Numbers 17 - The Lord tells Moses to have the people bring him twelve wooden staffs, “one from each leader of Israel’s ancestral tribes, and inscribe each leader’s name on his staff” (17:1). Aaron’s name is to be placed on the staff of the tribe of Levi.
The staffs are to be placed in the Tabernacle “in front of the Ark containing the tablets of the Covenant. Buds will sprout on the staff belonging to the man I choose. Then I will finally put an end to the people’s murmuring and complaining against you” (17:4-5). When Moses goes in the next day, he sees it is Aaron’s staff that has blossomed. He brings the staffs out to the people and the leaders collect their staffs. Aaron’s staff, though, is to be placed “permanently before the Ark of the Covenant to serve as a warning to rebels. This should put an end to their complaints against me and prevent any further deaths” (17:10).
All of these stories tend to show that the desire of God was not to satisfy the yearning of the people for equality of position in society or interchangeability of roles in Israeli society. They show that the Lord’s order is to put Moses and Aaron in the leadership and to designate roles for each of the tribes commensurate with a great dignity but not entirely in keeping with their human way of looking at things. Today we have the very same striving amongst people in society and in the church. Women complain that they are just as much vehicles of God’s spirit as men and should be able to be priests, etc. People in all walks of life claim parity with those in leadership. Nothing in fact is harder in our society and in the church than to establish legitimacy of authority, for it is the human nature to vie against all authority. This creates great problems for our society and hampers our ability to accomplish the goals we set for our institutions. Maybe it is the fact that this narrative serves to justify limits on the desire of communities to make democratic changes in how we structure things that makes it less appealing and interesting to us.
The chapter ends with a reprise of something we’ve heard before—the growing fear people are getting for going near the Meeting Tent. Every time someone goes near it, it seems they are consumed. The access to the holy is becoming more restricted - First Aaron’s own two sons; then Korah and the 250 men with him.
Irenaeus of Lyons (c.180 AD)
Selections from the Work Against Heresies
Book V – Redemption and the World to Come
The New Creation in Christ “Recapitulates” the Old
Some Glimpses of Irenaeus’ Teaching on the Last Things
32 – Since there are some among us who have been influenced by the heretics we are addressing in these writings; they are therefore “ignorant of the dispensations of God . . . by which . . . those who are worthy will gradually be accustomed to receive [the fullness of] God.”
“[T]he righteous must first rise again at the appearance of God to receive in this created order, . . .made new, the promise of the inheritance which God promised to the Fathers, and will reign in this order. After this will come the judgment.”
“God is rich in all things and all things are his. It is right, therefor, for this created order to be restored to its pristine state, and to serve the just without restraint.”
“So, then, God’s promise which he promised to Abraham remains firm. For he said, ‘Lift up your eyes, and look from the place where you now are, to the north and south and east and west; for all this land which you see I will give to you and to your seed forever.’ And again he says, ‘Arise and go through the land in its length and its breadth, for I will give it to you.’” But we know Abraham got “not even a footprint, but was always a pilgrim and a stranger in it.” He was able to buy a tomb for Sarah when she died, but the Promised Land – the fullness of which seems in Irenaeus’ mind to not end with the lands of Israel but reaches to the ends of the earth, the entire created earth, -- will eventually belong to Abraham’s “seed” – not now but “they will receive it at the resurrection of the just. For God is true and faithful, and therefore he says, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’” I find these very interesting NEW takes on words I have read many, many times, but never placed in the same intellectual context.