Posts tagged Aaron
It would be a strange thing to know when you were going to die. I mean, imagine if you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were going to die next week. What would you do? What would you say? How would you arrange your days? Would you have a dying wish for those around you?
Moses experienced that unusual phenomenon when God spoke clearly to him and told him when he was going to die. And not only did he know it was going to happen, but he had seen the very same kind of death happen to his brother Aaron. And so, faced with the reality that his death was coming soon, Moses must have had a million things going through his head.
Some in Moses’ position might have, as Moses was known to do on occasion, begged God for mercy – to change his mind. Others might have prayed for peace or provision for their family. Others might have gotten angry and said, “Why me?” But Moses had other things on his mind. You see, these people that he had been leading around the desert were precious to him. They mattered to him personally, but, perhaps more than that, they mattered to him because they mattered to God.
You’ll notice that just prior to Moses being told he was going to die, he conducted another census. And the results of the census were that there were just as many people as there had been before – except this was a unique group of people. This was the second generation of nomadic Israelites. This was a group of men and women – young men and women – who had been roaming through the dessert their entire lives. I can imagine that, in their eyes, Moses was god-like. He was the one who had freed their parents from Egyptian slavery. He was the one that was going to lead them to the promised land. He was, in a way, their father.
And so, this father – a father to an entire nation of young men and women – voiced his dying wish to his father in heaven:
Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Numbers 27:15-17)
Moses realized the incredible leadership void that would be left in his absence and he prayed to God for someone to take his place. His brother Aaron was gone. All of those wise old men who had been around for so many years to help Moses lead the nation were gone, too. From the first census, there were only 3 people left: Moses, Caleb and Joshua. And so, God told Moses to appoint Joshua, “a man in whom is the spirit of leadership,” to lead the people into the promised land.
Moses laid his hands on Joshua, commissioned him and, in the process, was witness to God fulfilling his dying wish for the people of Israel.
Do you see the pattern here? The people grumble against Moses, Moses pleads with God, God proves himself faithful to Moses and Moses is proven (by God) to the people of Israel. It happens over and over again as this vast group of people roam through the desert. This time, however, there’s a hitch – a variation in the pattern – and one that will have significant consequences for Moses and Aaron.
If you blinked (or dozed off) you might have missed it. In Numbers 20:8, God tells Moses:
“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” (Numbers 20:8 – emphasis mine)
So what did Moses do?
He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (Numbers 20:10-11 – emphasis mine)
There’s a problem. You see, in the past, Moses has done things exactly as the Lord has instructed him. Not only that, but he has always taken great pains to give credit where credit is due. He has always been careful to say “The Lord will…” or “The Lord said…” but this time, there is no “Lord” mentioned. Instead, Moses, in his frustration and anger calls an audible.
“Must we bring you water out of this rock?” Again, no mention of God doing anything. Then, instead of speaking to the rock like God had instructed, Moses strikes the rock twice with his staff. It doesn’t seem like a huge offense, though, right? I mean, the rock spewed water and the people were happy. The end. Well, not quite.
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:12)
God, judge and jury, has issued a verdict against Moses and Aaron. They will not enter into the promised land. You have to wonder if Moses and Aaron were thinking to themselves, “Really? After everything we’ve done and been through, you’re going to punish us for “striking” the rock instead of “speaking” to it? What gives?”
What gives is something that I think every leader needs to be aware of and careful to avoid. You see, Moses and Aaron had fallen into a trap. They had begun to read their own press clippings – to believe they were as great as the people said they were. They had begun to get a chip on their shoulder – to get defensive against those people who didn’t think they were so great. And so, when God gave them the instructions on how to give the people water, they took it as an opportunity to not only give them water, but to show those no good, arrogant so-and-so Israelites who was boss. “Must we bring you water out of this rock?”
They say that pride comes before the fall and for these two guys, that was certainly the case. You see, when we begin to take credit for what God is doing – when we begin to believe (or to portray to others) that we are capable of doing it without him – we are getting ever closer to falling into that pit. If it happened to Moses and Aaron, two great Biblical heroes, it can happen to us.
Woah! Something just happened here. In the midst of God creating structure for the worship and lives of his people, Leviticus 8-10 presents us with three stories – the first two offer a simple, easily-understandable view of God. Then the third story comes along and completely rips up our notions of a black and white God.
First, we read about the ordination of Aaron and his sons. This is an incredibly detailed ritual – the instructions for which were given directly from God to Moses. And I think we should note that this was a long time coming. Aaron and his sons had been anticipating (and, perhaps at times, dreading) this day for quite some time. Now the day was here and they followed the ordination process to the letter and began their ministry. And what happened when they had done everything that they were supposed to?
“Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown.” (Leviticus 9:23-24)
That’s pretty cool! The people did exactly what God told them to do, he did exactly what he said he was going to do and everything was great.
Then there’s the second story – the story of Nadab and Abihu. Now, this little episode stands in stark contrast to the first story. I think it’s important to remember that these two guys were part of the “Aaron and his sons” crew that went through the ordination process and followed everything to the letter. They weren’t rebels or bad guys. However, in Leviticus 10, we see that they strayed from their instructed duties. Now, the Bible isn’t clear about the motives of Nadab and Abihu or why exactly they offered this “unauthorized fire.” It doesn’t even really tell us whether they knew it was unauthorized fire. After all, they were new on the job. And yet, when they did something contrary to God’s instructions, they paid the ultimate price. What’s up with that?
There are a few quick take-aways here. It’s easy to see that God takes his commands pretty seriously (this, of course, served as a good reminder of that fact). It could also be said that his standard of purity was higher for these priests than for other people. This is an idea that seems to be fleshed out a little in the New Testament. And (this is of particular interest to me and I’ll probably expound upon it at a later date) this is an indication that God simply doesn’t have the same perspective on life that we do. He used these guys an example. Will they burn in eternal torment because they used “unauthorized fire” in the tabernacle? I’m not the judge, but I somehow doubt it. In fact, their death might have actually resulted in a substantial reward for them in an instant.
What I mean is this: While we may think the deaths of these two priests occurred to “teach them a lesson,” they really learned no such lesson. After all, they were dead. Everybody else learned a lesson! Was it fair of God to kill two people to teach a lesson? Sure, if you have God’s perspective of life and death. If you see human life as merely a brief chapter in a massive story about an individual’s spirit and about the entirety of God’s creation.
Either way, the moral of this second story was this: Do something that God doesn’t want you to do and you’re going to pay the price. Again, this enforced the concept of a black and white God. Follow instructions, get rewarded. Fail to follow instructions, get punished. But then look what happens:
When Moses inquired about the goat of the sin offering and found that it had been burned up, he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s remaining sons, and asked, “Why didn’t you eat the sin offering in the sanctuary area? It is most holy; it was given to you to take away the guilt of the community by making atonement for them before the Lord. Since its blood was not taken into the Holy Place, you should have eaten the goat in the sanctuary area, as I commanded.”
Aaron replied to Moses, “Today they sacrificed their sin offering and their burnt offering before the Lord, but such things as this have happened to me. Would the Lord have been pleased if I had eaten the sin offering today?” When Moses heard this, he was satisfied. (Leviticus 10:16-20)
Again, two of Aaron’s sons do something that contradicts the commands of the Lord. And yet, this time, not only are they not killed, but Scripture tells us that Moses, God’s appointed judge of the people of Israel, “was satisfied.” What we he satisfied with? He was satisfied with Aaron’s reasoning for why his sons didn’t eat the sacrificed goat. And so, even though these two men violated God’s command, the weren’t killed by God and they weren’t even punished by Moses.
So what is up here? Well, I think there’s a lot going on here, not the least of which is a presentation, right at the outset of this new religious order, that God is not as black and white as we try to make him. It’s subtle, but this story seems to point out what Jesus would later verbalize. It basically shows us that God’s created order and his laws are actually made for our benefit and that, in fact, there may be times when it’s OK to violate the letter of the law and, instead, obey the spirit of the law. In fact, God has no need to be black and white about following “policy and procedure” because he is a perfect judge. If he says it’s OK, it’s OK – even if it’s not “by the book.”
And so begins this mystery and tension of following the law, what the punishment for sin is and a lasting argument about what, if any, exceptions exist. Now things are starting to get fun!
Sometimes it’s great to be chosen. Chosen first for the kickball team in elementary school? Awesome! Chosen as a finalist in the Miss Coburn County pageant? Swell! Chosen to work in a newly formed house of worship which requires you to slaughter and burn animals, not to mention splashing and getting splashed with lots of blood? Um…not so much.
In today’s reading, God’s instructions are for Aaron and his descendents to become the priests of the new tabernacle. And while this role has a few perks, it doesn’t really seem like the most fun job in the world. There’s a lot of blood involved and, in all likelihood, a lot of stress about making sure to follow the rules. Maybe that’s why God had to appoint some people to the position of priest – no one would willingly apply for the job!
Whatever the reason, God chose Aaron and his family to be the first priests of Israel’s new place of worship. Now, Aaron may have seen this coming. After all, he had been in a position of leadership among the people of Israel since before they left Egypt. Because of that, it makes sense that God would entrust Aaron with this most important of tasks. What I find interesting, however, is that it wasn’t only Aaron who was chosen. It was Aaron’s family! I can imagine a teenage boy being told by his father, “No hanging out on the beach for you this summer. You’re going to be a priest!”
What? This was not the life that these young men chose. Rather, it was a life chosen for them. They had no say in the matter whatsoever. What’s more, they were chosen to be priests not because of some standard of purity or ethics to which they adhered. No, they were chosen based solely on lineage. Who was their father? OK, then they will be priests.
Can you imagine if God worked that way today? Rather than choosing to go into the ministry, you might just be dragged, kicking and screaming – into the church to work for God! Well, the truth is that God does still work that way. Take it from one who has been dragged back to the church kicking and screaming. I tried on multiple occasions to walk away from the task that God has given me as a full-time pastor and, every time, it has not gone well for me.
The fact is, my only choice in the matter is whether or not I’m obedient to the will of God – a choice that Aaron and his sons also had. Just like us, they could have poo-pooed the idea that they were supposed to be priests and simply carried on with their lives. Although, I’m guessing it wouldn’t have turned out well for them.
But let’s face it, it won’t turn out well for us either! If God is calling you, choosing you and asking you to do something, he’s not going to let you rest until you do it. Sure, he gives you a choice. But he’s not going to stop asking. He’s not going to stop urging. He’s not going to stop whispering in your ear. God, as it turns out, has a plan. It’s a grand plan with lots of details and millions of people who have to work together to execute this plant.
And God knows better than you or I what kind of person he needs in each role that he has created in order to fulfill his plan. And so, here we are – called by God – and we have a choice: Do we answer God’s call and step into the role he has assigned us or do we ignore his call and go our own way. It was a decision that Aaron’s family had to make and a decision that all of us still face today.
Leadership is hard. You’ve likely discovered this truth if you’ve ever been in any kind of leadership position at all. Whether you are the CEO of an international organization or quarterback of a backyard football game, you know that it’s lonely at the top. Managing people – their expectations, their workflow and assignments and, of course, their conflict – can zap the life out of even the most seasoned leader.
In today’s reading, we see two examples of the same principle. The first is somewhat of a symbolic example. As Joshua goes out to battle the Amalekites, Moses goes up to the top of the hill, presumably expecting that God will use him in some way up there. And he’s right! As long as Moses holds his hands up, the Israelites are winning the battle. When he drops his hands, they begin to lose. While this may be an unusual example, it effectively illustrates a point about leadership. When the person charged with leading a group of people is “at the helm” and “on the job,” the organization (or army or nation) is going to succeed. But when the person is aloof, lazy or absent, then all kinds of chaos will descend upon the group.
What, then, is a leader supposed to do? In Moses’ case, he simply got too tired to hold his arms up. He burnt out on the task. Fortunately, he had a couple of others – a close friend, Hur, and his brother, Aaron – there to give him a hand. These two men stepped into a support role in Moses’ hour of need. They provided him a place to sit down when his legs got tired and held up his arms when his own strength failed him. And while this event obviously made an impact on the armies of the Israelites and Amalekites, it perhaps made even more of an impact on Moses. In that moment, he was forced to realize that he needed other people – that he couldn’t do it by himself.
Moses’ need for the other men to support him on that hill, then, was symbolic of his need to have others surrounding and supporting him in his main areas of leadership. After all, Moses was leading (depending on which biblical scholar you listen to) at least 20,000 people and maybe as many as 2 million people at this time. I know there’s a huge difference between those numbers, which can be attributed to arguments over translation accuracy and literal interpretation issues, but the point is that Moses – just one guy – was trying to lead all these people. Whether is was 2 million or 20,000, the job was too big for one person.
And so, after Moses kind of gets the point in the midst of the battle with the Amalekites, his father-in-law Jethro shows up to clarify things. Jethro’s observation may seem like common sense to us today, but to Moses and the people of Israel, it would forever alter the leadership structure of their nation. And, in fact, though it makes sense to delegate some tasks and responsibilities to others, so many of us fall into the same trap as Moses. We try to do it all.
Thousands of years later, Jethro’s words are as applicable today as they were for Moses:
“What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out.”