March 10, 2018
All DayCategory: Adult Education
Mercy and Grace
Having doubted God’s promise and providence at the Red Sea, (Exodus 14:10-12) at the Desert of Sin, (Exodus 16:1-3, 17:3) and then again as they passed from Sinai to the Desert of Paran, (Numbers 11:1-3) and yet again at the verge of entering Canaan, (Numbers 14:1-4) the Israelites repeatedly despise God’s plan for them, even going as far as saying in each case that they were better off in Egypt.
In each instance, God forgives Israel’s rebellion, but in the last case, he decrees that none of the adults who had seen his glory and the miracles by which he delivered Israel, other than Joshua and Caleb, would be permitted to enter Canaan. (Numbers 14:20-30)
In today’s passage, it is 38 years later, and Israel is again on the way to Canaan, moving towards the Promised Land. A few verses earlier, (Numbers 20:2-5) Israel arrives at the Desert of Sin, and finding no water, the new generation, in an eerie repetition of the sin of their fathers, complains that it was better in Egypt. Moses and Aaron seek guidance from the Lord and, in a replay of the episode from Exodus 17:5-6, Moses strikes a rock to produce water. In this second episode though, Moses and Aaron fail to give glory to God for the miracle, so God decrees that they would not lead Israel into the Promised Land. Today’s passage follows shortly after this with the death of Aaron. Despite Aaron’s disobedience, God is kind to Aaron, allowing him to pass gently and letting him witness the installation of his son, Eleazar, as High Priest. Mercy is not getting the deserved punishment; grace is getting the undeserved blessing. God showed both to Aaron, in a prefiguration of the greater work he would do for us. In this Lenten season, it is worthwhile to reflect on how we may, consciously or unconsciously, doubt God’s promise and providence, which should exclude us from paradise. God sent his Son, though, to take this penalty for us, and because of Jesus’ atonement for our disobedience, God can show us mercy and grace. It is a comforting thought.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see ourselves and our rebellion in the narrative of Israel’s wandering in the desert. We wander, and too often we even long for the bondage from which you deliver us. When you act in your sovereign power to save us, we fail to give you glory, attributing deliverance to our own efforts, or even sheer, dumb luck. Forgive us our hard hearts, and soften them gently. We thank and praise you for your grace and mercy to us. We see the great work done by your Son on our behalf. Make us more like Jesus in this time as we approach Easter. Amen.