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B'Midbar/Numbers 25:11 Pinchas ... turned back My wrath from upon the Children of Israel when he was zealous with My zeal among them
This statement - fromHaShem - comes at the start of this parasha, although it refers to the incident in the closing verses of the previous parasha: Balak. Pinchas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aharon, has taken a spear and pierced through one of the princes of Israel and a princess of Midian as they were engaged in intercourse in his tent in the middle of the Israelite camp. The commentators all claim that Moshe and the elders of Israel who witnessed the killing were about to rebuke Pinchas severely for his rash display of anger, which took no account of due process, judges or any other legal niceties, when HaShem spoke in order to affirm Pinchas and his action as being appropriate.
RabbiHirsch puts these words into HaShem's mouth: "[Pinchas] asserted My Rights and made them respected among the people, and thereby saved the whole nation from the destruction into which they would irrevocably fallen had I been forced to assert My Rights Myself". It is if he sees Pinchas' action being enough to preempt HaShem Himself from having to take action. Already, we know from the previous verses, that Israel had been entrapped into sexual immorality and idolatry by the Midianite women and HaShem had charged Moshe and the elders with putting a stop to it in no uncertain terms: "The L-RD said to Moshe, 'Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the L-RD, so that the LORD's wrath may turn away from Israel'" (B'Midbar 25:4, JPS). Yet the commentators suggest that nothing had been done and a plague had broken out amongst the people (vv. 8-9), as if HaShem's anger had started breaking through. Pinchas's action, then, was a small but sharp demonstration of HaShem's zeal and the plague was stopped. Pinchas felt HaShem's zeal and acted that zeal out as if it were his own. The verb shows something of this. It has Pi'el vowels, yet the absence of a dagesh in the nun suggests that it is Qal. The Pi'el meaning of covers actions to demand the rights of someone for whom one is responsible, the Qal meaning speaks of taking to heart someone else's feelings as if they were one's own.
The words of the prophets make it quite clear that G-d's wrath is very real. Not only is it not just an idle threat, but it is active and current: "The L-RD is a passionate, avenging G-d; the L-RD is vengeful and fierce in wrath. The L-RD takes vengeance on His enemies, He rages against His foes" (Nahum 1:2, JPS). G-d's wrath is not reserved solely for Israel, but is equally to be shared by the nations: "'Therefore wait for Me,' declares the L-RD, 'for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out My wrath on them -- all My fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire'" (Zephaniah 3:8, NIV). All the nations, all the peoples, will be affected by and subject to G-d's wrath. This is for two principle reasons: firstly, their attitude towards and hatred of Israel, His chosen sign people; and secondly, their consistent and persistent rebellion against His rule and authority.
While people may claim ignorance as an excuse, the Scriptures make both the existence and nature of G-d very clear. Reading the Bible, however, is not necessary; nature itself is a witness: "The heavens declare the glory of G-d, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1, ESV); this witness is available to everyone, from the bowler-hatted and pin-striped city executive to the furthest reaches of jungle exploration - even to the lost tribes or those deliberately isolated and declared inviolate1! G-d's creation touches every life in a positive and constructive way so that man should notice and be aware: "Yet He did not leave Himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (Acts 14:17, ESV). In spite of His grace, mankind frequently chooses to deny the truth of G-d; not merely for themselves but to others as well. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about G-d is plain to them, because G-d has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Romans 1:18-20, ESV).
Full of compassion and not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9), G-d needed someone who, like Pinchas, would turn away G-d's wrath from the Jewish people at the time of the Babylonian exile: "'And I searched for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,' declares the L-rd G-d" (Ezekiel 22:30-31, NASB).
On two separate occasions, in almost identical words, the prophet Isaiah records what happens next. "And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought salvation to Him; and His righteousness upheld Him" (Isaiah 59:16, NASB) and "And I looked, and there was no one to help, and I was astonished and there was no one to uphold; so My own arm brought salvation to Me; and My wrath upheld Me" (Isaiah 63:5, NASB). The first time, the prophet speaks about G-d; the second time, he speaks for G-d. What man could not do, G-d did: He brought about salvation. He Himself became the Saviour and made salvation available to men if they would receive it. This salvation is to be found in Yeshua: "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36, ESV). The wrath of G-d that has been poured out remains on anyone who will not believe in and obey the Son.
It seems, in these days of gathering darkness, as authors, church leaders and theologians debate which of the seven bowls of G-d's wrath (cf. Revelation 16) have already been - or are about to be - poured out upon the earth, that the subject of wrath is upon many lips. People feel insecure, uncertain of where they stand; the popular "Left Behind" series of books has sold millions of copies; the western world dabbles with New Age and other forms of spirituality in an effort to discover the truth, while entire nations or people groups are starving for lack of food and water. Indictments are filed in international courts to transport national and armed forces leaders half way round the globe for war-crimes trials costing millions in legal fees and expenses; elderly and decrepit dictators hang onto the last vestiges of their dying power at the expense of thousands of lives, while world leaders seem incapable of putting a speedy end to the human suffering. Is Nero fiddling while Rome is burning? Surely the wrath of G-d is upon the nations.
The Psalmist has the answer: "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him" (Psalm 2:12, ESV). Only in Yeshua will we find peace and an end to the conflict in the world. Only in Him can the wrath of G-d be turned aside and the love of G-d towards us in Messiah be revealed.
'Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live
1 - Over 68 "lost" tribes, possibly numbering 2,000 or more people, probably part of the pano language group, are known to exist in the Amazon rain forest area, where it is the Brazilian government's policy to prevent invasion of their territory and preserve their autonomy.
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 11:2; Colossians 3:5-11
Application: Are you living in the wrath of G-d or the knowledge and love of Yeshua? Don't delay or think that you can leave it until later - there is no time like the present and 'later' may never come!
© Jonathan Allen, 2011
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