Enough had been done in the chapter before to quash all pretensions of
the families of the tribe of Levi that would set up in competition with
Aaron, and to make it appear that Aaron was the head of the tribe; but
it seems, when that matter was settled, the princes of the rest of the
tribes began to murmur. If the head of a tribe must be a priest, why
not the head of some other tribe than that of Levi? He that searches
the heart knew this thought to be in the breast of some of them, and
before it broke out into any overt act graciously anticipated it, to
prevent bloodshed; and it is done by miracle in this chapter, not a
miracle of wrath, as before, but of grace.
I. The matter is put upon trial by the bringing of twelve rods, one for
each prince, before the Lord,
II. Upon trial, the matter is determined by the miraculous blossoming
of Aaron's rod,
III. The decision of the controversy is registered by the preservation
of the rod,
IV. The people acquiesce in it with some reluctance,
|The Blossoming of Aaron's Rod.
||B. C. 1490.|
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
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
Here we have,
I. Orders given for the bringing in of a rod for every tribe (which was
peculiarly significant, for the word here used for a rod sometimes
signifies a tribe, as particularly
that God by a miracle, wrought on purpose, might make it known on whom
he had conferred the honour of the priesthood.
1. It seems then the priesthood was a preferment worth seeking and
striving for, even by the princes of the tribes. It is an honour to the
greatest of men to be employed in the service of God. Yet perhaps these
contended for it rather for the sake of the profit and power that
attended the office than for the sake of that in it which was divine
2. It seems likewise, after all that had been done to settle this
matter, there were those who would be ready upon any occasion to
contest it. They would not acquiesce in the divine appointment, but
would make an interest in opposition to it. They strive with God for
the dominion; and the question is whose will shall stand. God will
rule, but Israel will not be ruled; and this is the quarrel.
3. It is an instance of the grace of God that, having wrought divers
miracles to punish sin, he would work one more on purpose to prevent
it. God has effectually provided that the obstinate shall be left
inexcusable, and every mouth shall be stopped. Israel were very prone
to murmur both against God and against their governors. "Now," said
God, "I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of
If any thing will convince them, they shall be convinced; and, if this
will not convince them, nothing will." This was to be to them, as
Christ said the sign of the prophet Jonas (that is, his own
resurrection) should be to the men of that generation, the highest
proof of his mission that should be given them. The directions are,
(1.) That twelve rods or staves should be brought in. It is probable
that they were not now fresh cut out of a tree, for then the miracle
would not have been so great; but that they were the staves which the
princes ordinarily used as ensigns of their authority (of which we read
old dry staves, that had no sap in them, and it is probable that they
were all made of the almond-tree. It should seem they were but twelve
in all, with Aaron's, for, when Levi comes into the account, Ephraim
and Manasseh make but one, under the name of Joseph.
(2.) That the name of each prince should be written upon his rod, that
every man might know his own, and to prevent contests. Writing is often
a good preservative against strife, for what is written may be appealed
(3.) That they should be laid up in the tabernacle, for one night,
before the testimony, that is, before the ark, which, with its mercy
seat, was a symbol, token, or testimony, of God's presence with them.
(4.) They were to expect, being told it before, that the rod of the
tribe, or prince, whom God chose to the priesthood, should bud and
It was requisite that they should be told of it, that it might appear
not to be casual, but according to the counsel and will of God.
II. The preparing of the rods accordingly. The princes brought them in,
some of them perhaps fondly expecting that the choice would fall upon
them, and all of them thinking it honour enough to be competitors with
Aaron, and to stand candidates, even for the priesthood
and Moses laid them up before the Lord. He did not object that
the matter was sufficiently settled already, and enough done to
convince those that were not invincibly hardened in their prejudices.
He did not undertake to determine the controversy himself, though it
might easily have been done; nor did he suggest that it would be to no
purpose to offer satisfaction to a people that were willingly blind.
But, since God will have it so, he did his part, and lodged the case
before the Lord, to whom the appeal was made by consent, and left it
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
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
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?
I. The final determination of the controversy concerning the priesthood
by a miracle,
The rods or staves were brought out from the most holy place where they
were laid up, and publicly produced before the people; and, while all
the rest of the rods remained as they were, Aaron's rod only, of a dry
stick, became a living branch, budded, and blossomed, and yielded
almonds. In some places there were buds, in others blossoms, in others
fruit, at the same time. This was miraculous, and took away all
suspicion of a fraud, as if in the night Moses had taken away Aaron's
rod, and put a living branch of an almond tree in the room of it; for
no ordinary branch would have buds, blossoms, and fruits upon it, all
at once. Now,
1. This was a plain indication to the people that Aaron was chosen to
the priesthood, and not any other of the princes of the tribes. Thus he
was distinguished from them and manifested to be under the special
blessing of heaven, which sometimes yields increase where there is
neither planting nor watering by the hand of man. Bishop Hall here
observes that fruitfulness is the best evidence of a divine call, and
that the plants of God's setting, and the boughs cut off from them,
will flourish. See
The trees of the Lord, though they seem dry trees, are full of sap.
2. It was a very proper sign to represent the priesthood itself, which
was hereby confirmed to Aaron.
(1.) That it should be fruitful and serviceable to the church of God.
It produced not only blossoms, but almonds; for the priesthood was
designed, not only for an honour to Aaron, but for a blessing to
Israel. Thus Christ ordained his apostles and ministers that they
should go and bring forth fruit, and that their fruit should
(2.) That there should be a succession of priests. Here were not only
almonds for the present, but buds and blossoms promising more
hereafter. Thus has Christ provided in his church that a seed should
serve him from generation to generation.
(3.) That yet this priesthood should not be perpetual, but in process
of time, like the branches and blossoms of a tree, should fail and
wither. The flourishing of the almond-tree is mentioned as one of the
signs of old age,
This character was betimes put upon the Mosaic priesthood, which soon
became old and ready to vanish away,
3. It was a type and figure of Christ and his priesthood: for he is
the man, the branch, that is to be a priest upon his
throne, as it follows
and he was to grow up before God, as this before the ark,
like a tender plant, and a root out of a dry ground,
II. The record of this determination, by the preserving of the rod
before the testimony, in perpetuam rei memoriam--that it might be had
in perpetual remembrance,
It is probable that the buds, and blossoms, and fruit, continued fresh;
the same divine power that produced them in a night preserved them for
ages, at least so long as it was necessary for a token against the
rebels. So it was a standing miracle, and the continuance of it was an
undeniable proof of the truth of it. Even the leaf of God's trees shall
This rod was preserved, as the censers were, to take away their
murmurings, that they die not. Note,
1. The design of God in all his providences, both mercies and
judgments, and in the memorials of them, is to take away sin, and to
prevent it. These things are done, these things written, that we sin
1 John 2:1.
Christ was manifested to take away sin.
2. What God does for the taking away of sin is done in real kindness to
us, that we die not. All the bitter potions he gives, and all
the sharp methods he uses with us, are for the cure of a disease which
otherwise would certainly be fatal. Bishop Hall observes here that the
tables of the law, the pot of manna, and Aaron's rod, were preserved
together in or about the ark (the apostle takes notice of them all
to show to after-ages how the ancient church was taught, and fed, and
ruled; and he infers how precious the doctrine, sacraments, and
government, of the church are to God and should be to us. The rod of
Moses was used in working many miracles, yet we do not find that this
was preserved, for the keeping of it would serve only to gratify men's
curiosity; but the rod of Aaron, which carried its miracle along with
it, was carefully preserved, because that would be of standing use to
convince men's consciences, to silence all disputes about the
priesthood, and to confirm the faith of God's Israel in his
institutions. Such is the difference between the sacraments which
Christ has appointed for edification and the relics which men have
devised for superstition.
III. The outcry of the people hereupon
Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish. Shall we be consumed with
dying? This may be considered as the language either,
1. Of a repining people quarrelling with the judgments of God, which,
by their own pride and obstinacy, they had brought upon themselves.
They seem to speak despairingly, as if God was a hard Master, that
sought advantage against them, and took all occasions to pick quarrels
with them, so that if they trod every so little awry, if they stepped
ever so little beyond their bounds, they must die, they must perish,
they must all perish, basely insinuating that God would never be
satisfied with their blood and ruin, till he had made an end of them
all and they were consumed with dying. Thus they seem to be like a
wild bull in a net, full of the fury of the Lord
fretting that God was too hard for them and that they were forced to
submit, which they did only because they could not help it. Note, It
is a very wicked thing 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 owing to ourselves, and the blame will lie upon our own heads.
2. Of a repenting people. Many interpreters take it as expressing their
submission: "Now we see that it is the will of God we should keep our
distance, and that it is at our peril if we draw nearer than is
appointed. We submit to the divine will in this appointment; we will
not contend any more, lest we all perish:" and they engage Moses to
intercede for them, that they may not be all consumed with dying. Thus
the point was gained, and in this matter God quite took away their
murmurings, and henceforward they acquiesced. Note, When God judges he
will over come, and, one way or other, will oblige the most obstinate
gainsayers to confess their folly sooner or later, and that wherein
they dealt proudly he was above them. Vicisti Galilæe--O
Galilæan, thou hast conquered!