Numbers 17:2
Speak to 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 you every man's name on his rod.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
XVII.

(2) And take of every one of them . . . —Better, And take of them a rod for each father’s house.

Twelve rods.—Some suppose that Aaron’s rod was not included amongst the twelve. Others suppose that one rod only was taken for the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. The latter supposition is more accordant with the terms here employed than the former, and is supported by Deuteronomy 27:12-13, where Joseph stands for the two tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, and Levi is included amongst the twelve tribes.

Write thou every man’s name upon his rod.—This was in accordance with an Egyptian custom. (See Wilkinson’s Ancient Egyptians, III. 388.) The prophet Ezekiel received a similar injunction (Ezekiel 37:16).

Numbers 17:2. Take of every one — Not of every person, but of every tribe. A rod — A twig, or branch, from one and the same almond-tree, as some infer from Numbers 17:8. Or, according to others, the ordinary rods which the princes of the tribes carried in their hands, as tokens of their dignity and authority, Numbers 21:18. And indeed the miracle would appear the greater, if neither Aaron’s rod, nor any of the rest, was of the almond-tree. But the miracle was sufficiently great either way to demonstrate the extraordinary interposition of Providence. Every man’s name — Every prince’s: for they being the firstborn, and the chief of their tribes, might, above all others, pretend to the priesthood, if it was communicable to any of their tribes; and besides, the prince represented all his tribe: so that this was a full decision of the question. And this place seems to confirm the opinion, that not only Korah and the Levites, but also those of other tribes, contended with Moses and Aaron about the priesthood, as that which belonged to all the congregation, they being all holy.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.Compare Ezekiel 37:16 ff. 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.

Speak unto the children of Israel, that I may fully and finally satisfy all their scruples, and take away all pretence and cause of murmuring.

Of every one of them; not of every person, but of every tribe, as it follows.

A rod; either an ordinary walking staff; or rather, that staff or rod which the princes carried in their hand as tokens of their dignity and authority, as may be gathered from Numbers 21:18, compared with Psalm 110:2 Jeremiah 48:16,17.

According to the house of their fathers, i.e. according to each family proceeding from the patriarch or father of that tribe.

Every man’s name, i.e. every prince’s; for they being the first-born, and the chief of their tribes, might above all others pretend to the priesthood, if it was communicable to any of their tribes, and besides each prince represented and acted for all his tribe; so that this was a full decision of the whole question. And this plate seems to confirm what was before observed, that not only Korah and the Levites, but also those of other tribes, contested with Moses and Aaron about the priesthood, as that which belonged to all the congregation, they being all holy, as they said, Numbers 16:3. 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.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.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. Thereupon they both went into the court of (פּני אל, as in Leviticus 9:5) the tabernacle, and God commanded them to rise up (הרמּוּ, Niphal of רמם equals רוּם; see Ges. 65, Anm. 5) out of this congregation, which He would immediately destroy. But they fell upon their faces in prayer, as in Numbers 16:21-22. This time, however, they could not avert the bursting forth of the wrathful judgment, as they had done the day before (Numbers 16:22). The plague had already commenced, when Moses told Aaron to take the censer quickly into the midst of the congregation, with coals and incense (הולך, imper. Hiph.), to make expiation for it with an incense-offering. And when this was done, and Aaron placed himself between the dead and the living, the plague, which had already destroyed 14,700 men, was stayed. The plague consisted apparently of a sudden death, as in the case of a pestilence raging with extreme violence, though we cannot regard it as an actual pestilence.

The means resorted to by Moses to stay the plague showed afresh how the faithful servant of God bore the rescue of his people upon his heart. All the motives which he had hitherto pleaded, in his repeated intercession that this evil congregation might be spared, were now exhausted. He could not stake his life for the nation, as at Horeb (Exodus 32:32), for the nation had rejected him. He could no longer appeal to the honour of Jehovah among the heathen, seeing that the Lord, even when sentencing the rebellious race to fall in the desert, had assured him that the whole earth should be filled with His glory (Numbers 14:20.). Still less could he pray to God that He would not be wrathful with all for the sake of one or a few sinners, as in Numbers 16:22, seeing that the whole congregation had taken part with the rebels. In this condition of things there was but one way left of averting the threatened destruction of the whole nation, namely, to adopt the means which the Lord Himself had given to His congregation, in the high-priestly office, to wipe away their sins, and recover the divine grace which they had forfeited through sin, - viz., the offering of incense which embodied the high-priestly prayer, and the strength and operation of which were not dependent upon the sincerity and earnestness of subjective faith, but had a firm and immovable foundation in the objective force of the divine appointment. This was the means adopted by the faithful servant of the Lord, and the judgment of wrath was averted in its course; the plague was averted. - The effectual operation of the incense-offering of the high priest also served to furnish the people with a practical proof of the power and operation of the true and divinely appointed priesthood. "The priesthood which the company of Korah had so wickedly usurped, had brought down death and destruction upon himself, through his offering of incense; but the divinely appointed priesthood of Aaron averted death and destruction from the whole congregation when incense was offered by him, and stayed the well-merited judgment, which had broken forth upon it" (Kurtz).

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