Numbers 17 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Numbers 17
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of every one of them a rod according to the house of their fathers, of all their princes according to the house of their fathers twelve rods: write thou every man's name upon his rod.

(2) And take of every one of them . . . —Better, And take of them a rod for each father’s house.

Twelve rods.—Some suppose that Aaron’s rod was not included amongst the twelve. Others suppose that one rod only was taken for the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The latter supposition is more accordant with the terms here employed than the former, and is supported by Deuteronomy 27:12-13, where Joseph stands for the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and Levi is included amongst the twelve tribes.

Write thou every man’s name upon his rod.—This was in accordance with an Egyptian custom. (See Wilkinson’s Ancient Egyptians, III. 388.) The prophet Ezekiel received a similar injunction (Ezekiel 37:16).

And thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi: for one rod shall be for the head of the house of their fathers.
(3) And thou shalt write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi.—Aaron was descended from the second son of Levi. He was not, therefore, the natural, but the divinely-appointed head of his father’s house, and hence it would not have sufficed for the purpose contemplated to have inscribed the name of Levi upon the rod. Aaron was constituted the head alike of the priests and of the Levites, into which two classes the tribe of Levi was divided.

And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you.
(4) Where I will meet with you.—Rather, where I meet with you.

And it shall come to pass, that the man's rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you.
(5) The man’s rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom.—Or, shall sprout forth or put forthi.e., leaves or blossoms. Achilles, when enraged against Agamemnon, is made to swear a solemn oath by his sceptre which, having once left its stock on the mountains, shall never again grow. King Latinus is represented by Virgil as confirming his covenant with Æneas by a similar oath.

And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, and every one of their princes gave him a rod apiece, for each prince one, according to their fathers' houses, even twelve rods: and the rod of Aaron was among their rods.
And Moses laid up the rods before the LORD in the tabernacle of witness.
And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.
(8) Behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded . . . —As the budding of Aaron’s rod was the divinely appointed proof of the establishment of the priesthood in his person and in his posterity, so our Lord proved Himself to be the true High Priest over the House of God by coming forth as “a rod [or shoot] out of the stem of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1), and as “a root out of a dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2). The miraculous shooting forth of Aaron’s dry rod may be regarded as a type of the mode of the Spirit’s operation in the Church, and more especially in the work of the ministry; “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

And yielded almonds.—Better, and brought almonds to maturity, or yielded ripe almonds. The word shaked (almond-tree) is a cognate form of the verb shakadto keep watch. The name is supposed to have been given to the almond-tree because it blossoms at a time when vegetation is lying in the sleep of winter. (See Jeremiah 1:11-12; also, The Land and the Book, p. 319.)

And Moses brought out all the rods from before the LORD unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Bring Aaron's rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.
(10) Bring Aaron’s red again before the testimony.—Better, Put back (literally, make to return) Aaron’s rod . . . It is not stated here that the rod was put within the ark. Nor is it so stated in Exodus 16:33 with regard to the pot of manna. Neither of these was within the ark when it was brought into Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 8:9); but this statement is by no means inconsistent with that contained in Hebrews 9:4, inasmuch as the assertion that there was nothing but the tables of the law in the ark at that time does not prove that there were not other things in it at an earlier period, and may be thought to suggest the inference that such was actually the case. The Jews have a tradition that when King Josiah ordered the ark to be put in the house which King Solomon built, the rod of Aaron and the pot of manna and the anointing oil were hidden with the ark, and that at that time the rod of Aaron had buds and almonds.

And Moses did so: as the LORD commanded him, so did he.
And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish.
(12, 13) And the children of Israel spake unto Moses . . . —The special manifestations of Divine power which the Israelites had witnessed excited within them salutary emotions of awe and of anxious apprehension, but do not seem to have awakened within them any corresponding sense of gratitude either for their deliverance from the plague, or for the privileges which they enjoyed by reason of the Divine presence amongst them. The true answer to their inquiry whether they were doomed utterly to perish is contained in the following chapter, in which the priesthood of Christ is typically set forth as bearing the iniquity of the sanctuary, and thus making reconciliation for the sins and securing the acceptance of the imperfect service of His people.

Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?
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