Continued from Love Series: In a World Full of Envy, Be All that You Can Be, Part 1
Last time, we talked about how the bell curve works. The bell curve gives us insight as to why the gifted and those with holy ambition can feel lonely and alienated from their peers. Sometimes, in order to be our highest and best for God, we must first count the cost of being set apart from the majority of people who also call themselves Christians. As we go further and deeper with God, we may have fewer people who can run with us in ministry, let alone relate to our relationship with God.
To fight against envy, loneliness and alienation, we need to focus on the Biblical examples God gave us to follow. Since we all have the same nature, we can do what they did. And, if we accomplish what they did, God will reward us in similar ways. Remember, God uses these examples to instruct us, so they are not too far from us and impossible to reach.
Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. –James 5:17
In this blog post, we’ll see how the bell curve applies to a situation in the Bible that closely mirrors our own. This specific situation involves a national crisis and what people across the bell curve did in response. Most likely you’ll find yourself somewhere on the bell curve, and wherever you find yourself, it’ll act as a diagnostic for your spiritual life.
We’ll also look more closely at a Biblical one-percenter towards the far right of the bell curve to see what made him so special. We study him in the hopes of becoming like him and following his example.
THE BELL CURVE IN A TIME OF NATIONAL CRISIS (NUMBERS 22-25)
Balak, the king of Moab, had heard of the reputation of the Israelites passing through his land. He trembled with fear at the thought of them. After all, the God of Israel performed mighty miracles to deliver His people from Egypt. He also helped the Israelites to defeat the Amorites before reaching this stage of their journey. King Balak, desperate to get rid of them, hired the prophet, Balaam, to put a curse on the Israelites. Every time Balaam tried to curse them, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob caused the people to be blessed.
Exasperated, Balaam finally gave Balak another suggestion: if you tempt the Israelites to commit sexual immorality with the Moabite women, then they will bring the curse upon themselves.
Worse yet, in committing sexual sin, God’s people had yoked themselves to a false god.
As a result, God struck the camp with a plague of judgement.
Sadly, these things happen all around us today. God’s people forsake the word of God by committing sexual immorality, thereby choosing to serve Satan rather than God.
If you read Numbers 25, you’ll see a bell curve, at least I hope you do. I see it.
During this episode, Israel committed sexual sin in huge numbers, and God’s judgment had to come upon His people.
This national crisis called forth different responses in people, reflecting the true nature of their relationship with God.
WHERE DO YOU FIND YOURSELF ON THE BELL CURVE?
We studied in an earlier blog post how God meant for the characters of the Bible and their actions to be examples (or paradigms, patterns) for us to learn from and to avoid or to follow.
This scene from Numbers 25 parallels what’s happening in the Christian Church.
How the Bell Curve looked in this dark episode in Israel’s history:
ARE YOU IN THE CENTER OF THE BELL CURVE?
- In every bell curve (here the bell curve represents Israel), the majority of people reside in the middle.
- The middle was split between those who remained silent and neutral in the face of gross sin and the people who knew it was wrong, but dealt with it privately in their own personal relationship with God and with others close to them.
ARE YOU TOWARDS THE LEFT OF THE BELL CURVE?
- Towards the left, Israel had people who allowed the sin (leadership) or committed the sin.
- And to the very far left, we have people who not only committed the sin, but did it boldly, without shame or fear of consequence.
Then an Israelite man brought into the camp 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. –Numbers 25:6
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished, says the LORD. –Jeremiah 8:12
ARE YOU TOWARDS THE RIGHT OF THE BELL CURVE?
Of course, we don’t despair because of the wrong actions of others. Regardless of what anyone else is doing or not doing, we seek to please God in all that we do and say!
- Towards the right, Israel had national leaders to call people to a general assembly in order to address the problem before God and everyone. Back then, they had Moses to call the nation to times of fasting, prayer and repentance. Today, we have people like Lou Engle (the Send), who organize national corporate gatherings of fasting, prayer and repentance.
- Israel had its dedicated followers, who wept in front of the door of meeting, or the place of God’s presence.
Then an Israelite man brought into the camp 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. –Numbers 25:6
In a similar way, many Christians today do weep for our country! They advocate for the truth and their intercession helps to tear down the strongholds of the land. They seek God for the answers to many of the deeply-ingrained problems of the day and pray that leaders will arise to address these issues in the best possible way. This burden for their nation occupies their time, intercession, energy and gifts.
HERO OF THE DAY: PHINEHAS, THE ONE-PERCENTER!
Now when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose from among the congregation and took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel. And those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand. –Numbers 25:7-9
Towards the far right on the bell curve, Phinehas did what no-one else was willing to do at this point in Israel’s history. His decisive action stopped the plague from among the people. If God wants us to take these examples seriously, we must ask ourselves, what made Phinehas so special? How can I be more like Phinehas? How can I do what Phinehas did to receive God’s commendation?!
The Numbers 22-25 passage is so relevant for us today, because our current issues mirror theirs. And, if we’re going through the Biblical example God already provided for us to learn from (the Israelites sinning with the Moabite women), then we also know God wants to raise up a “Phinehas,” or a company of this same prototype to counteract the enemy’s attacks.
Judging from this important example in Israel’s history, God’s drawing a dividing line in the nations of the world and the central issue separating God’s people in their consecration will be how we respond to the issue of sin.
BIBLE STUDY TOOL: SEPARATE A VERSE INTO ITS COMPONENT PHRASES AND STUDY EACH PHRASE DEEPLY
NAMES: CLUES TO A PERSON’S ROLE AND CHARACTER
1. Now when Phinehas: In the Bible, God often uses a person’s name to reveal his or her character. Phinehas’ name in Hebrew can mean either “mouth of brass” or “mouth of a serpent.” I see his name as a door that can swing both ways. His name has both a positive meaning and a negative meaning.
Brass symbolizes what is firm, strong and lasting. It can also represent the hardness, obstinancy and insensibility of sin. (https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/brass-brazen/)
”Mouth of brass,” therefore, could mean judgment against sin. It comes from a root word largely translated “mouth,” but the second most frequent translation of this word is “commandment.” “Mouth of a serpent,” on the other hand, could be Satan’s voice/ words/ narrative in the face of any situation. In other words, Phinehas as a member of the congregation, but especially as a leader, had the power to either speak authoritatively from God or deceptively from Satan. Of course, his influence depended on what he did with God’s word in any given situation.
In other words, leaders have a choice. Each and every Christian has a choice to be a “mouth of brass” or a “mouth of a serpent.” We speak from the “mouth of a serpent” when we condone sin, speak from worldly mindsets or remain silent, neutral and passive about what God clearly hates and denounces.
For example, Satan had to be subtle in order to deceive Eve. He came across as neutral, but casting doubt upon the Word of God. He didn’t tell Adam and Eve to outright sin and rebel against God; he asked them “Did God really say…?
Though Phinehas stopped the plague of judgment with a physical action, we use our spiritual weapons to war against sin and evil. Oftentimes, that warfare comes from our mouth as we declare God’s truth and denounce lies, sin, deception and the evil works of the enemy.
Remaining silent and neutral in the face of sin and injustice allows Satan to continue to do his work unhindered.
Consider Adam. He was present with Eve as the serpent spun his web of deceit. Instead of being a “mouth of brass,” bringing forth the commandment of God, Adam said nothing. In his silence, he instead became the “mouth of a serpent.”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, WHO WAS WITH HER, and he ate it. –Genesis 3:6 (CAPS mine)
These serious issues apply to us today. How many leaders remain silent and passive rather than follow Phinehas’ example?
STANDING BEFORE GOD AS A PRIEST
1. the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest: Phinehas came from a high priestly line and daily served God before His presence. He obviously took his work seriously, because later in the text we find out that Phinehas did what he did out of holy zeal. Phinehas lived so close to God and cared so much about God’s holiness, that he burned with jealously for God’s reputation.
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the children of Israel, because he was zealous with My zeal among them. –Numbers 25:10-11
You don’t get that kind of zeal from doing Christian busy work or by being superficial with God. Besides, being a priest was a bloody job! A priest knew more than anyone else the high cost of sin. Whenever a person sinned, it meant a life had to be taken.
Since we live in the age of “cheap grace,” tolerance and counterfeit love, many people don’t realize the deadly cost of sin. Instead of addressing sin head-on, many try to ignore it and hope it goes away. Moreover, we try really hard not to offend anyone by what we say or do in today’s PC culture, lest someone accuse us of not being “loving.”
It’s been said that a priest makes intercession to God on behalf of the people and to the people on behalf of God. When Phinehas stopped the plague, thereby defending God’s reputation and protecting more of God’s people from being killed, he made intercession for both parties and accomplished something no-one else was willing to do.
The more we spend time with God and take His Word seriously, the more we’ll be zealous for His name’s sake. The more zeal we carry for God, the more we’ll challenge anything that shames the name of Christ!
YOU CAN’T WATCH AND PRAY WHEN YOU’RE HEAD IS IN THE SAND
2. saw it: We can’t know what to address, if we don’t know what’s going in the world.
I’ve known Christians who don’t care to know. They find the news these days too negative and depressing, so they let others deal with all that stuff. Every day things happen, but these people have no idea of how these events affect their local area, state, country and the world. Since we’re living in the End Times, our current affairs have the added intensity of fulfilling prophecy. In other words, it’s critical to know and understand what’s happening in the world.
Granted, much of the mainstream media these days not only distorts the news, but flat out lies about the news. Many mainstream news sources also promote biased agendas that conflict with the word of God and truth in general. In a time of mass deceit, getting accurate news from a conservative Christian perspective as much as possible becomes just as important as knowing current events. Research carefully. Ask around for trusted news sources. Always remember… you most likely won’t find the truth from the world’s “most trusted” news sources.
They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. –1 John 4:5-6
And, you certainly won’t find balanced, accurate perspectives from Facebook, Google and Twitter who actively seek to ban conservative news sources that challenge their dominant worldview!
Jesus told us in Matthew 26:41 to “watch and pray.” We not only observe carefully what’s happening in the world, but we pray to have God’s perspective and true discernment regarding these events. We also pray that God would intervene and bring “His Kingdom come and His will be done” to these situations.
The more we seek God’s face regarding our world, the more God will give us understanding to see things from His perspective and the more His Spirit will guide us into all the truth. (John 16:13)
More than ever, we need Sons and Daughters who “understand the signs of the times” and have insight, discernment and wisdom to know what to do in response to what they see!
And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do; –1 Chronicles 12:32
Let me show you what I mean from this passage! When Phinehas observed what was happening, he had understanding of how it had affected the nation of Israel and what had to be done in the situation. He not only saw, but he perceived.
The Hebrew word for “saw” is Strong’s number H7200 or “ra’ah.” I’ve included some of its various uses below:
- To see, look at, inspect, consider
- to look at, see, regard, look after, see after, learn about, observe, watch, look upon, look out, find out
- to see, observe, consider, look at, give attention to, discern, distinguish
- to look at each other, face
This word means more than a cursory glance at the news or scrolling through your Facebook feed looking at headlines.
For instance, when I “inspect” something, I’m going to investigate it. I’m going to “find out” and “learn about” the subject some more. I’m going to “face” the truth, instead of being in denial about it, or protecting my pet perspectives or what I’d like to believe about the subject.
Furthermore, I have to “consider” and truly understand a subject to be able to “discern” and “distinguish” its various elements. In other words, my goal is not only to know the news, but to understand why it’s important, and what needs to be done about it.
TAKING A STAND
3. he rose: After witnessing and discerning what was happening, Phinehas took his stand and did something about it. Just like above with the word “saw,” we’ll look more deeply into the word “rose,” or “arise” in other translations. I’ve included some of its various uses below:
- to arise (hostile sense)
- to arise, become powerful
- to stand
— To stand in a more specific sense, to be established, be confirmed; to stand, endure; to be fixed; to be valid; to be proven; to be fulfilled; to persist; to be set, be fixed
- to confirm, ratify, establish, impose
- to raise, set up, erect, build
- to raise up, rouse, stir up, investigate
- to cause to stand, set, station, establish
- to make binding
- to carry out, give effect to
Evaluating the word’s Biblical usage, do you think you can piece together a deeper understanding of what the word means? On the surface, it does mean he got up and started to act. But, this word has layers of meaning that go beyond merely “he got up.”
So many different things were accomplished when Phinehas decided to act on what he “saw.”
- From the basic level of engagement, he investigated the situation and got involved.
- He took a military stance against sin and what the enemy was trying to do in the nation of Israel.
- He was proven, confirmed, validated and established in his position through his actions, not only as a leader in the nation, but as a godly man.
- He confirmed and established the commandment of God for the situation.
- He carried out God’s will for the situation.
- He erected or built a defense against the enemy’s attack of the nation of Israel. i
Let’s “rise up” like Phinehas did and follow his example, so that we can make a Kingdom difference!
HAVING A CIRCUMCISED HEART MEANS CUTTING OFF SIN
4. from among the congregation: This Hebrew word for “among,” tavek, means to sever or bisection (cut in half).
When Phinehas took his stand from among the congregation, he automatically drew a line in the sand to split the congregation. He created the proverbial “fork in the road.” Now, the people had a standard to follow and observe, because of one person’s actions. They were either going to follow God’s way and obey or follow the way of compromise.
Before Phinehas took his stand, the standards of morality were not as clearly defined. Phinehas’ action clarified for everyone the right thing to do. By his follow-through obedience, Phinehas validated God’s command and confirmed that God was right in what He said.
In the wake of silent pastors, leaders and ministers, sheep can wander into dangerous fields, drink polluted water and be attacked by wolves.
Unlike Phinehas, these leaders don’t “draw lines in the sand.” Therefore, they leave their sheep without boundaries, without guidance on the moral and social issues of the day and, ultimately, without true care.
There’s a second meaning here worth exploring. The definition of the word “sever” means to “divide by cutting or slicing, especially suddenly and forcibly” and “put an end to (a connection or relationship); break off.” (bing.com)
Phinehas’ actions “cut off” the Israelites’ connection or relationship to the Moabite women and also to their false god.
God has revealed throughout the Bible that He cares about separating things from one another. In the beginning of creation, he separated light from darkness. He embedded within the Jewish psyche from the time of Abraham the concept of separation through the practice of circumcision. This circumcision symbolized their covenant with God and their distinction from other people groups and a host of false gods.
What the Israelites did in their flesh, we do in our hearts and in our spirits.
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul, so that you may live. -Deuteronomy 30:6
No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. –Romans 2:29
Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” –2 Corinthians 6:17
Through Phinehas’ actions, he demonstrated what it means for a person devoted to God to be separate. And, what Phinehas did physically, God calls us to do spiritually and in our hearts.
5. and took a javelin in his hand…: Finally, Phinehas committed holy violence against the sin and rebellion and stopped the plague.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Where did you find yourself on the bell curve? As a Christian, do you realize that there’s always room to grow? Where you find yourself today doesn’t have to be where you end up tomorrow?
I believe in you! And, perhaps, more importantly, I believe in God’s grace on your behalf! He continues to call you to further, higher and deeper places! Trust He’ll make a way for your progress and growth in Christ!
We can move further towards the right of the bell curve in stages?
Next blog post in Love Series: In a World Full of Envy, Be All that You Can Be, Part 3 entitled How Holy Zeal can Conquer Envy and Lead to Peace. In it, we’ll talk more about Phinehas’ example, the reward God gave him and how we all want the same reward: God’s covenant of peace.
NOTE: All Hebrew word study information came from blueletterbible.org.
REFLECTION AND APPLICATION QUESTIONS
- Read Numbers 22-25 a couple of times. Study and meditate on the passage.
- We took a diagnostic test by looking at how the bell curve applies to the situation in Numbers 22-25. Where did you find yourself on the bell curve? What evidence from your life leads you to believe your conclusion?
- What practical steps will you take to move one stage to the right over the next weeks and months?
- Go to blueletterbible.org and “fiddle around.” See what this Bible study website has to offer. As I encouraged people in an earlier post, learn how to use it!
- We took a closer look at the verse about Phinehas. Which phrase in that verse speaks to you the most? What is God trying to tell you? What can you do to apply this truth or principle more to your life?
- Journal your thoughts about each phrase describing some aspect of Phinehas’ actions from Numbers 25:7.
- Can you remember a time when you acted as a “mouth of brass?” What happened in that situation? Was it worth it to speak the truth? Why or why not? Why is it worth it to God whenever He calls you to be a “mouth of brass?”
- Have you ever wept before the presence of God over a particular sin, situation or burden in the world? Why do you think weeping and mourning are so powerful before God?
- How are you like a priest before God? How are you not like a priest before God? What can you do to maintain your priestly role and go deeper into the heart of God?
- Are you aware of what’s happening in the world? To what degree? Why or why not?
- Do you believe it’s important for a Christian to be informed? Why or why not? (We’ll discuss in the future how to better be informed, as well as good reliable sources to turn to for the news.)
- If we’re living in the End Times, why is it even more critical to understand current events?
- Pray to be more like Phinehas and to adopt more of the characteristics of his actions!
- Explore one area of your life: speech, thought life, entertainment, free time, media and technology usage, etc. How can you be more separated to God in that one particular area of your life?
- Practice your Bible study skills! For example, do a name study for the other main characters in the Numbers 22-25 passage: Balaam and Balak. Take another verse in this passage and break it down into its component phrases. Study each phrase more deeply and journal what God shows you. Use blueletterbible.org or some other Bible study tool for help.