There are now over 530,000 known cases of Covid-19 in the U.S.
Speaking of numbers, there’s a not-very-well known account from the Book of Numbers having to do with a plague. In chapter 16, Moses is leading the Hebrews through the wilderness. This chap named Korah decides that he should be leading the people, so he rebels. Him and 249 other people. As a consequence, they are consumed in a fire.
When a large portion of the Israelites protested this response, God commanded Moses to depart from them. A plague came down and smote 14,700 men.
It is not my intention to tie this story to what is going on now. I am no prophet and have been given no word that the Coronavirus is sent from God as a punishment for this or that. The account from Numbers sits in a complex story of a covenant people. My interest is with what Moses and Aaron do.
God’s instructions to Moses and Aaron were to get away from the people, for their own sake. Moses, seemingly in defiance of God’s orders, tells Aaron to take his fire censor, and run between the people with the holy fire. In the midst of people who had the plague.
Aaron is a hundred years old at this point. It’s quite a feat for him to take incense fire in a censor and run like an Olympian through a nation of people. The point is, Aaron (and Moses) had a holy affection for God’s people. So much so that even when God advises that they protect themselves from the angel of death, they act self-sacrificially to help save the people.
I truly believe Aaron was foreshadowing Jesus.
At the urging of Moses, Aaron stands between the sick and the healthy. Even though all these people were complaining against him, he dove into the midst of them to save them.
I think of this in the time of this virus. Putting aside any attempt at explaining why God is letting it sweep the world, I am reminded that, knowing some of us are potentially sick or healthy, within the distance between us stands our high priest. Jesus is between the living and the dead. He died once, and lives. Those who died may live, and those who live need not fear death. He still dwells in us, among us, through us.
When God’s people gather in whatever fashion they can, I believe Jesus is among them. Waving that light, offering that fire. Saving us.
I also think of our role. Let us be like Aaron. Though we should take care to practice sound medical advice, we must not be so afraid of our personal health that we are not moved to help others. In times of a plague, we need to find creative ways to both protect people and reach out to them.
Do not let us be defined merely by our distance, but by our audacious passion for the vulnerable. Imitate the mediator who put a stop to plague by acting on behalf of others.
The good news is that He is risen!
And one day we will look back on this pestilence and tell ourselves, “it stopped!” That also is very good news.