[Numbers 17] Aaron’s Rod that Budded. In this chapter, the people continue to murmur against Moses and Aaron after a rebellion in which 14,000 people are killed, including Korah, who was swallowed up alive by the earth. God vindicates Aaron, the high priest, as His chosen man by having all the surviving heads of Israel, put their rods and staffs before the tabernacle all night. In the morning, Aaron’s rod has sprouted almond leaves, buds, blossoms, and almonds. This is a picture of total fruitfulness. There is a principle in God whereby He vindicates His servants. When you are faced with rebellion, criticism, and persecution, He will vindicate you by signs, miracles, and wonders – when you are prepared to stand with Him in the face of the assault of your critics.
[Num 17:1-13 KJV] 1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 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. 3 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. 4 And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you. 5 And it shall come to pass, [that] the man’s rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you. 6 And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, and every one of their princes gave him a rod apiece, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, [even] twelve rods: and the rod of Aaron [was] among their rods. 7 And Moses laid up the rods before the LORD in the tabernacle of witness. 8 And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds. 9 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the LORD unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod. 10 And the LORD said unto Moses, Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not. 11 And Moses did [so]: as the LORD commanded him, so did he. 12 And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish. 13 Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?
When your critics challenge you, God is prepared to give you a lasting testimony that will silence your enemies. Kitty and I have been vilified, railed against, cursed, and maligned by many in our lives. The unmerited blessing of God has silenced many of our detractors. One person who initially called us sorcerers and false prophets eventually came to us saying, “if God isn’t mad at you, I can’t be mad at you” because there was a testimony of God’s goodness in our lives at the time that couldn’t be gainsaid. When you are criticized and come against your enemies won’t choose your strengths to attack but rather your weaknesses. If you were their friend and brother, they would cover your weaknesses and give you every excuse – but because you have made choices before God that they find objectionable, they take the very things they would otherwise defend and use them against you. So they won’t persecute you because of what you do right but what you have done wrong in their eyes.
What is the lesson here? Never answer your critics. You cannot waste time defending your actions, making excuses for yourself. Simply place your rod before God and leave it to Him to see to it that your testimony vindicates you before the Lord.
What do we know of Aaron’s rod in Rabbinic literature? The Rabbis believed that the staff with which Jacob crossed the Jordan is identical to the one which Judah gave to his daughter-in-law, Tamar, in Genesis 32:10, and Gen. 38:18. They believed that this same staff was the holy rod with which Moses wielded before Pharaoh in Exodus 7:10, and with which, finally, David carried with him as a shepherd when he slew the giant Goliath in I Samuel 17:40. David is thought to have left it to his descendants, and the Davidic kings used it as a scepter until the destruction of the Temple when it disappeared from Jewish history, legend, and tradition. When the Messiah comes, it is believed by some Jewish sources that it will appear and be given to him in token of his authority over the heathen.
Interestingly the rod of Aaron and Moses’ rod only took on magical, mystical power in the people’s mind and in legend and myth – to produce miracles even when they were not physically grasped by their owners. Only when their rods were cast down or laid up before the Lord did these miracles manifest. This should suggest to us something about how miracles work. They are not parlor tricks or supernatural sleight of hand. They manifest when we relinquish our control and trust in God to make Himself known in miraculous ways.
After seeing that Aaron’s rod has now budded and realizing they were reproofed before God by a miraculous sign, the rebels, rather than repenting, continue to blame God. “This never works out! Every time we go near to God, something negative happens”! This is a prevalent attitude today. People have it in their hearts to come closer to God, but they fear that the cost will be too great or they won’t be able to “live the life…” Therefore, they hold back. In my own life, there have been times I refrained from the word of God because the more I studied it, the more estranged I became from the people I cared about and the more criticism I received. I had to make a decision where my fidelities lay – with God or with friends and family. I chose to give myself over to God and his word, and as a result, I lost all of my former friends and became estranged from most of my family – but God always recompenses such losses. Jesus recognized among His disciples these types of losses and addressed them directly with a promise of great reward:
[Luk 18:28-30 KJV] 28 Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee. 29 And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, 30 Who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting.
The rebels in Numbers 17 should have chosen to identify with God, but instead, they identified with Korah and those who perished in their revolt. The problem was not that getting closer to the tabernacle put them in jeopardy. The problem was that they chose to rebel and question God and question His chosen leaders. Instead of saying, “every time we get close to the tabernacle, bad things happen…” They should instead have reasoned, “every time we rebel against God and his chosen men, bad things happen.” This is the same argument put forward in the Garden of Eden when Adam made excuses for hiding from God after the fall – “I was afraid and hid myself …” In other words, when God asked, “where are you Adam…” Adam’s response was “this is your fault – if you weren’t so scary I wouldn’t have had to hide …” We need to acknowledge these accusations we make against God and turn and look at ourselves honestly and transparently. We are all turned out of the way. We all rebel and make selfish choices. Rebellion is bound up in our hearts, and all of these choices are costly. If we simply acknowledge our shortcomings and come to God trusting in His loving-kindness, we will see deliverance, change, and blessing from His hand.