Numbers 25:10–29:40 (30:1); Jeremiah 1:1–2:3; John 2:13–25
In last week’s Parasha, Balak, the king of Moab, was unsuccessful in his bid to destroy Israel through the curses of the pagan prophet Balaam.
Balaam, however, was powerless to curse Israel because God’s blessing rested on the nation.
The Moabites, therefore, used another tactic to bring about the Israelites’ destruction: they ensnared them in the sins of idolatry and sexual immorality, resulting in a plague that killed 24,000 Israelites.
That plague only stopped when Pinchas (Phinehas) took the law into his own hands and executed Zimri and Kozbi, influential leaders from privileged families caught in a public act of immorality. Zimri was a prince from the Hebrew tribe of Simeon, and Kozbi was a Midianite princess. (Numbers 25:6–18)
Their open immorality and defiance of the God of Israel, if left unchecked, could have brought about the destruction of the entire nation.
Zeal for God Rewarded
This week’s Torah portion begins with God awarding Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron the Cohen (priest), a covenant of everlasting priesthood because of his zeal.
“Phinehas son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron, the priest, has turned my anger away from the Israelites. Since he was as zealous for my honor among them as I am, I did not put an end to them in my zeal. (Numbers 25:11)
The word for zeal in Hebrew is kinah. This word connotes a certain passion that can be either Godly or woefully misdirected.
Pinchas was filled with hatred and fury against the sexual sin that so grossly profaned God’s holy name, and so he acted.
The Israelites, perhaps, were unsure of his motivation, and may have been willing to punish him for his fanatic extremism; however, God, who saw his heart, set the matter straight and came to Pinchas’ rescue by openly rewarding him:
“Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him. He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous [kanah] for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.” (Numbers 25:12–13)
Because of the bravery and moral clarity of Pinchas in confronting sin and evil, peace was restored to Israel, as well.
Although society then and today might consider his expression of zeal an act of murder, God saw his passion for holiness and credited him with righteousness:
“Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was checked. This was credited to him as righteousness for endless generations to come.” (Psalm 106:30–31, see also Numbers 25:11–13)
Pinchas and the Prophet Jeremiah
This Shabbat falls just after the Fast of Tammuz—which commemorates the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC—and before Tisha B’Av—which three weeks later remembers the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Therefore, a special Haftarah (prophetic portion) is read: Jeremiah 1:1–2:3.
This portion prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple (Beit Hamikdash).
Jeremiah, who lived in the period leading up to the destruction of the Temple, foretells the Babylonian invasion and brings a message of judgment to the Jewish People.
“‘From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land. I am about to summon all the peoples of the northern kingdoms,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:14–15)
So while there is no direct connection, perhaps, between the Torah portion of Pinchas and the prophetic portion in Jeremiah, they do share this theme: the judgment of a nation because of its sin.
Destiny, Consecration and Knowing God
In the Haftarah, God tells Jeremiah that he had been set apart or consecrated as a prophet even before his birth.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew [yadah] you, before you were born I set you apart [kashash—consecrated]; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
To be set apart for service to the Lord is the true meaning of the Hebrew adjective kadosh (קדש) which is usually translated as holy.
The Hebrew word for knew in this verse comes from the root yadah (ידע), a word commonly used in covenantal language in the Bible.
In Genesis, God used this word to declare that He had known or chosen Abraham:
“For I have chosen [yadah] him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of ADONAI [YHVH] by doing what is right and just, so that ADONAI will bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.” (Genesis 18:19)
Besides knowing or choosing, this same word also connotes sexual intimacy in marriage, as in Genesis 4:1—“Now Adam knew [yadah ידע] Eve, his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.”
This wonderful verse really brings home the idea that sexual intimacy should be connected to choosing someone in holy commitment, and not just casually.
In Jeremiah 9, God connects sinful behavior to not knowing Him:
“‘They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge [yadah—know] me,’ declares ADONAI.” (Jeremiah 9:3)
And also …
“‘You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge [yadah] me,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:6)
Rather than delighting in a relationship with God, some might derive their joy from their own knowledge, wisdom, might or riches, and even boast in them, perhaps excusing their moral failures because of these privileges.
True privilege, however, is to know God and be known by Him.
“But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know [yadah] me and understand that I am ADONAI who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things.” (Jeremiah 9:24)
Isn’t this the deepest cry of our hearts—to truly know and be known by another?
God placed this desire in our hearts, so it shouldn’t amaze us that we can have an intimate relationship with the Almighty God, creator of the Heavens and the Earth.
God knew Jeremiah and pre-destined him to be a prophet among the Jewish People.
In the Biblical model of prophets, a prophet is a spiritual leader ordained by God to convey His message, or be His spokesperson.
Indeed, we do see this idea in today’s Haftarah:
“‘Do not say, I am too young. You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.’ … Then the Lord reached out His hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:7–10)
Of course, apart from Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), the greatest prophet was Moses. (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18; Acts 3:22)
“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew [yadah] face to face.” (Deuteronomy 34:10)
The Weeping Prophet
“Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” (Jeremiah 9:1)
Some have called Jeremiah “The Weeping Prophet” because of his terrible grief over the sins of Israel—sins that would result in certain judgment and punishment unless the people repented.
Although Jeremiah was born into a priestly family around 650 BC, God had already called him and set him apart for service as a prophet to the nations even before his development in his mother’s womb!
In Hebrew, the word for womb is רחם (rechem), which is also the root for the word רחם (rachem), meaning mercy, pity, or compassion.
The Hebrew reveals that God created the woman’s womb to be a place of mercy for the unborn child. Even while we are as yet unformed in our mother’s womb, God loves us and has compassion on us.
Jeremiah was a child of destiny; he didn’t look for his calling—it came to him.
God didn’t scrutinize Jeremiah’s track record as a youth to determine if he was fit to be a prophet. This was God’s plan for Jeremiah before he was even born—a pre-natal destiny.
Although he was timid by nature, after receiving his calling, he fearlessly proclaimed the Divine message of repentance to a nation that did not want to listen.
That message always held out the promise of restoration after judgment, and to deliver it, he lived a sacrificial, consecrated life—one man standing against the tide of sin.
The Promise of the Almond Tree
In today’s Haftarah, the Lord gives Jeremiah a vision that conveys both warning and reassurance—the vision of the almond tree.
“The word of the LORD came to me: ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ ‘I see the branch of an almond tree [shaked],’ I replied. The LORD said to me, ‘You have seen correctly, for I am watching [shoked] to see that My word is fulfilled.’” (Jeremiah 1:11–12)
Without an understanding of Hebrew, we can totally miss the clever wordplay in this vision.
An almond tree in Hebrew is שקד (shaked), and to be watchful and awake is שקד (shoked)—the same three consonants, but with different vowel sounds.
God then shows Jeremiah a vision of a boiling pot tilting toward Israel from the north.
The Lord said to him, “From the north disaster will be poured out on all who live in the land…. I will pronounce my judgments on my people because of their wickedness in forsaking me.” (Jeremiah 1:14–16)
The vision of the almond tree, therefore, reveals that God is watching our actions. He sees sin and we will be judged.
The fact that the almond tree is one of the first trees to flower after winter, alludes to the urgency of repentance, for God is watching.
The vision of the almond tree also speaks of restoration.
We see this later in Jeremiah when God makes the following promise that refers back to the vision of the almond tree:
“Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:28)
A Treasured Possession Holy to the Lord
“For you are a people holy [kadosh] to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen [bachar] you to be His treasured possession [segullah].” (Deuteronomy 14:2)
Haftarah Pinchas ends with the assurance that Israel is kadosh (holy, set apart) for the Lord.
“‘Israel is set aside [kadosh—holy] for ADONAI, the firstfruits of His harvest; all who devour her will incur guilt; evil will overtake them,’ says ADONAI.” (Jeremiah 2:3)
This is a word of warning: in the heavenly courts, the enemies of Israel are pronounced guilty and they will be judged accordingly.
One cannot be anti-Semitic and still expect to see God’s full blessing upon their lives. God has promised the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) that He “will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” (Genesis 12:3)
Just as Jeremiah had a special destiny, so does Israel because God designated it as kadosh—set apart to Him for special service.
God is watching over His Word to perform it, and He certainly will restore Israel in these end times as He has promised.
God also promises that He will deliver us.
He tells Jeremiah in this Haftarah: “Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be terrified…. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 1:17–19)
Over and over again in Scripture, God tells us, “Fear not, for I am with you. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
We need not be afraid, even when something (or someone) comes against us, for God promises His help. The battle is the Lord’s. We need only stand firm in faith, trusting in the Word of the Lord.