God’s Word for You
Numbers 17:1-7 A miracle is promised
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, September 30, 2021
Aaron’s Staff Is Chosen
17 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Speak to the Israelites, and collect staffs from them, one from each father’s house, from all their tribal chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs in all. Write each man’s name on his staff. 3 Write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi, because there will be one staff for each head of their fathers’ houses. 4 You are to place them in the Tent of Meeting before the Testimony, where I meet with you. 5 The staff of the man whom I will choose will sprout. I will rid myself of the Israelites’ constant grumbling against you.”
Since I can remember my dad saying it, I can also imagine the Lord himself saying (in my dad’s voice), “I’ve had it up to HERE with you kids!” Punishment had been swift, which the Lord tells us is wise: “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Ecclesiastes 8:11). But so far, the punishment had not stopped further complaining. Quail stuffed up their noses didn’t stop their grumbling. Miraculous water wherever they went didn’t stop their complaining. Fire breaking out on the edge of camp didn’t stop it. Miriam’s leprosy didn’t stop it. The horrifying screams of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their families didn’t stop the grumbling. The fiery deaths of the other 250 didn’t stop it. The plague that killed the 14,700 didn’t stop it. So now the Lord would use a second illustration.
The first visible reminder was the bronze censers, hammered into sheets and nailed onto the bronze altar. That process may still have been going on when this second reminder was commanded. The first reminder was purely a warning of the law: This is what remains of the rebels who disobeyed the Lord. Now the second reminder would be one of both law and gospel: The staff of God’s chosen leader would sprout.
Did the faithful tink-tink-tink of Eleazar’s hammer pause when this amazing promise was made, just for a moment? A miracle was promised. The bronze sheets were a warning, but a budding staff? Who could bring that about but God?
This command may have served another purpose. Some of the family leaders may have just died, either in the crack in the ground, in the blast of fire, or in the plague stopped by old Aaron’s censer. This command forced each of the twelve tribes to verify without a doubt who was the surviving chief of each tribe. Perhaps none of the tribal chiefs had died, but this act would verify that for every Israelite.
6 So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and each one of their tribal chiefs gave him a staff, one staff for each tribal chief according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs in all. Aaron’s staff was among their staffs. 7 Moses placed the staffs before the LORD in the Tent of the Testimony.
In the Hebrew text, the action is phrased this way: Each one of the tribal chiefs laid down staff and staff. That is, they laid down their staffs individually, one after another. Each man’s name was written on his staff so that there would be no question or doubt, and for the tribe of Levi, Aaron’s staff was the one that was presented. Moses took these twelve staffs and put them in the Tent. Someone might wonder, were they standing up or lying down? It doesn’t matter. If I say what I would have done, I won’t make any difference, so I think it’s better in this case not to wonder. They were there. That was all that mattered.
What a great and wonderful God we have! In this act, he preaches law and gospel, warning and comfort, in so many ways! To the complaining, he gives a test that cannot be mistaken. Who can make a dead tree branch bud again, as if to produce a new leaf or flower? Only a miracle of God would make this promise come to pass.
To future complaints, the budded staff could be produced, to show the physical evidence of God’s sovereign choice. This could not be disputed. The men who were the heads of their families (and therefore with authority over any future complainers) would be able to bear witness, and they could not falsify their witness without breaking God’s eighth commandment (Exodus 20:16) and being held accountable for being a liar (“a false witness tells lies,” Proverbs 12:17).
The act, as we have said, would also verify to the tribes who their chiefs were, and establish those men in their positions. Finally, the act would prove that Aaron was God’s chosen servant. Salvation would come to Israel in the way that God would bring it about and no other. While the Levitical priesthood was temporary, its place was at this time just beginning. The priestly actions that the sons of Aaron carried out, showed the people that sin could be atoned for. And even if a flawed, human priest had to sacrifice again and again (Hebrews 9:25), the promise was given that a Savior would come who was divine. That Savior would rescue all mankind from our sins, once for all (Hebrews 7:27),
The lesser miracle, then, points to the greater. The budding staff, such a small thing for God to accomplish, would be held up in the wilderness for the people to see. But behold, a cross would be lifted up in the Promised Land where God would accomplish the salvation of all mankind. Not merely for Israel, but the sins of all the world, would be atoned for by Christ. The baptizing Levite John would declare this for the world to hear (John 1:29). We all can pray with full confidence: “Reach down your hand from on high; deliver me and rescue me” (Psalm 144:7). God delivered us from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. He leaves us with no doubt, but only confidence, joy, and peace. Our confession of faith, the Apostles’ Creed, concludes with three great statements that summarize our faith and our confidence: I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Pastor Timothy Smith