Num 17:8 On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. Num 17:9 Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the LORD to all the people of Israel. And they looked, and each man took his staff. Num 17:10 And the LORD said to Moses, "Put back the staff of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept as a sign for the rebels, that you may make an end of their grumblings against me, lest they die."
The occasion that brought about Aaron’s rod that budded is one of the most tragic in all the years of Israel’s wilderness journey. It begins in chapter 16 where the sons of Korah decide that they are just as holy as Moses and Aaron and should be able to be priests also even though they were not of Aaron’s line but instead only from Levi. They served as Levi’s but were not priests. We can hear their arrogance in Num 16:3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, "You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"
There are two problems with their attitude. First of all they have no regard for the God ordained authority in their lives. This is something I have seen over and over again in my years of ministry. People, both men and women but usually men, who decide that they are as qualified as those ordained into the ministry and called by the church to lead because they cannot submit to God’s way of doing things. But the men of Korah’s problem was that God had already chosen a leader and priest and so whether they could do the job or not was not the issue. In rebelling against Moses and Aaron they were in direct opposition to God. They tell Moses and Aaron that they have “gone too far” in taking upon themselves the leadership roles which of course was not true as Moses tried to get out of it but the Lord made it clear that he and Aaron were the men to do this work. Moses later turns it around and tells them that in fact they have gone too far in usurping the authority that God had ordained.
The second issue here is that they were challenging the typology of the priests under the Old Covenant. Two hundred fifty of these self-ordained leaders brought their own censors to burn incense before the Lord at the Tabernacle which was something reserved only for the priests. So over the next couple of days the Lord deals with these rebels by swallowing up the men and their families and their possessions. Their rebellion had destroyed their families as well. I have seen this also when men who feel they must be the sole authority in their own life and cannot submit to the church and certainly their wives cannot submit to the elders of the church so take them away that they can be their own “priests” for their families and rule them in their arrogance. Often they destroy any healthy spiritual atmosphere.
The next day we see that even watching the earth swallow up all these people isn’t enough of a warning for some. The congregation accuses their leaders of killing the people of Korah as if it was Moses and Aaron and not the Lord that opened up the earth and sent fire down to consume the rest. The influence of the malcontents has rubbed off on them and the Lord almost destroys them all but stops through Moses’s intercession.
And so in chapter 17 God proves once and for all that Aaron and his family alone is to be priests by having leaders of all the tribes bring their walking sticks and lay them up before the Tabernacle and the one that buds the next day is to be considered proof that that family alone is to be the priests.
It is here that we see how all this points to the importance of the type of the High Priest. It has always been a temptation for some to think that they can come before God and do the work of atonement and intercession on their own. But Act 4:12 says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Just as God said only Aaron was to be the High Priest so Jesus was proclaimed to be the only savior. The budding rod shows why Jesus alone is our Redeemer. We are all dead in trespasses and sin but only One was sinless and died and came back to life and that was Jesus Christ. Just as there was only one rod that had life in it so Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.
There were three objects placed in the Ark: the tables of stone, the bowl of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded. It wasn’t the stone tablets first given to Moses as he broke them to symbolize the people breaking the Law even as they were being given. This was the second copy which speaks of Jesus perfectly obeying the Law when we could not. He is also the heavenly manna, the Bread of Life come down from Heaven. And the rod speaks of his identity as the only High Priest.
It is a tragic sin to reject any authority that God ordains but when you reject the One ordained from all eternity to take your place under the judgment of God, you “go too far” and you have only the judgment of God to look forward to. May the Lord give us hearing ears to understand and obey his Word.