Zeal is defined as “passionate ardor in the pursuit of any thing…an eagerness of desire to accomplish or obtain some object” (Webster 1828). Several years ago, a conductor by the name of Eugene Ormandy dislocated his shoulder while passionately conducting the Philadelphia orchestra. Ormandy displayed zeal in his pursuit of musical excellence. Although there is a “zeal of God…not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2) that is to be avoided, there is a kind of zeal for God that should be manifest in the life of every Christian. Our aim in being zealous for God should be a desire to have our focus so much on pleasing God and advancing His glory that it becomes the one thing we live for.
In Numbers 25, we see the sinister plan of Balaam in action. Since he could not curse the Israelites openly, he cursed them secretly by introducing immorality and idolatry into the camp. The Bible says that “the people began to commit whoredoms with the daughters of Moab…and bowed down to their gods” (v. 1-2). The people descended into the moral compromise of fornication and idolatry. The sin of the people brought God’s judgment upon them. God commanded the rebel leaders to be hung and for the followers of Baal to be slain. In verse 6, the sin of the people culminated in a brazen and open act of sin by one of the men and a Midianitish woman. This so stirred a priest by the name of Phinehas to action that he slew the offenders. Because of the zeal of Phinehas, the people were saved from further judgment. The Lord praised Phinehas because “he was zealous for my sake among them, and I consumed not the children of Israel in my jealousy” (v. 11). Verse 13 says that Phinehas “made an atonement for the people” and was rewarded with an everlasting priesthood.
When dealing with sin and error in the lives of others, one usually responds in one of two wrong ways. Either they are “over-condemning” like the Pharisees or they are “over-tolerant” like the Corinthians. Phinehas was a man of zeal who knew when and how to take a stand for God. Phinehas stood for holiness and separation amid moral compromise and open sin. Phinehas was not taking on the role of a vigilante but was in sync with the will of God and was motivated by a sense of zeal for God’s name. Titus 2:5 makes it clear that the purpose that God has redeemed us is to “purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” It takes the courage of a man like Phinehas to stand for God amid moral compromise. God has called us to “come out from among them, and be…separate…and touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17). “…Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).