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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 17

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Aaron's rod brings forth blossoms and fruit in the tabernacle, and is ordered by God to be kept for a token against the rebels.

Before Christ 1471.

Verse 2

Numbers 17:2. Take of every one of them a rod The minds of a considerable number of the people having been poisoned by the insinuations of Korah and his accomplices, against Aaron and his family upon the account of the priesthood, God is pleased to add another signal miracle, in confirmation of his priest's authority; accordingly, the head of each tribe is ordered to take a rod, and bring it before the Lord. Some have supposed that these were the ordinary rods, or batoons, which the princes of the tribes bore: while, from the 8th verse of this chapter, others infer that these were twigs, or branches, from one and the same almond tree: whichever was the case, the miracle was sufficiently great to demonstrate the extraordinary interposition of Providence.

Verse 4

Numbers 17:4. Where I will meet with you Ubi ego vobis praesens adesse soleo, where I am accustomed to meet with you. Horeb.

Verse 8

Numbers 17:8. Was budded, and brought forth buds, &c.— i.e. as Bishop Patrick ingeniously observes, in some places there was an appearance of buds coming forth: in some, those buds were fully thrust out; in others, they were opened into blossoms; in other parts, knotted and grown into almonds; and all this in the space of one night: a miracle so great and convincing, that we find it had its effect, the authority of Aaron's priesthood never being afterwards (that we hear of) called in question. Grotius has a curious remark here respecting the propriety of producing almonds, in preference to any other fruit. It was intended, says he, to signify the vigilance immediately requisite in the high priest; for the word שׁקד sheked, signifies both that fruit, and this virtue: fructum illum, et hanc virtutem. The almond-tree is so called in the Hebrew, says Parkhurst, because it first of the trees waketh, and riseth from its winter repose: it flowers in the month of January, and by March brings its fruit to maturity; that is, in the warm southern countries. The forwardness of this fruit-bearing tree is intimated to us by the vision of Jeremiah, ch. Num 1:11-12 and also Pliny's Nat. Hist. lib. 16: cap. 25. It would be endless to recount here the fabulous stories respecting the rod of Aaron: those who are inclined to inquiries of this sort, may find their curiosity gratified by referring to Parkhurst and Saurin's 61st Dissertation.

Verse 13

Numbers 17:13. Whosoever cometh—near unto the tabernacle—shall die i.e. "We are now convinced, and firmly believe, that whosoever cometh near to the tabernacle, to officiate as a priest, without the divine appointment, shall certainly be struck dead by the hand of God." Nothing can more strongly paint the consternation of the people, than the words in this and the preceding verse: they are always in extremes, either daring and presumptuous, or abject and full of despair; now they seem to have such a slavish fear of God upon their spirits, from the late severe visitation, that they speak of it as extremely dangerous to engage at all in sacred duties, left, by committing one error against the instituted forms of religion, they should suffer death, as their brethren had done: to obviate which cavil, the following declaration seems intended, ch. Numbers 18:1.

REFLECTIONS.—The rods are produced, and a new miracle confirms God's appointment of Aaron.

1. His rod, alone, was teeming with life; fruit, leaves, and blossoms, all adorn it: thus every suspicion of fraud in Moses is removed, and Aaron's office confirmed to him. Note; (1.) They bring forth fruit abundantly whom God hath called and chosen. (2.) Those whom Christ ordains and sends to his work he will bless. To see no souls quickened and converted by our ministry, would be a pretty strong proof that we have not been ordained of God.

2. Aaron's rod is said up for a memorial; that if, as is probable, the blossoms, leaves, and fruit, continued un-withering, it served as an abiding proof of Aaron's choice, and a constant token against the past, as well as a guard against future rebellion. Note; The design of God in sending his Son, and in every dispensation of his grace or providence, is the salvation of all that will believe.

3. The people, now convinced of their guilt, are ready to give up all for lost; so apt are we to be verging to extremes, and changing presumption for despair. Trembling at the rod laid up against them, they resolve not to come near the tabernacle of the Lord, or ever again challenge Aaron's place, left death should accomplish the ruin which it had begun. Note; It is never too late to repent: happy for us, if, by experience, we are convinced of the evil and danger of sin, bow down before the chastening rod, and with jealousy watch and pray that we may never again return unto folly!

General Reflections on Chapters XVI. and XVII.

Among the miracles which it pleased God to perform by the ministration of Moses, there are few which more evidently prove the truth of the Jewish religion than this destruction of Korah and his seditious company. To give this prodigy its full force, we ought above all things to remark, that it happened not by chance, but that Moses predicted the punishment before it could possibly be known that such an event would happen. That the earth should swallow up men and their dwellings had nothing in it contrary to the powers of Nature; it is an event which has often happened in different countries; but the miracle before us is entirely out of the common laws of Nature: while the earth was firm and entire, Moses announced the time when, the place where, the persons on whom, and the manner in which this prodigy should happen; and the effect immediately followed the prediction. But what we ought particularly to remark, is, that this miracle happened not in Sicily, in Italy, or in a country undermined with subterraneous fire: it was not in mountainous places, which might have been supposed to have abounded in cavities, but it was in Arabia; a sandy desart soil, and which, like all flat places, is less subject to earthquakes. Thus doth this severe vengeance appear to be strikingly miraculous; and the occasion of it abundantly shews, that every one ought to abide in his calling, and submit himself to the order which God has established: that none ought to assume to themselves the honour of the ministry, nor exercise its functions, unless God has called them to it.
It is observable, that the greatest part of the miracles which God wrought for the establishment of the Jewish religion, were fearful and destructive; on the contrary, the truth of the Gospel is founded upon an infinite number of miracles, which were salutary no less to the enemies than to the friends of that religion. There reigned in the ancient law a spirit of bondage which kept in fear; Rom 8:15 instead of which, in the new Dispensation, there reigns a spirit of love; a spirit of adoption, which fills with joy inexpressible the hearts of all true believers; and which ought, certainly, to render them no less forward than Moses to pray for those who have injured them, to intercede for them with God, and to labour by all means to bring them back to their duty.

If the destruction of the rebellious Korah and his company evidently proves the divine interposition, the blossoming of Aaron's rod is a no less striking proof of it. Neither Nature nor Chance could occasion it: we have the order of God, his promise and prediction, with a full completion, related in the text. To be sensible of the greatness of this miracle, we should observe the circumstances of the time. The rod continued exposed, not for many months or weeks, but only for the space of a day and a night. Yesterday, without sap and perfectly dry; to-day, it is filled with moisture: and only one of twelve, equally exposed to the powers of nature, and the omnipotence of God, laid up in a hot climate, in a dry place, impenetrable to the rain and dew; the only one which, in the space of one night, produced flowers and fruit. Neither man, nor all his art, could be concerned here; nor could His hand fail to be acknowledged, who calleth the things that are not, as though they were. Romans 4:17. Reflections which ought for ever to silence their malignity, who pretend that Moses employed pious frauds to procure his brother the dignity of the high priesthood.

Every body knows, that the almond is one of those trees of which the children are born before their parents; that at the beginning of the spring it produces flowers before the leaves discover themselves, and that some months after it bears fruit. Here, on the contrary, we see a branch of the almond tree, a dry rod, recovering its verdure in one night, filled with sap, pushing forth its buds, and loaded with flowers, leaves, and fruit. This prodigy, in my opinion, may well justify that exclamation: Who is like unto thee, O Lord? Glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders!

Among the other prodigies attending the rod of Aaron, we ought to number that perpetual miracle which preserved it green, flourishing, and full of flowers and fruit, as a memorial of the event for which the prodigy was wrought. The same hand which caused the rod to blossom and bring forth fruit preserved it in that state: the table of Moses, the rod of Aaron, the miraculous manna, are proper monuments for so holy a shrine as the ark of God; the doctrine, sacraments, and government of his people, are precious to Him, and must be so to all men: he is willing to preserve to all times the memory how his ancient church was led, taught, and ruled. The rod of Moses did great miracles; yet we find it not in the ark: the rod of Aaron has this privilege, because it carried the miracle still in itself.
We may just observe, that the twelve princes of the tribes of Israel would never have written their names on their rods, but in the hope that they might be chosen. Had they not thought it a high preferment, they would never have envied so much the office of Aaron. What should we think of the change which has taken place?—Is the evangelical administration of less worth than the Levitical? while the Testament is better, is the service worse? Happy they who value as they ought, and fulfil as well as they are able, the angelic duties of gospel-ministers. Such faithful stewards shall meet a great reward from that God and master who has called them.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Numbers 17". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/numbers-17.html. 1801-1803.
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