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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 17

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary



The exclusive vocation of Aaron and his sons to the sacerdotal office has been attested by a negative sign in the destruction of his ambitious rivals. It now remains to establish the Aaronic claim incontestably by a positive supernatural proof in addition to the efficacy of the incense-offering in staying the plague.

Verse 2

2. A rod Each chief prince of the twelve tribes bore a staff or sceptre as the sign of office. Such rods were often hereditary, and of great antiquity. That such dry staves should blossom and bear fruit again is so improbable that the Greeks were accustomed to swear by their sceptres. Thus Achilles:

“But hearken, I will swear a solemn oath,

By this sceptre, which shall never bud,

Nor boughs bring forth, as once.”

Write… every man’s name To identify beyond dispute the rod of Aaron after the trial. The illiteracy of Moses and his generation as alleged by some modern writers is here abundantly confuted. Since there were twelve rods, including Levi’s, it is evident that the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim are here counted as one tribe that of Joseph.

Verse 4

4. Before the testimony Or, ark of the covenant containing the testimony of Jehovah. Exodus 25:21.

Verse 5

5. Whom I shall choose That is, select for the priesthood.

Cease… murmurings Suppress them beyond all possibility of a revival. Jehovah’s claims are set forth in his word with such cogency that there is no just ground for gainsaying. On all questions of duty there is a redundancy of evidence.

Verse 7

7. Witness The Hebrew is the same as that for testimony in Numbers 17:4. The reason for choosing this place may have been that no one would suspect the performance of any legerdemain or jugglery in the holy of holies, a sanctuary too awful for any man to enter but the high priest one day in the year. Moses entered on this occasion by express command.

Verse 8

8. Budded… bloomed… almonds The miracle consisted in the sudden vegetation of a dry rod in different stages of growth buds just appearing, full blossoms, and mature fruit, “ripe almonds,” R.V. That this effect should have been produced upon Aaron’s lifeless rod must have been deemed an indisputable designation of Aaron. “Sure he could not but think, Who am I, O God, that thou shouldest choose me out of all the tribes of Israel? My weakness has been more worthy of the rod of correction than my rod has been worthy of these blossoms. How able art thou to defend my imbecility with the rod of thy support! How able art thou to defend me with the rod of thy power, who hast thus brought fruit out of the rod of my profession!” Bishop Hall. Ewald feebly attempts to reduce this miracle to the effect of natural causes by suggesting that the rods had just been freshly cut, and that Moses laid them away during the night, to see which of them would flower the best during the night. To this we reply that there is no hint of a recent cutting of the rods; that if freshly cut they would not bud, blossom, and bear fruit in a dry place in a few hours; and that nature has no power to discriminate in favor of the rod of Aaron, and to pour into it extraordinary life and fruitfulness. The entire account strongly implies that the other rods were unchanged. In this fact lies the proof of Aaron’s election.

Verse 10

10. To be kept for a token Probably the buds, blossoms, and fruit remained upon the rod fresh from age to age, a standing miracle and token of the presence and inworking of the Spirit of God in the priestly office, making its ministrations efficacious for the salvation of obedient Israel.

Verse 12

12. We all perish This miracle made a deeper impression upon the people than any other wrought in the wilderness except the terrific display of power at the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Nor were they so alarmed by the supernatural judgments of Jehovah: such as the slaying of Nadab and Abihu, of the ten faithless spies, the engulfing of a part of Korah’s conspirators, and the burning of the 250 at the tabernacle, and the recent plague-stroke that swept away 14,700 of Israel at once.

Verse 13

13. Shall we be consumed Where God cannot awaken genuine faith and obedience, as he could not in this rejected generation, he inspires a salutary dread as a preventive of renewed rebellion. Terror must restrain those whom love fails to win. Yet at this point lay the chief danger to faith in the theocracy, the difficulty of realizing the invisible presence of God, and of conceiving a communion with him which should not crush or absorb the finite creature. This shrinking back from joyful communion by reason of the divine majesty appears very often in thoughtful Hebrews, as in Deuteronomy 5:24-27; Numbers 17:12-13; Isaiah 45:15. See also Job 9:32-35; Job 13:21-22. Hence arose idolatry, which is an attempt to commune with superior powers by visible symbols or images. The incarnation of the Godhead in one true and visible man has removed all excuse for idolatry arising from the inconceivable infinity and awfulness of Jehovah.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-17.html. 1874-1909.
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