Follow Along

Get new posts by email:

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Matt's Messages - Zealous

Life in the Wilderness
July 29, 2007
Numbers 25:1-18

It is so good to be back in this place opening this Word to you this morning!

I have thoroughly enjoyed and profited from my mini-sabbatical. Thank you for allowing it and for praying for me through it.

I was able to thoroughly clean out my office and rearrange my systems for doing my work.

I got rid of 252 books, almost two 30 gallon trash-cans full of paper and old files, and more than 2.2 megabites of files on my computer’s hard drive.

And I also ditched my beard! I’m feeling free!

And excited to get back into “full-tilt ministry.”

And few things are important or exciting in ministry than opening God’s Holy, Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible Word with God’s people. And here we are right back where we left off in Numbers chapter 25.

The theme of Numbers chapter 25 could be summed up in one word: “Zealous.” And I pray that God will birth and build zeal in our hearts through it.

Before we read the story, let’s remember what we’ve seen so far.

Pop Quiz!

Where is Israel right now?

Are they in the Promised Land?

No, not yet.

Are they still in the Sinai Pennisula?

No, not any more. They have gone around Edom and around Moab and are parked across the Jordan from Jericho in a place that is called in verse 1, “Shittim.”

They have conquered the area north of them which is called the Transjordan Area (“Across the Jordan” Area). And they are waiting for God’s direction to head into the Promised Land.

And for the last 3 chapters, they have been the subject of some severe plotting.

Their enemies, Moab and Midian, led by an evil man named Balak have tried to destroy them.

What weapon did they try to use? Do you remember? I know that it’s been more than a month since we read it about.

They tried to use magic! They brought in a pagan magician prophet named...?

Balaam! [Part One, Part Two]

And they tried to pay him to curse Israel. Did it work?

Not a chance. God said that these people were blessed and Balaam was unable to curse them.

However, Moab wasn’t finished with them. And neither was Balaam.

In our chapter for today, Numbers 25, Moab tried a different weapon and got seriously different results.

The new weapon? Sex. Immoral, illegitimate, illicit sex. V.1

“While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods.”

Where magic didn’t work, seduction did.

We’ll find out in Numbers 31 that this was also Balaam’s idea. He knew that he could not bring cursing on Israel from the outside. But he figured out a way for Israel to bring disaster upon itself.

Balaam talked Balak into sending in some loose Moabite women who sweet talked Israelite men into their bedrooms and then into their shrines.

And this sneak-attack worked.

Many of the Israelite men gave in to their seductions and then, even worse, they gave in to idolatry.

“The people ate and bowed down before these gods.” V.3

“So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD's anger burned against them.”

In some ways, this is just as bad as the Retreat of Unbelief that kept them out of the Promised Land. It’s almost worse. Like the Golden Calf episode when Israel broke their covenant with the LORD.

That’s really what they are beginning to do right here.

They are (v.3) “joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.” The King James gets the sense of the Hebrew here by saying instead of “joined”–“yoked.” They are tying themselves to the Baal–the false God of Moab located at Peor instead of the LORD!

No wonder the LORD is angry! V.4

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of these people, kill them and expose them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the LORD's fierce anger may turn away from Israel.’

This is serious stuff. Sexual sin is serious. But even more so, idolatry is very serious.

It’s like cancer. If it is not cut out, it will kill the body.

God demands justice. V.5

“So Moses said to Israel's judges, ‘Each of you must put to death those of your men who have joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.’”

And then the most amazing and scandalous thing happens. V.6

“Then an Israelite man brought to his family a Midianite woman right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.”

This is a flagrant and brazen act showing complete contempt for the LORD.

Right after the LORD told Moses to put people to death that do this sort of thing...

Right after Moses told the judges to put men to death for this sort of thing...

Right before the eyes of Moses and the people who are weeping over the state of their

Right there near or at the Tent of Meeting...

Right then, this man has the gall to bring a Midianite woman right up to his family.

And I think the implication here is that this man is going to have intercourse with this woman where he wants to, even at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

Some scholars believe that this man was initiating forbidden sex that was probably a part of the fertility cult worship of the Tabernacle itself!

And even if it wasn’t in the tabernacle–it was clearly (v.6) “right before the eyes of Moses and the whole assembly of Israel while they were weeping at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.”

This was as wrong as wrong can be.

Enter Phinehas. V.7

“When Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, saw this, he left the assembly, took a spear in his hand and followed the Israelite into the tent. He drove the spear through both of them–through the Israelite and into the woman's body [they were probably embracing]. Then the plague against the Israelites was stopped; but those who died in the plague numbered 24,000.”

Phinehas was not a vigilante or a rogue avenger.

He was a Levite and the son of the High Priest.

What are Levites supposed to do?

One of the things they are supposed to do is to guard the holiness of the Tabernacle.

Remember that from earlier this year? The concentric circles around the Tent of Meeting? And the Levites were to guard the Tabernacle and the people from the Tabernacle.

Phinehas did the right thing. The righteous thing. The zealous thing. V.10

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for [here it is!] he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them. Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.’”

Zeal is a powerful passion for something.

It is caring about something so much that it burns inside of you.

It is being passionate about something so much that it drives you to action.

Phinehas had zeal. He was, according to God (v.13), “zealous for the honor of his God.”

That’s why he did what he did. V.14

“The name of the Israelite who was killed with the Midianite woman was Zimri son of Salu, the leader of a Simeonite family. [A name that goes down in infamy.] And the name of the Midianite woman who was put to death was Cozbi daughter of Zur, a tribal chief of a Midianite family.”

So brazenly bringing her to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting was the first and perverse "Cozbi show!" [Sorry, I couldn’t help that one–I thought about it all week long! ]

It’s really not funny. Her name was Cozbi and she was dead of a spear wound through her stomach. And this is what happened to her people because God takes sin seriously. V.16

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor.’”

Okay, that’s the story. What’s the application?

This is the question that kept coming back to me this week.


Are we passionate about God’s glory?

Are we disturbed when we see sin, especially in our or other Christians’ lives?

Do we have a fire in our belly about the honor of God, so much so that we are moved to do something, even something that seems radical?

Are we zealous for the honor of God?

Are you zealous for God’s honor?

And am I?

We certainly can be zealous about some things.

Have you ever watched a football game?

Guys painting their faces and wearing things on their heads that I wouldn’t be caught dead in! Whooping and hollering!

I can’t go to a sporting event myself on Saturdays or I don’t have voice to preach on Sundays. And I don’t care that much about sports!

What are you passionate about?

Phinehas was passionate, zealous, for the honor of God.

Notice: He saw, he felt, he acted.

He saw what Zimri and Cozbi were up to.
He felt how wrong it was. He had zeal.
And he did something about it.

Would you and I do what Phinehas did?

How do you feel about Phinehas?

Are you a little embarrassed?

Do think he was just a wild-eyed loose cannon?

Do you think maybe he went just a little overboard?

God says, “Phinehas? He’s the man! I’m making him and his line the high priest from here on out. He gets it! He is zealous for my honor. And there’s nothing worth more in all the universe than my honor!”

Are we zealous for the honor of God?

Do we see, feel, and act?

I’d like to apply this question to three areas of our life that I think that zeal for the honor of God would show up in.

You could apply this question to a bunch of different areas, but I think these three would be good for us to think about today.

#1. Are we zealous for the honor of God IN OUR CONFRONTATIONS WITH OTHER CHRISTIANS.

This is the closest application to the intent of this passage.

Here were fellow brother Israelites (at least Zimri was) sinning with a high hand.

The covenant people of God acting like they were the covenant people of Baal.

Phinehas saw this, he felt this, and he couldn’t help but act about it.

Now, in the New Covenant, we don’t carry spears. We aren’t a theocracy, God doesn’t ask us to run people through. That’s Old Covenant.

But when we see fellow Christians that are running along a dangerous and sinful path, in the New Covenant, we are still called to confront them.

We are to do in love. We are to do it carefully lest we also be tempted.

But we are to confront wayward Christians.

Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently...”

James 5:19 “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

Matthew 18 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.”

One of the chief reasons for this kind of confrontation between Christians is the honor and glory of God.

If we truly care about other Christians and we truly care about the glory of God, then we will love them enough to confront them with their sin.

And if they don’t listen (and they will often not want to listen), the church needs to practice what is called “church discipline.”

What Jesus called, “treating them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”–treating someone who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t live at all like one, like a non-Christian.

If we are zealous for the honor God, we will do this.

We won’t necessarily like it. It won’t be fun. But we will be faithful to do it because the glory of God is at stake.

Sometimes people object to church discipline because the person who is being pursued may never repent and may never return (thought they do much more often than people think!).

But the biggest reason for church discipline is not restoration (even though that’s always the goal). The biggest reason is the purity of the church reflecting the holy glory of God! And if we are zealous for the honor of God, we will do it.

Now, again, we don’t run anyone through with a spear.

This is not a call to blow up abortion clinics!

But if we are zealous for the honor of our God, we will be faithful to confront sin.

Make this personal. Is there someone you are close to that is persisting in unrepentant sin?

Yes, you need to be patient and be loving and be gentle.

But you also are being called to be zealous.

Are you willing to do that?

See it, feel it, do something. Not out of hate, but out of zeal.

The second area is closer to home, a step removed from the direct application of the text.

#2. Are we zealous for the honor of our God IN OUR OWN LIFESTYLE CHOICES?

Because for some, it’s a lot easier to pick on “those other people!”

“They’re bad. They are unholy. They’ve really got it wrong.”

But Jesus calls us to get the telephone pole out of our own eyes before we try to get the molecule of dirt out of theirs.

If we are zealous for the honor of our God, we will see sin in our own lives, feel it, confess it, turn from it, and try to walk in a new direction.

I have confessed many times from this pulpit, my personal struggles with gluttony.

And there have also been many times that I have not tried to live repentantly about my gluttony.

This Summer, I hit a new high for my weight which marked a new low for my battle with food idolatry.

And I’ve come to believe that if I am really zealous for the honor of my God, I’m going to see it as sin, feel it as sin, and do something about it.

Over my Sabbatical, I lost five pounds. I am praying and working towards losing one pound a week for the next year. A goal of about 50 pounds to lose.

And I want to do it, not so that I can say, “Look at me.” But through right-worship.

Because I am zealous that nothing get the glory in my life over God Himself.

I’d appreciate your prayers for this.

I believe that if I lose, everyone gains.

And that God will gain the glory if I am seriously zealous for Him.

What is it for you?

Is there a stronghold in your life that needs to be broken?

Perhaps it is lust or gossip or worry or a bad relationship or another addiction.

If we are zealous for the honor of God, it will show in our own lifestyle choices.

Let’s be Phinehas’ and cut out the flesh and go to war on our indwelling sin.

The third area I want to apply this question to is the area of witnessing. It’s the furthest away from the direct application but I think it makes a lot of sense.

Are we zealous for the honor of our God IN OUR GOSPEL-SHARING WITH UNBELIEVERS?

Because God has, in the New Covenant, tied His honor to the fame of His Son and the spreading of His Gospel.

God has tied His honor to the fame of His Son and the spreading of His Gospel.

So if you and I are zealous, eager, passionate to see God honored, we will be passionate and eager and zealous to share the Gospel of His Son.

Does that make sense?

I think that our zeal for God can often be measured by how much we care about the lost and want them to know the Gospel.

I was so happy to listen to the messages this last month on the harvest.

And to see that we focused so strongly on missions–not just across the world but across the street.

There are 7,700 people in the West Branch Area. And I’m not even talking about Philipsburg today. There’s lots of lost people there.

There are 7,700 people in the West Branch Area. I’m guessing that maybe a thousand of them are in church this morning.

That’s leaves more than 6,000 people in a ten mile radius of this church that are probably not savingly connected to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

How does that make you feel?

Does it bring up any zeal?

Does that move you to action?

That neighbor across the fence. That co-worker. That family member.

They need the Gospel. And we need to be zealous to share it.

Why? Why be zealous for the honor of God?

Two reasons. The first is much much much bigger than the second.

#1. BECAUSE GOD IS! Look at v.11 again. Look at it closely.

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites; for he was as zealous as I am for my honor among them, so that in my zeal I did not put an end to them.”

God is the most zealous for His glory. He will not give it to another!

He is a jealous God. Jealous for the affections of His people. Zealous.

Zealous for the glory due His name.

He was zealous enough to send a plague upon Israel to wipe them out.

Phinehas was as zealous as God was! And he turned away God’s anger. V.13 says that he made “atonement” for the Israelites with his zealous action.

That’s how zealous we should be.

Even if people think we’re “Jesus Freaks!”

Here’s how zealous God is for His honor–He was willing to put spear, not only in His enemies’ side, but in the side of His own Son.

Jesus’ death on the Cross was a vindication of the honor of God.

Let that blow your mind for a second.

Jesus’ death on the Cross was a vindication of the honor of God.

He brought atonement–lasting atonement for all who will turn and put their faith and trust in Him.

God is unswervingly zealous for the honor of His name.

And we should be, too.

And secondly, we should be zealous BECAUSE IT IS THE PATH OF BLESSING.

It’s not the easy path. The easy path is to follow the Moabite whores down to visit Baal. But that way leads to death. Midian and Moab are going to get it.

Zeal is the path that God blesses. You can hear it in what God says to Phinehas (v.12:

“[T]ell him that I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”

That’s a divine “attaboy!”

It doesn’t get better than this.

Zeal is rewarded by the Zealous One!

So, let me ask the question again.

Are we zealous for the honor of our God?

Where would you put yourself?

Are you cold or hot?

Do you see it, feel it, and do something about it?

In Loving Confrontations with Other Christians?
In Your Own Lifestyle Choices for Holiness?
In Your Gospel-Sharing with Unbelievers?

Are you zealous for honor of our God?