Numbers 17:4
And you shall lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you.
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(4) Where I will meet with you.—Rather, where I meet with you.

Numbers 17:4. Before the testimony — That is, before the ark of the testimony, close by the ark. I will meet with you — And manifest my mind to you, for the ending of this dispute.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.Before the testimony - See Numbers 17:10 note. 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.

Before the testimony, i.e. before the ark of the testimony; either mediately, close by the veil behind which the ark stood; or rather immediately, within the veil in the most holy place, close by the ark, as may be gathered by comparing this place with Numbers 17:10, and with Hebrews 9:4.

I will meet with you, and manifest my mind to you for the ending of this dispute. And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation,.... In the most holy place:

before the testimony; that is, the ark in which the testimony or the law was; here they were laid as in the presence of God, who was in a miraculous way to decide the controversy by them, and put an end to it; for upon the ark was the mercy seat, over which were the cherubim, the seat of the divine Majesty, and where none could come at them, and where no fraud could be supposed to be committed:

where I will meet with you; not with the people in person, who might not go at any time into the most holy place; nor with Aaron, who only might go into it on the day of atonement; but with Moses, the chief ruler and representative of the whole body of the people, and who might go in there at any time, to consult with God about matters of moment and difficulty, and where the Lord had said he would meet him, Exodus 25:22; and now would, in a miraculous way, clearly show him, and the people of Israel by him, who was the priest he had chosen of all the tribes.

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.Verse 4. - The tabernacle of the congregation. "The tent of meeting." See on Exodus 30:26. Before the testimony, i.e., in front of the ark containing the two tables of the law (Exodus 25:21). 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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