Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so provoking him to anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me. And the LORD was angry enough with Aaron to destroy him, but at that time I prayed for Aaron too. – Deuteronomy 9:20
In the movie, the Prince of Egypt, the reverberating exhortation of Ramesses’ father, “A dynasty is only as strong as it’s weakest link” chisels the heart of the heir to the throne into the unmovable rock that will forever be synonymous with abject opposition to the ways of God. Spielberg’s imaginative spin on the forming of the stock protagonist to God’s people has teeth because this phrase has some truth to it. A congregation’s caliber of spiritual maturity will rarely surpass it’s leader’s. As you track the history of Israel’s spiritual highs and lows, there is a clear correlation with the spiritual state of the priesthood. As the priests go, so goes the people. That is why God wanted the people of Israel to view themselves as an entire kingdom of priests: for how will the nations learn righteousness if there is no one to lead the way? How will anyone know how to interact with God, if no one is showing us how it is done? And as a photocopy of a photocopy lacks the quality of the original, so it is with spiritual impartation: a corrupt priesthood begets a more corrupt people. That is why God’s final word to Israel before four hundred years of prophetic silence was a scathing rebuke of the priests for abdicating their calling (Malachi 1:6-2:9).
So, it is curious that God acts so mercifully with Israel’s first official priest who blew it on such a grand scale. Three thousand men died after Aaron, of all people, led them in the whole golden calf debacle. Have you ever wondered how he escaped judgment that day? He escaped for two reasons: he was repentant, and because someone fasted and interceded on his behalf. God not only spares this man, but validates him in the wake of Korah’s rebellion by causing Aaron’s staff alone to blossom as though it were an almond tree (Num 17). Almonds, due to their early flowering were a symbol of watchfulness and promise, not to mention that the Hebrew word for almond tree sounds like the Hebrew word for “watching”. It was not by accident that the priest and prophet Jeremiah’s first vision (Jer 1:10,11) was of an almond tree. It is also not insignificant that the menorah for the tabernacle was crafted to look like almond branches (Ex 25:33-34). Priests are the watchmen for the nation who are to stand in the counsel of the Lord and proclaim to the people what is on the heart of God, heralding the coming season before it is in full bloom. Not only does Aaron get this validation before the grumbling malcontents of the nation, his staff becomes one of only three items in the ark of the covenant at the very epicenter of the manifest glory of God (Heb 9:4). God’s endorsement of this man is staggering in light of what seems like such robust wisdom: “A dynasty is only as strong as it’s weakest link.” By answering Moses’ prayers and sparing this less-than-perfect priest, God was stating to Israel what He stated to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (1 Cor 12:9). Repentance is a form of weakness that invites God’s power into our lives, while our weak intercession unleashes God’s power into the lives of others. Two weak links that release the very strength of God.