Numbers 17 – The Budding of Aaron’s Rod
A. The test commanded.
1. (1-3) Gathering rods, identified with each tribe.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, and get from them a rod from each father’s house, all their leaders according to their fathers’ houses; twelve rods. Write each man’s name on his rod. And you shall write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi. For there shall be one rod for the head of each father’s house.”
a. Get from them a rod from each father’s house: A rod was a symbol of authority, because shepherds would use a rod to guide and correct the sheep (Psalm 23:4).
i. Moses, as a shepherd, had a rod in his hand when tending sheep in the wilderness (Exodus 4:2); this rod later became known as the rod of God – a symbol of the authority God gave to Moses (Exodus 4:20).
ii. This same rod demonstrated Moses’ authority in action, by miraculously becoming a serpent, and then becoming a rod again (Exodus 7:9-10), by turning the waters of the Nile into blood (Exodus 7:17), by bringing forth plagues of frogs (Exodus 8:5) lice (Exodus 8:16-17), hail (Exodus 9:23), and locusts (Exodus 10:13); God commanded Moses to raise the rod over the Red Sea when it was to be parted (Exodus 14:16), the rod that was raised in prayer over Israel in victorious battle (Exodus 17:9), the rod that struck the rock and brought forth water (Numbers 20:11); the rod is a picture of God’s authority over man (Psalm 2:9, 23:4, 89:32; Isaiah 10:24, 11:4, Ezekiel 20:37); Jesus, in His divine authority, is given the title “the Rod” (Isaiah 11:1; Micah 6:9); the rod is an emblem of an apostle’s authority in the church (1 Corinthians 4:21).
b. Write each man’s name on his rod. And you shall write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi: In gathering rods, and inscribing each with the name of a tribe, and on Levi’s rod inscribing Aaron’s name, God would declare which tribe possessed priestly authority by choosing one of the rods. This was the issue at hand in light of Korah’s rebellion.
2. (4-5) The rods to be placed in the tabernacle for God’s choosing.
“Then you shall place them in the tabernacle of meeting before the Testimony, where I meet with you. And it shall be that the rod of the man whom I choose will blossom; thus I will rid Myself of the complaints of the children of Israel, which they make against you.”
a. The rod of the man whom I choose will blossom: Not only would this obviously be a miraculous sign; the blossoming of dead wood spoke of fruitfulness. Fruitfulness – miraculous fruitfulness – is present when godly authority and leadership is being practiced.
b. Thus I will rid Myself of the murmurings: This did not mean that after this, the children of Israel would never complain again. But God, having demonstrated more than sufficient evidence to the murmurers, would no longer regard their murmuring. Indeed, He would then judge their murmuring.
i. Murmurers (complainers) are rarely satisfied by evidence or the resolution of one issue. Complainers are not issue-motivated, though they claim to be and appear to be; they are heart-motivated. They murmur because they have complaining, discontent hearts. The complaining heart is demonstrated when people murmur about one issue after another, never being satisfied.
ii. So, God will give them an unmistakable answer to this matter of contention – then rid Himself of their murmurings.
B. The test vindicates Aaron as God’s priestly leader.
1. (6-7) The rods are placed before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness.
So Moses spoke to the children of Israel, and each of their leaders gave him a rod apiece, for each leader according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. And Moses placed the rods before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness.
2. (8-9) The budding of Aaron’s rod.
Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord to all the children of Israel; and they looked, and each man took his rod.
a. And behold, the rod of Aaron: When Moses checked on the rods the next day, Aaron’s rod – and only Aaron’s rod – had sprouted. It not only sprouted, it had put forth buds. It had not only put forth buds, it had produced blossoms. It had not only produced blossoms, it had yielded… almonds. It had not only yielded almonds, it yielded ripe almonds!
i. This was a place where a “small” miracle would have been convincing. After all, God could have merely made a little green sprout come forth from Aaron’s rod alone, and that would have – or should have – been enough.
ii. But God gave, as in the words of Acts 1:3, many infallible proofs, to demonstrate His approval of Aaron’s leadership. God gives us more than enough evidence; our problem is a lack of willingness to see what He has made clear.
iii. “We are probably to understand that some parts were in bud, other in bloom and others had fruited.” (Wenham) Fruit from a godly leader may come in all different stages.
iv. There is nothing remarkable about a piece of wood with buds, blossoms, or fruit on it. But a piece of dead wood with all these things appearing in one night after sitting in a tent is remarkable. “Miracles in the Bible are often of this sort: natural events in unnatural conditions, timing, and placement.” (Allen)
b. Behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted: God’s choice of Aaron’s rod did not mean that Aaron was the most spiritual man in the nation. God’s chosen leaders will have godly character according to the principles of 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9, but it wasn’t a contest to determine the most spiritual man among them.
i. It also did not mean that Aaron had not and would not sin or fail significantly. God’s chosen leaders may fail (we do not believe in the Roman Catholic idea of “papal” or “pastoral” infallibility), but must set things right when they fail.
ii. It meant Aaron was God’s chosen priest, and the nation was required to recognize it.
c. Each man took his rod: This was a dramatic scene. Each murmurer from the different tribes took his rod, and clearly saw that his had not budded or borne fruit, and that Aaron’s had.
3. (10-11) The command to preserve Aaron’s rod in the ark of the covenant.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Bring Aaron’s rod back before the Testimony, to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put their complaints away from Me, lest they die.” Thus did Moses; just as the Lord had commanded him, so he did.
a. To be kept as a sign against the rebels: The rod of Aaron was to be kept as a museum piece, to remind the children of Israel that God had chosen a priesthood, and nothing would change that – Aaron’s priesthood would always be Aaron’s priesthood.
i. If God demonstrated His choice of Aaron and his descendants as priests for Israel, how can Jesus be our high priest, as Hebrews 2:17 says? Because Jesus is a high priest of the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron (Hebrews 7).
b. Bring Aaron’s rod back before the Testimony: Aaron’s rod was to be kept in the ark of the covenant, as another example of Israel’s failure and rebellion. When God looked down from heaven into the ark, He saw emblems of Israel’s sin: The tablets of law they broke, the manna they complained about, and Aaron’s rod meant to answer their rebellion. The covering blood of sacrifice was applied to the lid covering over these reminders of Israel’s sin, so God “saw” the blood “covering” their sin, and atonement was made.
4. (12-13) The reaction of the children of Israel.
So the children of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, “Surely we die, we perish, we all perish! Whoever even comes near the tabernacle of the Lord must die. Shall we all utterly die?”
a. Surely we die, we perish, we all perish: This shows they the people of Israel were clearly convicted of their sin. They now clearly knew that it was wrong to rebel against the leadership of Aaron.
b. Shall we all utterly die: After seeing all what God did in the rebellion of Korah – destroying Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, along with their 250 followers among the leading men of Israel; the retrieval and hammering out of the censers for a covering on the altar; the plague destroying 14,700 of those who sympathized with Korah and his followers, and the miraculous confirmation of Aaron’s priesthood – the people fear they are next to be judged, which was not an unreasonable fear.
i. This kind of hysterical fear doesn’t necessarily mean their hearts were changed. This will not be the last account of a complaining, murmuring Israel. This shows that dramatic events don’t take away our complaining and rebelliousness. The heart has to be changed by God.