In my devotional readings one morning, I had to read Numbers 20-22. Most people skip good portions of this book because it is exactly what the title says—numbers and more numbers. The Israelites count things, and then they take a census of how many people they have. For those people who love numbers, this is the book of the Bible that they want to read!
However, what surprised me that morning was that three leaders die in chapter 20. Miriam, the sister of Moses, dies at the beginning of the chapter; Moses is told that he will die without entering the promised land of Canaan; Aaron dies, and the priesthood is transferred to his son Eleazar.
Miriam is the big sister. It was Miriam who guarded the basket containing her baby brother Moses when it was set to float on the River Nile. It was Miriam who led the women in triumphant praise after the Israelites were delivered through the Red Sea. It was Miriam who upbraided Moses for marrying an Ethiopian woman and got leprosy for one week as a consequence. One is surprised that Miriam gets only a very short verse: “There Miriam died and was buried.”
In this chapter, both Moses and Aaron sinned against the Lord with the way they brought water out of the rock. Anyone who reads Exodus and Numbers sides with Moses, because the Israelites were a rebellious and complaining people. It is in the heat of the moment that Moses says, “Listen you rebels, must we bring you water out of the rock?” Moses hits the rock twice, water comes out, and the Israelites are satisfied.
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But God later says to Moses, “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 will give them.” (Numbers 20:12) In that same chapter, God says, “Aaron will be gathered to his people. He will not enter the land I give the Israelites because both of you rebelled against my command at the waters of Meribah.” (24)
In Isaiah 42:8 we read, “I am the Lord, that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to the idols.”
Two things are easily discerned from this story of Moses and Aaron. In the midst of a rebellious people, it is easy for spiritual leaders to become rebellious and haughty about their abilities and relationship with God and place themselves on a pedestal. The second thing a reader learns is that God guards his glory, honor, and holiness. One of the things that is done so often in our days is to take the Lord’s Name in vain. We pray “Hallowed be thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer to honor God as holy in our midst, but we have to confess that we really do not know how that should happen daily in our lives. The prayer continues, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” I have known people who sought to recreate a little bit of paradise in their home where they met with God. I know other families that had the tradition of an empty chair at the table, reserved for God who was the invited guest at every meal.