A bit of extended reading time in Numbers this morning (chapters 9 through 17). Crazy! It’s amazing what “doing community” in the wilderness can do to a nation. It has a way, it seems, of making people kind of cranky . . . and oh, so foolish. Despite God’s visible presence among them as the cloud hovers over the tabernacle, indicating when to set up camp and when to move out, they somehow seem to forget that God’s there. Instead they focus on the stuff of the flesh. Stuff like . . . I’m getting tired of manna and want some variety in my diet. Stuff like . . . I know God promised us this land, but have you seen how big those dudes are? Stuff like . . . Who made you the boss over me?
And as a result, God’s anger is kindled. And though Moses spends a lot of time facedown petitioning on behalf of the cranky crowds, people are dying. Some due to plague. Some due to the earth swallowing them and their families whole. And God repeatedly asks, “How long will this people despise Me? How long with they not believe in Me? How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me?”
And there was a phrase at the end of chapter 16 that caught my eye . . . and captured my heart . . . and evoked a measure of thanksgiving.
It’s another day in the congregation. Actually not just any other day . . . it’s the day after Korah and Co. have been consumed by the earth because of their arrogant challenge of Moses’ and Aaron’s authority. So, you would think that the day after that kind of night before would be a day when people are a bit more cautious about mouthing off to Moses or to the LORD. Evidently not! The next day they grumble against Moses and Aaron and how they have “killed the people of the LORD.” Hello!!! Did they not see the ground open? Kind of a God thing . . . not really a man thing. But it seems there’s something about allowing the flesh to lead that can make people kind of stupid.
And so, they assemble against Moses. And then the cloud descends upon the tabernacle. The glory of God enters the camp, and another plague starts taking out people. “Get away from the midst of this congregation,” says the LORD to Moses, “that I may consume them in a moment” (16:45). And Moses and Aaron go facedown before the LORD on behalf of the people . . . AGAIN! And then Moses tells Aaron to quickly grab his censer, put fire on it from the altar, and start making atonement for the people “for wrath has gone out from the LORD” (16:46).
And here’s what caused me to pause . . .
So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. (Numbers 16:47-48 ESV)
And I pulled out my colored pencil for Jesus and shaded “he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.”
If Aaron’s actions aren’t a foreshadow of the Savior’s atoning work, then I’m not sure what is. Jesus, as it were, ran into the midst of the assembly . . . the destruction of sin all about Him . . . and made atonement for the sins of men through the offering of Himself on the altar’s fire. And my Savior stands between the dead and the living and the plague is stopped. For all who will believe, death’s power is broken. For all who will receive, the wrath has been turned away. For all who are covered by the offering of the spotless Lamb of God, they are counted among the living. The truly living. Given life . . . given new life . . . given abundant life . . . given life everlasting.
O’, what joy seeing Jesus “pop up” in the Old Testament. What humbling blessing to know again the Father’s heart towards wayward children that He would send His Son to redeem them that God might be both just, and the justifier, of all who believe (Rom. 3:26).
O, what amazing grace! To Him be eternal glory!