Haftarah Pinchas

“Zealous Succession”

1 Kings 18:46-19:21

by Mark Huey

While reviewing Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1) and its attendant Haftarah reading, two aspects of God’s means for extending His rule among His people seem to surface. God is not only interested in those who exhibit a genuine zeal for His ways, but He is also concerned that like minded people—jealous for His ways—are authorized and anointed to succeed and lead in future generations. This was true in the days of Moses, Elijah, and the pattern continues on until today.

Pinchas commences by picking up the concluding remarks of Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9), which precedes it. If you will recall from last week, the prophet for hire, Balaam, was not able to verbally curse the Ancient Israelites. Yet Balaam was able to communicate a strategy to Balak, whereby the men of Israel would bring curses upon themselves by their own vile actions (Numbers 31:16). As Numbers 25 begins, the testimony of the despicable sexual practices associated with the worship of Baal of Peor is cited. It concludes with Phinehas’ zealous act of vengeance before the leaders of Israel, at the Tent of Meeting:

“While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel joined themselves to Baal of Peor, and the LORD was angry against Israel. The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the LORD, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.’ So Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.’ Then behold, one of the sons of Israel came and brought to his relatives a Midianite woman, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, while they were weeping at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 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” (Numbers 25:1-9).

As Balak concludes, it is recorded that the consequences for this sin were very severe—as a significant number of people died from the resulting plague. It appears that the zealous act of Phinehas to execute the blatant fornicators, in the shadow of the Tent of Meeting, stopped the plague. Yet not only was the anger of God subsided, but Phinehas was promised great blessings for himself and his progeny:

“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 25:10-13).

The primary link we see with the selected Haftarah reading deals with not only performing zealous acts for the Lord, but also the execution of those who oppose Him. Naturally, the image of the Prophet Elijah and his challenging encounters with the prophets of Baal, became the passage to consider. Elijah not only exhibited zeal very much like Phinehas, but he was also directly responsible for the slaying of hundreds of false prophets after the exhibition of God’s power on Mount Carmel:

“‘Now then send and gather to me all Israel at Mount Carmel, together with 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of the Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.’ So Ahab sent a message among all the sons of Israel and brought the prophets together at Mount Carmel….When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.’ Then Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.’ So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there” (1 Kings 18:19-20, 39-40).

Both Phinehas and Elijah exhibited a righteous zeal that is reminiscent of what David spoke about in Psalm 69. This is a psalm sometimes considered to speak of a “suffering Messiah,” indicative of the work of Israel’s Redeemer:

“Because for Your sake I have borne reproach; dishonor has covered my face. I have become estranged from my brothers and an alien to my mother’s sons. For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. When I wept in my soul with fasting, it became my reproach. When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them. Those who sit in the gate talk about me, and I am the song of the drunkards. But as for me, my prayer is to You, O LORD, at an acceptable time; O God, in the greatness of Your lovingkindness, answer me with Your saving truth” (Psalm 69:7-13).

We can certainly think of the ministry of Yeshua, and how many people reacted to Him and spoke about Him, in reading from the above psalm. The Messiah is said to have exhibited great zeal in overturning the moneychangers at the Temple. Also, He Himself exhorted the assembly at Laodicea to be zealous and repent:

“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’” (John 2:14-17).

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

The zeal that people must have for the Lord is pretty serious, because it focuses us when confronting sin and ungodliness. When confronting the prophets of Baal and fleeing from the evil Queen Jezebel, the Prophet Elijah had to be zealous for Him:

“Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away’” (1 Kings 19:9-10).

Elijah, in a largely despondent mood—even after receiving physical provisions from the Lord[1]—was distraught about the spiritual condition of Israel. Elijah mistakenly believed that he was the only one left on Earth with a zeal for the Lord. Thankfully, the Lord lovingly went to Elijah—not in the wind, or an earthquake, or fire—but in a still, quiet voice. The Lord told him that there were 7,000 others that have not bowed to Baal, or kissed any golden calves:

“So He said, ‘Go forth and stand on the mountain before the LORD.’ And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’  Then he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.’ So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, ‘Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.’ And he said to him, ‘Go back again, for what have I done to you?’ So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him” (1 Kings 19:11-21).

The Prophet Elijah was given some very specific instructions on how to pass on some of the leadership responsibilities to not only the kings Hazael and Jehu, but also in spiritually anointing Elisha.

In our Torah portion, it is recorded how significantly important it is to not only speak words of affirmation to anointed leaders, but also indicate a passing of responsibility by the laying on of hands. Moses appealed to the Lord for a leader to follow him, and the Lord gave him specific instructions about how to commission those who will lead the next generation:

“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 27:16-23).

Note that Joshua and Eleazar were both appointed for greater service. Joshua obviously had the Spirit of God working within him, and Eleazar had been given the gift of inquiring for him by the judgment of the Urim. The laying on of hands was used to commission Joshua for service, as some of Moses’ authority was passed on to him. There should be no doubt that Joshua and Eleazar both exhibited a zeal for the Lord, which was demonstrated by Phinehas, the son of Eleazar.

Down through the centuries, the Lord has passed on the anointing and the mantle of leadership from one generation to the next. He is able to find zealous men and women who follow after Him, and see that they are anointed for His service. The laying on of hands has been formalized in many regards, but as can be noted—it is an accessible ordinance of the Lord, when it comes to recognizing those who are truly zealous and gifted for His work.

I think we should meditate upon these examples, and give thanks that the Lord is continuing to perpetuate His leadership through various anointed vessels. Even more so, we should be thankful that the same Holy Spirit who worked through Moses’ successors—continues to work in the hearts of people today, and those who have been called into leadership. May He bless all of us who have benefited from the faithfulness of those who have led His flock down through the ages!


[1] 1 Kings 17:10-16.

This teaching has been excerpted from Torahscope Haftarah Exhortations by William Mark Huey.