Numbers 20:22-29 “Lessons from Death” Sept. 15, 2013
22 “The whole Israelite community set out from Kadesh and came to Mount Hor. 23 At Mount Hor, near the border of Edom, the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 24 “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. 25 Get Aaron and his son Eleazar and take them up Mount Hor. 26 Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar, for Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will die there.” 27 Moses did as the LORD commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain. Then Moses and Eleazar came down from the mountain, 29 and when the whole community learned that Aaron had died, the entire house of Israel mourned for him thirty days.”
Put yourself in Aaron’s sandals here. You are 123 years old, and you have served as the high priest, the spiritual leader of Israel for 40 years. Maybe you’ve wanted to retire and take it easy, but God has given you this office for life. Perhaps at this point, you are hoping to be able to make it to the Promised Land, the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and die in peace there!
Perhaps you are wondering, “What will Israel do without me? I’m the only high priest they have ever known. Can they function without me when I die?”
Do you think about your own death? The older we get the more we think about it. Or if we had a parent who died at an early age, we wonder if we will live beyond that age.
What lessons can we learn from the death of Aaron? Ecc. 7:2 reminds us that “death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.”
This chapter opens with the death of Miriam, and now it closes with the death of her brother Aaron. Picture that scene: the whole congregation of Israel watches as these three men slowly ascend Mt. Hor. After some time, only two men come down the same mountain, and it is now Eleazar, the son of Aaron, who wears the distinctive garments of the high priest. For the first time in about 40 years, as long as many of them have been alive, Aaron is no longer their high priest. Aaron has died on the top of the mountain. Perhaps God himself buried Aaron, for if Moses and Eleazar had done that, they would have been unclean (Num. 19:11). Then the entire congregation mourns for 30 days.
But Aaron is mourned not because he was such a great friend or such a nice guy. The details of his death are described, and Aaron received such a long mourning period, because he was Aaron the high priest. So there are both lessons to be learned from death for all of us, and then there are special lessons that we will learn because of Aaron’s special status.
1. The death of each person warns us of the wages of sin
“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.” (v. 24)
Aaron’s death is a clear reminder of the seriousness of sin. Calvin notes that God is not to be trifled with, if even the high priest, with his sacred office and dignity, does not escape punishment. (Rom. 6:23a “For the wages of sin is death…”)
Aaron’s death testifies to the infirmity of human weakness, even for the great ones. Even the high priest dies.
His death testifies to the sinfulness of sin: Aaron could not enter the Land because of one sin. All the holiness of his office cannot make up for or atone for even one sin on his part! God cannot pass over even one sin (without an atoning sacrifice.)
Ken Sande recently wrote: “Regardless of how you look at it, there’s nothing small about sin.
Think about it this way: on your computer there are probably several little boxes at the bottom of your screen. They exist down there because they’ve been minimized — they were the primary window, but in order to give attention to something else, they were minimized and they’ll be returned to later. They are out of sight, but they’re still there.
We do the same thing with sin. Sin may be the primary thing going on in our lives at the time, but in order to keep life going or give attention to something else, we minimize the wrongdoing and tuck it away, somewhere in the margins of our hearts. However, it’s still there. In all of its ugliness, in all of its selfishness, in all of its rebellion. Instead of minimizing our sin, it’s best to leave it in the forefront and then fully confess it to a faithful Father, who will remove it as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). And that’s a whole lot better than just sending it to the recycle bin!”
My friends, people today may live longer and longer, but the morality rate is still 100%. Unless the Lord comes back first, every one of us will face our own death. So I ask you: Have you come to Jesus Christ and trusted in Him alone as your Savior from the wages of sin?
2. The death of each believer points us to Jesus’ resurrection and eternal life with God.
“for Aaron will be gathered to his people…” (vv. 24, 26)
This phrase “Aaron will be gathered to his people” is the usual way of describing the death of a righteous person at a ripe old age. It is used of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses. The phrase expresses a central OT conviction about life after death, and for the believer, that they would be reunited with other members of their family. Therefore, though Aaron (and later Moses) die outside the Promised Land, they still share in the covenantal blessings promised to all of Abraham’s descendants who have faith in the Lord. This testified to God’s faithfulness & grace.
This phrase means that Aaron was gathered to those before him who had exercised faith in God. He was with those righteous ones who had walked with God, such as Enoch and Noah.
So though Aaron died on Mount Hor four thousand years ago, he lived on by faith in God.
In Matthew 22:31-32, when the Sadducees—who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead—asked Jesus a question, He answered them: “Have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” By this Jesus was answering those who did not believe in life after death. He was saying that Abraham … and Aaron… were still living!
This is why a Christian funeral or the memorial service for a child of God is both a sad and a very joyous occasion. For while we grieve over our earthly loss, we still rejoice that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have a confident and joyful assurance that death has been conquered! As one of our friends put it, on her tombstone, she wanted these words: “More alive now than ever before!” Is that your confidence and hope?
3. The death of each Christian encourages us that God continues His work without us and beyond us. (vv. 26-28)
26 “Remove Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar… 27 Moses did as the LORD commanded: They went up Mount Hor in the sight of the whole community. 28 Moses removed Aaron’s garments and put them on his son Eleazar. And Aaron died there on top of the mountain.”
Note that Aaron was stripped of his high priestly garments (see Exodus 39) before he died, and these were put on his son Eleazar, so that it not the high priest who died, (which would have made everyone on the mountain top unclean), but Aaron the sinner, Aaron the man, who died.
Though Israel lost Aaron the man, they did not lose their priest. “Do not look with apprehension when those who seem to be pillars are giving way.” For Christ reminds us, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Miriam, Aaron, and Moses would all die before reaching the Promised Land. Yet the spiritual realities and the fulfillment of God’s promises, which they had worked long and hard for, which they had trusted the Lord for, which they had prayed for so earnestly, would become a reality for the new generation of Israel. Charles Wesley said: “God buries His workmen but continues His work.” Only Aaron had left them, not the Lord. Passing on the office of the high priest to Eleazar is a sign of hope. God would not abandon them, and he provided for a continuity of leadership, as they journeyed on.
The fact that Eleazar was now wearing the garments of the high priest and had been appointed to carry out that vital ministry was further evidence that God’s people could continue to depend upon His faithfulness and His pledge to be with them and help them forever.
We all stand on the shoulders of our spiritual ancestors, and one day, our spiritual descendants will stand on our shoulders.
What spiritual legacy will you leave behind; individually, as a family, as a church?
A. In the future, the death of the high priest would set free the captives in the cities of refuge.
Numbers 35:28 “The accused must stay in his city of refuge until the death of the high priest; only after the death of the high priest may he return to his own property.”
B. In the far future, the death of the ultimate High Priest would set free the sinners in bondage.
Heb. 2:14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
As Charles Wesley wrote in two of his hymn: “He breaks the power of reigning sin, he sets the prisoners free; His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.”
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quacking ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed Thee. Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
How will you face death?