In today’s blog post we are coming to the close of Numbers chapter 20 to the death of Aaron and what different life context means. It is a fascinating read.
Let’s Read Numbers 20:22-29
The Scriptures tell us that the Lord now decides that Aaron’s days are completed, and at Mount Hor, Aaron will die. As is the custom of this era the words telling of Aaron’s impending death are “let Aaron be gathered to his kin.”
As we have discussed on some occasions (but I think this point cannot ever be made often enough until it is firm in our minds) this “gathered to his kin” concept was an ancestor worship related phrase.
While today we would say of a departed Believer, ‘he died and went to be with the Lord’, no such thought even remotely existed to the Israelites neither of the Exodus nor of a lot of later times. Rather the idea and hope were that some mysterious life essence of himself would live on with their ancestors, not with God.
Why is this important for us to grasp? Because the Hebrews were always living on the edge of idolatry and had a difficult time divesting themselves of centuries of pagan beliefs that they lived under and were surrounded with.
The concepts that the average Christian holds today about death and dying (and a laundry list of other principles) were not yet developed in these ancient Israelites.
The laws and commands they received from God they took in the different of their current beliefs and living situation and only added it all to their lives in small doses, in one form or another, just like we tend to do in modern times. And their beliefs in the days of Moses matched those practiced by Egypt.
Let me give you an example of what I’m getting at when I speak of life context that I hope will make an impact. Not just in helping us to identify with those Biblical Hebrews, and helping us to think in the terms they thought in as we read them in the Bible, but also as we deal with modern day Christian brothers and sisters who live outside of the US in cultures that are at total odds with our own.
American Believers (in particular) tend to think that our views and doctrines and traditions are THE views and doctrines and traditions, and all else are error or improper.
For example, the American/Canadian Church is very prosperity oriented. In general, our doctrine in this regard can be summed up by saying that prosperity is not only a hoped for but (in many cases) an expected blessing from the Lord as a reward for our belief and trust in Him. And if we do NOT have material prosperity, it is often seen as an outward sign of our personal lack of faith or commitment to our local congregation or God.
In other words in America/Canada, we expect prosperity blessings to include (or even be entirely centered upon) material wealth. Nice cars, big houses, designer clothes, high paying jobs, etc. are indicators (at least partially) of our standing with God. Thus if you have little prosperity, you have must little faith and thus little standing with God.
While the European and Eastern Churches also have their version of a prosperity doctrine, theirs is all about health, peace, children, and wellbeing.
In fact, the European and Eastern Churches are ANTI material prosperity. They see the possession of personal material wealth as crude and pagan, strictly against the teachings of Christ. A Christian who has done well financially is looked down upon, and their faith is suspect. To pray for or seek material prosperity is an impossible thing for them; it would be the height of apostasy to their thinking.
Why these enormous differences between the American/Canadian Church view of the place of prosperity in our doctrine versus almost all other churches in the other nations on this planet? Different life contexts!
Our American and Canadian society is a wealth-oriented society from top to bottom. From just a secular viewpoint alone Americans/Canadians who don’t have the things we desire are seen as underprivileged and downtrodden.
And our goal is generally to always strive for more so we have expectations about our lives that tomorrow we’ll have more than we had yesterday. And as Christians, we have a helper in God to see to it that we achieve that material prosperity that is so important to us. That is the American and Canadian life context.
In Europe and the Eastern societies who are more socialist in their thinking, less is more. In fact, to the European Christian, less is godlier. Equality is NOT an equal opportunity to advance; Equality means everybody living in the same condition.
A Doctor should be paid the same as a custodian. A coal miner should have the same sized apartment as a company CEO. There should be no rich or poor. If I have plenty of food, so should you.
My prosperity, by definition, takes away from yours because under socialism the economy is a zero-sum game; there is a finite amount of resources to go around. The goal is equal sufficiency for all. That is their life context (obviously I am generalizing because nothing is quite that clean and neat).
So, which doctrine of prosperity is right; the America/Canadian or the Eastern and European? Well, we won’t debate that today. The point is that our American/Canadian Christian viewpoint and their Eastern Christian viewpoint about prosperity were adapted to the realities of our respective societies, not the other way around.
So whatever God told the ancient Hebrews they took it in the life context of their long-held beliefs, not as a complete replacement of the old beliefs. They didn’t somehow just remove centuries of ideas from their minds about what seemed to be obvious givens about life and the world of the gods; they added what Moses gave them at Mt. Sinai to the mix.
Therefore it was automatic that since Aaron was a good man, that when he died, naturally his life essence would, as a reward, go on to live with his departed family members, his dead ancestral kin.
As Israel was on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and as Aaron (and Moses were to be excluded due to their high-handed sin of striking the rock with Aaron’s staff and taking personal credit for the water that came forth, it was time for Aaron to be replaced.
Further, the Lord ordered that Aaron was to strip off his High Priest’s garments and turn them over to Eleazar, his son, who would assume the position as the new High Priest.
Moses did as he was told, and he led Eleazar and Aaron to the summit of Mount Hor. And, verse 27 makes the point that the entire congregation of Israel witnessed this event. Up on the mountain, Aaron died, and Eleazar became the new High Priest.
Please notice a couple of things:
- First, as with the death of Miriam, the death of Aaron is only matter of fact. There is no eulogy. There is no recounting of his great sacrifice and service to the Lord and people of Israel. And this is the standard Biblical treatment of the passing of all the great Bible personalities.
- Second point: Aaron was a fortunate man. He lived to know that his son would succeed him as High Priest. As we’ll soon find out, Moses received no such honor.
A son succeeding his father was a cherished tradition that the father hoped for. A father passing his business or mantle of leadership on to his son to succeed him still means something to us in our era, but it was everything in ancient times. That Moses’ sons did NOT become the new God-appointed leaders of Israel must have been hugely disappointing to Moses.
When Moses and Eleazar come back down the mountain without Aaron, the nation of Israel knows that Aaron is gone, and so the whole of Israel mourns for 30 days.
Why did Moses and the others ascend a mountain for this event? Well as you’ve probably noticed, significant spiritual ventures in the OT take place on mountaintops. Part of this is because it was believed that the gods lived on mountaintops.
As mentioned before, it is now regarded that El-Shaddai means God of the Mountain. For God to call Moses and Aaron and Eleazar to come up to the mountaintop indicated a momentous spiritual was occurring in the presence of God. God was not dwelling on a mountaintop right now; the Wilderness Tabernacle was His earthly abode.
Why didn’t God call them to the Tabernacle as a worthy place for Aaron to die? There was no way that Aaron could die in the Tabernacle area or it would have defiled God’s holiness. So it had to be up on a mountaintop, a high place that in Hebrew is called bemah, that this significant changing of the guard takes place.
Well, that is the end of Numbers Chapter 20. I hope you have enjoyed learning about the miraculous water, conflict, and the death of Aaron.
Tough times continued as Israel learned to trust in God’s provision even as they lost a trusted leader.