Reflection for Pinchas

“The Pierced Shepherd”

Matthew 26:1-30; Mark 14:1-26;
Luke 22:1-20; John 2:13-22; 7:1-13, 37-39; 11:55-12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14;
Acts 2:1-21; 12:3-4; 20:5-6, 16; 27:9-11;
1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 16:8; Hebrews 11:28

by Mark Huey

Upon coming to the close of Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9) with the dramatic execution events at the sanctuary, one often wonders why the first nine verses of Numbers 25 are included—rather than seeing them begin Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1[29:40]), which we are examining this week. After all, the departure of Balak and Balaam to their respective domiciles seems like a natural break in the text (Numbers 24:25). Nevertheless, the ancient Rabbis and Sages concluded that remembering the horrific consequences of succumbing to the vile sexual sins of Baal-peor was probably something that needed to be considered for two weeks, rather than in just one week. So, this week the beginning of our Torah teaching not only causes us to reconsider the deadly impalement of a couple in the act of flagrant sin,[1] but also the notable bequeathing by God of a covenant of peace and perpetual priesthood to the zealous executioner Phinehas[2]—who stopped the plague upon Israel:

“When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he arose from the midst of the congregation and took a spear in his hand, and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and pierced both of them through, the man of Israel and the woman, through the body. So the plague on the sons of Israel was checked. Those who died by the plague were 24,000. 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”’” (Numbers 25:7-13).

Contemplating this series of opening events makes the subsequent census of Israel,[3] coupled with various inheritance laws[4] and information about offerings, most especially those to be offered during the appointed times[5]—seem rather mild. The institution of “My covenant of peace” (b’riti shalom), with Phinehas and his descendants given a perpetual priesthood, is undeniably the main “event” of our parashah. Phinehas is rewarded by God for his jealous act, which ostensibly made a kind of “atonement” for the community of Israel, as it terminated the plague.

Is this a foreshadowing (albeit an obscure example) of how the force or phenomenon of death can help circumvent the judgment of God? While in the case of Phinehas, God’s judgment was only stopped when he stood up and took righteous action, killing promiscuous idolaters, consider the element of how people had to be impaled with a spear to halt Divine retribution. After Yeshua had died on the cross, we see that “one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:34). Clearly, the events described in Pinchas and the death of our Lord on the tree are not identical—namely because Yeshua had willingly offered Himself (Hebrews 9:14), and the two sinners were killed quickly and swiftly—but it is interesting to see how those speared were carefully noticed by the Father. With Yeshua having died for us, we can now experience a complete restoration of communion with our Creator.

Yeshua the Messiah willingly offered Himself as the pierced sacrifice for the sins of fallen humanity, just as was prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 53:

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due? His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand. As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, and He will divide the booty with the strong; because He poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:5-12).

Many of the recommended readings from the Apostolic Scriptures provided by the Complete Jewish Bible,[6] focus around Numbers chs. 28-29 and concern the significance that the appointed times had for Yeshua, His Apostles, and the early Believers in their observances and teachings. However, I am more struck by the fact that just like the priest Phinehas—who stood up and intervened to stop a terrible circumstance from perpetuating—so our Messiah Yeshua has a priestly role that each born again Believer needs to be considering. As a vindication of His sacrifice for sinful humanity and His resurrection, Yeshua the Messiah now sits exalted at the right hand of the Father in Heaven (Hebrews 8:1-2). We now await His return as salvation history prepares to progress forward via His Second Coming and the resurrection of the dead:

“For Messiah did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Messiah also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Hebrews 9:24-28).

Although considering Yeshua and/or His Disciples with the appointed times is an important theme, before the various rituals and sacrifices about the moedim are discussed (Numbers chs. 28-29), Moses is told that he will die (Numbers 27:13). He will be allowed to climb up to a high vantage point in order to see Canaan (Numbers 27:12), but because he struck the rock at Meribah of Kadesh, God will not allow him to enter in (Numbers 27:14). As he notes this, Moses makes the request of the Lord that a new leader for Israel will need to be chosen, or else, “the congregation of the Lord will…be like sheep which have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17). Moses is most concerned about the welfare of the Israelites, who he knows need strong leadership. Because of this, the Lord instructs Moses to commission his close aid Joshua as his successor in front of the entire assembly of Israel (Numbers 27:18-20), who will also receive priestly support (Numbers 27:21). While Joshua became a significant leader and figure of inspiration for Ancient Israel, as noted in Hebrews 4:8[7] he did not lead the people into the ultimate destiny anticipated of God’s people. Only Yeshua the Messiah Himself, the Good Shepherd, can bring together the one flock and bring about the restoration of the Kingdom:

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:11-18).

In reading through the actions of Phinehas this week—especially His zealous actions on behalf of the fledgling nation of Israel—I cannot help but be reminded of how Yeshua, in His actions of leadership, took matters into His own hands to stop unrighteousness. While present in Jerusalem to observe the Passover, Yeshua saw how the various moneychangers in the Temple complex abused their position and shortchanged many of the people who came to honor the Lord:

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Yeshua went up to Jerusalem. And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME’ [Psalm 69:9]” (John 2:13-17).

When we read this encounter, it often seems to us to be an “out of character” moment—for a “meek” Messiah to take off His proverbial “gloves,” and then zealously disrupt the exchange activities in the Temple grounds. Just as Phinehas had acted in righteous indignation in front of the Tent of Meeting, so had Yeshua taken the right action in making an example of those who had defamed the Holy Place.

As important as it is for us to consider connections between the righteous actions of Phinehas, and Yeshua in the Temple—our Haftarah selection this week (1 Kings 18:46-19:21) describes the battle between the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, with the true Prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18:19). In not wanting to forget this important scene in Ancient Israel’s history, the ministry of Yeshua not only was foreshadowed by the work of Phinehas, but also that of Elijah. People who either encountered Yeshua or had heard about Him, truly wondered who He might be:

“Now when Yeshua came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Yeshua said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:13-17).

By the time Yeshua is executed—and most importantly resurrected—it would have been obvious to the Disciples that their Lord had fulfilled/was fulfilling a whole host of prophecies, and that the various aspects of previous figures in Israel’s history were manifested in His saving events. Today, in retrospect of much of this—examining the tapestry of Scripture—we can see Yeshua as the Lamb of God (John 1:29), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14), our High Priest (Hebrews 7:26; 8:1), and our coming King. But unlike Phinehas who used a spear to execute justice, when He returns to the Earth the Messiah will instead have a sword coming forth from His mouth, ruling with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:15-21).

To this end, Messiah followers today can enthusiastically—although patiently—wait, as we anticipate the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom (Acts 1:6) and the establishment of true peace and justice in the world. To those who overcome until the end, the Apostle John has these great words of encouragement, as the pierced Shepherd Yeshua will return on the clouds to rule and reign:

“John to the seven assemblies that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne, and from Yeshua the Messiah, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us and released us from our sins by His blood—and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS [Daniel 7:13], and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen” (Revelation 1:4-7; cf. Zechariah 12:10-14).

Looking to the future, let it be our fervent and steadfast prayer that as few people as possible will actually mourn when the Messiah returns. Let us as diligent Messiah followers demonstrate His blessings and goodness to all we encounter, so that when He does return, those who witness His arrival rejoice—rather than cry because they know they will be judged. No one has to wait to know that Yeshua was pierced for their transgressions at the Second Coming; now is the time for all to know that He was pierced for us!


[1] Numbers 25:1-9.

[2] Numbers 25:10-13.

[3] Numbers 26:1-65.

[4] Numbers 27:1-14.

[5] Numbers 28:1-29:40.

[6] Matthew 26:1-30; Mark 14:1-26; Luke 22:1-20; John 2:13-22; 7:1-13, 37-39; 11:55-12:1; 13:1; 18:28, 39; 19:14; Acts 2:1-21; 12:3-4; 20:5-6, 16; 27:9-11; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 16:8; Hebrews 11:28.

[7] “For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that” (Hebrews 4:8).

This teaching has been excerpted from TorahScope Apostolic Scriptures Reflections by William Mark Huey