Lead Like Phinehas
Stand up for God, and you will stand out to God.

“Education today teaches students how to be followers—not leaders,” Stephen Flurry wrote in Education with Vision. “Our world fills the minds of people with false education from early childhood. And because we like to be well thought of, to be liked, and to be accepted, people are trapped into conforming—into following the false teachings of this world like blind sheep!”

God wants to give you true education. Modern education teaches students how to be followers. True education teaches students how to be godly leaders. In order to be godly leaders, you must avoid the trap of conforming to this world.

That quote even identifies one of the main reasons it is so easy for us to fall into that trap: We want to be well thought of; we want to be liked; we want to be accepted. Those are natural desires. But if you don’t measure those desires against God’s law, if they rise above your desire to obey God, if they are motivated by selfishness and vanity—they will suck you into the trap of conformity and turn you into a follower!

You cannot be a leader for God and conform to this world—you might as well just walk around with sheep written on your forehead. But the Bible shows us how we can avoid this trap through the example of someone who proved himself a leader.

This account, recorded in Numbers 25, took place right before Israel entered the Promised Land. Verses 1-3 tell us: “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.”

This was at the end of 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. They had seen the entire previous generation die off as a result of sin! How did they get back in this situation?

After the Israelites defeated the Amorites, the Moabites became scared that they would be next. They hired the pagan prophet Balaam—the pope of his day—to curse the Israelites. God forbade him from cursing the Israelites, but Balaam lusted after the reward the Moabite king offered him. Instead of obeying God, Balaam went as far as could in the direction he wanted to go. Mr. Armstrong pointed to Balaam as a powerful lesson of making sure you are staying safe within the bounds of God’s law.

Despite Balaam’s attempts to change God’s mind, God still refused to let him curse the Israelites. Instead, Balaam taught the Moabites how to trick the Israelites into cursing themselves: If they seduced the Israelites to sin, they would depart from God and curse themselves.

The Moabites and the Midianites followed Balaam’s plan, and sin spread throughout the Israelites. No one alerted Moses or his captains to what was going on until it was a national problem. But God saw it all.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the Lord against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel. And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor” (verses 4-5).

Moses followed through. He gave the command to the officers of Israel to kill those involved and take the heads of the leaders and display them on poles. In his wrath, God also brought a plague upon Israel. If Moses and his judges did not act quickly, this plague would spread throughout all of Israel. The strong response grabbed the people’s attention, and they began to repent. But not all of them.

“And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (verse 6). Verse 14 provides a few more details as to who this brazen sinner was: “Now the name of the Israelite that was slain, even that was slain with the Midianitish woman, was Zimri, the son of Salu, a prince of a chief house among the Simeonites.” The woman with him was a Midianite princess (verse 15).

The tabernacle was at the center of the Israelite’s camp. In order for Zimri to do this before Moses and the people weeping at the tabernacle, he had to walk halfway through the camp to pass the tabernacle and proceed to his tent. Half the Israelites would have observed his behavior before he reached Moses.

Where were the officers and judges Moses had assigned to follow through on God’s judgment? Maybe they were concerned about taking action against this son of a prince of a chief house of Simeon. Maybe they feared the reaction of the Simeonites or other chief houses of the tribes. Maybe they wanted to be well thought of, to be liked and to be accepted.

So this prince was allowed to walk through the camp brazenly with this woman. No one would do anything about it—except for one person.

“And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up 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 belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel” (verse 7-8).

One man took action and dealt with it as God wanted. His strong leadership stopped the plague!

It is important to note that Phinehas acted according to God’s instructions through Moses. He wasn’t handling it his own way. He knew what Moses had commanded the officers, and he knew how God wanted the ringleaders dealt with. He still did all this in submission to God’s government. A godly leader leads—but leads in submission to God’s government. But he took action.

Verse 10-13 record God’s response to Phinehas’s action: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, hath turned my wrath away from the children of Israel, while he was zealous for my sake among them, that I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy. Wherefore say, Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace: And he shall have it, and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood; because he was zealous for his God, and made an atonement for the children of Israel.”

Phinehas was able to avoid the trap of conforming because he was zealous for God. He cared more about what God thought than what the other Israelites or the chief houses of Simeon would think. He did not hesitate to obey God. His desire to please God was stronger than his desire to please others. And God took note of that! God knew that this man could be a leader.

And we see how history remembers Phinehas’s action. In Psalm 106, David reviews the history of the Israelites, and he wrote of this history that Phinehas “executed judgment … and that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations of evermore” (verse 30-31). Phinehas made what was surely an unpopular stand at the time, but history records who was respected and accepted—by King David and other godly people.

You don’t have to conform to this world to be well thought of! If you obey God and have zeal and do what’s right in God’s eyes, you will be accepted and respected. Put God first, and God will fulfill those desires for the right reasons.

What lessons can we learn from Phinehas? How can we be a leader rather than a follower? How can we stand out in God’s eyes? Zeal is important—putting God first, caring more what he thinks than what others think. Phinehas also obeyed God’s government. He stepped up to do what God said to do. Had Phinehas been any slower, more people would have died. He was urgent in obeying God.

Another lesson is less apparent in these verses. But one thing that would have surely helped Phinehas was that he learned from history.

Phinehas came from the tribe of Levi. There is another example in Exodus 32 where we see a similar situation—the incident of the golden calf. This was the very beginning of the Israelites’ relationship with God. When Moses was up on Mount Sinai longer than they expected, the Israelites turned to idolatry. They made a golden calf to worship and engaged in other lewd behavior that accompanies idolatry. When Moses found out—God had to tell him what Israel was doing at the bottom of the mountain—Moses took action! Aside from destroying the golden calf and making the Israelites drink it, he dealt with the perpetrators of this sinful behavior.

Verse 26 reads, “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.” Here was another situation of a national sin in Israel. God gave Moses instruction, and Moses asked: Who is on the Eternal’s side? Who is on God’s side?

When that desire to be liked and accepted by others rises, when you find yourself in situations where the decision you make could be unpopular, this is an important question to ask: Whose side are you on? Are you on God’s side?

That is the question Moses asked, and the sons of Levi responded. Moses gave them instruction on how to deal with the sinners and they acted on it. The Levite’s actions with the golden calf were one of the reasons they were selected for Tabernacle service! Phinehas would have known this history—may have even been alive for it—and learned from it.

That’s an amazing turnaround for the Levites. Back in the days of Jacob, Levi and Simeon had tried to handle a situation their own way—a very worldly, deceptive, violent way. They wiped out almost a whole town to get their revenge! Jacob was ashamed of their behavior when he heard of it. They hadn’t gone to Jacob, hadn’t gone to God. They took matters into their own hands. Jacob told them that they had made his name a “stink” to the other nations because of their vile acts (Genesis 34:30)!

But the descendants of Levi learned from that. Gerald Flurry wrote in the May-June 2020 Royal Vision: “The descendants of Levi turned it around, however, to the point that God chose the tribe of Levi to establish His priesthood! They didn’t have the Holy Spirit, but to some degree they turned to the Shepherd, the Stone, the mighty God of Jacob, and God turned a terrible curse into a blessing. Today we remember Levi for the priesthood rather than for the terrible cruelty he committed in the beginning. God is so willing to forgive! If we repent, we can turn our lives around.”

God saw the actions of Phinehas, the actions of the Levites. He saw their zeal, saw that they were on God’s side. And He saw that they could be leaders among the Israelites. They didn’t get trapped into conforming. They made a stand for God, so they stood out to God.

God wants to teach you how to lead. He is building leaders through His institutions—leaders not only for the Church, but for the World Tomorrow. If we’re going to be leaders for God, we must avoid the trap of conforming to the world. We have to learn to deal with those desires by measuring them against God’s law and making sure they never rise above our zeal to follow God. Learn from Phinehas’ example. Develop a zeal for God. Be firmly on God’s side, and you will avoid the trap of conforming to this world, and God will know that you can be a leader for Him.