Numbers 17

The Budding of Aaron’s Staff

Num 17:1 in the English Bible is 17:16 in the Hebrew text (BHS). See also the note on 16:36.
The Lord spoke to Moses:
2“Speak to the Israelites, and receive from them a staff from each tribe,
Heb “receive from them a rod, a rod from the house of a father.”
one from every tribal leader,
Heb “from every leader of them according to their fathers’ house.”
twelve staffs; you must write each man’s name on his staff.
3You must write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi; for one staff is for the head of every tribe.
Heb “one rod for the head of their fathers’ house.”
4You must place them
The verb is the Hiphil perfect of נוּחַ (nuakh, “to rest”), and so “to set at rest, lay, place, put.” The form with the vav (ו) consecutive continues the instruction of the previous verse.
in the tent of meeting before the ark of the covenant
The Hebrew text simply reads “the covenant” or “the testimony.”
where I meet with you.
5And the staff of the man whom I choose will blossom; so I will rid myself of the complaints of the Israelites, which they murmur against you.”

6 So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and each of their leaders gave him a staff, one for each leader,
Heb “a rod for one leader, a rod for one leader.”
according to their tribes
Heb “the house of their fathers.”
– twelve staffs; the staff of Aaron was among their staffs.
7Then Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.
The name of the tent now attests to the centrality of the ark of the covenant. Instead of the “tent of meeting” (מוֹעֵד, moed) we now find the “the tent of the testimony” (הָעֵדֻת, haedut).

8 On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony – and
Here too the deictic particle (“and behold”) is added to draw attention to the sight in a vivid way.
the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted, and brought forth buds, and produced blossoms, and yielded almonds!
There is no clear answer why the tribe of Levi had used an almond staff. The almond tree is one of the first to bud in the spring, and its white blossoms are a beautiful sign that winter is over. Its name became a name for “watcher”; Jeremiah plays on this name for God’s watching over his people (1:11–12).
9So Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites. They looked at them,
The words “at them” are not in the Hebrew text, but they have been added in the translation for clarity.
and each man took his staff.

The Memorial

10 The Lord said to Moses, “Bring Aaron’s staff back before the testimony to be preserved for a sign to the rebels, so that you may bring their murmurings to an end
The verb means “to finish; to complete” and here “to bring to an end.” It is the imperfect following the imperative, and so introduces a purpose clause (as a final imperfect).
before me, that they will not die.”
This is another final imperfect in a purpose clause.
11So Moses did as the Lord commanded him – this is what he did.

12 The Israelites said to Moses, “We are bound to die!
The use of הֵן (hen) and the perfect tense in the nuance of a prophetic perfect expresses their conviction that they were bound to die – it was certain (see GKC 312-13 #106.n).
We perish, we all perish!
13[Heb. 17:28]
Num 17:13 in the English Bible is 17:28 in the Hebrew text (BHS). See also the note on 16:36.
Anyone who even comes close to the tabernacle of the Lord will die! Are we all to die?”
The verse stresses the completeness of their death: “will we be consumed by dying” (הַאִם תַּמְנוּ לִגְוֹעַ, haim tamnu ligvoa’).

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