Place yourself in the shoes of Phinehas, son of Eleazer. Your people, the Israelites, are experiencing a great plague, and thousands are dying. You know why this is happening: your brothers are involved in adultery and idolatry. As you and your people are weeping for the great loss of kin, a fellow Israelite and his mistress walk past fellow mourners, flaunting his disregard for all the pain and suffering. You know that he and other kinsman indulging in affairs, physical and spiritual, is the reason so many are suffering ultimate loss. More than this, the God who delivered Israel out of Egypt is being mocked in the sight of the Moabites.
When we place ourselves in the story like this and understand the grave evils involved, we can begin to understand Phinehas’s gruesome reaction. The idea of man and mistress being united through the spear in their belly can be disturbing, and even more harrowing, the thought of burying the 24,000 that died in a matter of days. In all of this, what is most troubling is to see how heinous are Israel’s sons’ sins. I am never glad to see an evil person slain, but make no mistake, these were evil men, destroying lives. It is far too easy for us to read passages like this and wonder why God would punish so severely. In reality, reading stories like this ought to move us to wonder at God’s hatred for evil and to give thanks that He often spares us. Today we are not called, in love for God, to defend God’s name through spears. Still, may our wonder and thanksgiving move us to love YHWH’s name like Phinehas did.