpretation to suite our own time and culture.   They call conformity to this world a positive development of emancipation!  

Yes, these are church leaders also in Reformed churches!

Baal-Peor is not far remote; it is also in our midst.

We will only stand, and remain standing, if the holy indignation and zeal of the LORD also fills our hearts.


We will only be a blessing to the church, as Phinehas was a blessing to the congregation of Israel, if we make the zeal of the LORD also our zeal.



Let us note, in the last place…


The LORD’s promise to Phinehas


“Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal.   Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace; and it shall be to him and his descendants after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for His God, and made atonement for the children of Israel.” – verses 11-13


This promise or covenant with Phinehas was not new.   The Lord gave this promise already to Aaron and his sons, that they may serve throughout the generations as priests before Him.   But now the LORD confirms the promise with Phinehas.


A few centuries later the LORD said to Eli, the high priest:


“… ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever’.   But now the LORD says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honour Me I will honour, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.   Behold, the days are coming that I will cut off your arm and the arm of your father’s house…” – 1 Sam. 2: 30, 31


The LORD will honour those who honour Him and confirm them in His grace, but the covenant breakers are cut off.

And therefore it is no vain repetition of God’s covenant promises when He repeats and confirms it to us, for He does not confirm it to those who despise His Name.


Dear congregation, this covenant with Phinehas had its first fulfilment in the history of Israel in the Old Testament.   But its fulfilment is even more glorious in the New Testament.   Our Lord Jesus Christ has become the faithful High Priest who made atonement for His people.   To Him the Father swore with an oath that He will be priest forever.

In Him the zeal of the LORD was present in full measure, and He will execute judgement on the enemies of the Lord and on the enemies of His church.

Yes, we are comforted by His priesthood.

But also: He has made us priests of God – as we read for example in Rev. 1: 6.  

Through Christ we may serve as priests before God forever.  


God has made His covenant of peace with us in Christ.   And He will confirm His promise to those who fear Him.


Congregation, let us write this history in our hearts, lest we also become ensnared by the lusts and idolatries of this world.   Let us not try to erase the enmity which God has placed between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent; let us not seek conformity to this world, but flee it fornications and idolatries.

Today we do not have idols called Baals, but we are surrounded by the greed for money and the pleasures and the lusts and the temptations of this world, by which Satan tries to entice us to be yoked to this world and the people of this world.


Congregation, let us flee from sexual immorality and the lusts of this world.   For we are God’s holy people, redeemed by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Redeemed – not to continue in sin, but to glorify God by a new life of godliness and holiness.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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