1 Kings 18:46-19:21
“A Covenant of Peace”
by Mark Huey
This week’s Torah parashah begins with a summary conclusion to Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9), describing the gruesome consequences of the sin of Baal Peor (Numbers 25:9-10). This is followed by describing the zeal of Phinehas who stopped the plague upon Israel (Numbers 25:10-18), a census of the Israelites is taken (Numbers 26:1-65), laws of inheritance including women’s rights to inheritance are stated (Numbers 27:1-14), there is a transfer of authority to Joshua (Numbers 27:15-23), and laws for different offerings, often associated with the appointed times, are specified (Numbers 28:1-29:40).
What gets the most attention for readers, to be sure, is how certainly after the tragic events of the lascivious and licentious actions with the women of Peor—resulting in the deaths of many thousands of Israelites—the Lord wanted to restore a sense of order back in the camp, before proceeding with the invasion of Canaan. In the introductory paragraph, the zealous and righteous stroke of Phinehas, to halt the flagrant act of Zimri and Cozb, was rewarded with a perpetual covenant of peace to the Aaronic heirs, commencing with Phinehas. Such blessings were to follow in the line of succession of future high priests:
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, “Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.”’ Now the name of the slain man of Israel who was slain with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, a leader of a father’s household among the Simeonites. The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was head of the people of a father’s household in Midian. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor and in the affair of Cozbi, the daughter of the leader of Midian, their sister who was slain on the day of the plague because of Peor’” (Numbers 25:10-18).
Phinehas’ zealous piercing, of the quite shameless, copulating couple, is what halted the ensuing plague. This was reminiscent of Aaron’s use of the incense from the altar after Korah’s rebellion, that too saw many Israelites perish (Numbers 16:46:50). More importantly to be sure, the “covenant of peace” bestowed upon Phinehas for his zeal serves as a foreshadowing of what the Holy One will give to His people, in His instruction that Israel expand their outreach to the nations—despite a human proclivity to wander away from Him. The Prophet Isaiah declares,
“‘Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; Break forth into joyful shouting cry aloud, you who have not travailed; for the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman,’ says the LORD. ‘Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities. Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,’ says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. ‘In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment, but with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the LORD your Redeemer. ‘For this is like the days of Noah to Me, when I swore that the waters of Noah would not flood the earth again; so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you nor will I rebuke you. For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,’ says the LORD who has compassion on you” (Isaiah 54:1-10).
Despite the unfaithfulness of Israel to the Holy One, He has promised to maintain a covenant of peace with them, and He will surely remain true to His Word. However, as was true then and remains consistent today, if and when His people disobey, there are always consequences. The universal principle of reaping what is sown, embedded in the Creation, always applies.
With the offensive to cross the Jordan on Israel’s agenda, as burial parties were surely having to attend to the massive amount of casualties from the plague, the Lord through Moses established some guidelines for distribution of the Promised Land among the various tribes. A census was taken to determine the size of the tribes (Numbers 26:1-51), with fairness to be controlled by a casting of lots with attention paid to the remaining tribal numbers, in order to evenly allocate various parcels of land:
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Among these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names. To the larger group you shall increase their inheritance, and to the smaller group you shall diminish their inheritance; each shall be given their inheritance according to those who were numbered of them. But the land shall be divided by lot. They shall receive their inheritance according to the names of the tribes of their fathers. According to the selection by lot, their inheritance shall be divided between the larger and the smaller groups’” (Numbers 26:52-56).
With the methodology for land assignment described, Moses reminded the Israelites that the Levites, because of their unique status as priests with various responsibilities, were not to be counted among those receiving a physical land inheritance. In this description, some personal genealogical data is also included, with some specific reminders about the special position of the line of Aaron. Also seen is a reminder about the dreadful deaths of Nadab and Abihu, who perverted their duties (Leviticus 10:1-2):
“These are those who were numbered of the Levites according to their families: of Gershon, the family of the Gershonites; of Kohath, the family of the Kohathites; of Merari, the family of the Merarites. These are the families of Levi: the family of the Libnites, the family of the Hebronites, the family of the Mahlites, the family of the Mushites, the family of the Korahites. Kohath became the father of Amram. The name of Amram’s wife was Jochebed, the daughter of Levi, who was born to Levi in Egypt; and she bore to Amram: Aaron and Moses and their sister Miriam. To Aaron were born Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. But Nadab and Abihu died when they offered strange fire before the LORD. Those who were numbered of them were 23,000, every male from a month old and upward, for they were not numbered among the sons of Israel since no inheritance was given to them among the sons of Israel. These are those who were numbered by Moses and Eleazar the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho. But among these there was not a man of those who were numbered by Moses and Aaron the priest, who numbered the sons of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. For the LORD had said of them, ‘They shall surely die in the wilderness.’ And not a man was left of them, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun” (Numbers 26:57-65).
After restating that the deaths of all the Israelites who believed the bad report, about originally entering the land many years earlier had died (Numbers 14:27-30), Moses now turned to establishing some key rights for the women who were likely widowed in the years prior to the anticipated invasion. Here in the Torah, the daughters of Zelophehad pled for equity when it came to land distribution, and the Lord granted their request with a statute prohibiting any potential discrimination based on gender:
“Then the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph, came near; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah and Hoglah and Milcah and Tirzah. They stood before Moses and before Eleazar the priest and before the leaders and all the congregation, at the doorway of the tent of meeting, saying, ‘Our father died in the wilderness, yet he was not among the company of those who gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but he died in his own sin, and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be withdrawn from among his family because he had no son? Give us a possession among our father’s brothers.’ So Moses brought their case before the LORD. Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘The daughters of Zelophehad are right in their statements. You shall surely give them a hereditary possession among their father’s brothers, and you shall transfer the inheritance of their father to them. Further, you shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter. If he has no daughter, then you shall give his inheritance to his brothers. If he has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his father’s brothers. If his father has no brothers, then you shall give his inheritance to his nearest relative in his own family, and he shall possess it; and it shall be a statutory ordinance to the sons of Israel, just as the LORD commanded Moses”’” (Numbers 27:1-11).
After the issue of equity for the daughters of Zelophehad is resolved, the immediacy of Moses’ impending death is addressed, with a significant display of how the Lord desired His authority to be relegated to future generations. With the pain of remembering the rebellion that compelled the Lord to not let Moses enter the Promised Land, Moses recognized that Joshua was his heir to guide the Israelites into Canaan. Moses stood before the recently anointed high priest Eleazar and the congregation, in order to commission Joshua in their sight:
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go up to this mountain of Abarim, and see the land which I have given to the sons of Israel. When you have seen it, you too will be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was; for in the wilderness of Zin, during the strife of the congregation, you rebelled against My command to treat Me as holy before their eyes at the water.’ (These are the waters of Meribah of Kadesh in the wilderness of Zin.) Then Moses spoke to the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who will go out and come in before them, and who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD will not be like sheep which have no shepherd.’ So the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight. You shall put some of your authority on him, in order that all the congregation of the sons of Israel may obey him. Moreover, he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD. At his command they shall go out and at his command they shall come in, both he and the sons of Israel with him, even all the congregation.’ Moses did just as the LORD commanded him; and he took Joshua and set him before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, just as the LORD had spoken through Moses” (Numbers 27:12-23).
This precedent, of properly recognizing the authority and bestowing it upon those who the Lord has called into His service—has been established by what has occurred through the transfer of authority from Aaron to Eleazar at Aaron’s death (Numbers 20:25-29), and reoccurs with the conveyance of Moses’ weight of responsibility by the laying on of hands. Centuries later, the Apostle Paul continued this precedence with the laying on of hands to his young disciple Timothy, who Paul recognized as one of his successors in continuing the work he had started:
“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:5-7).
“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe. Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all. Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:12-16).
Further clarification, on how the Scriptures describe this transfer of authority, can be gleaned from how Aaron and his sons were originally anointed for their priestly responsibilities. This was to involve an oil anointing of the right ear lobe, right thumb, and right big toe (Leviticus 8: 23-24; 14:14-18). The key to understand is that those who serve the Lord should, by and through their dedicated service, be best able to discern just who it is who is to continue their work, when their own term of dedicated service is largely over.
Our Torah portion includes a long reiteration of all of the offerings required for the daily morning and evening sacrifices, New Moon sacrifices, and the offerings for the appointed times of the Lord (Leviticus 23). These are restated to emphasize the importance of compliance, to this relatively young generation of Israelites poised to enter the Promised Land:
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel and say to them, “You shall be careful to present My offering, My food for My offerings by fire, of a soothing aroma to Me, at their appointed time.” You shall say to them, “This is the offering by fire which you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs one year old without defect as a continual burnt offering every day. You shall offer the one lamb in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight; also a tenth of an ephah of fine flour for a grain offering, mixed with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil. ‘It is a continual burnt offering which was ordained in Mount Sinai as a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. Then the drink offering with it shall be a fourth of a hin for each lamb, in the holy place you shall pour out a drink offering of strong drink to the LORD. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight; as the grain offering of the morning and as its drink offering, you shall offer it, an offering by fire, a soothing aroma to the LORD. Then on the sabbath day two male lambs one year old without defect, and two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil as a grain offering, and its drink offering: This is the burnt offering of every sabbath in addition to the continual burnt offering and its drink offering. Then at the beginning of each of your months you shall present a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls and one ram, seven male lambs one year old without defect; and three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for each bull; and two-tenths of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering, for the one ram; and a tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil for a grain offering for each lamb, for a burnt offering of a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. Their drink offerings shall be half a hin of wine for a bull and a third of a hin for the ram and a fourth of a hin for a lamb; this is the burnt offering of each month throughout the months of the year. ‘And one male goat for a sin offering to the LORD; it shall be offered with its drink offering in addition to the continual burnt offering. Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’s Passover. On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast, unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. You shall present an offering by fire, a burnt offering to the LORD: two bulls and one ram and seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect. For their grain offering, you shall offer fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for a bull and two-tenths for the ram. A tenth of an ephah you shall offer for each of the seven lambs; and one male goat for a sin offering to make atonement for you. You shall present these besides the burnt offering of the morning, which is for a continual burnt offering. After this manner you shall present daily, for seven days, the food of the offering by fire, of a soothing aroma to the LORD; it shall be presented with its drink offering in addition to the continual burnt offering. On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. Also on the day of the first fruits, when you present a new grain offering to the LORD in your Feast of Weeks, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. You shall offer a burnt offering for a soothing aroma to the LORD: two young bulls, one ram, seven male lambs one year old; and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for each bull, two-tenths for the one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs; also one male goat to make atonement for you. Besides the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, you shall present them with their drink offerings. They shall be without defect”’” (Numbers 28:1-31).
“Now in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall also have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. It will be to you a day for blowing trumpets. You shall offer a burnt offering as a soothing aroma to the LORD: one bull, one ram, and seven male lambs one year old without defect; also their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the ram, and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs. Offer one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you, besides the burnt offering of the new moon and its grain offering, and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, for a soothing aroma, an offering by fire to the LORD. Then on the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and you shall humble yourselves; you shall not do any work. You shall present a burnt offering to the LORD as a soothing aroma: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs one year old, having them without defect; and their grain offering, fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the one ram, a tenth for each of the seven lambs; one male goat for a sin offering, besides the sin offering of atonement and the continual burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings. Then on the fifteenth day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work, and you shall observe a feast to the LORD for seven days” (Numbers 29:1-12).
“‘You shall present these to the LORD at your appointed times, besides your votive offerings and your freewill offerings, for your burnt offerings and for your grain offerings and for your drink offerings and for your peace offerings.’ Moses spoke to the sons of Israel in accordance with all that the LORD had commanded Moses” (Numbers 29:39-40).
In reading these instructions in light of Yeshua’s atoning work for sinners as our perfect sacrifice, it is easy to understand why the Apostle Paul would admonish Believers to demonstrate their faith as a living sacrifice:
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12:1-3).
While Paul did not necessarily know that the Temple in Jerusalem was going to be destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.—which to this day has prevented the ability of the Levites to perform the various sacrifices and offerings at the holy place—he knew that it was critical for followers of Yeshua the Messiah to offer up their lives to service for the Almighty. More difficult than individuals living as a sacrifice to be sure—is for all Believers to be functioning together as a living sacrifice, accomplishing the Lord’s purposes in the Earth. Paul expected the saints to be purified via a washing of the word (Ephesians 5:26), which can and should be done by all born again Believers through daily prayer, supplication, praise, worship, and constant communion with the Lord through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. The most important “word” though that must be embraced is the good news or gospel of salvation, which definitively results in each of us receiving a redeemed heart of flesh that has God’s commandments supernaturally written upon it (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27).
If someone truly wants to serve the Holy One, then he or she will be wholeheartedly thankful for the forgiveness received. By the love one has for Yeshua the Messiah, Believers are to be compelled by the Holy Spirit to obey His commands. As the carnal nature decreases and conformity to the Messiah increases (Romans 8:29-30; John 3:30), then the sort of zeal exhibited by Phinehas should come without reservation, as the Spirit leads and one learns to walk in the ways of God (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25; Romans 8:14) to truly seek to please Him. This should all ultimately culminate, in a personal covenant of peace between oneself and the Creator, and in having the assurance that being counted among the redeemed is one’s final destiny.
May this be our individual and collective testimony, as God’s representatives to this wicked and perverse generation. The world around us needs not only our prayers, but our resolute actions to show them the way to salvation!