(with Psalms 106:32-33)
This is a memorable incident in the Jews’ history, and it is rich in warning to us at this day. Moses had failed in his duty towards God, and that in three particulars. (1) He had failed in strict obedience. God had bidden him speak to the rock, and he had smitten it, smitten it twice. (2) He had shown temper, used hard language. “Hear now, ye rebels.” (3) He had taken to himself the credit of supplying the Israelites with water. “Must we fetch water for you out of the rock?”
I. The first lesson to be learned from Moses at Meribah is the danger of departing, in the least jot or tittle, from any law of God.
II. The second is the immense importance attached to temperate speech, the necessity of keeping a check on temper and not letting ourselves be moved to hot and angry words. The want of self-control was very heavily visited upon Moses and upon “Aaron, the saint of the Lord.” Because of it they were shut out of Canaan.
III. The scene at the rock of Meribah is further useful as carrying our thoughts upwards to Him who is the source of all our hopes, the nourishment of our soul, the very life of our religion, the Lord Jesus Christ. The rock in the desert was but a type and a shadow; the reality it typified is represented in Jesus Christ. All other waters after a while must fail; the water that Christ can give “shall be in us as a well of water, springing up unto everlasting life.”
I. We may learn a salutary lesson from the death of Aaron in its merely literal bearing. Aaron, the high-priest, had to ascend Mount Hor clad in his priestly robes of office; but he must be stripped of them there, because he must die there. He could not carry his dignity or the emblems of it into the next world. He must lay them down at the grave’s brink. There is nothing which the world gives that men can carry with them when death lays hold of them. Even all which outwardly pertains to spiritual dignity, and which brings men into relation with things that are imperishable and eternal, must be left behind, and the individual man, as God’s accountable creature, must appear before his Maker in judgment. There is one thing imperishable and one dignity which even death cannot tarnish. The imperishable thing is the life which the Spirit of God imparts to the soul, and which connects the soul with God. The deathless dignity is that of being children of God.
II. Aaron must be stripped of his robes, and his son clad with them in his stead. This reminds us that while the priests under the law were not suffered to continue by reason of death, yet the office of the priesthood did not lapse. Aaron’s robes were not buried with him. His successor was provided. Yet the very thought that he needed a successor, that the office must be transmitted from one to another, leads us to think of the contrast which the Apostle draws between the priests under the law and Him who abideth always. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.
I. The first and most superficial aspect of death is that it is the close of an earthly career. There could be no question as to the prominence of Aaron’s career. (1) In the great work of leading the children of Israel out of Egypt to the confines of the Promised Land Aaron is only second to Moses. (2) Aaron was the first high-priest of the chosen people. His consecration was of itself calculated to awe the minds of Israel, and it was followed by high sanctions of his office, which must have done so still more.
II. Aaron was morally a weak man. He had no such grasp of principle as would enable him to hold out against strong pressure. His weakness became conspicuous on the critical occasion of Moses going up to Sinai to receive the sacred law. Aaron was left below in virtual command, in a position of responsibility for which, as the event proved, he was not fitted. The Greeks had a proverb that leadership will show what a man really is, and so it was with Aaron. His weakness is implied in the allusion in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “for that he himself also was compassed with infirmity.”
III. Nothing is more noticeable in the account of Aaron’s death than his deliberate preparation for it. He did not let death come on him; he went to meet it. There was a twofold motive in the act of Moses in stripping Aaron of his garments. (1) It showed that the office of the high-priesthood did not depend on the life of any single man, and (2) it reminded Aaron personally of the solemn truth of the utter solitariness of the soul in death.
IV. The phrase of Moses, “Aaron was gathered to his people,” seems to point to a world in which the bygone generations of men still live, a world of the existence of which God’s ancient people were well assured, though they knew much less of it than we.