Here is another epiphany I had while writing another paper for school. I was looking through Numbers 16, with heavy emphasis upon the last six verses or so. (I also found out that some versions of the bible have these verses at the beginning of the 17th chapter.) A brief overview of the context of this passage. The Israelites have left Egypt in the Exodus and are now on their way, sort of, to the Promise Land. They are in the Sinai wilderness and as they go along they decide to send out some spies to check out the land. The 12 spies come back, 10 of them say they can’t possibly take over the land from the giants residing there. Joshua and Caleb of course say, “Hey, YHWH is with us, we can do it.” No one listens, YHWH says fine, they won’t get to go in and they’ll die in the desert. Then Korah, a levite, brings some dissenters with him and confront Moses about who should be High Priest, Aaron or someone else. So first the people rebel, now the Levites are raising a rebellion. Moses reminds them that they are already set apart for the Lord so why dissent? But they have a little contest with censers and incense to see who is really the High Priest. Korah and his friends get burned up and Aaron is left standing, proving his High Priestly-ness. Then the people, angry that Korah was killed, come to the Tabernacle in rebellion, again, and so the Lord brings a plague upon the people. Here we pick up with:
The Lord spoke to Moses: “Get away from this community, so that I can consume them in an instant!” But they threw themselves down with their faces to the ground. Then Moses said to Aaron, “Take the censer, put burning coals from the altar in it, place incense on it, and go quickly into the assembly and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord – the plague has begun!” So Aaron did as Moses commanded and ran into the middle of the assembly, where the plague was just beginning among the people. So he placed incense on the coals and made atonement for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. Now 14,700 people died in the plague, in addition to those who died in the event with Korah. Then Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and the plague was stopped.
What is so cool about this part is that here we sort of have this refining of what Aaron’s role is as High Priest. It isn’t Moses or any of the other priests that makes the atonement for the people but Aaron himself is the only one. We see this solidified as Aaron is the only one who is allowed to offer fire to the Lord (just previously with Korah and his rebels but also as we saw with Aaron’s sons in Lev. 10). We also learn in Lev. 16 the use of the censer and incense to cover over Aaron so that he does not die when in the presence of God. Building upon this we see Aaron running among the crowd of Israelites using the incense as a cover of the community that they might not die, an act only the High Priest can do. One commentator (Noordtzij) mentioned that Aaron uses the censer for atonement, in this context atonement means not just to make things right between two parties but also to be a cover, a masking over of the sin that had been committed. So the incense acts as a cover over the people of Israel.
So to expound upon this we see how Christ in a way fulfills these same things in his atoning act on the cross. He stands between the living and the dead as High Priest of the rabble that is in opposition with God. I think it is important for us to understand what it means for Aaron to be High Priest as it also defines for us what the role of Jesus being priest means. Aaron’s priesthood is mimicked by Christ in the later part of the Bible. Christ as High Priest means that it is his offering that is able to cover us and bring atonement from the plague that seeks to destroy us.
I was pretty blown away when I saw this. It also made me interested in doing a series in which Christ roles of Prophet/Priest/King are defined in what the OT defined them as.