And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. (Nu 25:6-8 ESV)
As Israel was coming to the end of their time in the wilderness they camped next to Moab who acted cunningly to bring down Israel. First, Balaak hires Balaam to curse them. That didn’t work, however, as Balaam only spoke what God allowed and instead pronounced blessing. So Balaam took a different tact and sent women in to seduce the men thinking that he could bring God’s wrath on them that way. It worked, to a degree. Many men were whoring with the women and joining them in their worship of Baal, believed to be their god by the people in Canaan. This brought a plague upon the people for their sin. But Phinehas acted quickly when he saw the blatant step that one man had taken. It was a rebellious act, in the open, against the God of Israel. Phinehas killed them both and stopped the plague. It is an Old Testament example of the seriousness of sin and the need “to expel the immoral brother from your midst.” These were the apostle Paul’s words too to the church in Corinth. He didn’t have in mind death, as Phinehas did, but casting them “outside the camp” as it were by expelling them from the church. God takes sin seriously and when we find the actions of Phinehas and the instruction of Paul harsh, it shows that we don’t really understand how abhorrent sin is.
If you think forward a bit, God was giving Israel a Promised Land in which they would be a blessed people, living in shalom, where there were “no poor among them.” The guiding thought would be the love of God and the love of neighbor. If sin were allowed, this would not be possible. So we should be eager to see sin dealt with and cast off, even and perhaps especially, within ourselves.
Have you ever seen church discipline practiced to this degree (Paul’s rather than Phinehas)?
Chronological Reading Plan plus Psalms: Num 23-25, Ps 64