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 (Exodus 4:20), a symbol of the authority God gave to Moses.
ii. This same rod held by Moses demonstrated his authority in action. The rod of God in the hand of Moses:
· Miraculously became a serpent, and then became a rod again (Exodus 7:9-10).
· Turned the waters of the Nile into blood (Exodus 7:17).
· Brought plagues of frogs (Exodus 8:5), lice (Exodus 8:16-17), hail (Exodus 9:23), and locusts (Exodus 10:13).
· Was raised over the Red Sea when it was to be parted (Exodus 14:16).
· Was raised in prayer over Israel in victorious battle (Exodus 17:9).
· Struck the rock and brought water (Numbers 20:11).
iii. The rod is also 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, was given the title the Rod (Isaiah 11:1 and Micah 6:9). The rod was also 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: After the gathering of the rods, inscribing each with the name of a tribe, and inscribing Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi, God would declare which tribe possessed priestly authority by choosing one of the rods. This was the issue at hand considering Korah’s rebellion.
i. All this happened because of what the LORD spoke to Moses: “If the words in this introductory clause mean what they seem to mean, then we have a constant punctuation throughout the Book of Numbers (in over 150 instances!) that Yahweh has spoken and that he has spoken principally to Moses.” (Allen)
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 are being practiced.
b. Thus I will rid Myself of the complaints: 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 usually not issue-motivated, though they may claim to be and appear to be. More often they are heart-motivated. They sometimes murmur because they have complaining, discontented hearts. The complaining heart is demonstrated when people murmur about one issue after another, never being satisfied.
ii. So, God would give them an unmistakable answer to this matter of contention – then rid Himself of the complaints.
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.
a. Twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron: Some (such as Cole) believe that there was a total of twelve rods, with the two tribes of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) represented by one rod. Others (such as Poole) believe that Aaron’s rod was added to the twelve rods.
b. Moses placed the rods before the LORD in the tabernacle: Moses and the tribes of Israel did just as God commanded in the previous passage. Several commentators (such as Allen and Cole) believe the rods were placed in the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place. However, they may have been placed just outside the veil that separated the holy place from the Most Holy Place.
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 the rod of Aaron – had sprouted. It had not only sprouted, but it had also put forth buds. It had not only put forth buds, but it had also produced blossoms. It had not only produced blossoms, but it had also yielded…almonds. It had not only yielded almonds, but it had also yielded ripe almonds.
i. This was a place where a relatively small miracle would have been convincing. After all, God could have merely made a little green sprout come 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, others 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 this 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 or sin, but they must set things right when they do.
ii. The clear choice of Aaron meant that he was God’s chosen priest and the nation was required to recognize it.
iii. Aaron’s rod was chosen, and it was chosen to bear fruit. Those whom God chooses should have evident fruit as a mark of their election. Aaron’s rod had both fruit (the almond) and the promise of future fruit.
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.
i. We can imagine Moses carefully inspecting the other rods, noting that there was nothing on them resembling a sprout, bud, or blossom.
ii. This confirmed God’s choice of Aaron, Aaron’s authority as assigned by God, and that the authority of God’s appointed high priest is fruitful.
iii. The difference between Aaron’s rod and the others could be attributed to God alone. It was a miracle that only God could do. This should have made Aaron humbler; what God did to affirm the choice of Aaron was something that had nothing to do with Aaron himself. Bearing fruit should give us both a sense of authority and humility.
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. The unfruitful rods were given back to their owners. The fruitful rod was kept before the LORD.
ii. “Only he [Aaron] can draw near to God. Only he can make atonement for Israel’s sin. Israel must acknowledge his unique place in the scheme of salvation by not usurping his prerogatives and by supporting his ministry financially.” (Wenham)
iii. 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 the order of Aaron (as explained in 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 the law that they broke, the manna that they complained about, and Aaron’s rod which was the answer to 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.
c. That you may put their complaints away from Me: God noted that their murmuring and complaining against Aaron was actually murmuring and complaining against Himself.
i. Yet Trapp noted that this did not end all of Israel’s complaining, “Which yet would hardly be done…. Many men’s lips, like rusty hinges, for want of the oil of grace and gladness, move not without murmuring and complaining.”
ii. At the same time, there was not another direct rebellion against Aaron’s authority as the high priest in Israel after this. “The sign was efficacious; for while the spirit of rebellion manifested itself subsequently in other ways, it may safely be said that any complaint against the rights of the God-appointed priesthood ceased from this time.” (Morgan)
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 that the people of Israel were clearly convicted of their sin. They now clearly knew that it was wrong to contest the priestly leadership of Aaron.
i. Surely we die: According to Adam Clarke’s comment, perhaps they described something like the shortness of breath that comes with a panic or anxiety attack. “…gavaenu signifies not so much to die simply, as to feel an extreme difficulty of breathing, which, producing suffocation, ends at last in death.”
ii. “Every thing in this miracle is so far beyond the power of nature, that no doubt could remain on the minds of the people, or the envious chiefs, of the Divine appointment of Aaron, and of the especial interference of God in this case.” (Clarke)
b. Whoever even comes near the tabernacle of the LORD must die: Much in chapter 16 during the rebellion of Korah gave these Israelites who resisted the leadership of Aaron reason to be afraid.
· The leaders (Korah, Dathan, and Abiram) were judged and destroyed.
· Their 250 followers among the leading men of Israel were judged and destroyed.
· The censers from the 250 were recovered, flattened, and used to cover the altar.
· A plague was used to judge and destroy 14,700 of those who sympathized with Korah and his followers.
c. Shall we all utterly die? Considering the miraculous confirmation of Aaron’s priesthood, the people feared they were next to be judged and destroyed, and this was not an unreasonable fear.
i. This kind of feverish 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 must be changed by God.