Yet another story of Israel not listening to God and hanging out with the wrong people, going to their sacrifices with them, and allowing themselves to be pulled away. Except, this one goes a bit further.
There was this one dude, right, who just wasn’t sorry, not even when God sent another plague to start killing people. Not only did he refuse to repent, refuse to follow the instructions for reconciliation, but he brought a pagan woman into the camp, right past all the people who were trying to set things right!
That was a bit brazen.
So Phinehas gets a bit angry. He gets a lot angry. He grabs a spear, stands up, and follows the guy to the tent where he… well, Phinehas is able to kill them both with one thrust of the spear, so odds are good they were engaged in an activity that had them pretty close together.
Phinehas is rewarded for this. This isn’t much of a surprise. They had already been ordered to execute the chiefs who had failed their people. What is significant is the wording of the recognition. He was jealous with God’s jealousy. He was aligned with God. His anger was just, righteous. He felt God’s anger.
See, here’s the thing. The consequences for leading people astray haven’t changed between the old testament and the new. Just the timeline. The people of Israel lived when other nations worshiped other gods, and that worship involved sacrifices, sometimes human sacrifices, sometimes the sacrifice of children. The people of Israel were meant to demonstrate visibly the power of the true God, the supremacy of the true God. Israel was to draw attention, make a point, be an illustration, herald the coming of Christ. When that message was muddied, it was a BIG DEAL.
Then Christ came. He served as the ultimate sacrifice, fulfilled the need for sacrifice once and for all. With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the work of sanctification was internalized. No more need for the ritual cleanliness required to enter holy space because we became the holy space. It is inside our hearts and spirits that are to be clean, full of love and life rather than corruption and death. The message was delivered. The law was fulfilled.
The consequences for leading people away from God are still devastating, but rather than being immediate and visible, they are ultimate and personal. God is no less angry now than he was then, any more than he was less merciful then than he is now. Don’t lead his children astray. He has a special anger for that. Don’t explicitly defy him. He is jealous.