I’ve read it before, but this morning it kind of bothers me afresh. They haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been faithful. They’ve spent four decades working together to lead their people out of bondage and into a land flowing with milk and honey. They had to take a forty year detour because of these same people. People who complained . . . people who grumbled . . . people refused to enter the land . . . people who rose up in rebellion.
As I enter Numbers 20, apparently it’s been 38 years since the detour at Kadesh Barnea. Now the congregation is back . . . a new congregation. Those who refused entrance the first time have all passed during Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. Their kids have grown up. And now the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are back in the wilderness of Zin, staying at Kadesh.
And, kind of like father, like son, they rise up against Moses and Aaron quarreling about a lack of water. “It would have been better to perish in the wanderings like the others, than come into this desert where there’s no water. Tell us again, why you made us come out of Egypt?” (20:3-5). Sounds too familiar. And Moses and Aaron do what they do when “their flock” gets ugly. They go to the tabernacle, get on their faces, and intercede for them before the LORD.
And God meets with them . . . and He gives them the plan for addressing the people’s thirst . . .
“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 that they and their livestock can drink.” (Numbers 20:8 ESV)
And Moses and Aaron follow God’s instructions . . . kinda’. Rather than speak to the rock, they chastise the people. Rather than speak to the rock, in what seems to be frustration and anger, they instead strike the rock twice. And, though water starts to flow in abundance such that all the people and their livestock drink, behind the scenes God deals with Moses and Aaron in what seems a most severe manner.
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 ESV)
And before the chapter ends, at Mount Hor, Moses escorts Aaron up the mountain along with Eleazar, Aaron’s son. And there Aaron hands over his priestly garments to his son, and then Aaron is “gathered to his people” and dies. And, honestly, it kind of bugs me.
So much given for the work of the LORD. So many risks taken. So much rebellion dealt with. So close to entering the promised land. And Aaron, and soon Moses, comes up short from seeing the prize.
But as I noodle on it, I’m reminded that it’s never been about Aaron getting the prize, but always about God getting the glory. It has been grace upon grace that afforded Aaron the privilege of being high priest . . . even after that golden calf incident at Mt. Sinai. Though he and Moses often bore the brunt of a complaining crowd, they were also afforded entrance into the very presence of God . . . having done enough “cloud time” that interacting with God’s glory had perhaps become a bit common place. So much so, that he and Moses decided to improvise a bit with God’s command concerning the rock.
It’s faith that pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). But these wearied servants didn’t trust God enough to let Him deal graciously with this new congregation and show Himself holy in their sight. And thus, for these well-worn warriors, consequences.
And so, while I feel a genuine sense of sadness as I read of Aaron’s “home gathering,” I’m also filled afresh with a reverent awe before my God who, even in Aaron’s death, deals with him so graciously. Not swallowed up by the earth . . . not taken out by fire or plague . . . but gathered to his people by his God.
And I’m reminded that my God is to be honored as holy. That He is to be set apart as Sovereign. That He is to be the center of all attention, and mine is to be but a sign post pointing to Him. And that it’s not about me winning the prize, but about Him receiving all the glory.
Honor Me, He says. Yes, LORD, I respond . . . by Your grace, for Your glory.