Numbers 17
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
[Heb. 17:16–28]

The blossoming of Aaron’s staff

The challenge to Korah and his company to burn incense had produced results which should have proved conclusively that their overweening claim was wrong. But the congregation only murmured that Moses and Aaron had ‘killed the people of Jehovah’; and a terrible punishment had been sent them for their murmuring. But now Jehovah arranges for a proof of the superiority of the Levites to the other tribes, more conclusive, if possible, than the last. In the arrangement of the camp there were thirteen tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh (the house of Joseph) being reckoned as two. Each of the tribes was represented by a chief, who was bidden to present a staff with his name inscribed upon it. And the superiority of the tribe of Levi was proved by the blossoming of the staff of Aaron its chief.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of every one of them a rod according to the house of their fathers, of all their princes according to the house of their fathers twelve rods: write thou every man's name upon his rod.
2. rods] staves. They were the official staves of the princes, symbols of their tribal authority, not fresh rods cut from trees, which might conceivably have blossomed in the ordinary course of nature.

And thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi: for one rod shall be for the head of the house of their fathers.
3. one staff for the head of their clans] lit. ‘their fathers’ houses’ as R.V. This apparently refers not to all the tribes but to the tribe of Levi with its three divisions or clans, the Gershonites, Kohathites, and Merarites. They were to have only one representative, i.e. Aaron.

And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you.
4. All the staves were placed in front of the ark for that night.

And it shall come to pass, that the man's rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you.
And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, and every one of their princes gave him a rod apiece, for each prince one, according to their fathers' houses, even twelve rods: and the rod of Aaron was among their rods.
6. the staff of Aaron was in the midst of their staves] We are perhaps to think of the thirteen staves as stuck into the ground and standing erect, Aaron’s staff being the middle one.

And Moses laid up the rods before the LORD in the tabernacle of witness.
And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.
8. Stories of the vegetation of dried sticks are not uncommon in legend.

Gray (Numb. p. 217) mentions that of ‘Joseph of Arimathea’s stick, which placed in the ground of Weary-all hill, became the miraculous thorn of Glastonbury.’ And he cites other instances.

And Moses brought out all the rods from before the LORD unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod.
And the LORD said unto Moses, Bring Aaron's rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.
10. Put back the staff of Aaron] Cf. Hebrews 9:4.

the sons of rebellion] A common Heb. idiom to express a quality or characteristic; cf. 2 Samuel 3:34; 2 Samuel 7:10; 2 Samuel 12:6 (marg.); Proverbs 31:5 (marg.). ‘House of rebellion’ is found very frequently in Ezek. as a designation of the house of Israel.

And Moses did so: as the LORD commanded him, so did he.
And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish.
12. we expire, we perish, we all perish] This and the following verse form a transition to ch. 18, in which the Levites guard the Tent, lest any layman should perish by approaching it, as Korah and his company had attempted to do.

Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?
13. shall we perish all of us?] The exact force of the words is doubtful. They may mean ‘Shall we completely come to an end by expiring?’ of which R.V. is a correct paraphrase: or ‘Shall we ever finish expiring?’ i.e. ‘can we ever be free from the danger of death’ if we approach the Tent?

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