Twelve rods laid up before the Lord. (1-7) Aaron's rod buds, and is kept for a memorial. (8-13)
Verses 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.
Verses 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!
Numbers 17:1-13 . AARON'S ROD FLOURISHES.
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 Numbers 17:10 and Hebrews 9:4 ), where a divine token was promised that would for all time terminate the dispute.
6. the rod of Aaron was among their rods--either one of the twelve, or, as many suppose, a thirteenth in the midst ( Hebrews 9:4 ). The rods were of dry sticks or wands, probably old, as transmitted from one head of the family to a succeeding.
8. Moses went into the tabernacle--being privileged to do so on this occasion by the special command of God. And he there beheld the remarkable spectacle of Aaron's rod--which, according to JOSEPHUS, was a stick of an almond tree, bearing fruit in three different stages at once--buds, blossoms, and fruit.
10. Bring Aaron's rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels--For if, after all admonitions and judgments, seconded by miracles, the people should still rebel, they would certainly pay the penalty by death.
12, 13. Behold, we die, we perish--an exclamation of fear, both from the remembrance of former judgments, and the apprehension of future relapses into murmuring.
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.