Numbers 17 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Numbers 17
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verse 1. - And the Lord spake. Presumably upon the same day, since the design was to prevent any recurrence of the sin and punishment described above.
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.
Verse 2. - Take of every one of them a rod. Literally, "take of them a rod, a rod," i.e., a rod apiece, in the way immediately particularized. מַטֶּה (Septuagint, ῥάβδον,) is used for the staff of Judah (Genesis 38:18) and for the rod of Moses (Exodus 4:2). It is also used in the sense of "tribe" (Numbers 1:4, 16). Each tribe was but a branch, or rod, out of the stock of Israel, and, therefore, was most naturally represented by the rod cut from the tree. 'The words used for scepter in Genesis 49:10, and in Psalm 45:7, and for rod in Isaiah 11:1, and elsewhere are different, but the same imagery underlies the use of all of them. Of all their princes... twelve rods. These princes must be those named in chapter 2 and 7. Since among these are to be found the tribe princes of Ephraim and Manasseh, standing upon a perfect equality with the rest, it is evident that the twelve rods were exclusive of that of Aaron. The joining together of Ephraim and Manasseh in Deuteronomy 27:12 was a very different thing, because it could not raise any question as between the two.
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.
Verse 3. - Thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi. There was no tribe prince of Levi, and it is not probable that either of the three chiefs of the sub-tribes (Numbers 3:24, 30, 55) was called upon to bring a rod. This rod was, therefore, provided by Moses himself, and inscribed by him with the name of Aaron, who stood by Divine appointment (so recently and fearfully attested) above all his brethren. For the significance of the act cf. Ezekiel 37:16-28. For one rod... for the head of the house of their fathers. For Levi, therefore, there must be, not three rods inscribed with the names of the chiefs, but one only bearing the name of Aaron, as their common superior.
And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you.
Verse 4. - The tabernacle of the congregation. "The tent of meeting." See on Exodus 30:26. Before the testimony, i.e., in front of the ark containing the two tables of the law (Exodus 25:21).
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.
Verse 5. - Whom I shall choose. For the special duty and service of the priesthood (cf. chapter Numbers 16:5). I will make to cease. הַשִׁכֹּתִי מֵעָֹלַי. I will cause to sink so that they shall not rise again.
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.
Verse 6. - And the rod of Aaron was among the rods. As there was no prince from whom this rod could have come, and as there were twelve rods without it, this must mean that Moses did not keep Aaron's rod separate (which might have caused suspicion), but let it be seen amongst the others.
And Moses laid up the rods before the LORD in the tabernacle of witness.
Verse 7. - Before the Lord, i.e., in front of the ark. In the tabernacle of witness. "In the tent of the testimony." בּאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת.
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.
Verse 8. - Was budded: or "sprouted." פָּרַח. And yielded almonds. Rather, "matured almonds." This particular rod had been cut from an almond tree, and it would seem probable that it had on it shoots and flowers and fruit at once, so that the various stages of its natural growth were all exemplified together. The almond has its Hebrew name שָׁקֵד, "awake," from the well-known fact of its being the first of all trees to awake from the winter sleep of nature, and to herald the vernal resurrection with its conspicuous show of snow-white blossoms, which even anticipate the leaves (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:5). Thus the "rod of an almond-tree" (מַקֵּל שָׁקֵד) was shown to the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:11) as the evident symbol of the vigilant haste with which the purposes of God were to be developed and matured. It is possible that all the tribe princes had official "rods" of the almond-tree to denote their watchful alacrity in duty, and that these were the rods which they brought to Moses. In any case the flowering and fruiting of Aaron's rod, while it was an unquestionable miracle (for if not a miracle, it could only have been a disgraceful imposture), was a σημεῖον, in the true sense, i.e., a miracle which was also a parable. Aaron's rod could no more blossom and fruit by nature than any of the others, since it also had been severed from the living tree; and so in Aaron himself was no more power or goodness than in the rest of Israel. But as the rod germinated and matured its fruit by the power of God, supernaturally starting and accelerating the natural forces of vegetable life, even so in Aaron the grace of God was quick and fruitful to put forth, not the signs only and promise of spiritual gifts and energies, but the ripened fruits as well.
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.
Verse 9. - And took every man his rod. So that they saw for themselves that their rods remained dry and barren as they were by nature, while Aaron's had been made to live.
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.
Verse 10. - Before the testimony. By comparison with verse 7 this should mean before the ark in which the "testimony" lay. In Hebrews 9:4, however, the rod is said to have been in the ark, although before Solo-men's time it had disappeared (1 Kings 8:9). We may suppose that after it had been inspected by the princes it was deposited for safer preservation and easier conveyance inside the sacred chest. To be kept for a token against the rebels. Rather, "against the rebellious," literally, "children of rebellion" (cf. Ephesians 2:2, 3). It could only serve as a token as long as it retained the evidences of having sprouted and fruited, either miraculously in a fresh state, or naturally in a withered state. As a fact, however, it does not appear that the lesson ever needed to be learnt again, and therefore we may suppose that the rod was left first to shrivel with age, and then to be lost through some accident.
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.
Verse 12. - And the children of Israel spake unto Moses. It is a mistake to unite these verses specially with the following chapter, for they clearly belong to the story of Korah's rebellion, although not particularly connected with the miracle of the rod. These are the last wailings of the great storm which had raged against Moses and Aaron, which had roared so loudly and angrily at its height, which was now sobbing itself out in the petulant despair of defeated and disheartened men, cowed indeed, but not convinced, fearful to offend, yet not loving to obey.
Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?
Verse 13. - Shall we be consumed with dying? It was a natural question, considering all that had happened; and indeed it could only be answered in the affirmative, for their sentence was, "In this wilderness they shall be consumed" (chapter 14:35). But it was not in human nature that they should calmly accept their fate.

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