“Then the angel of Yahweh set out.
He struck down one hundred eighty-five thousand
In the camp of the Assyrians.
When morning dawned,
They were all dead bodies.”
Once again, this is almost word for word from 2 Kings, chapter 19, except that missing here is “that very day.” Wow! This is an amazing number, even greater than the Egyptian plagues. The angel of Yahweh, at the time of the Exodus, killed the first born children of Egypt. Here the angel of Yahweh killed Assyrian warriors. 185,000 is a lot of people to die in one night. Herodotus the Greek historian noted that the Assyrians were defeated at the Egyptian borders when mice ate their bowstrings. Mice could have brought a plague, but to kill everyone of the 185,000 in one night seems a bit much.
Son of Eleazar
Is the third in glory.
He was zealous
In the fear of the Lord.
He stood firm,
When the people turned away.
In the noble courage of his soul,
He made atonement for Israel.
Therefore a covenant of peace
Was established with him.
He should be the leader of the sanctuary.
He should be the leader of his people.
He with his descendants
Should have the dignity
Of the priesthood forever.
Just as a covenant
Was established with David,
Son of Jesse,
Of the tribe of Judah,
That the king’s heritage
Passes only from son to son,
So the heritage of Aaron
Is for his descendants alone.”
This story of Phinehas was based on Numbers, chapter 25. It is strange that Sirach has given him such an important place. In fact, Sirach says that he ranks 3rd behind Moses and Aaron. Phinehas was the grandson of Aaron via Eleazar, the son of Aaron. However, his claim to fame was that he stopped a plague among the Israelites by killing a fellow Israelite who was having sex with a Midianite woman at Peor. Thus he made atonement for the Israelites who were involved in intermarriage situations with the Midianites. Yahweh rewarded Phinehas with a perpetual covenant of friendship. He then became the leader of the future sanctuary so that his descendants would be priests forever. However, he already was in the line of Aaron. This covenant was like the later covenant with David and his descendants. Thus the descendants of the Phinehas often became the head high priest of Jerusalem.
“Then the Israelites attached themselves to the Baal of Peor.
They ate sacrifices offered to the dead.
They provoked Yahweh to anger with their doings.
A plague broke out among them.
Then Phinehas stood up.
Then the plague was stopped.
That has been reckoned to him as righteousness
From generation to generation forever.”
Once again Yahweh was angry with the Israelites as they sacrificed to the pagan god Baal at Mount Peor in Numbers, chapter 25. They had sex with the local women and began to worship the local gods of Baal on their way into the Promised Land. This proved Yahweh to anger again, so that a plague broke out among the Israelites. Phinehas, who was the grandson of Aaron, stood up and killed an Israelite who brought a local Midian woman into his family. He also killed her with a sword in front of everybody. With that, the plague that had killed 24,000 Israelites stopped. Thus his name, Phinehas, is still honored for generations. This killing was considered righteousness because of the wicked Israelites.