Ellen G. White Writings

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The Signs of the Times

May 20, 1880

Aaron's Sin in Yielding to the People

By Mrs. E. G. White

As Moses and Joshua went down from the mountain, the former bearing the “tables of the testimony,” they heard the sound of shouting in the camp. Joshua's first thought was of an attack from their enemies: “There is a noise of war in the camp.” Moses answered, “It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome; but the noise of them that sing do I hear.”

As they drew near the camp they beheld the children of Israel shouting and dancing in an excited manner around their idol. It was all one scene of heathenism, an imitation of the idolatrous feasts and idol worshipers of Egypt; but how unlike the solemn and reverent worship of God! Moses was overwhelmed. He had just come from the presence of God's glory, and although he had been warned that the people had corrupted themselves, had made an idol and sacrificed to it, yet he was in a measure unprepared for that dreadful exhibition of the degradation of Israel. In utter discouragement and wrath because of their great sin, he threw down the tables of stone by divine direction purposely to break them in the sight of the people, and thus signify that they had broken the covenant so recently made with God.

He then burned the idol in the fire and ground it to powder, and after strewing it upon the water, he made the children of Israel drink of it. This act was to show them the utter worthlessness of the god which they had been worshiping. Men could burn it in the fire, grind it to powder and drink it, without receiving any injury therefrom. He asked them how they could expect such a god to save them, or to do them any good or any evil. Then he rehearsed to them the exhibitions which they had witnessed of the unlimited power, glory, and majesty of the living God:—that struck terror to their souls.

“And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness (for the mountain did burn with fire), that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. And ye said, Behold, the Lord our God hath shewed us his glory, and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth. Now, therefore, why should we die? for this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee; and we will hear it, and do it. And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spake unto me. And the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee. They have well said all that they have spoken. Oh, that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!”

The Majesty of Heaven here shows that he takes no pleasure in punishing the transgressor; but when his righteous laws are trampled upon he must maintain the honor of his throne. He delights to bestow his blessings upon all who will value them. “Oh, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” This covers all who should live on the earth till the close of time, all who come under the meditation of Jesus Christ. The prosperity of all depends upon their obedience to God's requirements. The heart that is steadfastly fixed upon the Lord will not think slightly of his law himself, nor give it less regard and reverence because of the universal disrespect which it receives. In proportion as it is disregarded and despised by the masses will it become precious to the God-fearing and obedient. Said David, “They have made void thy law, therefore I love thy commandments above gold, yea, than fine gold.”

Moses then presented before them their disgraceful conduct in worshiping an idol, the work of man, instead of offering sincere devotion to the living God. He pointed them to the broken tables of stone, which represented to them that thus had they broken the covenant which they had so recently made with God. The Lord did not reprove his faithful servant for breaking the tables of stone, but was very angry with Aaron because of his sin; and he would have destroyed him, had it not been for the special intercessions of Moses in his behalf.

The great leader next summoned his guilty brother to appear before him, and sternly inquired, “What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?” Aaron endeavored to excuse his course by relating the clamors of the people—that if he had not complied with their wishes they would have put him to death. “And Aaron said, let not the anger of my lord wax hot. Thou knowest the people that they are set on mischief. For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me; then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” He would have Moses think that a miracle had been performed—that the gold was cast into the fire, and by some miraculous power was changed to a calf.

But his excuses and prevarication were of no avail. Moses severely rebuked his brother, and informed him that his guilt was heightened by the fact that he had been blessed above the people, and had been admitted into close converse with God. That he, placed in a responsible position to lead and control Israel, should commit so great a sin, even to save his life, was a matter of astonishment with faithful Moses. He “saw that the people were naked; for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies.” He had stripped them of their ornaments and had put them to a shameful use. The people were not merely deprived of their ornaments, but they were divested of their defense against Satan; for they had lost their piety and consecration to God, and had forfeited his protection. He had, in his displeasure, removed his sustaining hand, and they were left to the contempt and power of their enemies.

Aaron's failure to be true to his trust brought the rebuke of God upon him. Had he been steadfast, God would have shielded him from harm. We have compliant Aarons in our day, those who hold positions of authority in the church and who coincide with an unconsecrated people and thus lead them to sin. They expose themselves and the people to the wrath of God. However much Aaron excused himself, God regarded him as the principal agent in this terrible transgression. Here is an example traced by the pen of inspiration, in the pages of sacred history, as a lesson to all ministers and those who are in responsible positions, that they should in no case imitate the example of unfaithful Aaron. We have in these last days, as much occasion to tremble with fear at the will of God, as the Israelites had when they stood at the foot of the mountain.

The ministers who teach the people that God's law is no longer of force, are leading them to security in their life of disobedience and transgression. This Law of God is so exceeding broad that we cannot measure it. It is holy, just, and good and we can in no way evade its claims. It will be the rule of man's conduct as long as time shall last, and the rule of the future judgment of God. The Lord cannot[,] consistent with his perfection of character, the sacredness and honor of his throne and government, and with reference to the happiness of the beings he has created, reverse or release one precept of his law, or repeal one jot or tittle of it, for it is perfect, holy, just, and good, in harmony with his character.

While men profess to rejoice in the intercession and grace of Jesus Christ they should not forget that harmony with Christ cannot be gained while there is a spirit of war in their hearts against his Father's commandments. Love genuine love to Jesus Christ will lead directly to hearty obedience of all the law of God, and there will be the deepest repentance whenever they break, or teach men by their example to break one of the least of God's commandments. Ministers who smooth the consciences of the people by participating with them in transgression through any cause, are rejoicing in iniquity. And when Christ comes, to judgment, the stoutest hearts, the most confident boasters of religious attainments while breaking the law of God, will faint and fail, every excuse will then be silenced, every heart corrupt in its disobedience will be revealed just as it is. There will be recriminations with the companions in pouring contempt upon the law of God; but the heaviest denunciations will come upon the unfaithful minister who professed to be sent of God to show them the way of salvation. Tempter and tempted will suffer condemnation according to their responsibility and the wrong that they have done in leading souls to transgression. Of all the crimes that God will visit none are in his sight so grievous as those who tempt and encourage others in sin. God would have his ministers ever in all places show themselves decidedly on the Lord's side, loyal and true to his commandments in a rebellious world, thus rebuking the disobedient however difficult or contrary to the natural feelings. “Those that honor me,” saith God, “I will honor.” God looks to those who bear his commission to be true and faithful, and to exalt the dignity of his claims.

We would have no Aarons in our ranks, but men who respond to the Divine commission, men who become not weak, pliant time-servers, but men who connect themselves with the infinite God, become strong in his strength, and enter upon their mission not to exalt themselves, not to shun disagreeable duties, but to do God's work with unwavering fidelity. With a true purpose a weak man becomes strong; in God's strength a timid man becomes brave; the irresolute become men of quick, firm, decided action. The thought that he is of sufficient consequence to be selected and honored with bearing a commission from the King of kings is sufficient to make him resolute, and to cause him to be faithful and true to his trust. God looks to him for that work with which he is intrusted to invest him with a moral dignity that savors of heaven.

The most important lesson of Aaron's weak compliance with the wishes of the people are for all to profit by. Moses treated the case of Aaron as though he was the great offender. He inquired what had the people done to him that he should be revenged upon them by leading them into so great a crime. Aaron's conduct was not justified in the least.

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