Pinechas: The High Priest Who Did Not Die
Pinechas was son of El’azar and grandson of the first high priest of Israel, Aharon. As a result of a single act Pinechas did, he was given the title of “High Priest” of Israel for eternity in an everlasting covenant: the Covenant of peace.
But what did Pinechas do to receive the highest position in the priesthood of Israel? He killed two fornicators who committed an act of perversion in front of the Tabernacle before the eyes of Mosheh and the elders. Pinechas speared them both. Was that an act of taking the law in his own hands? We recall that Pinechas was not the only biblical hero who had killed someone based on his own judgment; Mosheh did this to an Egyptian.
For this act of zeal, the eternal possession of the priesthood was promised to Pinechas and his sons in YHVH’s Covenant of peace.
Pinechas and the accounts we have of his life in the Scripture are anomalous in various aspects. Therefore, it is the object of this work to seek the answers to these issues, as we would like to touch upon obscure passages in the Hebrew Scripture that much have been avoided in the traditional commentaries. In this endeavor, we are fully aware that we cannot remove all the difficulties we will come across, but it is worth trying, as the reader will see below. The reader has therefore to expect that the subject mentioned in this introduction by no means is conclusive much less authoritative and is a matter of personal view of the present author.
The Bible is a book of questions, not of answers. What is important is its challenge. (Jewish saying)
Is taking the law in one’s hands justifiable?
Time came that at the end of forty-year long journey in the desert of Arabia, the nation of Israel camped in the desert plains of Moav beyond the Yarden of Yericho. Balak the king of Moav was exceedingly afraid of the great number of people next to his borders. Because he heard of what had happened to the other nations, he hired a prophet for profit, Bil’am, to help him cursed the new people; Bil’am was also a prophet of the Elohim of Israel. But instead of being cursed, the nation of Israel was blessed by the mouth of Bil’am.
While Bil’am was unable to place a magical curse upon Israel, he did leave Balak with the critical advice as to how to remove the protective shield Israel had enjoyed. The critical information that Bil’am gave to Balak is this: “He has not looked upon wickedness in Ya’akov, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel” (Num 23:21). How would that help King Balak to defeat Israel? This is how.
As long as YHVH the Elohim of Israel does not see perverseness in Israel, He will be with them, a shield and protection the nation had over the last forty years. But the opposite is also true. If Israel would turn to wickedness, this protection would be removed, and the nation would be left to its enemies. Bil’am the prophet of YHVH, whose eyes were opened, who was hearing the words of Elohim and knew the knowledge of the Most High, who saw the vision of the Almighty (24:15-16) knew that, and now Balak knew it too.
And the king did not waste any more time with building altars and bringing sacrifices. He went on right away to send his women and the women of Midian to seduce the men of Israel. And the plot succeeded. The women of Midian and Moav went flirt-fishing for the Israelite men as instructed by Bil’am. Balak’s hatred for Israel was so extreme that he sent even the daughters of the nobles to prostitution in order to make Israel sin. But not only did the seductive women have sexual acts with the men of Israel, but they went for more; they seduced the Israelites into worshiping their deity: Ba’al Pe’or.
And one of the men of Israel, a Shimonite, came and brought a Midianite woman before the eyes of Mosheh and all the elders of Israel, who were weeping at the door of the Tent of Meeting. Right there they committed a sexual act in defiance. That was a rebellious act of fornication in front of the Tabernacle. When Pinechas, the grandson of Aharon saw it, he took a spear and went after the man and the woman and drove his spear through both of them, through her genitals. Thus, the provocation of the men of Israel was stayed from Israel. And those who were killed were twenty-four thousand (Num 25:6-9).
Note: Verse 8 reads: “through her belly” (JPS). But the Hebrew word used for “belly” is קֳבָתָהּ, kavatah, maw, as found in “the jaw and the maw (וְהַקֵּבָה)” (Deu 18:3). Pinechas speared his male organ and her female organs where the perverseness and sin originated. The Hebrew text uses a delicate term for the female genitals. We explained the use of such delicate terms in the article How Hebrew Addresses Delicate Matters – Parts 1and 2.
The zealous Pinechas
As a result of Pinechas’ act of zeal, all the high priests, who functioned during the period of the first Temple, and even during the early period of the second Temple were direct descendants of him as recorded in 1Chronicles 5:30 (6:4 in the Christian bibles). For YHVH spoke to Mosheh, saying,
Pinechas, son of El’azar, son of Aharon the priest, has turned back My heat from the children of Israel, in that he was zealous with My zeal in their midst, so that I did not consume the children of Israel in My zeal. Therefore say, “See, I am giving him My Covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his seed after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood, because he was zealous for his Elohim, and made atonement for the children of Israel”. (Num 25:11-13)
Note: The expression בְּקַנְאוֹ bekano אֶת־קִנְאָתִי et-kineati, is translated more literally, “in that he avenged my avenging”, which means: “When he displayed the anger that I should have displayed”. The Hebrew word קנאה kanah always denotes anger or wrath to execute vengeance for a thing, as in Exo 20:5. The word בְּקַנְאֹו bekano, thus means “in displaying my zeal in their midst”. קִנְאָתִי is not “zeal for My sake”, but “my zeal”, the zeal of Elohim with which Pinechas was filled.
This being so, Pinechas and his sons received the Covenant of peace which granted the high priesthood forever, because of the zeal he showed at that crucial moment.
But what do we know about Pinechas? Pinechas, son of El’azar, son of Aharon, brother of Mosheh, first appears in the Book of Exodus, wherein we learn that he was born in Egypt (Exo 6:25). Until the incident with the fornication with the Midianite women, when he turned back the wrath of Elohim from Israel. (Num 25:7-11), we know nothing about him. Pinechas had so distinguished himself by the zeal against the idolaters, that it was impossible to find any better priest attached to the army to finish the war with Midianites, which he started (see Num 31:6). We are forwarding the time even further.
After the Covenant Elohim made with him and his descendants, Pinechas appears in the Book of Joshua almost forty years later, where he served in the time of Yehoshua, as a high priest (Jos 22:13). He then appears in Jdg 20:28, as a priest in the civil war between the Binyamites and all other tribes of Israel in the period of the Judges, in the final story in the Book of Judges, which spans hundreds of years. Did we notice something odd here? From Exodus to Judges, this would suggest long lifespan we see only in the times of the Book of Genesis. His father, El’azar, was buried in Pinechas’ land (Jos 24:33), in the country of Ephrayim, but the Bible account never describes Pinechas dying and being buried’ like his ancestors. We know when and where Aharon and El’azar died and were buried, but we do not even know whether Pinechas ever died. Strange!
“We believe in miracles, but we may not rely on them”. (Jewish saying)
Note: Interestingly, the name פִּינְחָס Pinechas, seems to be a compound name derived from the words פֶּה pen, mouth, and נָחָשׁ nachash, serpent. Hence, Pinechas means “mouth of a serpent”. But according to Brown-Driver-Briggs definition, Pinechas means “mouth of brass”; brass always appears in the Scripture as a symbol of judgment.
The Pinchas case is anomalous, because of the unique circumstances of his life. By His decree, Elohim decided to grant Pinechas the priesthood. By appointing Pinechas and his descendants (Pinechas was not among the ordained priests, the sons of Aharon) as priests directly, He thus elevated him for his personal distinction in turning His wrath away from Israel, saying, “I am giving him My Covenant of peace”. In accordance with this decree, the high priesthood passed from El’azar to Pinechas and continued in his posterity. Should we not expect to read somewhere that this distinguished priest of YHVH was buried and grieved by his people? But we do not find any such records, as we do find for Mosheh, Aharon, and Yehoshua, who were buried and mourned.
The performance of this commandment helped Pinchas both in this world and in the hereafter. In this world Pinchas merited the gifts granted to the priests. Moreover, he lived for many hundreds of years on terrestrial earth. We have proof of this in Jdg 11:26 when Yiftach told the Ammonites that Israel had dwelled in Hebron and other towns claimed by the Ammonites already for over 300 years. We also find over a hundred years later that Pinchas was still alive in Jdg 20:28. The prophet states this explicitly [Ed. that this Pinechas was the son of Aharon]. As to the benefits Pinechas received in his hereafter as a result of his courageous and purely motivated deed in killing Zimri and Cozbi, he was granted the dimension of peace, a wonderful attribute. He was ushered in to eternal life.
Rabbeinu Bahya believed that Pinechas obtained eternal life. On the supposition, which is a very probable one, that Pinechas obtained eternal life some of the rabbis believe that Pinechas is Eliyahu on account that Eliyahu has never died. According to the view of the sages in Bava Metzia 114b, Pinechas and Eliyahu were identical, as some go even further to say that Eliyahu is Pinechas reincarnated. But this claim is not well established here in Bava Metzia. In Bava Metzia 114b, Eliyahu the prophet is only referred to as “priest” and the identification with Pinechas is thus made only on the basis of association on account of the word “priest” used, not on any scriptural proof. This in turn appears to be insufficient to declare that Eliyahu and Pinechas were the same person.
We further find the following difference of opinion. On the other side of the debate is Rabbi Ibn Ezra, who in his commentary on Numbers 25:13, Rabbi Ibn Ezra confirms that Phinehas was a ruler over Israel (1Ch 9:20) and was still alive in the civil war in The Judges, chapters 19-21, but he brings as proof that he actually died and is in no way to be identified with Eliyahu. The proof, according to Ibn Ezra is the word acharav (after him) in Num 25:13.
However, we are in opinion that this word does not prove or disprove anything, because the verse simply says: “it shall be to him and to his seed after him a covenant of an everlasting priesthood”. What this verse testifies is the transfer of the priesthood from the sons of Aharon to the sons of Pinechas without concerning itself with Pinechas’ life. To say that Pinechas died because it was said “after him” is no more proof than to say that Eliyahu died, because after him Elisha became a prophet. (Eliyahu was taken alive in heaven by the means of a celestial chariot called merkavah in Hebrew).
Which view is correct? It is impossible to decide with certainty between these two different views, as this is a difficult question to answer decisively. It is possible that these views have their own merits, for we indeed find that Chanoch (that is Enoch) and Eliyahu did not die but were taken in heaven.
The sages however are in agreement on the longevity of Pinechas, whose life spreads from Exodus to Judges. And since we cannot take a side in this debate, on account of insufficient knowledge, we will leave the Pinechas case as unresolved until more knowledge and understanding are obtained. But we are still in the debt and obligation to our readers to admit that the scriptural accounts in Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, and Judges, concerning Pinechas, make the question already arisen. (There is no other biblical hero who had lived in that span of books). And rising a question is perhaps more important than to have an answer. For answer is always a matter of personal opinion, while a question is a quest for truth.
Yet, the connection with Eliyahu is peculiar. Eliyahu, the great prophet of YHVH in the reign of King Ahav, first appears in 1Ki 17:1. The simple meaning of the verse is that Eliyahu was native of the land of Gilead, which would make him a Gileadite. Eliyahu is known as הַתִּשְׁבִּי ha-tishbi, “the Tishbite”, since he resided in that land, and is understood to be derived from a place called Tishbeh, which, according to Tob 1:2, existed in Upper Galilee, the Land of Naphthali.
1Ki 17:1 tells us his place of living but not his tribal origin. We do not know where he was born, or Eliyahu’s father and mother; he is never mentioned as a son of someone but only known as Navi, “prophet”. The name אֵלִיָּהוּ Eliyahu means “my El[ohim] is Yehovah” or “Yehovah is Elohim”. For this reason, the rabbinic sources are not lacking speculations about Eliyahu’s origin.
And in conclusion of the matter, we should recall a peculiar passage in the Apostolic Scripture in which Yochanan was asked by the Judeans whether he was the prophet Eliyahu or not (John 1:21). Evidently, the Pinechas cold case was still resonating in the memories and minds of the first century Judeans, who remained perplexed even some 1,500 years after the event.
And one final thought. If the rabbis believe that Pinechas had obtained an eternal life, or he had been reincarnated in Eliyahu, why would they not for a moment even entertain the idea that Yeshua could have been the mystical celestial being Metatron incarnated. The Metatron, “the minister of the world”, “the servant of Hashem”, whom they have spoken of in their writings like Chagigah 16a:1-3, Sanhedrin 38b:19, Avodah Zarah 3b:12, Zohar, Vayeshev 5:49, etc.
Who among the rabbis would even think to reject the words of one of the giants in Judaism, Rashi, who wrote about Metatron, He commented on Exo 23:21 regarding the messenger of YHVH, saying, “Our Sages said that this angel is Metatron whose name is the same as his Master’s (God), for מְטַטְרוֹן Metatron, has the same numerical value 314 as שַׁדַּי Shaddai, “Almighty”?
In the light of what has been said above, we are asking the reader to consider what we intended to say concerning Pinechas. And to make the Metatron case even stronger for our readers, we suggest the following study of Time of Reckoning Ministry for the reader’s consideration: Anointed Metatron and Mediator.
Knowledge known to only a few will die out. If you feel blessed by these teachings of Time of Reckoning Ministry, help spread the word!
May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!
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