Hur, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazer and Ithamar, sat in a tight circle around Aaron. Moses had disappeared into the mountain of fire and smoke soon after God had spoken to all Israel in the voice of many waters and brought down laws. Then he came down again and said God had extended an invitation to Aaron, his sons and the elders to come up to the mountain. It had been the scariest event of their lives. Every step climbed up the mountain was surrounded by thunder, lightning and streaks of fire. The men thought they would die any moment.
Halfway to the top of the mountain, they saw a strange sight. A pavement of sapphire, clear as the sky itself and fountains billowing onto the pavement. The most majestic image surrounded by a rainbow sat with visible feet at the far end of the pavement. Trembling, they stepped on the pavement and food appeared before them. ‘Eat’. Said a voice as of many rushing waters. So they ate the food without tasting it. Then gold cups filled with the clearest water appeared. ‘Drink’, said the majesty. So they drank. ‘Go back, men of Israel. Go and lead my people to safety’. Then the voice spoke directly to Moses. ‘Come up to me and stay here, and I will give you the tables of stone, with the law and commands I have written for their instruction’. Moses had chosen Joshua for this more sacred journey.
Aaron and the rest came down the mountain, shocked that they had seen the ancient God of their fathers, eaten and drank and remained alive. For days after they came from the mountain, none of them could speak and tell their story. Gradually, the fear started to leave them, though the mountain remained engulfed with fire, and Moses and Joshua failed to come down.
It was now the 35th day, and the whole nation had risen in a mob against these leaders. The people were fed up with being stuck in the desert by a smoldering mountain. Moses was evidently dead. No one could survive in that fire for this long. The people demanded to declare Aaron their leader. But Hur spoke quietly.
‘Don’t do it Aaron. Don’t accept the title. Moses will return soon’.
Aaron sat with head bowed and beard draping the ground. No one could guess what his answer to the people would be, and how he would maintain order. They had threatened to stone Moses earlier, until God started raining bread, and meat in response to their demands. Order returned with the satisfaction of demands. This time, they were not hungry, thirsty, or even tired. They just refused to have uncertainty. They wanted to move on. To that land flowing with milk and honey. If Moses had burnt up in the mountain, good luck to him. Aaron should lead them with the acts of power he had learnt from Moses. That was their simple demand.
Hur started to speak just as Aaron spoke up. He shut up, and with all the elders, listened to Aaron.
‘Moses is dead. I have also seen God. I am equally fit to lead you. I do not have a rod now, because Moses died with it. But I shall lead you with what we have. Bring me gold.….’
Hur took a step back. And Abihu pushed him out of the way. The sons of Aaron could not imagine that this opportune time they had only dreamed of had come! Moses was dead, and with him the only possible rival Joshua. Their father had moved from the shadow of Moses at last. What did this mean? The young men could not stop flapping their robes.