Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentNUMBERS 17
And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers' house, of all their princes according to their fathers' houses, twelve rods: write thou every man's name upon his rod. And thou shalt write Aaron's name upon the rod of Levi; for there shall be one rod for each head of their fathers' houses. And thou shalt lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And it shall come to pass, that the rod of the man whom I shall choose shall bud: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you. And Moses spake unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers' houses, even twelve rods: and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. And Moses laid up the rods before Jehovah in the tent of the testimony.
mentioned extensively here, to all intents and purposes were walking canes, exactly the type of staff that men of all generations have carried. It was the rod of Moses that became the Rod of God to lead Israel out of slavery, and the test proposed here, coming of God Himself, was exactly the type of thing that could have decided forever the question of WHERE the priesthood of Israel was to be centered.
We are not at all impressed by the so-called "examples" cited by the critics comparing this to such fables as that of Hercules, whose club of wild olive wood was leaned up against the statue of the god Hermes, promptly sprouted and has been growing ever since,F1 or to that of Joseph of Arimathea's stick which was placed in the ground of Weary-All hill, and became the remarkable thorn of Glastonbury.F2 Plutarch has a similar yarn regarding the spear of Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome.F3 Such things only show that the impressive truth of this narrative in Numbers resulted in the invention of similar tales by the pagans and by some superstitious Christians of later ages.
Ancient literature, indeed all ancient civilizations, placed a remarkable weight of significance upon "the staff." Homer, for example, gave an account of the oath sworn by Achilles in his rage against Agamemnon in these words:
But hearken: I swear a solemn oath;
By this same sceptre which shall never bud,
Nor boughs bring forth as once; which having left
Its parent on the mountain top, what time
The woodman lopped off its foliage green,
And stripped its bark, shall never grow again.F4
Sceptres, or staves, or walking sticks, were considered to be of the greatest importance. "Kings swore by them,"F5 and Judah was condemned by Tamar, using his "staff" as invincible proof (Genesis 38:18). Esther touched only the sceptre of King Ahasuerus, but it saved her life (Esther 4:11). The Holy Messiah was identified by Zechariah as the one, above all others, who would have both a rod, and a staff, a thought also echoed in the Shepherd Psalm, "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psalms 23:4) The ancient authority and symbolism of the rod are still evident today in that impressive remnant of it called The Mace, by which Parliament itself is opened in London, and by the symbolical Sceptres belonging to the regalia of royalty in all ages. Today, one may see the Sceptre of the English monarch in the Tower of London.
Thus, it was no ordinary rod that each prince of Israel brought to Moses. The symbolical authority and concurrence of all of them in the test was thus achieved.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and produced blossoms, and bare ripe almonds. And Moses brought out all the rods from before Jehovah unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod. And Jehovah said unto Moses, Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the children of rebellion; that thou mayest make an end of their murmurings against me, that they die not. Thus did Moses: as Jehovah commanded him, so did he.
Of many supernatural events in the O.T., surely this one must rank as one of the greatest. It had the utility of establishing permanently the High Priesthood and preeminence of Aaron.
Verses 12, 13
And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. Every one that cometh near, that cometh near unto the tabernacle of Jehovah, dieth: shall we perish all of us?
We agree with Longacre that the fear of death expressed by Israel following the astounding wonders of this chapter and the preceding one did not afford any evidence of deep repentance on Israel's part but was rather the expression of, "a natural fear in view of the events just recounted."F6 Whatever the source of their fear, however, the effective discipline of these wonders quelled completely this rebellion, described by Keil as "the most important" of the wilderness wanderings.F7
Footnotes for Numbers 17
1: George W. Wade, Peake's Commentary on the Bible, Numbers (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 217.
3: Plutarch, Romulus, 20, and Ovid, Met, 15, p. 560ff.
4: Homer, The Iliad, book 1, verse 233.
5: Adam Clarke, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1 (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), p. 672.
6: Lindsay B. Longacre, Abingdon Bible Commentary on the Old Testament (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack Ltd., 1929), p. 303.
7: C. F. Keil, op. cit., p. 105.