“… for Aaron shall be gathered to his people and die there. ” –Numbers 20:26

It’s an odd way to talk about dying. Scholars don’t all agree about the meaning of this idiom. The same word is used to talk about gathering wheat at harvest time, and for gathering people together for meetings. Some think it means being placed in the family graveyard, others think it means to be gathered into sheol or the afterlife. Others think it simply means to die peacefully.

I like the idea that it means to join a gathering of those who have already died. Hebrews says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (12:1), and Revelation describes a huge crowd of people worshiping in heaven:

After this I looked, and there was a great crowd that no one could number. They were from every nation, tribe, people, and language.

–Revelation 7:9

Now, if you don’t like crowds, this doesn’t make heaven sound very attractive, but I’ve also read recently (here) that it’s comforting to tell people who are dying that they’re not alone. Saying this while you’re sitting next to them sounds reasonable, but we can only speculate about what will happen after the point of death. In Mitch Albom’s book The Five People You Meet in Heaven it’s not a crowd in heaven, just a few well-loved people. Even with just two, it’s still a gathering, right?

When Jesus was about to die on the cross, he told the man next to him, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). So whether or not there’s a crowd, or five people, there’s at least Jesus, and so, indeed, in death we’re not alone.

Another meaning of the word “gathered” is the thing one does to fabric to make it look like this:

I definitely don’t think that this is what happened to Aaron in Numbers 20:26, unless somehow in death we are sewn to other people. Or maybe we are SOWN, as we are being buried, just like we bury seeds. The word “gather” comes from the Proto-Germanic word gaduron which sounds like “garden.” Gardening does involve burying seeds.

Maybe I’m just being silly or grasping at threads, but it is rather interesting how much all these words connect to one another. Maybe someday when I’m gathered to my people, they’ll be able to explain all this stuff…

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