After disciplining Korah for leading a rebellion challenging Israel’s leadership (Numbers 16:1-50), God reiterated his decision for the Levites to inherit the priesthood by holding an open casting call (Numbers 17:1-5). Each of Israel’s twelve tribes submitted a personalized rod to be housed over night in the tent of meeting. The location is significant because it was “where I [God] meet with you” (Numbers 17:4 NASB). God would be making the decision as to who would lead the people and the tribe whose rod bloomed would guide the priesthood (Numbers 17:2-5).
In Israel, the rod was much more than a walking stick. It was a symbol of power and authority (Psalm 2:9, 89:32; Isaiah 10:24, 11:4; Ezekiel 20:37). Leaders would even take oaths by means of their staffs. In fact, in Hebrew the word for “staff” (matteh) is the same as “tribe” as a tribe’s chief would lead via the staff.
At God’s invitation, Aaron donated his rod to the cause and it was selected (Numbers 17:3, 8).
Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. (Numbers 17:8 NASB)Specifically, the rod bloomed with buds, blossoms and almonds (Numbers 17:8). Timothy R. Ashley (b. 1947) comments that “the text describes the stages of growth of the plant. It is not clear whether it means all these stages were present simultaneously on the rod or only that the rod went through these stages, but the former is not impossible (Ashley, The Book of Numbers (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 335).”
Regardless of how the buds developed, they were a miracle. Life sprung forth out of death. In the Iliad, an enraged Achilles swears an oath against Agamemnon exclaiming:
“But I will speak out to you, and will swear thereto a mighty oath: by this staff, that shall never more put forth leaves or shoots since first it left its stump among the mountains, nor shall it again grow green, for the bronze has stripped it on all sides of leaves and bark, and now the sons of the Achaeans carry it in their hands when they act as judges, those who guard the ordinances that come from Zeus; and this shall be for you a mighty oath (Homer [800-701 BCE] & A.T. Murray [1866-1940], Iliad, Book I, 233.)”Achilles makes an oath with a rod claiming that he will go back on his word when the staff blossoms, which to him was an impossibility. It was an ancient equivalent of “when pigs fly”. Yet in the case of Aaron’s rod, pigs did fly.
After the rod blossomed, Moses had each tribe’s representative withdraw their rod, save for Aaron’s whose was put back in the place of testimony (Numbers 17:9-11). As the heads of each tribe retrieved their own staffs, they were witness to the affirmation of Aaron’s leadership. God had intentionally drawn Aaron’s straw. The blooming staff was a tangible sign of Aaron’s selection and was preserved as such. Hebrews states that the budding rod was even one of the contents of the Ark of the Covenant (Hebrews 9:4). The preserved rod was to serve as a preventive measure against further rebellion.
When has your authority been validated? Have you ever felt chosen by God? Why was a blossoming rod an appropriate sign in this situation? What sign would you have given to select the priesthood? Did Moses reimburse Aaron for the rod? Did the rod choose the owner or the owner the rod (a very bad Harry Potter reference)?
Throughout the ordeal, Aaron never defended his own honor and left the response to God.
Aaron’s rod had previously demonstrated miraculous powers by transforming into a serpent and swallowing all of Pharaoh’s magicians’s rods who coincidentally had also transformed into serpents (Exodus 7:8-12). Interestingly, both times Aaron’s rod performed supernatural feats, he was not holding it. Perhaps he had to let go of it for it to do its job.
In what areas of your life do you need to “let go and let God”?
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
- Reinhold Niehbuhr (1892-1971), “The Serenity Prayer”