I read Numbers 17 this morning. It’s short – go read it.
What struck me was God’s purpose for Aaron’s staff: And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die.” Lest. They. Die. God cared about them, even the troublemakers.
Various Israelites came to catastrophic ends for trying to supplant Moses and Aaron as leaders of the people. Since God had appointed the brothers to minister the Law and ceremonies, God regarded rebellion against them as a revolt against the Holy One himself.
So God had Aaron’s walking staff miraculously sprout with beauty and edibles, and ordered it kept in the place of worship as an affirmation of Moses and Aaron and also as a warning to future rebels.
Notice again God’s purposes – “ending grumblings” that would harm the community and saving the lives of potential troublemakers. The sign is put in place lest they die.
It is a warning that would only make sense to the people of God. Other people with whom the Israelites interacted would have no idea what the floral display was about.
It is a protection for the people of God. It is a warning sign to keep them away from antics that will destroy them.
I got to thinking, what plays that role for the people of the New Covenant? The mind immediately flashes on the cross. But as powerful a sign as the cross can be, Jesus never said “set up visible crosses so my people will know what to do.”
No, the cross of Christ is part of a proclamation. Not the “symbol of the cross,” but the message of the cross. A message that makes no sense to those not part of Christ’s people.
Jesus tells us where to look for our warnings, reminders, guidance and all else: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (Mark 13:31).
He makes clear that this includes the whole of what Christians today call The Bible. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke24:44)
His first witnesses understood this and the capacity of the Scriptures to warn and thus protect God’s people:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
I write this as one who spent decades wearing the vestments, doing the ceremonies, explaining the symbols, etc. All of which was potentially fruitful as it helped people hear and grow in understanding of the word of God — and all of which was potentially harmful as it was received as a substitute for the word.
Aaron’s staff served a purpose. But signs and symbols are temporary pointers to what is permanent. As the Prophet Isaiah told us long ago, The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
Leave a Reply