Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Numbers 17

Verses 1-13


AARON'S ROD THAT BUDDED (Numbers 17:1-13).

Numbers 17:1

And the Lord spake. Presumably upon the same day, since the design was to prevent any recurrence of the sin and punishment described above.

Numbers 17:2

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. hsilgnE:egaugnaLמַטֶּה} 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, Numbers 1:16). 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 Psalms 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 Isaiah 2:1-22 and Isaiah 7:1-25. 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.

Numbers 17:3

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, Numbers 3:30, 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.

Numbers 17:4

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).

Numbers 17:5

Whom I shall choose. For the special duty and service of the priesthood (cf. Numbers 16:5). I will make to cease. הַשִׁכֹּתִי מֵעָלַי. I will cause to sink so that they shall not rise again.

Numbers 17:6

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.

Numbers 17:7

Before the Lord, i.e; in front of the ark. In the tabernacle of witness. "In the tent of the testimony." בּאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת.

Numbers 17:8

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.

Numbers 17:9

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.

Numbers 17:10

Before the testimony. By comparison with Numbers 17:7 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, Ephesians 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.

Numbers 17:12

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.

Numbers 17:13

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" (Numbers 14:35). But it was not in human nature that they should calmly accept their fate.


Numbers 17:1-13


In this chapter we have the testimony of God to the priesthood of his Anointed in a σημεῖον, a teaching miracle, setting forth the inner and hidden truths upon which the exclusive claims of that priesthood rest. The application, according to what has been set forth above, is governed by the saying, "Aaronis virga refloruit in Christo." Consider, therefore—

I. THAT THE "ROD" WAS THE NATURAL SYMBOL OF EACH UNIT IN THE BODY CORPORATE OF ISRAEL, and was therefore synonymous with "tribe;" for each tribe collectively, as represented by its prince, was one of the twelve branches which grew out of the one parent stein of Israel. Even so our Lord has said, "I am the Vine, ye are the branches;" and this holds good whether we regard the individual Christian as a unit in that collective whole which is Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), or the particular Church as a unit in that same whole which is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 1:22, Ephesians 1:23).

II. THAT THE ALMOND ROD HAD A SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE FOR AARON, inasmuch as its name and character spake of vigilance and the attribute of preventing others both in promise and in performance. Even so it is the fitting emblem of the Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and the Branch which grew out of his roots; for that Branch was "beautiful and glorious" (Isaiah 4:2) when all the other trees in the garden of God (Ezekiel 31:9) stood dry and leafless, and there was no sign of any life stirring nor promise of any fruit coming. Then was he "awake," and showed the pure beauty of a perfect life before the eyes of men (Luke 2:52; Luke 3:22). Even more in his resurrection was the almond rod his natural symbol; for then indeed he had been cut off from the stock of Israel, from the natural stem out of which he grew, and had been laid in the dust of death, and had seemed to be withered and lifeless; but on the third day he "awoke" early (Psalms 108:2), and became the first-fruits of them that slept, anticipating all expectation, and putting forth the glorious blossom of life and immortality (So Numbers 2:10-13).

III. THAT THE VISIBLE CONFIRMATION OF AARON'S PRIESTHOOD IX THE TYPE WAS THE BLOSSOMING AND FRUITING OF HIS ROD. Even So Our Lord is commended unto us beyond all cavil as the High Priest of our profession in that his priesthood is ever adorned with the buds of hope, the blossoms of beauty, the ripened fruits of holy deeds, such as always and everywhere grow out of that priesthood as ministered among us, and testify to its enduring vitality and energy, whereas no such results follow any other guide and redeemer of souls. And note that what is true of the priesthood of Christ must be true, in a secondary sense, of all ministries of grace claiming rightly to be such. "By their fruits ye shall know them," or by their absence of fruit. If they really live and blossom into purity and beauty, and ripen the fruits of holy and devoted deeds, then are they attested by God to be ministries of grace indeed, standing in vital relation to the only priesthood of Christ. Moreover, since only Aaron's rod can blossom, it is certain that every true grace and beauty not of earth which is found in Christian souls and lives must be due to the fruitful energy of "Christ in us" through the Spirit.

IV. THAT THE CONTINUED VITALITY AND FRUITFULNESS OF THE ROD WAS NOT NATURAL, BUT WAS SIMPLY DUE TO GOD'S POWER FOLLOWING HIS ELECTION. Even so whatever energy for good is found in any Christian ministry, whatever grace in any means of grace, is assuredly not of nature, for there is no inherent power in any man or in any outward thing to communicate spiritual life or blessing. It is only the Divine grace, following' the Divine choice of the agents and instruments of redeeming love, which can make them or their ministry of any real effect; it is not they who can produce any change for the better, but only the mighty power of God working in them and through them.

V. THAT THE BUDS, THE BLOSSOMS, AND THE FRUIT WOULD SEEM TO HAVE BEEN ON THE ROD ALL AT ONCE. Even so in the history and course of Christianity there was no slow progression towards the perfection of Christian character and action. The ripened fruits of holy living were put forth at once side by side with the promise of better things in some, and with the beauty of early piety in others. And so it is, wherever the powers of the world to come are at work, there may always be discerned, apparently from the first, the three stages of growth in Christ. What the energy of the Spirit seems to ripen at once in some happy souls seems to take him many years to bring to maturity in others, even if maturity be ever reached in this world. Nevertheless, the bud and the blossom are as impossible to mere nature as the fruit itself.

VI. THAT THE ROD WHICH BUDDED WAS LAID UP FOR A TOKEN AGAINST THE REBELLIOUS. Even so if men oppose themselves we have no other sign but this. Pilate asked our Lord, "What hast thou done?" and if he had but sought the answer which so many could have given him, he had not condemned the Lord of glow. "By their fruits ye shall know them," for thereby shall they be judged at the last day. Our good works then are the credentials of our creed and of our priesthood. The "doctrine" is (and must be) but a dry rod which savours only of rule and domination in the eyes of a natural man unless it be "adorned'' with these fair blossoms, this substantial fruit.

VII. THAT THE OBJECT OF THE MIRACLE WAS ESPECIALLY TO CONVINCE THE PEOPLE FOR THEIR GOOD, LEST THEY SHOULD RUSH AGAIN UPON DESTRUCTION (Numbers 17:10 b). Even so it is the will of God that the witness of good works and piety come abroad, and not that men "keep their religion to themselves," and within their own doors, in order that prejudice may be dispelled and souls attracted to their own salvation (Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12).

VIII. THAT THE SINFUL PEOPLE CHARGED UPON THE LAW OF GOD THE FATAL CONSEQUENCES OF THEIR OWN SIN, AND DESPAIRED WHEN THEY COULD NO LONGER REBEL. Even so do men complain bitterly of their misfortunes when they reap the fruits of their own willful sin, and are filled with an amazed despair when they find that a man must really reap as he has sown.

IX. THAT THE TABERNACLE AND PRIESTHOOD, WHICH SHOULD HAVE BEEN A SAFETY AND DELIGHT, DID IN TRUTH BECOME A DANGER AND A FEAR, BECAUSE THE PEOPLE WERE CARNAL. Even so the very nearness of God to us in Christ and in his Church, which is the glory of the gospel (2 Corinthians 6:16), is fraught with fearful dangers to them that walk unworthy of the heavenly calling (Matthew 21:44; 2 Corinthians 2:15, 2 Corinthians 2:16).


Numbers 17:8


The budding, blossoming, and fruit-bearing of the dry staff of office laid by Aaron in the tabernacle, significant—

I. As A MIRACLE. It was an unmistakable sign of God's interposition (such a natural impossibility the occasion of an oath among the heathen: Homer's ‘Iliad,' 1:233, and Virgil's ‘AEneid,' 15:206), as every miracle is,—on behalf of his servant Aaron, "disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God,"—and in condemnation of "the rebels." Even if regarded as an arbitrary sign, it was none the less sufficient. God required that the miracles of Moses per se should be accepted both by the sympathetic Israelites and the reluctant Pharaoh (Exodus 4:1-8). So too did our Lord (John 14:11; John 15:24). This miracle permanent so long as the rod existed. And all miracles, though transitory, of permanent value as proofs of the interposition of God (Exodus 3:14).


1. "The almond tree, as that which most quickly brings forth blossoms and beautiful fruit, is an emblem of the mighty power of the word of God, which is ever fresh and unfailing in its fulfillment" (Jeremiah 1:11, Jeremiah 1:12).

2. A sign of the permanent vitality of God's appointed priesthood as "an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations" (Exodus 40:15).

3. A type of the miraculous attestation of the unchangeable priesthood of Christ. God, who "fulfils himself in many ways," about, hereafter, to replace the priesthood of Aaron by a Priest chosen by himself, after the order of Melchizedec. This priesthood attested by a resurrection (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 5:9, Hebrews 5:10), of which the resurrection of this dead tree was a type. And now that the risen Christ is in the holiest place, in the presence of God, his resurrection and reign in glory are signs to all murmurers of his appointment as the one High Priest and King, who "shall send forth the rod of his strength," and reign till all enemies are placed beneath his feet.—P.

Numbers 17:10


I. The rod of Moses, a shepherd's staff, a commonplace instrument, changed by God's power into "the rod of God" (Exodus 4:17), "the rod of his strength."

(1) For the conviction of Moses himself (Exodus 4:1-5);

(2) for the punishment of the rebellious (Exodus 7:20, &c.);

(3) for the deliverance of God's servants from imminent danger (Exodus 14:16, Exodus 14:26);

(4) for the supply of their most urgent wants (Exodus 17:5, Exodus 17:6);

(5) for the conquest of their foes (Exodus 17:9-12). Thus God makes the weakest commonest things of the world "mighty through God" (1 Corinthians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 10:4). The rod of the lowly Jesus is "a rod of strength," or" of iron" (Psalms 2:9; Psalms 110:2; Isaiah 11:4).

II. The rod of Aaron, a tribal scepter, a symbol of power, as the shepherd's staff was not. This symbol of authority used for remedial and spiritual purposes.

(1) For the confutation of presumptuous upstarts;

(2) for the preservation of the tempted from further sin and consequent destruction (Numbers 17:10):

(3) for a type of the fruitfulness of every institution ordained and sustained by God. See further under Numbers 17:8. Thus God makes his mightiest power the means of attaining spiritual ends for the we]fare even of sinners. "Christ the power of God" is "the power of God unto salvation." The "Prince" is also the "Saviour" (Acts 5:31).—P.


Numbers 17:1-9


The priesthood of Aaron, as a solemn reality, and no mere arrogant pretence, had already been amply shown. It had been shown, however, in a way which left behind terrible associations. Those who impugned it bad died by a sudden and fearful death. And though the priesthood appears differently when it becomes the means of staying death from the living, yet even this was not sufficient to glorify it before the eyes of the people. These illustrations of its validity had arisen from the urgent pressure of circumstances. If the people had not sinned against God by despising his ordinance, that ordinance would not have been manifested in such awful power. It becomes God now to glorify the priesthood by a new and independent testimony, the way of which had been prepared by the judgments they had lately seen and suffered.

I. AARON IS EQUALISED WITH THE REST. He had been equalized before in voluntary humility (Numbers 16:16, Numbers 16:17). Now the thing is specially commanded. Aaron is taken as a simple member of the tribe of Levi. and Levi itself is considered as but one of the tribes of Israel. Thus to any one disposed to complain of Aaron exalting himself, God, as it were, gave for answer: "Aaron does not exalt himself; he is nothing more than any of you. Let there be a rod for each of the tribes, and nothing to make his better than the rest. It shall then be made manifest that whatever his power, his holiness, his honour, they do not come from anything inherent in himself as a simple Israelite." And so in a certain sense Jesus was equalized with men (Philippians 2:6-8). He grew to manhood among the poor and lowly. He had been so like the rest of the simple Nazarenes in outward form, so unpretending, so little fitted to excite attention and wonderment, that his brethren did not believe in him. There was everything in him but sin to show his community with men. He became in all things like his brethren; and one of the results of this full, demonstrative humanity is to make clear how highly God exalted him (Philippians 2:9-11)

II. The objects taken to represent the tribes ONCE HAD LIFE IN THEM. They were not stones of the wilderness which God was about to turn into living, fruitful branches. The work was one of restoration, not of creation altogether fresh and original. But for sin, all these Israelites, Aaron included, would have been like branches, full of beautiful and fruitful life rejoicing in God's presence, instead of being, as they were, dead to him, alive to sin. These rods, were significant for their past as well as their future. The Israelites used these rods doubtless for some purpose to which dead wood could be put, and thinking nothing of the life that had once been in them. Dead wood is useful, but the state and service are low as compared with those of the living tree. So Israel was now in an utterly humiliated state, quite ignorant and careless as to the glory and joy of man's first unfallen days. These tribes were now as dead rods, but if all had gone according to the original purpose, they would have been as living, fruitful branches. It is part of the priestly office of Christ to bring back that which is lost, and to swallow up in a new and glorious creation the ruin that has befallen the old one.

III. Hence the CAPACITY OF RESTORATION is indicated to the people. Ask an Israelite if a rod, a dead, sapless, long-separated branch, shall live again, he will reply, "No." In one sense he is right, for such a thing is outside of his experience; in another sense he is wrong, as not knowing the power of God. Aaron's rod alone lived, but it is plain that the same power which revived it could have acted on the rest with a like result. When Jesus was raised from the dead, this was an indication that all dead ones might come back to life. "Because I live, ye shall live also" (John 14:19). The very descent of Aaron to an equality with the rest implied a possibility that they might ascend to an equality with him. The risen Saviour in the glory of his heavenly life is the first-born among many brethren. Aaron became different from the rest in order that by his difference he might draw the rest nearer to God. The rod budded for the benefit of the rods that remained dead.

IV. THERE IS AN ANTICIPATION OF THE SLOWER PROCESSES OF NATURE. Not only is dead wood restored to life, but the life rushes forward into fruit. In the Lord's hand the work of all seasons can be done in a night. Buds, blossoms, and fruit at the same time! What a fullness of life this indicates! By thus combining in one example three stages of plant life, God shows the power of the priest's office. There was not only promise, but performance. It would have been a work of God to show just peeping buds; but the work of God here is to show life in its fullness. It was the clamour of the people that nothing more than empty promise had been got out of Moses. They had lately learned that Aaron's office was full of worth by his protecting atonement as against the plague. Now in this budding, blossoming, fruit-bearing rod they see both promise and performance. He who makes the rod bud is thereby promising; he who makes it blossom is drawing onward in increased hope; but he who also makes it yield fruit shows that he can perform as well as promise. So may we think of Jesus. Consider the multitudes for whom and in whom his priestly work is being done. They are in different stages. With some the bud, with some the blossom, with some the ripened, fragrant fruit. It needed that all stages should be shown in the life of the typifying rod.

V. THE USUAL AIDS OF NATURE, THE AIDS COMMONLY COUNTED NECESSARY, ARE DISPENSED WITH. There is no planting of the rods in the soil, no exposure to the sunshine and the rain. God, who usually works through many combined ministries, and shows man the blessed fellow-worker with himself, finds it fitting here, for his glory, and for the full manifestation of the truth, to set all customary ministries on one side. If usually there are all these aids, it is because of what is fitting, not of what is indispensably needed. Nothing is needed but to lay the rods in the tabernacle, before the testimony. Thus we see how far from any human choice, contrivance, or control was the budding of this rod. The result was from God's secret power, and that alone. Thereby he invested Aaron and the ark and every priestly function with fresh importance. Henceforth we look upon Aaron not only as one who keeps back death from the living, but who has to do with the giving back of life to the dead. When this rod was formerly on the tree it did not live after this glorious fashion. There was life, but not in such exaltation and abundance. This rod was known henceforth not after its first life, but its second. So now we know Christ not after the flesh, but after the spirit; not according to those first works, in curing the sick, assuaging temporal sorrows, or even bringing back Lazarus to continue awhile longer his mortal life, but according to those second works by which he, the chosen and only mediatorial channel of them, saves, sanctifies, and perfects those who come to God through him. If this marvelous rod so glorified Aaron, and stopped the murmurings of the people, should it not have stone effect, rightly and repeatedly considered, in glorifying Jesus, and bringing us closer to him in humble acceptance and faith. The murmuring of the Israelites was a great evil, but our neglect of that gracious Intercessor whom God has appointed is not one whit better.—Y.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 17". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.