Numbers 17

CHAPTER XVII

The twelve chiefs of the tribes are commanded to take their

rods, and to write the name of each tribe upon the rod that

belonged to its representative; but the name of Aaron is to be

written on the rod of the tribe of Levi, 1-3.

The rods are to be laid up before the Lord, who promises that

the man's rod whom he shalt choose for priest shall blossom,

4, 5.

The rods are produced and laid up before the tabernacle, 6, 7.

Aaron's rod alone buds, blossoms, and bears fruit, 8, 9.

It is laid up before the testimony as a token of the manner in

which God had disposed of the priesthood, 10, 11.

The people are greatly terrified, and are apprehensive of being

destroyed, 12, 13.

NOTES ON CHAP. XVII

Verse 2. And take of every one of them a rod] matteh, the

staff or sceptre, which the prince or chief of each tribe

bore, and which was the sign of office or royalty among almost all

the people of the earth.

Verse 5. The man's rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom] It

was necessary that something farther should be done to quiet the

minds of the people, and for ever to settle the dispute, in what

tribe the priesthood should be fixed. God therefore took the

method described in the text, and it had the desired effect; the

Aaronical priesthood was never after disputed.

Verse 8. The rod of Aaron-was budded, &c.] That is, on the

same rod or staff were found buds, blossoms, and ripe fruit. This

fact was so unquestionably miraculous, as to decide the business

for ever; and probably this was intended to show that in the

priesthood, represented by that of Aaron, the beginning, middle,

and end of every good work must be found. The buds of good

desires, the blossoms of holy resolutions and promising

professions, and the ripe fruit of faith, love, and obedience, all

spring from the priesthood of the Lord Jesus. It has been thought

by some that Aaron's staff (and perhaps the staves of all the

tribes) was made out of the amygdala communis, or common almond

tree. In a favourable soil and climate it grows to twenty feet in

height; is one of the most noble, flourishing trees in nature: its

flowers are of a delicate red, and it puts them forth early in

March, having begun to bud in January. It has its name shaked

from shakad, to awake, because it buds and flowers sooner than

most other trees. And it is very likely that the staves of

office, borne by the chiefs of all the tribes, were made of this

tree, merely to signify that watchfulness and assiduous care which

the chiefs should take of the persons committed, in the course of

the Divine providence, to their keeping.

Every thing in this miracle is so far beyond the power of

nature, that no doubt could remain on the minds of the people, or

the envious chiefs, of the Divine appointment of Aaron, and of the

especial interference of God in this case. To see a piece of wood

long cut off from the parent stock, without bark or moisture

remaining, laid up in a dry place for a single night, with others

in the same circumstances-to see such a piece of wood resume and

evince the perfection of vegetative life, budding, blossoming, and

bringing forth ripe fruit at the same time, must be such a

demonstration of the peculiar interference of God, as to silence

every doubt and satisfy every scruple. It is worthy of remark

that a sceptre, or staff of office, resuming its vegetative life,

was considered an absolute impossibility among the ancients; and

as they were accustomed to swear by their sceptres, this

circumstance was added to establish and confirm the oath. A

remarkable instance of this we have in HOMER, Iliad, lib. i., ver.

233, &c., where Achilles, in his rage against Agamemnon, thus

speaks:-

αλλεκτοιερεωκαιεπιμεγανορκονομουμαι.

ναιματοδεσκηπτροντομενουποτεφυλλακαιοζους

φυσειεπειδηπρωτατομηνενοπεσσιλελοιπεν,

ουδαναθηλησει. περιγαρραεχαλκοςελεψε

φυλλατεκαιφλοιον. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

οδετοιμεγαςεσσεταιορκος.

But hearken: I shall 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's axe lopp'd off its foliage green,

And stripp'd its bark, shall never grow again.

COWPER.

VIRGIL represents King Latinus swearing in the same way, to

confirm his covenant with AEneas:-

Ut SCEPTRUM hoc (dextra sceptrum nam forte gerebat)

Nunquam fronde levi fundet virgulta neque umbras,

Cum semel in silvis imo de stirpe recisum.

Matre caret, posuitque comas et brachia ferro;

Olim arbos, nunc artificis manus aere decoro

Inclusit, patribusque dedit gestare Latinis,

Talibus inter se firmabant foedera dictis.

AEn., lib. xii., ver. 206-12.

Even as this royal SCEPTRE (for he bore

A sceptre in his hand) shall never more

Shoot out in branches, or renew the birth;

An orphan now, cut from the mother earth

By the keen axe, dishonour'd of its hair,

And cased in brass, for Latian kings to bear.

And thus in public view the peace was tied

With solemn vows, and sworn on either side.

DRYDEN.

When the circumstance of the rod or sceptre being used

anciently in this way, and the absolute impossibility of its

revivescence so strongly appealed to, is considered, it appears to

have been a very proper instrument for the present occasion, for

the change that passed on it must be acknowledged as an immediate

and incontestable miracle.

Verse 12. Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish.]

gavaenu signifies not so much to die simply, as to feel an extreme

difficulty of breathing, which, producing suffocation, ends at

last in death. See the folly and extravagance of this sinful

people. At first, every person might come near to God, for all,

they thought, were sufficiently holy, and every way qualified to

minister in holy things. Now, no one, in their apprehension, can

come near to the tabernacle without being consumed, Nu 17:13. In

both cases they were wrong; some there were who might approach,

others there were who might not. God had put the difference. His

decision should have been final with them; but sinners are ever

running into extremes.

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