I’m going to attempt in this post to pull together the five elements of the above title – three people, one magazine and a holiday. Here goes…
On Thursday I went to Amazon.com looking for a Garmin Edge 705 that I might be using in the near future for a certain mountain biking project I’ve got simmering on a back burner. If that project becomes a reality I’ll write more about it on the other blog. Anyway, as I opened the Amazon homepage what should appear before my eyes but a small, well-placed ad for the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (no hyperlink for this one!!!). I saw it, acknowledged its presence, and by the grace of God continued in my search for the Garmin mentioned above.
This morning, which happens to be Valentine’s Day, there is a post by John Piper on the Desiring God blog called Valentines from Jonathan Edwards and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It’s interesting, and you should read it. I suspect there are those who cannot fathom that theologian-pastors such as Edwards and Lloyd-Jones are capable of love for a woman. To the contrary, I would suggest that human beings are not fully able to love another person if they do not first love God, and that their capacity to love another person is directly related to the love they have for God. (I briefly wrote something on this topic back in my college days, and it rests quietly in The Green Book.)
The irony of the timing of these events has never occured to me before. Here, in the same month that we think about love and celebrate Valentine’s Day, is the publication of an annual issue of a magazine that has contributed to the destruction of love, marriages, and families. Think I’m overreacting? Ever seen the swimsuit issue? Did you watch the video in the previous post?
So where does Phinehas fit in? Who is Phinehas? Numbers 25 is where we find Phinehas and are told about his zeal for God and what he did because of his zeal for God. The chapter is short, it’s rated ‘R’ (at least), and I reproduce it here in full:
While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. And the LORD said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy. Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.'” The name of the slain man of Israel, who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri the son of Salu, chief of a father’s house belonging to the Simeonites. And the name of the Midianite woman who was killed was Cozbi the daughter of Zur, who was the tribal head of a father’s house in Midian.
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Harass the Midianites and strike them down, for they have harassed you with their wiles, with which they beguiled you in the matter of Peor, and in the matter of Cozbi, the daughter of the chief of Midian, their sister, who was killed on the day of the plague on account of Peor.”
That’s not the last time we read about Phinehas in the Bible. Malachi 2:4-7 reads:
So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
We’re not told explicity, but I suspect the person the Lord had in mind as he was telling these words to Malachi was Phinehas. Incidentally, verse six of this quote is found on a memorial to Jonathan Edwards at the church he pastored in Northampton, MA. If you follow that link to see the picture and end up reading the accompanying sermon, you will find that much has changed at the church where he spent 23 years as a pastor.
And now for a confession of a Phinehas moment of my own. In the early ’90s I was a student at a small Bible college in Grand Rapids, MI that had a pretty decent library. As you entered the library you would see the periodical section prominently displayed to your left, and one of those magazines was Sports Illustrated. As I entered the libary one day in late winter (February?), and being a young man in my mid-twenties, I couldn’t help but notice the swimsuit issue there on display. I was floored. Questions came to my mind. “Why was it there?” “What was the librarian thinking as she/he placed it on the rack?” “Am I the problem here?” “Does this bother anyone else?” “What, if anything, should I do about this?”
What I did about it was this: at some point I walked over to the rack, placed the magazine in another folder, and carried it out of the library and back to the dorm where I immediately enlisted the help of two fellow students. Collectively we agreed that something needed to be done, and so we proceeded to make our way to the low area on the other side of the soccer field where we combined magazine, Coleman fuel, and flame. And by doing so we made sure that one particular copy of soft pornography would never trap anyone again.
Make no mistake, in the years since then I have not had a continuous string of Phinehas moments, though I’ve often thought about Phinehas and wondered if I would have been as bold and zealous as he was during the incident found in Numbers 25. Or would I have been one of the guilty? Where would any of us be if not for the grace of God and the cross of Christ? Hopelessly lost.
How about another confession? Another friend of mine from those college days used to study at a desk on the second floor of the library, next to the back issues of all the periodicals. One day as we were discussing the pursuit of holiness and our propensity for sin we admitted to each other that we had actually checked the back issues of SI for that particular annual issue. (Fortunately another ‘Phinehas’ had taken care of that possible temptation.)
Russ and I were the same age, we were both male, we dealt with the same temptations, and we were both followers of Christ. I’m still following Christ, and Russ is actually with Christ in heaven. He stepped into heaven off the gymnasium floor while playing basketball one evening at our small college. Like another friend commented on Facebook about Russ, “I miss that man.” I think if he could, Russ would say to all of us, “Keep pressing on. It’s worth it. More than you’ll ever know — until you get here too.”