GOD VALIDATES HIS APPOINTED SPIRITUAL LEADER TO SHUT THE MOUTHS OF DISPUTERS
The issue continues to be the validity of the uniqueness of the high priestly role of Aaron. The Israelites, despite previous revelation from God that should have been clear and convicting, continue their practice of murmuring and complaining against God’s appointed leadership. God appears to be fed up with their disputing and discontent and orchestrates a miracle-based validation procedure that will highlight Aaron as His clear choice. Once again we see that ministry appointment and empowerment comes from divine appointment rather than human self-exaltation. The sign of the miraculous budding almond rod is preserved for future generations so that God’s people will submit to His authorized leaders and be fearful of incurring his discipline. Genuine leaders will nurture genuine faith and spiritual life as God brings the blessing in His mercy and grace.
Timothy Ashley: This third account in the series on the justification of the Aaronic priesthood narrates the story of the event that finally makes an impression on the people. It should not be separated from the other two stories in the series, because the final effect (vv. 27–28 [Eng. 12–13]) is a reaction not only to this miracle but also to the other dramatic interventions of God since 16:1. . . The point of 16:1–35 was the superiority of the Aaronic priesthood over the other Levites. Although that point is alluded to in 17:18 (Eng. 3), the main point here is the necessity for a divinely appointed priesthood to intercede for the laity. This story, then, balances out the division between the Aaronic priests and other Levites created by 16:1–35, by exalting the Levites (esp. the family of Aaron) above the lay tribes in the matter of service of God. This brings us back to the perspective of chs. 1–4.
Gordon Wenham: We are probably supposed to understand that some parts were in bud, others in bloom and others had fruited. Why it bore almonds is not stated, but it is probably significant. Almond blooms early with white blossom and its fruits were highly prized (Gen. 43:11). White in Scripture symbolizes purity, holiness and God himself (e.g. Isa. 1:18; Dan. 7:9; Rev. 20:11). Jeremiah associates the almond (šāqed) with watching (šāqad) (Jer. 1:11–12). All these qualities were personified by Aaron and the tribe of Levi. They were the holy tribe par excellence, who represented Israel before God and God to Israel, and they were responsible for watching over the people by instructing them in the statutes of the Lord (Lev. 10:11).
C.H.M.: Ministry is of God, as to its source, power, and responsibility.
I. (:1-7) CHOICE FOR LEADERSHIP MADE EVIDENT VIA DIVINE TEST
A. (:1-5) Explanation of the Divine Test
(:1) “Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,”
Authoritative words from the Lord are communicated to the community through the mediator of Moses = God’s appointed leader
1. (:2a) Collect a Rod from Each Tribe
“Speak to the sons of Israel, and get from them a rod for each father’s household: twelve rods, from all their leaders according to their fathers’ households.”
Wiersbe: The fact that all the tribes were included in the test suggests that all of them had been represented in the insurrection.
2. (:2b-3) Identify Each Rod
a. (:2b) Write the Name on the Rod
“You shall write each name on his rod,”
b. (:3a) Write Aaron’s name on the Rod for the Levites
“and write Aaron’s name on the rod of Levi;”
Timothy Ashley: This verse is meant to show that Aaron was God’s choice to be the leader of the Levites. This is an interesting choice since Aaron is a descendant of Levi’s second son, Kohath, and because Moses himself was also a Levite. Thus the leadership in view here is only the priesthood; it is not a challenge to Moses’ own role as leader.
The question that this verse (and v. 21 [Eng. 6]) raises is whether Aaron’s rod was one of the twelve or an additional, thirteenth rod. The text does not say in so many words, and some scholars have simply assumed that the whole number is twelve, and that the half-tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim are counted as one tribe of Joseph (as in Deut. 27:12). The consistent practice of Numbers, however, is to count twelve secular tribes in addition to Levi, and unless one wishes to suppose a standpoint at odds with the rest of the book, one should probably see Levi as a thirteenth tribe (and rod) here. In this case v. 21b (Eng. 6b) makes better sense when it reports that Aaron’s rod was “in the midst of their [i.e., the other twelve tribes’] rods” (beṯôḵ maṭṭôṯām).
c. (:3b) Summary: One Rod Per Tribe (total of 13 rods)
“for there is one rod for the head of each of their fathers’ households.”
3. (:4) Deposit the Rods in the Presence of the Lord
“You shall then deposit them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony, where I meet with you.”
Ronald Allen: This means that the staffs were brought not only to the Tent of Meeting but within the Most Holy Place. I suspect the staffs would have been placed as near the ark as practical. The symbolism is that these staffs were right, as it were, in the “lap” of God. The very issue of bringing these staffs into the Most Holy Place must have been chilling. Moses, who brought these staffs near, must have realized that he was doing a most unusual act. The most immediate placement of the staffs in the presence of God is assured by these words.
4. (:5a) Proof of God’s Choice of Aaron
“And it will come about that the rod of the man whom I choose will sprout.”
Reference doctrine of sovereign election; God is making choices all of the time; here it involves choice of leadership
Ronald Allen: The story demands nothing short of a miracle, an intervention of the power of God in the normal order of things in such a way as to produce wonder and awe. This demonstration of the power of God and his sovereign work was to be wondrous, something for the people to remember throughout all their generations. This was the call for a major demonstration of the power of God. It was to be regarded as truly stunning. It was also to be regarded as absolutely and finally convincing, for the act of God would be impossible for anyone else to duplicate.
How does the Holy Spirit confirm the legitimacy of spiritual leaders today?
Are we properly applying the NT qualifications for church leadership?
How did the Apostle Paul respond to challenges against the validity of His apostleship?
5. (:5b) Purpose for God Validating Aaron’s Leadership
“Thus I shall lessen from upon Myself the grumblings of the sons of Israel, who are grumbling against you.”
B. (:6-7) Execution of the Divine Test
1. (:6) Collecting the Rods from Each Tribe
“Moses therefore spoke to the sons of Israel, and all their leaders gave him a rod apiece, for each leader according to their fathers’ households, twelve rods, with the rod of Aaron among their rods.”
2. (:7) Depositing the Rods Before the Lord
“So Moses deposited the rods before the LORD in the tent of the testimony.”
Quite the dramatic scene; must have been a tense evening for all involved as they waited for the morning to see the outcome
II. (:8-11) CONFIRMATION OF LEADERSHIP OF AARON PRODUCES MIRACULOUS SIGN THAT IS SAVED AS A TESTIMONY
A. (:8) Sign of Miraculous Growth on Aaron’s Rod
1. Miraculous Timing
“Now it came about on the next day that Moses went into the tent of the testimony;”
2. Miraculous Growth
“and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.”
Peter Wallace: The basic image, as David Stubbs suggests, is that “the rod is a symbol of authority, and its budding and sprouting is a symbol of life. The rod thus symbolizes proper priestly authority and leadership that brings life. The besetting sin of many leaders is seeking or using authority and power for their own benefit and prestige. Instead, the role of leadership in the people of God is to bring life to the people, to guide them in the paths of life, and to use discipline and authority for the health and life of the community.” (p151)
J. Ligon Duncan: it was the first of the flowering plants after winter. And they even had a name for it: they called it the watcher, because it was the first of the plants to break its flowering after the cold days of winter. It was a beautiful flower, and it indicated God’s watching over them even during the course of the cold winter. So the prophets would sometimes use it to talk about how God was watching over the children of Israel. Even in their bleak winter of disobedience, God was watching over Israel.
B. (:9) Sign of God’s Choice of Aaron Contrasted with Usurpers
“Moses then brought out all the rods from the presence of the LORD to all the sons of Israel; and they looked, and each man took his rod.”
C. (:10-11) Sign of Testimony to Shut Up the Disputers
“But the LORD said to Moses, ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they should not die.’ Thus Moses did; just as the LORD had commanded him, so he did.”
III. (:12-13) CONVICTION OF INSUBORDINATION STIRS UP EXAGGERATED FEAR OF EXTERMINATION
A. (:12) Hysterical Cries of Self Pity
“Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying,
‘Behold, we perish, we are dying, we are all dying!’”
This is the “Woe is Me” mentality – the sky is falling; things could not be worse; there is no possible remedy for our sinful condition
B. (:13a) Overreaction to God’s Discipline
“Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the LORD, must die.’”
MacArthur: The people’s fear of going near to God led to a reaffirmation of the priesthood of Aaron and his sons in chap. 18.
C. (:13b) Despair of Life Itself
“Are we to perish completely?”
Timothy Ashley: The reality is, however, that, since the Israelites have been experiencing death by divine agency in the immediate context, their fear is that Yahweh will now not limit punishment to those who encroach on the tent of meeting, but will send it to anyone who simply comes near. This usage of the verb is further evidence that this verse is the desperate outcry of a terrified people. If God is going to kill anyone who comes near to the tent, then the sanest conclusion would be to separate oneself from the tent altogether. This outcry, leading as it could to the separation of Israel and Yahweh, gives rise to the new legislation that follows in ch. 18.
Wiersbe: As usual, the Israelites overreacted when the heard the new and concluded that anybody who came near the tabernacle would perish (vv. 12-13; see 14:40-45). At least they had a fear of judgment, but they didn’t have a true fear of God in their hearts. But the presence of the tabernacle in the camp should have been a source of confidence for the Jews, for it meant that Jehovah was present with them. He would guide them through the wilderness, defeat their enemies, receive their sacrifices, and grant them forgiveness. To calm their fears, Moses in the next two chapters explained the ministry of the priests and the importance of the tabernacle of the camp.
C.H.M.: In the preceding chapter, we see bold presumption in the very presence of the majesty of Jehovah, where there should have been profound humility. Here, in the presence of divine grace and its provisions, we observe legal fear and distrust. Thus it is ever. Mere nature neither understands holiness nor grace. At one moment we hearken to such accents as these: “All the congregation are holy;” and the next moment, the word is, “Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish.” The carnal mind presumes where it ought to retire; it distrusts where it ought to confide.
However, all this becomes the occasion, through the goodness of God, of unfolding to us, in a very full and blessed manner, the holy responsibilities, as well as the precious privileges, of the priesthood. How gracious it is – how like our God, to turn His people’s mistakes into an occasion of furnishing deeper instruction as to His ways!