I have to admit, much of the current section of Numbers relates to leadership and rebellion in the time of the Exodus. Numbers 17 is no different on that front: there is a rebellion, this time against Aaron. God nips it, in the bud, with a bud.
The story is simple: after the previous rebellions and to address the undercurrent of rebelliousness, God commands that each tribe furnish a staff. (Or a rod, basically a piece of dead wood, shaped and smoothed.) They are to engrave names on each rod for each tribe, and then place these in front of the Ark of the Covenant. The next day, the dead wood that is Aaron’s rod has bloomed, demonstrating God’s choice of Aaron to head the Levites and the Levites to lead Israel.
We end with the fear of the other tribes to come too near the Tabernacle, because they fear death. The problem, however, is not their proximity. It is, in fact, their rebellion. God commands Aaron to leave his staff at the Tabernacle to be a constant reminder of God’s choice.
At this point we can make two errors, and they are similar to the typical two errors of Christians studying the Old Testament. The first is to cast it completely aside as if it’s only history. The second is to make our current situation perfectly analogous to the narrative and follow it to the letter.
Let us dispense with the first error: God preserved the Old Testament for us for a reason. It is not just informative, there are principles here worth noting and applying. We see here good principles: that God appoints leaders for His people; that God’s presence can be intimidating; we ought to remember how God has worked through people and supported people.
In these areas, we should recognize the truth: God does utilize people to lead His work in this world. We do not have people who are as blatantly called-out as Aaron and Moses in these days, rather we have people who clearly meet the New Testament model for leadership. We also should understand that it is only safe to draw near to God if our sins are forgiven through Christ. And it is valuable to note what God has done: history and theology belong together.
When we look at the second error, we need to be even more careful. Many of the Old Testament lessons that might be lost to the first error are repeated in the New Testament, so it is our loss to commit the first error but it may not be destructive. Committing the second error, though, can be highly dangerous.
Take a look at this scenario: a person claims to be the leader of a Christian organization. Could be a school, a church, a ministry, a blog. That person then demands that, as God-anointed leader, they receive no criticism at all. They then offer various proofs of their leadership. Unlike Aaron’s rod, though, these are open to interpretation. The so-called leader claims these as proofs, though, and one must either accept him or get out.
This is a dangerous road to go down. The only source of authority in the Christian church is the Word of God, and anyone who pushes people to disdain that for his own leadership is a wolf. Or at least on his way to wolf-dom, though he may come back. We need to be very careful: the Church is not Exodus Israel. It is possible for people to follow the Lord Jesus Christ through the wilderness without following one specific man.
That was not the case for Israel. They had to unify behind Moses and Aaron, or they would have met disaster. There are times, perhaps, that individual churches are in similar states, but this is not the overall case.
Learn the lesson that is here: God has a call on your life to do something. Get to it, rather than grumping that His call on you is not to do what the other guy does.
Today’s Nerd Note:
The Rod of Aaron goes into the Ark of the Covenant. I don’t know what happens to it in the long run. The Rod or the Ark. I’d love to find either one