Phinehas: Maintaining the unity of the Spirit
B. Charles, Consett
Unity is maintained by adherence to the truth, and by conforming to love; this is the basis of what Paul says in Ephesians 4, when he speaks of seven foundation stones of truth, 'one body, and one spirit . . . one hope . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father'; but prefaces it with five aspects of conduct: 'lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, love'. Unity is broken when there is no agreement on doctrine, no holding fast to sound doctrine; and equally when there is an absence of love. However, at the heart of it all is the Lord - the centre of Paul's list in verses 3-6. We must above all hold fast to the Head. No effort is to be spared to maintain this unity; we must be diligent to preserve it. A consideration of the life of Phinehas throws light on this. We shall look at three incidents in his life.
1. Numbers 25. 1-13
Here we have a positive, decisive and determined action. Israel joined itself to Baal-peor. Sacrifices to false gods are being engaged in. Despite Moses' stern words against it, an Israelite man blatantly ignores them and brings a Midianite woman to the camp. Phinehas immediately takes a javelin and puts them both to death. He does this in order to keep Israel free from evil influences; to keep Israel separated to the Lord. Leaders especially are responsible to see that the local church is kept free from evil: leaven must be removed. An example of this is seen in 1 Corinthians 5. Separation from evil is an important principle; and also he was zealous for his God, see Psalm 106. 28-31.
2. Joshua 22. 9-34
In this incident we see the two-and-a-half tribes who settled on the east of the Jordan erect an altar; an altar of witness, not an altar of sacrifice. Their action is misunderstood by the other tribes, who jumping to wrong conclusions amass an army in order to redress the wrong. They arrive over the Jordan to confront the two-and-a-half tribes over the issue. Here a potentially explosive situation is defused by spiritual wisdom on the part of Phinehas, who listened to their side, Prov. 18. 13, 17. Thus unity was preserved by spiritual wisdom, James 3. 13-18; especially vv. 17-18.
3. Judges 20. 1-48
In this our final example we see a more difficult and sad situation develop. This time evil has been committed: a man's concubine is abused and killed; and what is worse, the tribe, Benjamin, to whom Gibeah belongs (where the evil was committed), refuse to judge the culprits and actually side with them, v. 13; and engage in battle with the rest of Israel, v. 14. We have unjudged evil.
In addition, the attitude of Israel is not what it should be for they have disassociated themselves from the Benjaminites and in effect divided the body of Israel, 'what wickedness is this that is done among you?, v. 12, when the right pronoun is surely 'us'. Who would want to deal with this? Someone clearly has to - Phinehas, a priestly man who has been in the sanctuary, vv. 27-28. As the chapter unfolds we see two important factors, two motives in this godly man:
(i) His love for the people of God
He recognizes one nation, one body. In verse 23 we read, 'shall I go up again to battle against Benjamin my brother!' This principle is seen when the temple is rebuilt under Joshua and Zerubbabel and twelve he-goats are offered as 'a sin-offering for all Israel', despite the division of the kingdom, the apostasy of Israel and its captivity, and the presence in Babylon of most of Judah, Ezra 6. 17. So Phinehas endeavours to maintain unity; in verse 26 we see all the children of Israel, and all the people, weeping.
(ii) His honouring of the Lord
In this dark condition of things, so dishonouring to God, we might well have expected sin offerings to be offered by Phinehas. What we actually witness however are burnt offerings and peace offerings, v. 26. What does this tell us? We see God given His rightful place and portion: worship is engaged in. For us today, the exaltation of the Lord Jesus is to take prior claim over everything else, no matter what the conditions around. Whatever the condition of the world, whatever the condition of the church as a whole, our responsibility is to worship God the Father, and to honour His Son; and therefore, for instance, to continue breaking bread. All His people around the Lord is true unity: it is pictured here as the offerings are placed on the altar.
This is what Phinehas surely sought to do in his lifetime: to maintain the unity of the Spirit in Israel, by separating them from evil, by being wise spiritually, by promoting love amongst God's people, by bringing the people together in worship and in honouring God; and in doing this he was zealous.