Phinehas (Sir 45:23-45:25)

“Phinehas

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.

Grandpa Jesus (Sir 0:5-0:14)

“My grandfather Jesus

Devoted himself especially

To the reading of the Law,

To the reading of the Prophets,

To the reading of the other books of our ancestors.

After acquiring considerable proficiency in them,

He was himself also led to write something

Pertaining to instruction,

Pertaining to wisdom.

By becoming familiar with this book,

Those who love learning

Should make even greater progress

In living according to the law.”

Who is Grandpa Jesus? Obviously, he is the grandfather of this writer/translator. This ‘Jesus’ is the Anglicized form of the Greek name Ἰησοῦς or the Aramaic Yeshua. He was the son of Sirach, a Jewish scribe who had been living in Jerusalem. He then authored this work in Alexandria, Egypt, around 180–175 BCE, where he is thought to have established a school. He is sometimes referred to as Ben Sira, son of Sir, or as it has been rendered in Greek, ‘Sirach’. There are all kinds of Jewish stories about his background. This ‘Jesus’ or ‘Sirach’ was a devoted scholar of the Hebrew Law, Prophets, and the other books of the Hebrew Bible. He wanted to share some of the instruction and wisdom that he had received from these books. Thus this author, his grandson, wants those who loved learning to become familiar with this work. With that, they would be better able to follow the Law itself.

The plague among the Israelites (Ps 106:28-106:31)

“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.

He interceded.

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.