Book of Numbers Chapter Seventeen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Aaron's Rod That Budded
Have you been accused of something which (perhaps) you did not do? Has your reputation been damaged by somebody's words or actions? Are you sad about what happened, perhaps because you care for the accuser, hoping for a reconciliation that seems unlikely? This chapter is a continuation of Numbers 16, a record of accusations against the brothers, Moses and Aaron. God dramatically vindicated them through events that included the violent deaths of their principal accusers, but the Lord knew that the cancer of grumbling was still among the people, and so a further demonstration was needed. The Lord also knew that the very human Moses and Aaron had been stung emotionally by the accusations. These brothers were not perfect, any more than we are perfect. But God chose them, and we should be very slow to say or do anything that harms God's elect.
Verses 1-3: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 'Speak to the sons of Israel, and get from them a rod for each father’s household: twelve rods, from all their leaders according to their fathers’ households. You shall write each name on his rod, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi; for there is one rod for the head of each of their fathers’ households.'" The economy of Israel centered around the shepherding of herds of domestic animals, which made the sacrifice of those animals very personal to the nation. The "rods" in these verses were long, stout sticks that aided the shepherd in walking, symbolized security to the sheep, and was a weapon used to thwart carnivorous animals menacing the flock. One rod was to represent each tribe of Israel, including, in this case, a rod for Aaron's tribe of Levi, a group not normally numbered with the other tribes. But here the tribe of Levi was included and there were 12-rods to be collected, which likely meant that the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim were counted together as the tribe of Joseph, also seen in Deuteronomy 27:12. There was to be no confusion about which rod was which because the name of each tribal leader was clearly written on them, including the name "Aaron," etched onto the rod of the tribe of Levi.
Verses 4-5: "You shall then deposit them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 It will come about that the rod of the man whom I choose will sprout. Thus I will lessen from upon Myself the grumblings of the sons of Israel, who are grumbling against you." Much like a badge can be the symbol of a police officer, or more on point, the scepter of a king is a symbol of office, these shepherd's staffs identified the men who carried them as leaders of their tribes—the representatives of their people. Jesus, who left the safety of eternity to enter humanity and subsequently died as the sacrifice for us all, became our Representative. Our part is to accept His leadership, His sacrifice, His love, by our willingness to follow our Shepherd, through the faith graciously offered to all who will believe. Keep in mind that the rods of these verses were effective symbols, but from another perspective, they were just large, dead sticks. If you planted one of them in the ground and watered it continually, it would never be more than a decaying piece of wood.
God can and does bring life out of death. Without Christ, we are like the rods of these verses—dead to the God who created and loves us. He died for our sins and then rose again, opening the door for LIFE to all who will believe. Humanity is a race of grumblers who are troubled by God's decisions, muttering words like, "How could God do THIS to me? How could it happen? Why would a good God allow it?" And so on. Like Israel, we forget that God has taken us out of the slavery, the sin of this world, offering the freedom and love we so desperately need. We are troubled by the circumstances we live in, not understanding that many of our problems are brought on by our own sins and the sins of those around us. We are allowed to remain in difficulties so we might see our need of the Lord and turn to Him, not unlike the nation Israel that was within a desert and needed to trust the One who brought them to it. And note that if God can and will give life to a dead stick, He can and will give new life to you.
Notice in Verses 6-7, the responsiveness of Moses to the Lord's commands: "Moses therefore spoke to the sons of Israel, and all their leaders gave him a rod apiece, for each leader according to their fathers’ households, twelve rods, with the rod of Aaron among their rods. 7 So Moses deposited the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony." For the first 40-years of Moses' life, he lived as a prince in the house of Pharaoh, but his Israeli blood mother became his wet nurse and nanny (Exodus 2:7-8)—a miracle wrought by God. Knowing he was a Jew by birth, he went north in an attempt to rescue his people at age 40, a mission ending in disgrace and exile (Acts 7:23-29). 40-years later, he was called by the Lord to lead the people and he resisted, for, as he wrote in Psalm 90:10, a person 80-years old was near death! He didn't have a speech impediment as some say (in relation to Exodus 4:10) because Acts 7:22 reveals that he was "mighty in words." He simply felt old, tired and insufficient for the task. Moses had now become a man of faith who said "yes" to God, as he took the rods of the tribal leaders and placed them into the Tabernacle before the Lord.
Verse 8: "Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds." This is literally life out of death and if the Lord can give life to dead wood and use it to authenticate Aaron, He can and will give life to you, authenticating that your faith in the Lord is eternally alive. Dead trees don't blossom and dead limbs will not bring forth fruit, so it's important to note that what happened to Aaron's rod is a miracle. It's like the words of Ephesians 2:1—"And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins." Without Christ, we may be animated, able to walk, breathe air, eat, and perform other bodily functions, but only in Christ are we—alive!—"Born of the Spirit" as Jesus taught in John 3:8. It is a miracle of God when we believe.
In Verse 9, "Moses then brought out all the rods from the presence of the Lord to all the sons of Israel; and they looked, and each man took his rod." Moses went into the Tabernacle, bundled in his arms all the Shepherd's rods that had been placed before the Lord, and brought them outside to the congregation of Israel. The leaders of the various tribes were men who mostly lacked faith and questioned God's decision to choose Aaron and Moses as leaders. Each man now looked dumbly at his wooden staff as Moses pressed it into his hand. There could be no doubt about God's decision, for each leader's name was clearly written on his own staff. Their rods were barren, but the staff of Aaron had budded and borne mature almonds. Aaron was chosen by the Lord to be the high priest of Israel. They were not.
The Bible is a Book of history, it is a Book of faith, and it is a Book of evidence. Humanity is full of legalistic and judgmental beings, and so Aaron's rod would be kept in God's Holy Ark, evidence of this day. Verse 10: "But the Lord said to Moses, 'Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.'" And in Verse 11, "Thus Moses did; just as the Lord had commanded him, so he did." Moses, the man of faith, once more did just as the Lord commanded him. But the people of Israel lacked that faith as they cried out in fear in Verses 12-13: "Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, 'Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying! 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, must die. Are we to perish completely?'" Israel was afraid, but they didn't need to be. As the Lord Jesus revealed, "Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11:26). We are safe in Him—forever.
Scripture is beautiful, full of instructive contrasts, and is deeply meaningful for all who are willing to have faith in the Lord. When we trust in Him, He responds with His Holy Spirit, who comes into us and changes everything. We read His Word, which brings us to Christ, Who gives us His Holy Spirit, Who enables us to understand God's Word. 1 John 4:18 includes the beautiful words: "perfect love casts out fear." Human love is not perfect, which is like a signpost that the perfect love we need comes from God, obtainable through faith in the Lord.
Father, the people of these verses were afraid because they did not trust in the Lord. Unbelief is in us, too, and so we confess our sin and come to You. Please heal me, Lord. I trust in You. I am Yours. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.