who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
The story of Pinchas in the text of Numbers 25 has dangerous ramifications. People read the story and too easily decide that they are to exercise Pinchas-like zeal and start excommunicating people whom they defined as 'idolaters in the land'. Sad to say in the end, more people and families are broken due to ignorance and spiritual pride rather than by the type of zeal God would have us display. God may have vindicated Matthias' the Priest efforts (1 Maccabees 2:26), but on the other hand, Paul's zeal to persecute and destroy the followers of the Rabbi from Nazareth was evidently misplaced (Philippians 3:6).
It is important to remember the context of the actions reported to us in Numbers 25. This judgment was executed on someone who was totally aware of their Torah responsibility, which cannot be said of most people today, even Israelites. These actions were also done in public by a leader of Israel. Thus it represented not only an act of total arrogance, rebellion, defiance, and disobedience, but also of negative influence on the people.
The context of the time Israel spent in the desert was that of boot camp training of our nation, a training experience that was to become a reference point all the way to us believers today (1 Corinthians 10:6). In the military for example, boot camp training is hard, tough, and merciless. Whereas boot camp doesn't represent the exact 100% lifestyle of a soldier, it is a time to strengthen, train, and teach, as well as establish proper reference point in a soldier's life. In the same manner, in the desert, Israel was a nation in spiritual boot camp to establish reference points for the generations to come, even for us today. Reading through the text, we are told of a man stoned to death for breaking the Sabbath, of the earth swallowing thousands for challenging God ordained and appointed leadership, and of invasions of snakes for people murmuring and complaining for lack of basic needs such as food and water in a dry and desertic place. I doubt any of us would do better under the same conditions.
The actions of that prince of Israel represented a total challenge to Moses' leadership and to God, and that in full view of everyone. Whereas challenging Moses' leadership carried the same repercussion as challenging Messiah, it is certainly not the same as challenging the leadership and teaching of any other congregational leader, especially when self-appointed, which seems to often be the case.
We are to show zeal for God, but may we follow the example of those early believers in Jerusalem. At a time when God seemed to increase the congregation of believers both in numbers and influence, James reports that they were all zealous for the Torah (Acts 21:20). May live according to the wishes of our beloved Rabbi, Yeshua from Nazareth, who wants nothing more that we be zealous in our obedience to His commandments (Philippians 2:14). Finally. May we follow the example of the zealousness of the One who exceeded Pinchas' zealousness and died for us that we may live.