But Phinehas stood and intervened, and the plague was restrained.
Numbers 25:11-13.) "Phinehas, himself perhaps a judge in authority, became the type of a righteous zeal, exercising summary vengeance, informal and unbidden, against outrage on decency and on reverence for God" (Dr. Barry). "It is a picture of the one zealous man rising up from the midst of the inactive multitude, who sit still and make no effort." The incident occurred toward the close of the wanderings, when the Israelites were in the neighbourhood of Moab. Unable to gain the right to curse Israel - as Balsam wished, and as it would have paid him well to do - Balsam persuaded King Balak to allow free intercourse between his people and them. "Let the Israelites fall into immorality and sin, and then their God will destroy them, and your end will be accomplished." The scheme succeeded. The vice and iniquity of Israel was full in God's sight, and the immediate execution of the Divine judgment was commanded. Some great public act of vindication was called for; such a manifest upholding of the Divine authority and holiness as would make a sin-cover, occupy the Divine attention, gain the Divine approval, and be a basis on which judgment might be stayed. Phinehas was the man to do it. A flagrant case of unlawful intercourse had occurred, and when he saw the wicked couple he "rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel."
I. PHINEHAS WAS ZEALOUS FOR THE HONOUR OF JEHOVAH.
II. HIS PUBLIC ACT OF VINDICATION MADE A SIN-COVER.
III. BECAUSE OF THAT SIN-COVER, JEHOVAH'S JUDGMENT MIGHT BE STAYED. See, then, what we must look for in the great atonement, made for us by the Son of God, is some fitting vindication of the outraged honour of God our Father, and so restored relations. Reconciliation can only come with solemn honouring of God's authority and claim by some public act of loyalty. Scripture presents to us different things that made atonement. A man's prayer made atonement (case of Moses). An act of official duty made atonement (case of Aaron). An act of judgment made atonement (case of Phinehas). We are left to think what act of Christ's made atonement for us all. - R.T.
I. THE PLEASANT LAND. Palestine was a country in many views highly desirable — in itself compact, and possessing special facilities of commerce with Asia, Africa, and Europe, all the known quarters of the globe. As to its intrinsic character, we have it portrayed in Deuteronomy 8:7-9. Palestine, in all the glory of culture, must have been a "pleasant land." We know, however, that this country, with all its distinguishing institutions, formed but a shadow of better things to come; and it becomes us now to be enjoying a land still more pleasant. The Kingdom of God has come to many thousands, has come with power; and its blessings, to which those of Judea were not for a moment to be compared, are brought nigh to the remotest and most unworthy. Its inhabitants He hath delivered from the curse of the law, being made a curse for them. Their depraved and perverse hearts He renovates by the agency of His good Spirit, purifying them unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. Whatever fightings they may have, they have peace with God; whatever vicissitudes, an immovable kingdom; whatever sorrows, everlasting consolation; whatever poverty, unsearchable riches; whatever disappointments and repulses, victory at last over sin and death and the grave. But I would point you to another land, in which the emblem of the text finds a more perfect accomplishment. True, we are here favoured with a morning, and the morning star shines bright: yet it is only the morning, and the shadows of the night largely intermingle with the dawning of the day. But in that "better country which is an heavenly," sunshine is qualified by shadow no longer. There Jesus appears in all that glory which He had with the Father before the world was — the distinctive glory of mediatorial triumph and recompense enhancing His Divine effulgence — and "the nations of them that are saved do walk in His light."
Yea, they despised the pleasant land.
Homilist.I. THE AWFUL PERSISTENCY OF SIN (vers. 24, 25, 28). You may reason with the sinner, convince him both of the folly and wrongness of his conduct. Trial after trial may come down upon him in consequence of his wicked conduct. You may threaten him with the terrors of death and the terrible retribution of the life beyond, still he continues blindly, and madly he pursues his course (Jeremiah 13:23).
II. THE FEARFUL RETRIBUTION OF GOD (ver. 29).
1. It was justly deserved. How great the provocation! The conscience of every sufferer will attest the justice of his fate.
2. It was a warning to others. The punishment that befalls one sinner says to every sinner, "Take care." God punishes, not for the sake of inflicting pain, but for the sake of doing good. It is to arrest the progress of sin, which is a curse to the universe.
III. THE SOCIAL INFLUENCE OF SAINTS (ver. 30). Phinehas interposed as a magistrate to suppress sin and check its progress. This act of his was approved of God as a righteous act. It was rewarded by God by a perpetual priesthood (Numbers 25:10). It is said that "one sinner destroyeth much good," but one saint may destroy more evil. Not until the last day, if then, shall we know the enormous amount of good that one good man may render to his age and even to his race.
II. CONTEMPT OF THE PLEASANT LAND. "Every gift of God is good and nothing to be despised." Nay, not only are manifest mercies to be gratefully acknowledged, but we are forbidden to despise the chastening of the Lord, and enjoined to count it all joy when we fall into manifold temptations or trials. And how, then, can God look upon our conduct without anger when we treat with contempt a promised inheritance? As to the liability to this sin, it might appear that our inheritance being more valuable than that of the ancient and literal Canaan, it would be less readily and less probably disparaged. But alas! the things of God are not so appreciable to natural and unaided perception. The eye sees not their beauty, the ear hears not their melody, the nostrils smell not their odour, the tongue tastes not their deliciousness. We have had samples of heaven itself; its righteousness has come down to us; its celestial truth has been proclaimed to our guilty and perishing world; and humanity has discredited and disrelished all.
III. THE SOURCE OF THE ISRAELITES' CONTEMPT. "They believed not His word." If we had only full confidence in the Saviour, if we but eyed Him with a completion and constancy of trust at all commensurate with His trustworthiness, what distressing apprehensions of Him would vanish, what ravishing views of Him would succeed! How sure would heaven become! We should feel as secure of it as if we were already there, and something like as happy.
(D. King, LL. D.)
1. Because the land is hard to reach. Yes, it is hard, and it is easy: hard if the heart is absorbed by the world, the flesh, and the devil; easy, if the world has once been despised, the flesh once crucified, the devil put to scorn.
2. Others think scorn of that pleasant land because they cannot see it, and therefore hardly believe that it exists at all. If we are only to believe in what we see, there will be but little to believe in. We cannot see the Father or the Son or the Holy Ghost with the human eye; we cannot see the soul; we cannot see that the dead are living: but Jesus taught us, and our conscience teaches us to believe these things; and Jesus taught us also to believe in heaven.
(W. R. Hutton, M.A.)
(A. Maclaren, D.D.)
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