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The Power of Righteous Zeal

Updated: Jun 14

Scripture: Psalms 106:30-31 and Numbers 25 (Numbers 25:6-11).


Every great spiritual leader in history shared a common trait—a vibrant, intense, and righteous zeal that turned challenging interpersonal encounters into opportunities for transformation and growth. This zeal, so intense and rare, often surprises us in its dramatic manifestations. Righteous zeal is not merely a fervent emotion but a powerful force capable of both great good and great destruction. Its presence has been crucial in shaping societies, maintaining moral order, and fostering a world of righteousness over despair.

Phinehas stands out as a profound example of righteous zeal. Amid the Israelites' transgressions with the Moabite women, which led to idolatry, Phinehas acted decisively. He saw the Israelite prince and the Midianite princess committing acts against the covenant of God and, with a zeal for God’s honor, ended their lives, which halted a divine plague. This act, though violent, was met with God's approval and resulted in a covenant of peace and blessings for Phinehas and all his generation, illustrating the rewarding nature of righteous zeal.

Importance of Zeal in Serving God

Zeal is essential in our service to God. It propels us towards actions that align with the divine will and righteousness of God. Without zeal, our spirituality lacks the dynamism necessary for effective living and moral integrity. Biblical zeal must be accompanied by wisdom and a clear understanding of God’s laws, as misguided zeal can lead to destructive outcomes. Correctly placed zeal can prosper a nation, family or a person. Phenihas zeal was not savage and unreflective, but was subject to the power of reason. Phinehas not only models zeal as a passion for God’s holiness, but also for love, justice, and faith.

It is possible to defile the sanctuary today just as truly and significantly as Nadab and Abihu and Jeroboam's sons and the 'strangelings' defiled it back then. It can be done by those who claim to love God but who seek to replace the devotion to God's service and the command to worship Him in the way He requires with a selfish individualism or with a consumerist quasi-religious experience pleasing to themselves fingered in private amusements as perilously close to empty chatter as 'strange fire'. Phinehas understood that those who professed a close relationship with God must be marked out as wholly devoted to His service while seeking after purity and holiness of life; those who professed a close relationship with God must declare and uphold their Zion-like determination. Only then will the enemies of Christ and His Church begin to take the Gospel with the reverence it deserves, and to understand that the society which it forms is the only certain way of ensuring their redemption in the sight of a holy and gracious God."

Understanding the setting of Phinehas’ action is crucial. The Israelites, despite experiencing God’s miracles, repeatedly faltered by integrating pagan practices. This recurring sinfulness necessitated dramatic interventions, as seen through Phinehas' zeal. His actions were not just about enforcing moral codes but about preserving the sanctity of the community and its covenant with God.

In order to purge the dishonor done to God and to re-sanctify the camp - both of which aims Phinehas did fulfill without question - he killed Zimri and his partner in the illegal liaison. The emotional and rational drives of religious zeal, the public execution of the couple and the sudden cessation of the plague that was decimating the community have all been profoundly troubling to many people throughout the ages. Yet, whatever else one might say both about Phinehas' motives and his actions in achieving his aims, the fact is that Phinehas' deed turned idolatry into obliteration. The plague stopped and the cohesion of the camp was re-established. Out of an apparent act of impiety, Phinehas launched an act of piety.

The deliberate public parade of sin made Phinehas furious. Aside from the deeply emotional impact of witnessing such a public display of flagrant sin, some of our traditions suggest that Zimri deliberately challenged Moses' recent ruling concerning forbidden marriages and, in so doing, sought to call into question the authority of Moses and the Torah which Moses had given us. This ritual act in the immediate presence of the central religious and political leadership of the community not only rubbed salt in the wound but was perceived as open warfare. The mere sense of right and wrong was not alone then what prompted Phinehas' act. He was also driven by the legitimate fear that this episode would stir up the people to rebellion against God and God's leaders and thus threaten the cohesion of the Israel tribe, if not the entire nation.

Phinehas was deeply offended by the sin of Zimri, unlike others who saw it as natural. His zealous act prevented a larger outbreak of zealotry and saved countless lives. God rewarded Phinehas with an everlasting priesthood for him and his descendants. Phinehas's actions, though severe, turned God's wrath away from Israel, averting a plague that threatened to kill thousands. His zeal, even in times of peace, brought stability and promise.

Phinehas's story contrasts with other biblical heroes, showing successful and divinely approved actions. His zeal and routine conduct made him a model priest. To cultivate zeal, one should associate with spiritually zealous people, keep oneself pure, and prioritize righteousness above all else. Apathy arises from separation from the spirit, leading to strife instead of peace. Maintaining zeal involves keeping one's personal temple clean and valuing the gifts from God.

Lessons Learned

Association: Surround yourself with zealous people.

Purity: Keep your personal life clean and free from impurity.

Priorities: Ensure righteousness is the top priority in life

Realization and Sanctity: True zeal requires a deep understanding of divine principles and a sanctified purpose. Phinehas' actions were underpinned by a profound recognition of the stakes involved—the spiritual health of his people and the honor of God.

Definition of Righteous Zeal: Righteous zeal lies at the intersection of fervor for God’s will and the moral courage to act upon it. It is distinguished from rashness by its grounding in divine command and its focus on the greater good rather than personal vindication.

Consequences of Unrighteous Behavior: The narrative of Phinehas also warns of the dire consequences of unrighteousness. The plague that struck the Israelites was a direct result of their disobedience, illustrating how individual actions can impact the community's divine favor.

In modern contexts, righteous zeal must be channeled into actions that uphold divine law and promote moral and spiritual renewal. Contemporary challenges—such as social injustice, moral decay, and cultural degradation—require the kind of zeal demonstrated by Phinehas. This zeal should be tempered with compassion and aligned with God’s purposes, driving reforms that are not just punitive but transformative.


Phinehas' example is a powerful reminder of the importance of zeal in upholding divine commands and acting against sin. His story encourages us to embrace zeal not as a mere emotion but as a committed response to God’s call for holiness and righteousness. In a world that often values indifference, the biblical call to righteous zeal is as relevant as ever—challenging us to stand firm in our convictions and act boldly in the face of moral challenges.

Phinehas' zeal was not only about his personal righteousness but also about his commitment to God’s broader vision for His people. His actions, though drastic, were fundamentally about restoring the community to its covenantal obligations. His legacy teaches us that righteous zeal, when properly aligned with God’s will, can lead to profound societal healing and spiritual renewal.

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