This subtle shift that we see between the orientation of the priests and the leaders between Moses and Aaron and Joshua and Eleazar could not be more important for us as a royal priesthood because it is precisely the tension that we still feel.
As we talk about what it means to be the people God has called us to be in the world, there are still voices that boldly declare that our allegiance is only to God. That, like Moses, we are called to meet Him on the mountain. That, like Moses, we make authoritative declarations about the ways that persons should live, and the mere fact that this comes from God should be enough for them.
Recently, I read a book - a book published this year - that called for Christians to retreat from the world into monastic communities where we can live the way that God intended for us to live, where we can answer to God alone and be accountable to God alone. The author argued that if we do this right, others should want to join us on the mountain, but there is essentially no reason at all why we should concern ourselves with going back out into the camp. This world is corrupt, and we need no part of it.
That's a bold statement (and one that I don't think is at all in line with what Jesus would have us do).
On the other hand, there are many churches that are right now wrestling with what it means to be relevant to the world, and they are coming up with a lot of plans and ideas and even doctrines that are pleasing to the cultural current. We are surrounded by Christians who are so concerned with bringing people to the edge of the mountain that they're willing to make golden calves to do it. They spend an overwhelming amount of their time in the camp, and they've forgotten there's anything holy about the mountain at all.
Somewhere, it has become a mark of Christian pride that the world wouldn't even notice that we're Christians if we didn't tell them so. It's become vogue that we blend in to such a degree that it would shock our friends and neighbors to learn that we're people of faith. I mean, we seem so "normal."
That's a bold statement, too (and one that I don't think is at all in line with what Jesus would have us do).
So the tension that we see with Moses and Aaron is a tension that we're still living. Like Moses, we're tempted to run to the mountain and to speak with authority about what men should do, having all but forgotten what life is really like in the camp. Like Aaron, we're tempted to roam the camp and answer to the people, having forgotten that there is something holy happening on the mountain.
When Joshua is anointed and given to Eleazar, and when Eleazar is told of his accountability to Joshua, this changes the dynamic for both men in a way that is vitally important to who we are and what we do as a people of God. We have a duty to both God and men. We have a place on the mountain and in the camp. We have an authority and a sociality, neither of which should be denied or forsaken or abandoned.
And actually, if we broaden that idea out a little bit, we'll see that that's how God always intended His people to live. That was His plan all along. (Stay tuned.)