Posts tagged disobedience
There really isn’t much in the way of uplifting ideas to take away from today’s reading. There is not a whole lot of good news here. God is upset. The people haven’t listened and aren’t listening. God is done with them. There is, however, a takeaway for us right at the end of chapter 22.
“I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.” (Ezekiel 22: 30-31)
He looked. Even though, as he has laid out in these chapters and previous ones, God had every reason to wipe these people off the map, he still looked for someone to be an advocate for the people of Israel. He was hoping against hope that there would be someone to go to bat for them. But there was no one.
If he had found someone, God says that he wouldn’t have felt the need to destroy Israel. If just one person had advocated for them, he would have backed off. I would say that even if that person wasn’t all that fond of Israel or their practices, even a tepid response of support would have probably sufficed. After all, God was looking for a reason to show mercy. But he got nothing.
I think that for us, there is a lesson to be learned here. So often, Christians are quick to judge and quicker to call down judgement. Some people even long for the days that the “wicked” will receive their due. They (as I mentioned in an earlier post) look expectantly for the return of Jesus, not because of the good news he will bring to the world, but because of the justice he will bring to those who are against him.
But that’s not God’s heart. God doesn’t want to bring justice on his children. He wants to have mercy – to offer grace. Often, he’s just looking for an opportunity to do so. He’s looking for someone who will “stand in the gap” – someone to advocate for those who can’t or won’t advocate for themselves.
I guess that’s why I prefer to be an advocate. That’s why, when I see someone who is obviously depraved, my first thought is to wonder what kind of life they must have had that drove them to that place. I think that’s how God would desire for me to view that person – not seeking to judge, but seeking to understand. Not seeking to bring vengeance, but hoping against hope that there is a path toward mercy and grace to be found in there somewhere.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the perfect example of grace, but I am thankful for the examples that I had around me in my formative years of those who looked for opportunities to show mercy rather than opportunities to bring judgement. Those examples filtered into my character in ways I may never fully comprehend, but which have affected not only me but those around me in immeasurable ways.
My prayer for you (and for myself) is that God would infuse us with his grace, love and mercy. Even in our darkest hours and even in our most trying of times, that we would hold onto that hope that there is always a pathway forward. That we would seek with everything in us to avoid bringing judgement and, instead, to replace it with mercy. Honestly, I think that’s impossible to do on our own, but with the Holy Spirit living in us and working through us, we can do it. I can and you can.
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!