Religion is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, faith in God, trust in Messiah and obedience to God's commandments is the narrow path that leads to life. It brings peace, joy and purpose to existence. On the other hand, religious convictions can become a source of strife, enmity and hatred between people and nations.
Parashat Pinchas is named for Pinchas (Phinehas), the zealous grandson of Aaron the priest who turned aside the LORD’s wrath by publicly skewering two flagrant transgressors. The LORD rewarded Phinehas with a “covenant of peace.” He became the progenitor of the priestly line.
The LORD said, “He was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy” (Numbers 25:11). The Hebrew word kin’ah (קנאה), which we ordinarily translate as “jealousy,” also means “zeal,” a better translation in this context.
This explains why the Master had a disciple named “Simon the Canaanite” in the King James Version of the Bible. The Greek text of Matthew and Mark introduce one of Yeshua’s disciples as “Simon the Canaanean (Καναναῖος).” Translators and scribes stumbled over the unusual word. Some scribes mistakenly tried to correct it as “Simon man of Cana.” The King James translators chose to translate it as “Simon the Canaanite.” Thanks to the error, Simon has the embarrassing honor of being the only Gentile disciple among the twelve—and a Canaanite at that!
Actually, the mysterious Greek word attempts to transliterate of the Semitic kanana (קנאנא), which means “the Zealot.” The anti-Roman, Jewish revolutionaries of first-century Judea called themselves Zealots. Luke recognized the word and translated it as “Simon the Zealot.” In modern vernacular, we would call him Simon the Terrorist.
Judea and Galilee were filled with political and religious zealots who regularly resorted to violence to advance their purposes. They emulated Phinehas, and used his story to justify terrorism.
Terrorists like the Zealots prove that zeal can be misplaced. Paul is another example of misplaced zeal. Prior to his Damascus road encounter, Paul pursued the believers with a Phinehas-like zeal. In his epistle to the Philippians, he mentioned his history as a persecutor of the believers as evidence of his “zeal” for God.
Rather than imitating Phinehas, we do far better to emulate the Master who was zealous for His Father’s house (John 2:17) and for His Father’s will. We should imitate the first-century Jewish believers who were “zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20). We should be “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14), and zealous for Messiah and the kingdom. This means ruthlessly rooting out from of our lives those things that lead us to sin and cause us to stray.