By Dr. Mark Scott
In this Thanksgiving month we continue our study of our covenant with God. This month we will study how God’s people did or did not keep the covenant, how God planned to initiate a new covenant, how Jesus is the mediator of that new covenant, and how communion reminds us of that new covenant. One thing we can count on in both testaments: God keeps his word and acts in solidarity with his character.
Honoring God Leads to Vindication
The larger backdrop to this paragraph of vindication is Numbers 22-24. The leader of Moab was Balak. He was afraid of Israel’s advance on the land of Canaan. He secured the prophetic services of Balaam to curse Israel. His plan backfired as Balaam blessed Israel instead. But at some level Balaam caved in, and what he did was labeled an “error” in the New Testament (Jude 11). God’s people acted unfaithfully toward their faithful God.
Spirituality and sexuality have always been related (Genesis 2:18-25), and it is no different in our text. Israel was encamped at Shittim before crossing over the Jordan River. The Moabites seduced Israel to worship their god Baal. One Israelite man, in brazen defiance of the Ten Commandments, took a Moabite woman and was intimate with her “in the presence of” his family, Moses, and the whole congregation of Israel (Numbers 25:1-6).
Phinehas, who was the grandson of Aaron, could stand no more. In holy anger he came right into their bed of defilement and stabbed the unholy couple through with his spear. As ugly as that act seemed, God regarded the bloodshed as atonement, stopped the plague at only 24,000, and vindicated Phinehas. This violent act turned away (averted or turned back) God’s wrath. In this salvific act Phinehas made atonement (covered) for Israel (Numbers 25:7-9).
Bringing about forgiveness can be bloody business (Hebrews 9:22). Phinehas’s zeal was for the honor of his God. The NIV uses the word zealous twice and the word honor twice (Numbers 25:11, 13). The English Standard Version is consistent in translating the Hebrew word qin’ah all four times as “jealous.” God is jealous (in fact, that is one of his names, Exodus 34:14). There is a godly kind of jealousy, and Phinehas had it. The result of it was the plague being stopped, the people being forgiven, and Phinehas’ descendants enjoying peace and a perpetual priesthood.
Dishonoring God Leads to Disdain
1 Samuel 2:30-36
Fast-forward a few hundred years. Once again God’s honor was at stake, and God’s covenant was compromised. Israel now occupied most of the land of Canaan and had endured the era of the Judges. A new day was dawning as Samuel was being groomed to be God’s prophet. But there were problems in the parsonage. Eli had served as God’s high priest. His sons, Hophni and Phinehas (not as noble as his namesake mentioned earlier), were corrupt. Their sins of greed and immorality were identified in 1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22-25. An unnamed prophet came to Eli and reminded the old priest that his family was chosen but sinful (1 Samuel 2:27-29).
God had promised that Eli and his family would serve God forever. The Hebrew word translated “forever” is the word olam. While it can mean, “time unending,” it can also mean “a long time.” God’s character is not on the line if he chooses to withdraw a seeming forever promise. God withdrew his promise from Eli and his family because his household did not honor (a form of the word for “glorify”) God. In fact, Eli’s household “despised” God to the point that God disdained (cursed or did not esteem) it.
Six signs of God’s disdain for Eli’s house are mentioned: (1) Life will be shortened (mentioned in some way at least four times in the text). (2) Distress will be witnessed. (3) Service will be cut off. (4) Sons will die on the same day. (5) A faithful priest will be raised up in contrast to Eli. (6) Eli’s family will beg bread from the new priest’s (Zadok’s) family. God is faithful even to the dark side of the covenant.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2013, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.