Summary: Aaron climbs the mountain of death
Let me ask you a question: Would you like to know the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of your death? Or would you prefer to be blissfully ignorant of the events that escort you into eternity? My answer would be, “it depends.” If I am going to be eaten by sharks or ravaged by a grizzly bear, I would prefer it to be a surprise. Would you like to know the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of your death? It is an interesting question for some and probably a troubling question for others, but for most of us it is a purely hypothetical question, so we can relax. That was not the case for Aaron. Aaron knew the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of his death. In fact Aaron would climb his way up the mountain of death.
Please turn with me to Numbers 20
As you turn there, let me give you a bit of the context. Numbers 20 is an eventful chapter. It begins with the death of Moses’ sister Miriam and it ends with the death of Aaron, Moses’ brother and the first High Priest of Israel.
For forty years Moses and Aaron had been working as God’s representatives, leading the people, guiding the people, caring for the people as they waited to enter into the Promise Land. Now the time of waiting was coming to an end.
Beginning with verse 2 we read: Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, "If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! (Numbers 20:2-3)
Notice that the people gathered ‘in opposition’ to Moses and Aaron. They were angry and they blamed Moses and Aaron for their situation. The term "quarreled" in verse 3 is a strong word and it can refer to a violent conflict. This isn’t just a discussion—it’s a brawl. It’s a mob looking to take their frustration out on someone and those someones were Moses and Aaron.
Moses and Aaron respond well to the meeting. Beginning in verse 6 we read: “Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the LORD appeared to them. 7 The LORD said to Moses, 8 "Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink." (Numbers 20:6-8)
The guys do what you are supposed to do, they approach God and God gave them clear instruction. Moses was to speak to the rock, with the promise that water would pour from it, but that isn’t exactly what happens. Picking up the account in verse 10 we read: He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. (Numbers 20:10-11)
What is wrong with this picture? Well, first of all, Moses clearly had had enough with his people. He was ticked. He was frustrated. He was defensive. He was hurt. From his perspective the people blamed him for their crisis, but he wasn’t to blame. All he had done was sacrifice for them. He led them out of slavery. He, along with Aaron had been intermediaries between God and His people. It wasn’t fair that Moses and Aaron got blamed for everything. Both Aaron and Moses had had enough, so rather than following God’s clear instruction, they lose it. Moses breaks. His anger bubbles over. The one that God calls the meekest man on earth is pushed over the edge. He calls the people rebels and then, instead of pointing to God as their solution, Moses takes the credit. I guess Moses figured that if he was going to get blamed for everything, he might as well take a bit of the credit.
And instead of just speaking to the rock, he raises his arm and hits it twice, obviously in anger. This kind of display was not going to get Moses and Aaron their photos on the front of Ministry Monthly Webzine.
In Psalm 106 we get a bit of an insight into what was going on in Moses heart. Beginning with verse 32 we read: They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, 33 for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips. (Psalm 106:32-33, ESV)