AN EXPOSITION OF LEVITICUS 16:1-2
1 AND the LORD spake unto Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron, when they offered before the LORD, and died;
The death of a child at any age, is a difficult time for a parent. Normally, it is expected that one generation succeeds the next. Children should not have to die before their parents. But, sometimes they do. Sometimes a child attracts an incurable and deadly disease. Sometimes a child is involved in a tragic accident. Sometimes a child is murdered. Sometimes a child commits such a terrible sin they are punished by God with a premature death. Such was the case of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, the first high priest of Israel. Nadab and Abihu committed an unauthorized act of worship that was so degrading they were immediately punished by God.
What do you say to a parent when their child dies a premature death? Platitudes and verbal bromides do not help. Often, it is good to say nothing, except, “I am so sorry.” Then listen, and be available. Weep with those who are weeping.
What do you say to a parent when their child dies a sin unto death? The challenge is even greater.
Following the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, God had something he wanted to say to Aaron, through Moses. So the LORD told Moses to speak unto Aaron, his brother. Aaron would listen to Moses because they were brothers, and because Moses too was grieving over what happened to his two nephews.
2 And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil before the mercy seat, which is upon the ark; that he die not: for I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.
In meditating on this verse, in considering the words the LORD had for Aaron, several spiritual truths are revealed, one of which is that life continues even after a tragic death. Moses and Aaron had much work to do in the years that lay before them. By insisting they return to work, the LORD was not being harsh, but helping them in the healing process. It was time for Moses, and Aaron, to turn their attention away from themselves to others.
Conventional counseling wisdom teaches there are five steps in the grieving process.
First, there is denial. In the denial stage the effort is made to refuse to believe what has happened.
Second, there is anger. It is not unusual to get angry following the death of a loved one. This anger can manifest itself by lashing out at anyone and everyone over trivial matters. It can also manifest itself in hostility towards the person who has died.
Third, there is bargaining. We may try to make a deal with God, if the dying process is known ahead of time. “Lord, if you let my loved one get well I will do something for you.”
Fourth, there is depression. Feelings of listlessness and tiredness consume the soul. Life no longer has any purpose, definition, or meaning.
Fifth, there is acceptance. In this phase of grieving, it is realized that life must go on.
The LORD moved Aaron to the acceptance stage rapidly, because the situation demanded unusual inner strength and stability. So “the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto Aaron thy brother.”
God had a specific message for Aaron. It might sound unduly harsh, but the fact of the matter is that God is more interested in a person’s holiness than in their happiness. The LORD knows that true happiness can only be found in holiness.
This is a lesson of life that people find very difficult to learn. A person will engage in questionable behavior despite knowing it is contrary to the will of God, and that shame and guilt will follow. Why then does a person violate their own conscience? The simple answer is that there is a desire for an immediate emotional gratification, but then the emotions change after the transgression and new feelings take over, feeling of shame, remorse, and self-loathing. When those feelings subside with the passing of time, inappropriate feelings return, new desires are longed for, and the cycle repeats itself.
Why are there always, always, terrible feelings that follow a violation of God’s will? The Biblical answer is twofold. First, God does not want the heart to become hardened. A hard heart is a sign, not of salvation, but of damnation. Second, God is more interested in holiness than happiness. Therefore, the LORD will use the instrument of unhappiness to chasten His own in order to conform them into the image of Christ.
Now the specific message that the LORD gave to Moses to pass on to Aaron was twofold. First, Aaron was to remember to treat the sacred places within the Tabernacle with great respect. His sons did not do that, but Aaron must. “Aaron, do not go into the Holy of Holies within the veil before the Mercy Seat which is upon the Ark of the Covenant, or you will die.”
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, Aaron was to go behind the veil and offer a blood atonement for the people, but not before then. There was an authorized time to meet with the LORD, and not before.
The Bible says, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven?” (Eccl. 3:1) Aaron was to honor this special prohibition of going in the Holy of Holies, lest he die.
Time and again God warned individuals they would die if they did something against His approval. The principle behind this warning is that grace precedes judgment.
God warned Adam and Eve that if they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they would die. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”” (Gen. 2:17)
God warned Aaron that if he entered prematurely into the Holy of Holies he would die. (Ex. 16:2)
God has warned Christians, on this side of the Cross, not to eat of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, lest they die. “Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. 29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.” (1 Cor. 11:27-30)
Despite the alarming prohibition given to Aaron not to enter at an inappropriate time into the Holy of Holies, the LORD promised something wonderful. It should have sent an electrifying thrill through the soul and body of every Hebrew believer, for the LORD promised to appear within the veil. “I will appear in the cloud upon the mercy seat.”
Here was a great and glorious promise. It was not hypothetical. It was not a dream. It was a promise that would be immediately realized. “I will appear.”
In 1950, James Whitmore and Nancy David stared in a movie, The Next Voice You Hear. The drama film portrayed a voice claiming to be that of God, which would preempt all radio programs for days all over the world. The voice is never heard by the film audience. What is interesting about the film is that people found their lives challenged by the very thought that God would come near to them in a visible way.
When Aaron was told by Moses that the LORD had promised to be with Hs people in a visible and immediate way, it was a thrilling announcement. God would meet with His people at the mercy seat.
For the Christian, the mercy seat is Calvary. At Calvary God the Father poured out the sins of the world upon Jesus Christ. Atonement was made for sin. God will meet any sinner in mercy at Calvary.