1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house. 4 Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you.” 6 Moses spoke to the people of Israel. And all their chiefs gave him staffs, one for each chief, according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. And the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. 7 And Moses deposited the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.
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. 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. 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.” 11 Thus did Moses; as the Lord commanded him, so he did.
12 And the people of Israel said to Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone. 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?” – Numbers 17:1-13 ESV
The Israelites had become first-class, professional whiners. They could grumble with the best of them. Over and over again, since the day they left Egypt, they had found reasons to complain – about everything from the food to the leadership of Moses. Most recently, it had been God’s decision to have only the Levites serve as priests in the tabernacle. God had given them the responsibility that was supposed to belong to the first-born males of every tribe. The Levites had been divinely chosen to serve as substitutes.
But the people had decided they didn’t like this plan. Under the leadership of Korah and a few other leaders, the people had risen up against Moses and Aaron, demanding their version of equality and inclusion. But their demands were met with the discipline of God. He destroyed all those who instigated the rebellion against Moses and Aaron and then brought a plague against those who blamed Moses and Aaron for the deaths of their friends. Only the quick action of Aaron, who offered an atoning sacrifice for the people, spared even more from death that day.
In light of all the complaining, God came up with a plan to bring it to a close once and for all. He knew the people were far from done. It was just a matter of time before they found something else to stir them up and cause them to lash out at God and His chosen leaders. So God instructed Moses to have each tribe select a branch from an almond tree and inscribe on it the name of the prince or head of their tribe. These 12 rods were then to be placed in the tabernacle before the Lord.
The next day Moses went in and discovered that the rod bearing Aaron’s name had budded, blossomed, and bore fruit. Miraculously, it had gone through an entire growing season in one evening. Devoid of water and the benefits of the tree from which it had been taken, Aaron’s rod evidenced a supernatural capacity for fruitfulness. This amazing visual display was intended to show the people that God had selected Aaron and his sons to serve Him as priests. Case closed! There was no more reason for the people to question or complain. God had settled the dispute once and for all.
Or maybe not. Because immediately after this, the people crank up their complaining once again. This time it was about their physical well-being. They said, “We are as good as dead. Everyone who even comes close to the Tabernacle of the LORD dies. We are all doomed!” (Numbers 17:12-13 NLT). Instead of praising God for what He had done with the almond rod, they focused their attention on their own well-being. They were so busy pitying themselves, they had no time to think about God’s miraculous demonstration of power and His clear endorsement of Aaron and his sons.
God’s divine display had been intended to settle the dispute about leadership. He had unquestionably reaffirmed His selection of the Aaronic priesthood. He even commanded that the rod be placed alongside the Ark of the Covenant. It was to serve as a perpetual reminder that God had spoken and the matter was settled. His will was not up for debate and He expected His commands to be obeyed at all times.
But the people saw His actions as a statement of judgment and feared further retribution from God. They had just witnessed the earth open up and swallow the families of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Then they stood back and watched as the fire of the Lord consumed the 250 leaders who had joined in the rebellion. Finally, they had seen 14,700 of their fellow Israelites die from the plague that God had sent upon them.
So, they viewed the budding of Aaron’s rod as a further indictment of their guilt and reacted with fear.
“Look, we are doomed! We are dead! We are ruined! Everyone who even comes close to the Tabernacle of the Lord dies. Are we all doomed to die?” – Numbers 17:12-13 NLT
Rather than glorying in the greatness of God, they cowered in fear. Instead of repenting for their rebellion against Him, they accused Him of being a vengeful, bloodthirsty deity. They display no remorse. They exhibit no signs of sorrow for their sins. They simply express their fear of God’s judgment and wrath. After all the time they had spent in His presence and enjoyed His power and provision, they still had no idea who He was and how they were to respond to Him.
But isn’t that what we do? We can get so consumed with our dissatisfaction with our lot in life that we fail to see the miracles of God taking place all around us. We whine and moan, and spend all our time grumbling to God that we never see all that He is doing around us. Yet God patiently endures our rejection of Him. He continues to shower us with His grace and unmerited favor.
We turn our backs on Him, but He never abandons us. He disciplines us, but He never stops loving us. He is faithful, even when we are unfaithful. He provides us with leadership, direction, sustenance, and everything we need to survive in this hostile environment. Yet we continually turn our backs on Him. Or worse yet, we end up fearing Him rather than basking in the love He pours out on us. Like the Israelites, we live as if God is out to get us, not to bless us. We view Him as a cosmic killjoy, not a loving Father who wants to meet our every need in Christ.
Sin is ultimately self-centered. It always has been. It ends up being all about me. And when I focus on myself, I lose sight of Him.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.