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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 17


Chapter 17 The Rod That Budded .

In Numbers 16:0 the question has been dealt with as to who could act as a mediator between Israel and God in the offering of incense. Now the further question is dealt with as to who may enter the Holy Place.

b). Who Has The Right To Enter The Sanctuary? - Issues of Life and Death Evidenced By The Rod That Budded (chapter 17).

Here those with the right to enter the Sanctuary are determined once and for all as the sons of Aaron. We are given no background to the incident, although it may well have followed not long after the preceding event, and is clearly connected with it.

This is the third in the trio of incidents which confirm the Aaronic priesthood, the first two of which overlap. Each of them covers two days (Numbers 16:1-50; Numbers 17:1-13), and each of them ends with the thought of the people being consumed (Numbers 16:21; Numbers 16:45-48; Numbers 17:13).

a Yahweh commands each tribe to lay a rod before Him in the Tent of Testimony one for each head of their father’s house (Numbers 17:1-3).

b The rods to be laid up in the Tent of meeting before the Testimony (Numbers 17:4).

c The rod of the chosen one will bud and put an end to murmuring (Numbers 17:5).

d All the chieftains give rods including Aaron (Numbers 17:6).

d The rods are placed in the Tent of Testimony (Numbers 17:7).

c Aaron’s Rod buds and flowers in the Tent of Testimony, and the budded and unbudded rods are revealed to all the people who look on them (so that murmuring will cease) (Numbers 17:8-9).

b Aaron’s rod is laid up ‘before the Testimony’ to put an end to their murmuring (Numbers 17:10).

a The people recognise that none but Aaron’s house may enter the Tabernacle for they alone can enter the Sanctuary and live, and the rod which is evidence for the fact is laid up before the Testimony (Numbers 17:12-13).

Verses 1-3

Yahweh Commands Each Tribe to Lay a Rod Before Him in the Tent of Testimony One For Each Head of Their Father’s House (Numbers 17:1-3 )

Numbers 17:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

Again it is emphasised here that we have the words of Yahweh as spoken to Moses.

Numbers 17:2

‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods. You write every man’s name on his rod.’

All the men of Israel were to be involved in this. It is possible that Levi were included among ‘the twelve’ and that Manasseh and Ephraim were for this event treated as one tribe, the rods representing the ‘households’ of the original patriarchal fathers. But a rod was taken for each of their fathers’ houses, and the names of each of the chieftains of those fathers’ houses was written on the rods. This would suggest in the light of previous references to twelve chieftains that the ‘twelve’ rods were in contrast with Aaron’s rod. (Alternately one rod may have represented Joseph, including both Ephraim and Manasseh. It was Joseph who was to be ‘a fruitful bough’ (Genesis 49:22), but not as pertaining to the priesthood).

The word for ‘rods’ also indicates ‘tribes, and can in fact be used to indicate either. Thus the rods symbolised each tribe.

Numbers 17:3

‘And you shall write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for each head of their fathers’ houses.’

On the rod of Levi the name of Aaron was to be written. There was to be one for each head of their fathers’ houses. In the light of the earlier divisions in chapters 1-4 we are probably therefore to see that there were thirteen rods, the twelve which represented Israel in contrast with the Levites, and the one that specifically represented Aaron.

Here Aaron is depicted as the head of the house of Levi. That may well be why earlier he was called ‘the Levite’ as the head of the family (Exodus 4:14).

Verse 4

The Rods Are To Be Laid Up in the Tent of Meeting before the Testimony (Numbers 17:4 ).

Numbers 17:4

‘And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you.’

These were then to be ‘laid up in the Tent of meeting, before the testimony’, in the place where Yahweh meets with His people. This probably meant in front of the veil behind which was the Ark of the covenant of Yahweh, ‘the testimony’ indicating the presence of the covenant tablets in the Ark and their testimony to the covenant.

Verse 5

The Rod of the Chosen One Will Bud and Put an End to Murmuring (Numbers 17:5 ).

Numbers 17:5

‘And it will come about, that the rod of the man whom I shall choose will bud, and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’

Then Yahweh would make the rod of the man that Yahweh had chosen spring to life and bud. This final display on Yahweh’s initiative should cause all further murmurings against Moses and Aaron on the question of who had the right of priesthood to cease.

Verse 6

All the Chieftains Give Rods Including Aaron (Numbers 17:6 ).

Numbers 17:6

‘And Moses spoke to the children of Israel, and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods, and the rod of Aaron was among their rods.’

So Moses did as Yahweh commanded and requested rods from each of the chieftains of the twelve tribes. These rods may well have been their symbols of authority. Thus twelve rods were gathered and Aaron’s rod was placed among them.

Verse 7

The Rods Are Placed In the Tent of Testimony (Numbers 17:7 ).

Numbers 17:7

‘And Moses laid up the rods before Yahweh in the tent of the testimony.’

The rods were then laid up ‘before Yahweh’ in ‘the Tent of the testimony’. Note the change in name for the Tent. Emphasis is placed here on the fact that the Tent testifies to Yahweh and His covenant. As we have already suggested, this probably meant that they were placed before the veil behind which was the Ark of the covenant of Yahweh, although it may be that Moses uniquely had access into the Holy of Holies itself.

Verses 8-9

Aaron’s Rod Buds and Flowers in the Tent of Testimony, and The Budded and Unbudded Rods Are Revealed to All the People, Who Look on Them (so that murmuring will cease) (Numbers 17:8-9 ).

Numbers 17:8

‘And it came about on the next day, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and produced blossoms (tsits), and bare ripe almonds.’

The next day Moses entered the Tent of testimony, and there he discovered that Aaron’s rod had budded. Indeed it had not only produced buds, but had also burst into flower and borne ripe almonds. The same word (tsits) which indicates ‘blossoms’ also signifies the golden ‘plate’ which was part of the High Priest’s headdress (Exodus 28:36; Leviticus 8:9). Assuming them to be almond flowers they would have been pinky white. Jeremiah 1:11-12 associates ‘almonds’ (shaked) with ‘vigilance’ and ‘watching’ (shoked). The almond was also the earliest tree to blossom. Thus the budding was evidence of new life, the flowers symbolised the High Priestly ‘holiness to Yahweh’ in the whiteness of purity and righteousness, and the almonds indicated that Yahweh watched over him with vigilance.

The lampstand in the Dwellinglace of Yahweh represented an almond tree (Exodus 25:33-34). Thus the rod that produced almonds was seen as, as it were, an offshoot of the One represented by the lampstand.

The message was clear. The rod of Aaron lived in the presence of Yahweh, but the rods of the tribes remained dead. Only Aaron and his sons could be in the presence of Yahweh in the Holy Place and live. Only Aaron could ‘produce fruit’ in the Holy Place.

Numbers 17:9

‘And Moses brought out all the rods from before Yahweh to all the children of Israel, and they looked, and took every man his rod.’

Then Moses brought all the rods out ‘from before Yahweh’ and brought them to the children of Israel, and they looked and saw, and each chieftain took his rod. Nothing further needed to be said. The rods spoke for themselves. They were taken back to the tribe with an account of what had happened and no doubt carefully examined.

Verses 10-11

Aaron’s Rod Is Laid Up ‘Before the Testimony’ to Put an End to Their Murmuring (Numbers 17:10-11 ).

Numbers 17:10

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the children of rebellion, that you may make an end of their murmurings against me, that they die not.” ’

Then Yahweh told Moses to put Aaron’s rod back ‘before the testimony’. It would be a permanent token to the rebellious, in order that their murmurings might cease, so that they would not need to die.

Numbers 17:11

‘Thus did Moses, as Yahweh commanded him, so did he.’

And Moses did all that Yahweh had commanded him.

Verses 12-13

The People Recognise that None But Aaron’s House May Enter the Tabernacle. They Alone Can Enter the Sanctuary and Live (Numbers 17:12-13 )

Numbers 17:12-13

‘And the children of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, all of us are undone. Every one who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of Yahweh, dies. Shall we perish all of us?” ’

The people examined the dead rods that represented the tribes, in contrast with the living rod of Aaron, and their consciences smote them as they remembered their recent past. They must have asked themselves, what did this signify? Terror took hold of them, and spread. Their rod had come back dead. They panicked. Was this an omen, an indication of their coming fate, that Yahweh was handing them over to death? They understood the message that was given, that they could not enter the near presence of Yahweh lest they die, that to come too near to the Sanctuary was death, as Moses had already warned (Numbers 1:51; Numbers 1:53). But they feared that death was upon them, as they recognised that they had been approaching His Dwellingplace so lightly. Were they then doomed? Was this the harbinger of a ghastly fate? Moses no doubt reassured them of what the true significance of the rods was, but for the reader, held in suspense, the answer is given in Numbers 18:2. The iniquity of the Sanctuary and the priesthood would be borne by Aaron and his sons.

So once the initial panic had subsided the people learned in a never to be forgotten way that the Sanctuary was holy and the inner Sanctuary was for the priests alone. God had made quite plain through the rods that only Aaron and his sons could flourish there. For all others to enter would be to perish. Note the threefold stress, ‘perish -- undone -- all undone’ indicating how distressed they were. The repetition of ‘comes near’ indicates coming very close. To come too close to the Dwellingplace of Yahweh would result in death, just as the rods were dead. They had to face up to the fact that in the future all who did so would perish.

This example of the rods also pictorially made clear to them what had happened to Korah and his band of Levites. They had thought to come too close to Yahweh in direct disobedience to His instruction and they had died. None must ever again make the same mistake. The same would happen to any who made the attempt. Only Aaron and his sons had the privilege of entry into His inner Sanctuary.

For us the message is that if we would enter the presence of God we too must receive life, and bud and produce fruit. We must receive eternal life, through Jesus Christ (John 5:24; John 10:28; 1 John 5:12-13; 2 Corinthians 5:17), and only then we can live before Him. For us our right of access is through the sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 10:19-20) and results from our being made a royal priesthood through Him (1 Peter 2:9).

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 17". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.