'You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron'.
How to shepherd the flock
God led His people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. In this way Asaph ends this psalm in which he reflects on all God's mighty deeds in the past and this takes comfort from this for the present. The conclusion of his reflections is that he rests in God's faithful care for His people. God led them like a caring Shepherd and He delivered them with His arm. How did He do this? He did it by means of the men whom He had chosen, He led them by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Not only by the hand of Moses, nor just by the hand of Aaron, but by the hands of both spiritual leaders.
Moses was the great prophet and teacher of Israel who gave them God's laws. He told them all that the Lord had spoken to him. Aaron was the high priest of the people who mediated between them and God. He would come to God with the sacrifices of the people and offer them to Him, so that they would be pleasing in His sight. And from that wonderful place in God's presence, he would return to the people to bless them in the name of the LORD and to put His name on them (Num. 6:22-27).
Both these types have their fulfilment in Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He is both the Apostle and High Priest of our confession (Heb. 3:1). He is the Apostle, the Teacher sent by God, who revealed the truth of God here on earth. He revealed the Father in words and deeds. And after His resurrection from the dead and His ascension, He continued this revelation by the Spirit that He sent from on high. The Spirit brought to their remembrance all things that the Lord said to them, the truth already revealed to the disciples. Moreover, the Spirit guided them into all truth, so they could write it down in the divine record, the Holy Scriptures (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Cor. 2: 10-13).
Christ is also our great High Priest. He has accomplished the great work of redemption on earth once for all. He is now acting as the Minister of the heavenly sanctuary in order to make intercession for His people. He knows our weaknesses. He knows about the temptations that come our way. He understands our cares. Because He went through all these things during His life on earth, He has a perfect knowledge of our circumstances. Note that Christ's High Priesthood does not concern our sins, but our weaknesses. He died to sin once for all and bore the sin of many, but His priestly care in heaven concerns the weaknesses and shortcomings of His own. He prays for us so that we will not yield to the temptations that we continually meet on our way. If we fall and sin anyway, He acts on our behalf as the Advocate with the Father to restore our fellowship with the Father (1 John 2:1).
Christ's work as our High Priest therefore concerns the difficulties we meet on our journey through the wilderness, our pilgrimage here on earth till we come to heaven. Christ continually pleads for us at the throne of God, which is no longer a throne of judgment for His people, but a throne of grace 'so that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need' (Heb. 4:16). He helps us to reach the end of our journey, because He is able to save us to the uttermost and ever lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). As to our position in Christ, it is true that by grace we have been saved through faith (Eph. 2:8). But as to our walk on earth, we have not yet reached the end of the journey and need the support that Christ offers us as our great High Priest.
In the same way as God led the people of Israel by the hand of Moses and Aaron, He now leads His heavenly people by the powerful hand of the risen Christ. He is both our great Teacher and our great Priest. We need the teachings of His Word, but we also require His priestly activities in order to walk according to God's will. God has provided for both these needs. the Word of God and the High Priesthood of Christ are mentioned together in Hebrews 4 because they supplement each other. The Word of God is living and powerful; it judges the deepest thoughts of the human heart. But besides this we also have the comfort of Christ's priestly care to empower us to live according to God's Word.
In this way God leads us, and He leads us like a flock. God sees His people in the unity that He has formed; they need each other and He leads them together in green pastures and beside the still waters. Are we a flock of believers who listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do we follow the path which He shows us?
Failure and restoration
God led Israel like a flock by the hand of Moses. Moses was an experienced shepherd, who had been in God's school for forty years as he tended the flock of Jethro his father-in-law. In that second period of his life he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God (Ex. 3:1). This was repeated in the last forty years of his life, when he led God's people through the wilderness to the mountain of God (Ex. 3:12; 18:5; 19:4-6). God's people stayed there in His presence and listened to His voice. At Mount Sinai, God spoke to the Israelites through Moses, and during the rest of the journey to Canaan He revealed to them His will through the mouth of this faithful servant.
But very soon it became clear that this most important means was not sufficient to keep the people in the straight and narrow path. Israel immediately failed at Mount Sinai. They disobeyed the divine command and worshipped idols at the foot of the mountain while Moses was still on the mountain to receive God's commandments! Priestly intercession was the only means which remained in this serious situation to save the people from wrath. We see this in Exodus 32-34. Moses ascended the mountain again to intercede for the people, and it was only because of this that they found mercy.
The priesthood therefore was the second means which God used to lead His people. In the story of Sinai Moses really took the place of Aaron the priest, because he was incapable of fulfilling the task because of his responsibility in making the golden calf. Here Moses was both lawgiver and priest, uniting the two functions in his own person. This would find its ultimate fulfilment in Christ Himself. Later on in the history of God's people Aaron did fulfil his priestly duties although Israel failed again and again and refused to listen to God's voice. Just think of the revolt of Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16. Israel would have been consumed if Aaron had not offered incense to stop the plague. It is remarkable that the meaning and the place of Aaron's priesthood are clearly accentuated in Numbers 17 and 18 after this incident.
The priesthood is the necessary supplement to the first means which God has given to lead His people. The teachings of the Word are supported and supplemented by the activities of the priesthood. This is necessary to keep God's flock in the straight and narrow path. And this is also an important lesson for those who in our day take care of the flock of God: the elders and shepherds who tend the sheep. They must realise that they cannot act as owners of the flock. It is the flock of God and it should be led to 'the mountain of God', which means that it should be brought into God's presence. Yet, this is not enough. These shepherds of the flock should also act as intercessors, who intercede for them in a priestly way.
God's shepherd care
Now let us go back for a moment to the Psalm written by Asaph, when he pondered on God's ways with His people. He did not understand God's guidance, but there were two things he felt sure of. Firstly, he realised that God's way was in the sanctuary (Psa. 77:13). God leads us in keeping with the demands of His own holiness, and therefore it can please Him to lead us along difficult paths. This chastening, however, is for our profit, so that we may be partakers of His holiness (Heb. 12:10).
Secondly, Asaph understood that God's way was in the sea and His path in the great waters, so that His footsteps were not known (Psa. 77:19). God's guidance is often in secret and His ways are not always clear. Neither can we call God to account for His deeds, as Job once did. Even through circumstances which threatened His people, God led them to the other side of the sea (where Moses and the Israelites sang God's praises).
Asaph took comfort from this, and we should do the same when we think of God's ways and call upon Him because of the pitiful condition of His Church on earth. God's way is perfect and He still has the necessary means to lead us on. We should ask ourselves the question whether we really wish to be guided as His flock 'by the hand of Moses and Aaron', by these two provisions which He has given us: the Word and the priesthood of our glorious Lord. All other resources will fail.