Torah Portion: Pinchas Numbers (B’Midbar) 25:10-30:1
HafTorah: I Kings 18:46-19:21
This week we read the Torah section named Pinchas. In it we read the end of the story from last week where Pinchas stopped the plague of G-d by killing Zimri and Cozbi who were blatantly sinning before G-d. In this weeks section we read where G-d says that Pinchas was zealous with the zeal of G-d. Numbers 25:11. In I Kings 19:10 we see Elijah saying that he was zealous for the L-rd. Because of this use of the word zealous, the Rabbis picked this reading in I Kings 18:46-19:21 to be read along with the Torah portion named Pinchas. What motivated Pinchas to this zeal that he displayed in B’Midbar? I would like to suggest that possibly it could have been his love of G-d and his brothers and sisters who were dying around him because of G-d’s plague.
Elijah could have been motivated by this same zeal for G-d. The people at this time had fallen into idol worship and had gone after other gods. Elijah, knowing the danger that lay before them, is motivated as was Pinchas, by his love for G-d and his love for G-d’s people. In any case they were both zealous for G-d. This word is often translated as jealous or impassioned as well. It is often used to describe how G-d feels for Israel and for us who have been grafted in. He loves us and because of that love will not allow us to walk away without pursuing us with zeal, which sometimes may require chastisement.
Now to the story of Elijah; I won’t go into the background here. I would hope you all know the story. Here in the first verse of today’s scripture we get a hint of Elijah’s mind. It says he ran ahead of Ahab. In Hebrew the word is “leafnah” or before him. He might have been a part of Ahab’s entourage. It may show that Elijah thought that now things would be different. Ahab would tear down the idols in Israel and reinstate the worship of G-d. However, he quickly learned that would not be the case. In I Kings 19:3 we read that he was afraid for his life and ran to Beersheva in Judea. There he left his servant and went another days journey into the wilderness. Why did he go to Beersheva? It was here that Abraham, the father of the people lived for awhile. Why the desert? It is a place of refuge, a place of revelation and also a place of death. It was near here that Hagar and Ishmael almost died of thirst. It would seem this was Elijah’s idea, for in verse 19:4 he asked G-d to take his life saying he did not deserve to live any longer. He felt he had failed in his task. He waited under a broom tree for whatever would come. (I Kings 19:5) An angel of G-d came and woke him and fed him. Had this happened to Elijah before? Twice. Once when the ravens fed him and again at the home of the widow and her son. The angel came back a second time (I Kings 19:7) and fed him again and told him the journey would be great for him but does not say where he is going. Elijah went 40 days on the meal until he came to the mountain of G-d. Like Moses at Sinai and Yeshua in the wilderness he fasted for 40 days on the strength of that meal. It took him 40 days to cover a trip that should have take about 8 days. Maybe he was retracing Israel’s wanderings, turning back the clock so to speak and returning to the place of the giving of the Covenant. The Covenant that he knew Israel had broken. Also the cave is important. It was not just any cave but the same cave where Moses had stood in Exodus 33:22. In verse 19 we read that G-d came and asked him a question. What are you doing here? What does this question imply? G-d had not told him to return here. It was never a place of pilgrimage for Israel. Where was G-d’s presence to be found? His presence was found in Jerusalem, at the Temple between the cherubim. By Elijah, being here in Sinai, was showing his utter disillusionment with Israel. They had broken the Covenant given on the mountain. Elijah had given up on them. It is like G-d is saying, “Why have you isolated yourself? Your job is to be a prophet to my people and to bring them back to Me, not to be here.” This is a question we may all face in our lives. Have you given up on what G-d has called you to do? Do you ever feel it’s too hard, no one is listening, what does it matter anyway, I’m the only one?
In I Kings 19:10 Elijah gave his response to G-d. He is the only one left and Israel has forsaken the Covenant. G-d then answers him in that still small voice. In 19:18 he reminds him that, no, he is not alone there are still 7,000 souls who have not bowed to Ba’al.
Paul in Romans 11 uses this verse to show that G-d still loves Israel and will fulfill His purpose for her because of the remnant of faithful. We do not know the mind of G-d. Our job, like Elijah, is to be faithful to what He has shown us and let Him work out the rest.