Numbers 17:3
And you shall write Aaron's name on the rod of Levi: for one rod shall be for the head of the house of their fathers.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) And thou shalt write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi.—Aaron was descended from the second son of Levi. He was not, therefore, the natural, but the divinely-appointed head of his father’s house, and hence it would not have sufficed for the purpose contemplated to have inscribed the name of Levi upon the rod. Aaron was constituted the head alike of the priests and of the Levites, into which two classes the tribe of Levi was divided.

Numbers 17:3. Aaron’s name — Rather than Levi’s, for that would have left the controversy undecided between Aaron and the other Levites, whereas this would justify the appropriation of the priesthood to Aaron’s family. One rod — There shall be in this, as there is in all the other tribes, only one rod, and that for the head of their tribe, who is Aaron in this tribe: whereas it might have been expected that there should have been two rods, one for Aaron and another for his competitors of the same tribe. But Aaron’s name was sufficient to determine both the tribe, and that branch or family of the tribe to whom this dignity should be affixed.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.Thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi - The Levites had taken part in the late outbreak. It was therefore necessary to vindicate the supremacy of the house of Aaron over them; and accordingly his name was written on the rod of Levi, although being the son of Kohath, the second son of Levi (Exodus 6:16 ff), he would not be the natural head of the tribe. 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.

Aaron’s rather than Levi’s name, for that would have left the controversy undecided between Aaron and the other Levites, whereas this would justify the appropriation of the priesthood to Aaron’s family.

For the head of the house of their fathers; i.e. there shall be in this, as there is in all the other tribes, only one rod, and that for the head of their tribe, who is Aaron in this tribe; whereas it might have been expected that there should have been two rods, one for Aaron, and another for his competitors of the same tribe. But Aaron’s name was sufficient to determine both the tribe, and that branch or family of the tribe, to whom this dignity should be affixed. And thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi,.... Or upon the rod that was for the tribe of Levi; the name of "Aaron" was to be written, not the word "Levi", or a "Levite", as Josephus (e); for that would not have decided the controversy about the priesthood, which chiefly lay between the Levites and the family of Aaron, who were of the same tribe:

for one rod shall be for the head of the house of their fathers; one rod for the head or prince of every tribe, every prince representing his own tribe he was the head of, and the rod the prince; and though the tribe of Levi was divided into two families, the family of the priests, and the family of the Levites; yet, as Jarchi observes, they were but one tribe, and so one rod for them, as for the other tribes.

(e) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 4. sect. 2.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 3. - Thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi. There was no tribe prince of Levi, and it is not probable that either of the three chiefs of the sub-tribes (Numbers 3:24, 30, 55) was called upon to bring a rod. This rod was, therefore, provided by Moses himself, and inscribed by him with the name of Aaron, who stood by Divine appointment (so recently and fearfully attested) above all his brethren. For the significance of the act cf. Ezekiel 37:16-28. For one rod... for the head of the house of their fathers. For Levi, therefore, there must be, not three rods inscribed with the names of the chiefs, but one only bearing the name of Aaron, as their common superior. 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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