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The Book of NUMBERS

Chapter 17

The Budding of Aaron’s Rod

This incident follows immediately the plague of Chapter 16 in which 14,700 Israelis died.[1] On that occasion the children of Israel were complaining [murmuring] against Moses and Aaron for executing judgment against Korah and his allies.[2] In fact, 12 times in the book of Numbers the word  “complain” is used – always arousing the wrath of YAHWEH.[3] Here Israel’s complaints were dealt with personally by YAHWEH – because they really were complaining against HIM.[4]

The Purpose of God’s Intervention

From the beginning of the Exodus God had made it clear whom His choice was [Moses] to lead the people.[5] Further, He had designated Aaron to be High Priest.[6] In fact, part of Korah’s rebellion was in that he sought the priesthood of Aaron.[7] Thus, in this encounter, God is seeking to demonstrate [again] that Aaron was His choice as High Priest in perpetuity.[8] The people’s complaints had been against Moses and Aaron;[9] thus God will demonstrate whether He favors them or not.[10]

The Miraculous Nature of This Sign

YAHWEH’S directions were for each tribe to provide an ordinary rod [staff] from each of its leaders. They also were to write each man’s name on his rod.[11] Then the rods were placed inside the Tabernacle – with YAHWEH stating that the rod of His choice would blossom. [12] Moses went in to look the very next day and saw an amazing sight: Aaron’s rod budding with flowers and ripe almonds! Only YAHWEH could have done this to an inanimate rod!

The People’s Response

Moses then brought all of the rods outside so that all of the people could see them. Only Aaron’s rod was blossoming. Then YAHWEH said: “Take and put Aaron’s rod inside the Ark of the Covenant as a sign against these rebels that their complaints be ended – lest they die.” At this point the people’s sin became fully apparent. Their response was: “Surely, we will perish – all of us”.[13] They finally got the idea concerning God’s choice of Levi: “All [outsiders] who approach the tabernacle will die”.[14]

Application for Today

The New Testament also speaks against complaining.[15] [Of course, the opposite of complaining is giving thanks. [16]] God-ordained leadership is also mentioned in the New Testament – where God gifts certain people for leadership in the Assembly.[17] But these leaders have greater accountability.[18] Believers should both recognize and submit to such leaders.[19]


[1] Num. 16:49.

[2] Num. 16:41. The truth was that they had interceded for the congregation (Num. 16:22) and had sought to dispel the plague (Num. 16:46-48).

[3] Cf. Num. 11:1; 14:2, 27, 29 36; 16:11, 41; 17:5, 10.

[4] Num. 17:5, 10. As it is stated in the Hebrew text: “their grumblings are before Me”.

[5] Cf. Ex. 3:1-10, 6:28-7:7.

[6] Cf. Ex. 28:1-4, Num. 3:5-10, Heb. 5:1-4.

[7] Num. 16:10.

[8] Cf. Ex. 29:9.

[9] Num. 16:3, 41.

[10] It is also significant that YAHWEH chooses, at this time, to vindicate His choice of Aaron and his family as the designated priests of Israel. This is because, in just a little while [Numbers 20:22-29], Aaron would be dead.

[11] Num. 17:2.

[12] Num. 17:5.

[13] Num. 17:12.

[14] Num. 17:13 This is a repetition (almost verbatim) of what YAHWEH had warned earlier [Cf. Num. 1:51, 3:10, 38; 18:7].

[15] 1 Cor. 10:10, Phil 2:14.

[16] 1 Thess. 5:18, Eph. 5:20.

[17] Eph. 4:11-12, Acts 20:28 1 Cor. 12:27-28.

[18] James 3:1, Heb. 13:17.

[19] 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Heb. 13:17, 1 Tim. 5:17, Gal. 6:6.

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