Moses and Aaron had faced a number of challenges to their leadership and so God prepared a test that would demonstrate once and for all that these men were His chosen leaders. Moses told each of the tribal leaders to bring a staff with their name inscribed on it, including a staff for the tribe of Levi, inscribed with Aaron’s name. All twelve staffs were placed before the Ark. The next day they returned to the Tabernacle and saw that only Aaron’s staff had budded and blossomed and produced ripe almonds. This miraculous result was God’s imprimatur on Moses and Aaron to “finally put an end to the people’s murmuring and complaining against you” (17:5).
Followers of Christ, particularly those in leadership, are no strangers to conflict. Beyond the ever present attacks of our arch enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil, on occasion we are attacked from behind. This attack does not come from a foreign group but rather from our own brethren or family members, just as Moses and Aaron were attacked by their own people. This makes the attack all the more painful and therefore easy to lose perspective.
The key lesson that we can learn from what Moses and Aaron did, is to allow the Lord to fight for us. Thirty years ago I was pastoring a non-denominational church that grew out of the Jesus Movement. An internationally famous Bible teacher told me that he was going to take the church away from me because I refused to implement his program which was cultish in nature. I told him “I don’t think that you can take it away from me because you didn’t give it to me to begin with, but if you can, more power to you.” The next Sunday I resigned as pastor and told the flock to take one month to pray and talk to anyone that would be helpful. I said that at the end of the month I would return and pastor anyone who was left, if any. The Bible teacher did his best to win the flock but at the end of the month, all returned except for two families and one single person.
I have not always handled conflict well. I have learned that a great benefit of getting out of the way and allowing the Lord to fight for me is that it offers less opportunity for my flesh to take control and act in vengeance and spitefulness, which it is more than happy to do.
A second lesson from this episode with Moses and Aaron is to stay engaged. Very few people really enjoy conflict, so the temptation when it comes is to either ignore it until you can no longer do so, or to become overly passive in the midst of it all. Most people realize that when you ignore a problem it tends to get worse, so that is clearly the wrong option. But most people don’t realize that there is a clear difference between allowing the Lord to fight for you and being overly passive. Moses and Aaron did not directly attack the complainers but they stayed engaged. Moses was in prayer, receiving direction from the Lord. He called on the leaders of the complainers to participate in a divine experiment and Aaron also participated in it.
Thus when we are in a conflict we do not attack the other person or persons but we remain in prayer, we make our position clear, we participate in attempts at reconciliation, we speak to the people who are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Then and only then can we sit back and see if the Lord will cause our rod to bud.
As a parish we have experienced the Lord’s vindication as He did with Aaron. After we voted over 86% to leave The Episcopal Church, the Bishop came out of retirement to take over our services with the handful of people who did not want to leave. We chose not to fight or engage in lawsuits. Instead we met him at the door of the church, handed him the keys and the checkbook and walked away. We had our time in the wilderness, 5+ years in a school cafeteria, but even that time was a blessed time. We grew much closer as a parish. Today we are on 7+ acres of serene property and our chapel is far more beautiful than the one we left behind.
So the lessons from today’s readings are 1. Allow the Lord to fight for you. 2. Stay engaged. 3. Trust the Lord with the outcome.