|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
17:1-7 It is an instance of the grace of God, that, having wrought divers miracles to punish sin, he would work one more to prevent it. Twelve rods or staves were to be brought in. It is probable that they were the staves which the princes used as ensigns of their authority; old dry staves, that had no sap in them. They were to expect that the rod of the tribe, or prince, whom God chose to the priesthood, should bud and blossom. Moses did not object that the matter was sufficiently settled already; he did not undertake to determine it; but left the case before the Lord.
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.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Speak unto the children of Israel,.... The principal men among them of the several tribes:
and take of everyone of them; not of every individual of the people of Israel, but of their princes, as afterwards explained:
a rod, according to the house of their fathers; or "father", of whom their house or tribe was called, as Reuben, Simeon, &c. this rod was either a common walking staff, as some think, or rather the ensign of their princely office and dignity, peculiar to each tribe; though some think it was now freshly cut off from an almond tree, and that all the rods were of one and the same tree; but supposing they were all of the almond kind, as Josephus (d) thinks, yet being dry rods, and of long use, served to make the miracle appear the greater:
of all their princes, according to the house of their fathers, twelve rods; this explains who they were to be taken of, the princes of the several tribes, whose names are given, Numbers 1:5; and the number of them twelve, according to the number of the twelve tribes:
write thou every man's name upon his rod; the name of each prince, or head of a tribe, either by cutting it into the rod, or fastening a writing to it, after the manner of those times; as, for instance, the name of Elizur for the tribe of Reuben; by which it was to be made and was made to appear, that to none of these tribes belonged the priesthood, but to the tribe of Levi, and to none of that tribe but the family of Aaron; whereby it should seem that some of all the tribes made pretensions to it, as being all holy, and especially the chief firstborn of every tribe, as such their princes were.
(d) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 4. sect. 2.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
2-5. Speak unto the children of Israel—The controversy with Moses and Aaron about the priesthood was of such a nature and magnitude as required a decisive and authoritative settlement. For the removal of all doubts and the silencing of all murmuring in the future regarding the holder of the office, a miracle was wrought of a remarkable character and permanent duration; and in the manner of performing it, all the people were made to have a direct and special interest.
take of every one … princes … twelve rods—As the princes, being the oldest sons of the chief family, and heads of their tribes, might have advanced the best claims to the priesthood, if that sacred dignity was to be shared among all the tribes, they were therefore selected, and being twelve in number—that of Joseph being counted only one—Moses was ordered to see that the name of each was inscribed—a practice borrowed from the Egyptians—upon his rod or wand of office. The name of Aaron rather than of Levi was used, as the latter name would have opened a door of controversy among the Levites; and as there was to be one rod only for the head of each tribe, the express appointment of a rod for Aaron determined him to be the head of that tribe, as well as that branch or family of the tribe to which the priestly dignity should belong. These rods were to be laid in the tabernacle close to the ark (compare Nu 17:10 and Heb 9:4), where a divine token was promised that would for all time terminate the dispute.
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