What to say to a friend in grief
Making room for everyone
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. I Peter 2:9
I think we sometimes forget our authority in Christ, we don’t fully grasp what it means to stand before the throne of a Holy God to advocate on behalf of someone else, maybe sometimes we offer up a prayer and don’t realize the weight that it holds. But I’d like to challenge you to begin to see prayer–your prayers–for the power that they possess, and realize, too who it is we are representing when we enter into the presence of our Creator God. I hope that by sharing a little of what I’ve learned about the Old Testament priesthood, I can show you what depth and power those prayers have.
This past week’s study brought us further into Leviticus (8-10), examining what it meant for a priest to advocate on behalf of the nation of Israel, this priesthood began with the person of Aaron.
Did Aaron know what he was stepping into? No, but I think this is probably one of the most beautiful parts of the whole story of the Isrealites’ journey. Aaron, from the beginning, was simply doing what God needed him to do. He began by speaking on behalf of a stuttering, uncertain man named Moses who was called in the middle of the desert while on sheep duty. It wasn’t glamorous and it wasn’t even conceivable that this man would one day lead an entire nation of people. But Aaron was available and he was willing to be a mouth piece, there had to be a great deal of trust in God that he heard from, initially, second-hand but couldn’t deny once He began to show his power in the signs they were to present before Pharaoh.
In following Aaron’s transition to priesthood, it is necessary to note exactly how human Aaron really was. It was he that built the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain, it was he, along with Miriam who complained that God was speaking to him too, so, just like us, he gave into the calls of jealousy, judgment, and giving into peer pressure. But over time, God transformed Aaron, just as he is transforming us today, he loves us, and just as Aaron served as a high priest, we too are a royal priesthood. We don’t have to feel worthy, we just have to be willing. Say “yes, ” it’s ok if you cringe a little, or even if you’re a bit scared–it’s the best yes you’re ever going to say.
Clearly, Aaron was flawed, we are reminded of this when we see the requirement of him having to sacrifice for himself first, even before he could advocate for the people (Leviticus 29:1-3). But before we get to that, let’s take a step back and take a quick look at the priestly cleansing process in Leviticus 8:
1) v. 3-4: Gathering the entire assembly to the tent of meeting
2) v. 6 Moses brought Aaron and his sons and washed them with water
3) v. 7-9 He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him, fastening the ephod with a decorative waistband
4) v. 10-11 Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them. He sprinkled some of the oil on the altar 7 times, anointing the altar and all its utensils and the basin and its stand to consecrate them
5) v. 12 He poured anointing oil on Aaron’s head to consecrate him
If we, as followers of Christ are a part of this royal priesthood, then like Aaron and his sons, we must be suited up: with the breastpiece, ephod, robe, woven tunic, turban, sash. To me, all bear a significant correlation to the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18: the breastplate (righteousness), the shoes (peace), the sword (God’s word), helmet (salvation), the shield (faith). We too, must be dressed.
Who Are We Representing?
Exodus 28: 12, “Take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel in the order of their birth–six names on one stone and the remaining six on the other. Engrave the names of the sons of Israel on the two stones the way a gem cutter engraves a seal. Then mount the stones in gold filigree settings and fasten them on the shoulder pieces of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. Aaron is to bear the names on his shoulders as a memorial before the Lord.
“There are to be twelve stones, one for each of the names of the sons of Israel, each engraved like a seal with the name of one of the twelve tribes.” (21) Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continual memorial before the Lord. Also put the Urim and the Thummin in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron’s heart whenever he enters the presence of the Lord. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord. (29)
What are the names of the people that are engraved on your shoulders and over your heart? Your sons, your daughters, your immediate family and friends? We shouldn’t be weighted down with this responsibility, but like Aaron, we must be aware who we are representing with we enter the presence of God, atoning first for our own sins, through the blood of Jesus Christ, then coming unwaveringly to present our requests.
The Lord, indeed, is our portion.
Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16
Yesterday we left off in Numbers 14, recounting Caleb’s leadership methods, join me as we continue today…
See, what Caleb remembered and what the 10 others selectively chose to forget was what God had promised, “I am giving you a land flowing with milk and honey.”
So, not only did these men contradict Caleb, they continued their frightful, “We can’t do this.” talk into that evening, they raised their voices, they wept aloud, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and count it, THREE times, they said they should have stayed in Egypt.
People, I’m not judging. I’ve done it myself, I’ve looked back, I’ve been Lot’s wife, I’ve been these Israelites, that rich young ruler…and Moses and Aaron did the only thing they had left to do, they fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there, Joshua and Caleb also tore their clothes and said to the whole Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” He goes on to rally the people, reassuring them that THEY will devour these strangers and not the other way around, saying, “Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.”
The Lord’s anger burned against them and he wanted to strike them down, and yet again, Moses pleads on their behalf, saying that if the Egyptians see that Israel’s God has abandoned them, they will assume that their God was not able to bring them into the land he had promised. He asks, (14:19) “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.”
In response, the Lord relents, but there is a consequence and that is this: not one of those who saw the Lord’s glory and the signs he performed in Egypt, but who disobeyed and tested him ten times–not one of them will see the land that God had promised to their ancestors. I’m sure, upon hearing, this took a while to sink in for Moses. But God makes an exception for Caleb in verse 24, “But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” Belief yields promise, unbelief yields wandering, confusion and unfulfillment, it is sickening to say the least. They are the most sobering verses I can think of in the Bible, Num. 14:34-35 “For forty years–one year for each of the forty days you explored the land–you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. I the Lord, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this wilderness; here they will die.”
God tolerated their complaining, their sin, idolatry, shortsightedness. Over and over again, He proved that he was gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in great love for his people. Over and over, he gave them tangible signs of his faithfulness: manna, water from a rock, quail, his presence in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but still, their unbelief ruled their hearts and God would not relent in this case. They would suffer the consequences.
Maybe you’re in the position of leadership right now, you can hear the complaints, the discontent, sense the duplicity of your follower’s hearts. Know that this is a season and it is the Lord who is the ultimate lawgiver and judge. If you know that you are following God’s lead, that’s all that you can do, just yesterday, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to do something, the results weren’t what I expected, and as I walked away, I could hear in my head, “You obeyed me, that’s the important part.” That’s all I had to fall back on.
Or maybe you are one of the followers who has found yourself complaining and as a result has become more a part of the problem instead of a solution. Take this time to repent before a holy God, who loves you and wants to fulfill His promises to you. Pick out at least 2-3 promises in the Word that have always been particularly significant to you, write them down and tape them to your bathroom mirror. Claim them because you can.
This past week’s Bible study opened up on a scene of dissention. Here, in the beginning of Numbers 12, we find Miriam and Aaron complaining their little hearts out against Moses (seems like a recurring theme in the Israelite’s time in the desert, doesn’t it?) They start off scrutinizing Moses’ life choices: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. Then they question his authority: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” The Lord heard this, and was angry against the two of them. Verse 3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” My commentary later explained that “humble” here meant “meek.” God came to Moses’ defense, because he does not hesitate to call all three of them out to the tent of meeting to have a talk, He tells them that typically, when there is a prophet among them, God would speak to them in dreams and visions, but this simply was not so in Moses’ case, Moses was an exception, “With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.” He goes on to ask Miriam and Aaron, “Why weren’t you more ashamed to speak against my servant?” Leading me to my first point:
Lesson 1: Leaders Beware: People will complain, and when they do, watch the motivations of their hearts.
God calls whom He calls for a reason, for a time and a season and this is a GOD appointment, who were Miriam and Aaron–who are WE for that matter to question that authority? Yes, I realize that we need to hold everything, including people, against the light of scripture–just as the Bereans did with Paul (Acts 17:11). But we must also be very important to examine the motivations of our hearts when we do this, are we questioning authority because they have gone directly against the word of God, or are we questioning them because of jealousy, arrogance, selfish pride? My study shares this verse, Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Without a doubt, these leaders understand the weight of their leadership, even as a teacher and assistant in my church’s preschool for years, I understood the gravity with which I needed to undertake my role, as it says in James, “Don’t you know that we as teachers will be judged more strictly?”(James 3:1)
Lesson 2: The best leaders rise above the complaints and on top of all that show compassion to the naysayers.
After God had a talk with Miriam, Aaron and Moses, it says in verse 9, “The anger of the Lord burned against them and he left them. When the cloud lifted above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous…” It goes on to say that Aaron was horrified at this sight (probably fearing that he, too, would suffer the same fate) and turned to Moses to ask him for help–please?
This was his Moses’ chance.
He had Miriam and Aaron’s fate the palm of his hand, so to speak. Oh, there’s so many ways that this story could have gone, but what did Moses do? As the humble, meek man of God, he PRAYED. He pleaded to God to heal her. Ack, my heart dies a little here, because how many times have I been this same situation and chosen the wrong answer, “This is what they deserve, they are simply reaping what they’ve sown.” I reason to myself. But Moses, this God-appointed leader, puts aside any potential hurt and prays for his enemy before the throne of Almighty God. God does answer and he does heal, but not without consequence–verses 14-16.
Lesson 3: Leaders: Note that going against the tide will require you to dig your heals in and claim God’s promises. Here, I’d like to shift my focus from Moses to Caleb. As we move on to Chapter 13 of Numbers, we see that God asked Moses to appoint leaders from the 12 tribes of Israel to go explore the Land of Canaan, Moses instructed them exactly where to go and asked them to answer the following questions: What is the land like? Are the people there strong or weak? Few or many? What kind of cities do they live in–are they fortified? How is the soil–is it fertile? Are there trees there? Bring back some of the fruit from the land.
The report was a mixed bag: 10 said, no way, no how, these people are giants, and the cities are fortified and very large.
BUT, Verse 30, “Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
Come back tomorrow to see how Caleb’s faith transformed his fate…including some tips for both leader and follower…