Numbers 17:13
Whoever comes any thing near to the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?
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17:8-13 While all the other rods remained as they were. Aaron's rod became a living branch. In some places there were buds, in others blossoms, in others fruit, at the same time; all this was miraculous. Thus Aaron was manifested to be under the special blessing of Heaven. Fruitfulness is the best evidence of a Divine call; and the plants of God's setting, and the boughs cut off them, will flourish. This rod was preserved, to take away the murmurings of the people, that they might not die. The design of God, in all his providences, and in the memorials of them, is to take away sin. Christ was manifested to take away sin. Christ is expressly called a rod out of the stem of Jesse: little prospect was there, according to human views, that he should ever flourish. But the dry rod revived and blossomed to the confusion of his adversaries. The people cry, Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish! This was the language of a repining people, quarrelling with the judgments of God, which by their own pride and obstinacy they brought upon themselves. It is very wicked to fret against God when we are in affliction, and in our distress thus to trespass yet more. If we die, if we perish, it is of ourselves, and the blame will be upon our own heads. When God judges, he will overcome, and will oblige the most obstinate gainsayers to confess their folly. And how great are our mercies, that we have a clearer and a better dispensation, established upon better promises!A new section should begin with these verses. They are connected retrospectively with Numbers 16; and form the immediate introduction to Numbers 18. The people were terror-stricken by the fate of the company of Korah and by the plague. Presumption passed by reaction into despair. Was there any approach for them to the tabernacle of the Lord? Was there any escape from death, except by keeping aloof from His presence? The answers are supplied by the ordinances which testified that the God of judgment was still a God of grace and of love. 13. cometh any thing near—that is, nearer than he ought to do; an error into which many may fall. Will the stern justice of God overtake every slight offense? We shall all be destroyed. Some, however, regard this exclamation as the symptom or a new discontent, rather than the indication of a reverential and submissive spirit. Let us fear and sin not. Any thing near, i.e. nearer than he should do; an error which we may easily commit.

Shall we be consumed? will God proceed with us in these severe courses, according to his strict justice? will he show us no mercy nor pity, till all the people be cut off and destroyed with dying one after another. Whosoever cometh anything near unto the tabernacle of the Lord shall die,.... They who before were so bold and daring as to think the priesthood was common to them with Aaron, or they had as good a right to it, and might go into the sanctuary of the Lord where he did, are now so frightened at the rod being laid up as a token against them, that they thought they must not come near the tabernacle at all, and, if they did, would be in the utmost danger of death:

shall we be consumed with dying? such violent deaths, until there are none left of us? but the Syriac and Arabic versions render the words affirmatively; we are near or about to be consumed; and so the Targum of Onkelos, lo, we are to be consumed; which agrees best with the preceding clause, for they would scarcely make a question of what they had affirmed.

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

Moses carried out this command. And when he went into the tabernacle the following morning, behold Aaron's rod of the house of Levi had sprouted, and put forth shoots, and had borne blossoms and matured almonds. And Moses brought all the rods out of the sanctuary, and gave every man his own; the rest, as we may gather from the context, being all unchanged, so that the whole nation could satisfy itself that God had chosen Aaron. Thus was the word fulfilled which Moses had spoken at the commencement of the rebellion of the company of Korah (Numbers 16:5), and that in a way which could not fail to accredit him before the whole congregation as sent of God.

So far as the occurrence itself is concerned, there can hardly be any need to remark, that the natural interpretation which has lately been attempted by Ewald, viz., that Moses had laid several almond rods in the holy place, which had just been freshly cut off, that he might see the next day which of them would flower the best during the night, is directly at variance with the words of the text, and also with the fact, that a rod even freshly cut off, when laid in a dry place, would not bear ripe fruit in a single night. The miracle which God wrought here as the Creator of nature, was at the same time a significant symbol of the nature and meaning of the priesthood. The choice of the rods had also a bearing upon the object in question. A man's rod was the sign of his position as ruler in the house and congregation; with a prince the rod becomes a sceptre, the insignia of rule (Genesis 49:10). As a severed branch, the rod could not put forth shoots and blossom in a natural way. But God could impart new vital powers even to the dry rod. And so Aaron had naturally no pre-eminence above the heads of the other tribes. But the priesthood was founded not upon natural qualifications and gifts, but upon the power of the Spirit, which God communicates according to the choice of His wisdom, and which He had imparted to Aaron through his consecration with holy anointing oil. It was this which the Lord intended to show to the people, by causing Aaron's rod to put forth branches, blossom, and fruit, through a miracle of His omnipotence; whereas the rods of the other heads of the tribes remained as barren as before. In this way, therefore, it was not without deep significance that Aaron's rod not only put forth shoots, by which the divine election might be recognised, but bore even blossom and ripe fruit. This showed that Aaron was not only qualified for his calling, but administered his office in the full power of the Spirit, and bore the fruit expected of him. The almond rod was especially adapted to exhibit this, as an almond-tree flowers and bears fruit the earliest of all the trees, and has received its name of שׁקד, "awake," from this very fact (cf. Jeremiah 1:11).

God then commanded (Numbers 17:10, Numbers 17:11) that Aaron's rod should be taken back into the sanctuary, and preserved before the testimony, "for a sign for the rebellious, that thou puttest an end to their murmuring, and they die not." The preservation of the rod before the ark of the covenant, in the immediate presence of the Lord, was a pledge to Aaron of the continuance of his election, and the permanent duration of his priesthood; though we have no need to assume, that through a perpetual miracle the staff continued green and blossoming. In this way the staff became a sign to the rebellious, which could not fail to stop their murmuring.

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