Standing Between the Living and the Dead

BIBLE VERSE FOR TODAY…. And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.”  ….A he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped. Numbers 16:46-48 ESV

The Lord summons the people to gather. He tells them to separate themselves from Korah and those joining him in rebellion. Moses announces that, “if these men die of natural causes, the Lord has not sent me, but if something never seen before takes place….like the ground opening up and swallowing them; then you know it is the Lord who has called me to lead this people.”

As soon as Moses ends his statement the earth opens and Korah and his followers are “swallowed” by the earth, never to be seen again. How would you react? Would you run in fear? Would you bow in worship? The people did neither of these; instead they accused Moses of “killing the Lord’s anointed!” I guess you can say, “some people just don’t get it!”

As a result, the Lord brings judgment on the people with a plague and people begin to fall dead like being shot in battle. Once again we see Moses, man of mercy, interceding for the people by instructing Aaron to take incense from the altar as a prayer of intercession for the sins of the people. When he does the plague is stopped.

The compelling statement is, “he stood between the living and the dead.” I believe this is an important picture of those who intercede for others, especially those under God’s judgment. Compassion calls us to prayer for the guilty and to “rescue the dying.” Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” 

The incense that Aaron held is symbolic of prayer going up before the Lord. As the plague is moving through the congregation Aaron with censor of incense in hand “stands in the gap” between the dead the living. The living that were “next” to be judged by the plague.

This reminds me of the saying related to, “cursing the darkness, or lighting a candle.” Moses and Aaron were not willing for death to be the order of the day. While what was taking place was a natural consequence of the sin, hard hearts and rebellion of the people, they were not willing to just be “innocent bystanders” content in their own righteousness.

They took action and were used to end death and protect the lives of God’s people. The blind hymn writer of old Fanny Crosby, wrote these words,

Rescue the perishing,
  Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
  Weep o’er the erring one,
  Lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.

I took note of the first words of the second verse,

Though they are slighting Him,
  Still He is waiting,

Christ died for us when, “we were still sinners.” The Lord challenges us to “stand before the dead and living.” To be those who will care for those, who show little concern for their own lives and continually “put God to the test.”

As I write this I think of my friend Snow Peabody of Teen Challenge of Arizona, (and many like him) who for decades have been willing to stand between the “dead and the living” for those whose lives have been ravaged by addiction.

The challenge though, is for us all. The sins and judgment of some are more pronounced than others. But all those alienated from Christ face a day of judgement. We are called to intercede, to intervene and be those who promote true life, abundant life, found only in Jesus Christ.

Prayer for today…. Lord grip our hearts with the call of being those who will stand, “between the dead and living.” Help us to offer the incense of our prayers and to take action when and where we can to be those who, “rescue the perishing and care for the dying.”