The Mystery of the Mantle and the Mountain 

And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. 

Numbers 20:28.

  1. The Power of the Priestly Robe 

Whatever seeks to strip you of your priestly robes seeks much more than those robes; it is after your life.  While Aaron had his robes on, he did not die, or could not die; not even when he made the golden idol for his congregation, or when he fell into costly gossip with Miriam who, on the same account, was instantly slapped with an awful leprosy (Numbers 12:1-10; Exodus 32:21-25).  However, as soon as “Moses stripped Aaron of his garments … Aaron died.”  Where he was stripped, “there” he died, as if a life-support had suddenly been unplugged.

The garments from God are a preserver.  The point is similarly stressed when God warns in Psalm 105:15, “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”  His oil is a preserver of whom it anoints – and what and where it anoints (Genesis 31;13; Daniel 5:23-25).  Unless for sinning priests that God had judged, it was not common that death took anyone in their holy garments (Leviticus 11:1-2; 1 Samuel 3:13; 4:11,18; 2 Samuel 1:21).  Guard your garments; guard your divine assignment.  Your very life could depend on that.

  1. The Power to Disrobe 

Only Moses who had put the garments on Aaron could take those garments off him.  God commissioned no lesser person with that ominous task (Numbers 20:26).  Even God, it then appears, had respect for the protocols of hierarchy.  In apparent similar fashion, only Samuel who had anointed Saul as king could say to him, “Thy kingdom shall not continue” (1 Samuel 13:14).  David feared to meddle in such uncertain waters, anointed though he also had been (1 Samuel 16:13; 24:6, 10; 26:9).  Years later, King David was to reap the blessed harvest of the protocol he also had respected, for when Absalom his seditious son got so lustful for the throne as to plot in fashions that his father had feared, even the trees marched out against him, and killed him with his hosts, although himself they first detained (2 Samuel 18:8-9).

To God belongs the power to call and to kill; to enrobe and to disrobe His own (Romans 8:33; 14:4; Isaiah 50:8-9; 1 Samuel 16:1).  He has not given to Satan the power to devest His anointed, although the enemy often strives to stain garments he cannot strip, so to set the Anointer against the anointed (Zechariah 3:1-3; Job 2:3).

  1. Dispensable Priests 

No matter how anointed a priest might be; no matter the favours from God that he has enjoyed, he is still dispensable.  For one Aaron disrobed, there was another (apparently lesser) person ready to take his place.  It is the humour of the Almighty often to call the bluff of the proud by replacing them, sometimes to their living shame, with lesser folks ennobled above them.  For one proud Vashti dethroned, there was a younger unlikely immigrant Esther to take her place, selected out of “many” others who had also been contenders (Esther 2:8).  For one proud Saul rejected from the throne, God promptly found a humble ‘bush boy’ so apparently unfit for the office that even his own family would not recommend him; that was besides seven other men who had lined up for the same vacancy (1 Samuel 16:11).

Jesus warned the jealous Jews that if they made the little children to stop their triumphal Hosannas, lifeless stones would promptly take their place (Luke 19:40).  It is both humbling and terrifying to note that Heaven’s ‘Human Resources Department’ still announces vacances for priesthoods vacated carelessly.  May it never be said of anyone, “Let another take his office” (Acts 1:20; Psalm 109:8).

  1. The Land also Mourns 

When priests die for garments stained or stripped, the land also mourns; so, what attacks the garments of a priest could also be seeking the life of the land (Numbers 20:29; Malachi 3:3-5; Zechariah 3:1-10).  There will surely be a Matthias for a Judas gone (Acts 1:20, 26), and a David for a Saul dead and disrobed, but alas the agony of lamentations for the crash of the mighty “in the midst of the battle”; the unplanned tears for the waste of their burnished shields and for our “weapons of war perished!”  Alas then our collective shame as the headlines of Gath and Askelon ring loud with our untellable woes, the enemy playing deaf to our earnest entreaties to not publish in their gossip streets the fall of our mighty “as though he had not been anointed with oil!” (2 Samuel 1:17-27).

David seemed to have seen it right when he said that the death of Saul, stripped of his precious armour-garments after he had fallen on Mount Gilboa (ominously, not stripped and dead but dead and stripped – also on a mountain (1 Samuel 31:8-9), was not just the distant personal tragedy of one mighty man but a national injury; that what had been “slain” upon the mountain was not just a person but “The beauty of Israel” as an entire nation.  If others saw it differently, and would join the daughters of the Philistines in their dance of triumph, he would be mourning with the mountains of Gilboa forever thereafter clad in dewless, rainless lamentation.  In other words, it takes the blind to dance upon the grave of the mighty when even the land and mountains mourn.

  1. Much More than a Garment 

Important as priestly garments were, and their power to preserve, Moses had none.  Strangely, it was Moses, who himself wore no priestly robes, that was instructed by God to disrobe Aaron.  If Moses without a garment was greater than Aaron who wore garments, it will appear that all priesthood is not told by a garment, and all priestly greatness is not measured by garments that we can see.  They might be no lesser priests who are not clad in Aaron’s robes.  There are decorated priests after the order of Aaron, and others after the unclad order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 7:11).  Holy though the garments might be, if we should seek to know all priests strictly by garments, we will miss greatness concealed in other clothes.

  1. The Meanings of the Mountain 

Over two decades ago, it first struck me strangely that God called Moses up the mountain of His presence to die.  God said to him, “Get thee up into this mountain … And die” (Deuteronomy 32:49-50).  Could His glorious presence be also a place of sudden death (Acts 5:1-11)?  Did not the Psalmist say, “in thy presence is fulness of joy”? (Psalm 16:11).  Does the unfathomable God contradict Himself?  Or maybe my educated head is just so small it is unable to comprehend His wonderous ways!

We have generally thought that when God called someone ‘up’ to His presence, it was to a place of higher visions and glorious encounters, like the times on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12), and the disciples with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-6), and when it was said to John the Divine on the Isle of Patmos, “Come up hither, and I will shew thee things” (Revelation 4:1).  For Aaron with a ‘molten-calf’ past to be settled, it was different.  He “went UP … and DIED there” (Numbers 33:38).  Months later, Moses was the next – to go up, and die.  I tremble.  Every upward call should not be a boastful announcement to worshipful fans below.  It could be a call to death for issues yet unsettled.

Three men went up the mountain; two came down.  Alas, the paradox of the mountain of His presence.  One great man went up and lost his garments there; another simple one who had gone up simply, came back down clothed in the honours that the other had lost.  There came a day when the mountain did not mean the same thing to everyone.

Alas, every upward call should not be a boastful announcement to worshipful fans.  It could be a call to death for issues unknown.

From The Preacher’s diary, 

September 28, 2021. 

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