פינחס בן־אלעזר בן־אהרן הכהן השׁיב את־חמתי מעל בני־ישׂראל בקנאו את־קנאתי בתוכם ולא־כליתי את־בני־ישׂראל בקנאתי׃
Adonai said to Moshe, "Pinchas the son of El`azar, the son of Aharon the cohen, has deflected my anger from the people of Isra'el by being as zealous as I am, so that I didn't destroy them in my own zeal.
(Num 25:10-11 CJB)
ONLY SOMEONE FILLED WITH HASHEM'S LOVE FOR HIS PEOPLE CAN TRULY BE ZEALOUS FOR HIS HONOR.
The Problem with the Story of Pinchas.
This story (of Pincha's) can have disastrous effects as it seems to promote a vigilante type of religiosity where someone feels justified, without due process of law, to take God's justice in his own hands and kill those whom he considers to be idolaters bringing evil on the community. This has the secondary effect of rationalizing and legitimizing murder, as well as other acts of bigotry and hatred. Sad to say, history tells us that many religious people including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and buddhists have been guilty of such behavior, some even until this day. But what is it that motivated Pinchas? Was it the proud, spiritually arrogant and self-righteous anger of man, or was it true love for His people? It is very important to make the difference between the two!
From Nimrod to Pharaoh; going through Haman, Antiochus Epiphanes, and Nero; continuing with the Catholic Inquisition; the Crusades; the Protestant Peasants' War in Germany; the European murderous conflicts between Catholics and Protestants; all the way to the Western enslavement of the blacks; to the attempted genocide of the Jews; to the wars in Bosnia; in Sudan; and today's insane extremists; history is filled with people who justify heinous murder by covering it with a cloak of religiosity so-called! Many people also use the story of Pinchas as a justification for their bigoted hatred, but were Pinchas' actions those of a hateful and self-righteous angry religious bigot?
Misapplying Bible Stories.
Let's take another example. The command for the Children of Israel to conquer the Land of Cana'an; to occupy it as well as to destroy the idolatrous temples that filled it (not the people), has also often been used by new religious movements against the body of believers they emerged from and disagreed with. In their eyes, the nascent group suddenly becomes Israel and the entity they come out from becomes Egypt. Even the people who came out of Europe to populate America saw themselves as the Children of Israel crossing the sea instead of the desert, in order to come to the New World: the Promised Land. But this commandment to go into the Promised Land was given at a certain time, to a certain people, for a certain purpose, and is not to be taken as a cosmic modus operandi by everyone who suddenly think that they own the 'truth' while everyone else lives in the lies of idolatry.
The stories in the Torah have to be read in wisdom, balancing one with the other. If we don't, we will suddenly believe that like Abraham it is honorable to sacrifice our children for God (or to neglect them for the sake of the service of God), or do like Jephta who offered his daughter as a thanksgiving to God for winning the war. We will even start promoting polygamy like King Solomon, as well as slavery. The stories in the Tanach are meant to teach us principles; principles that serve as parameters to help us lead our lives today. Reading them with wisdom means to find the golden principles embedded in them. Reading them with wisdom also means to compare story with story; parable with parable; statement with statement; commandment with commandment; and balancing scripture with scripture. Another good thing to do is to read the commentaries of the contemporaries of these parable. This helps us to understand them within their own rights, their own perspective instead of ours today.
Personal Impulses vs the Leading of the Spirit.
Abraham knew the difference between his own impulses and HaShem's leadings. When he arrived in Cana'an from Ur, the patriarch saw that the Land was already occupied. Though he had received a divine oracle telling him that it was his to possess, he did not go forcefully to conquer it but instead went to Egypt in order to come back at a more opportune time. That's the instruction he received at the time.
But later, when the five kings came to conquer that very land that was his by divine right, he did not go by yesterday's information but gathered an army to protect it, as well as to preserve his kin. His cues came from the direct command of God at the time and place of action. In each situation, Abraham reset the equation so to speak, and tried to find out what it is that he was supposed to do at the time. As believers, we must do the same.
Getting the rights Cues.
As for us today, we must also be sure that we get our cues from the right place. When faced with any given situation, we cannot always rely on the information of the past. We need to reset the equation and be sure to be led by the Spirit. So the question is, as believers, as disciples of the Master, how do we make our decisions? Where do our cues come from? From Pinchas? Joshua? The words of King David? Solomon? Jeremiah? Mattatias Maccabeus? If we look hard enough, we can always find something in the Tanach that will justify our own violent and selfish inclinations. But we are not to use the sacred texts as justifications for what we want to do or even believe in doing. We need to pattern ourselves after the Word not have the Word pattern itself to us. When faced with war, the Children of Israel were sometimes told to go to war, defend themselves and annihilate whole civilizations. But at other times, they were told to not get ready for war but to send their worship leaders to confront the enemy. And yet, in other situations, they were told to either stay put, not do anything, or even to surrender to the enemy. They had to get their cues for the day itself and not rely on past information.
Our Cues Come From our Commander-in Chief!
As believers, our Commander-in Chief is Yeshua. He is the Captain of the Armies of God. His emissaries to us are Yochanan, Shaul, Ya'akov, and Keifa of whom we still have letters of instructions, and who promoted the teaching of their and our commander in Chief: Yeshua; Yeshua of whom we still have many words of direction and instruction. To know how to act in these situation concerning the End of Days which started at the advent of the birth, death, and resurrection of our Master until today, we must study the acts and teachings of the Master as well as those of His disciples. Our days and the battles we face are very similar to theirs so their words apply to us. Their words were words of prophecy that concerned their times, and ours.
The Brit haChadasha gives us plenty of information on which to base our decisions, but also Fox's Book of Martyrs, Ecclesiastical History (Eusebius), The Josephus volumes, as well as The Didache have much to offer in order to learn how the disciples handled living in a world much like ours today. This is where we take our cues from.
Pinchas' zeal may have deferred HaShem's anger from Israel in his times, but the zeal of the zealots in the days of the Master blinded the eyes of many to the Mashiach that had come to them. It also caused Jerusalem and the Temple to be destroyed in 70 AD, and Israel to vanish from history for 2000 years.
What is the Difference Then?
The difference might be in the attitude. Pinchas' attitude was one of true love for the people of Israel, while the zealots' was one of spiritual pride, anger, and wrath. It is the difference between a man and a cat. Both want to get rid of the mouse. One is to protect the house and he is satisfied once the mouse is gone while the other does it for the joy and thrill of killing, He will not be satisfied; he will desire to kill another mouse.
Much instructions on how to do with our problems today can be found in the Brit's passages. I will end this midrash with this one statement from Ya'akov, the Master's own brother and leader of the Israeli congregations after Yeshua's departure:
A person's anger does not accomplish God's righteousness! (Jas 1:20 CJB)