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“And Moses laid up the rods before the LORD in the tabernacle of witness.

And it came to pass, that on the morrow, Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.

And Moses brought out all the rods from before the LORD unto all the children of Israel: and they looked, and took every man his rod.”

Numbers 17:7-9

Before the very eyes of Israel the earth had opened up. its mouth and in one moment swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram with their families because of their rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Struck with fear, the people had turned and fled lest they too should be swallowed alive. Nor was that the extent of God’s judgment. As the people fled, the fire of God had fallen from heaven and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who had joined cause in Korah’s rebellion. Finally, at the command of God the two hundred and fifty golden censers which the men had carried were gathered together and beaten into covers for the altar to serve as a memorial to the people of this great and terrible judgment that had taken place. It was to serve as a testimony to anyone besides the priests who might presume to offer incense before the Lord.

However, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram had held a very fond place in the hearts of the people. There had been a very special appeal in the cause they had sought to defend. They had claimed that Moses and Aaron did not have any more rights to leadership than did any of the people because all of the congregation was holy before the Lord. This the people had liked. It had a certain religious sound and yet was much easier for them to receive than Moses’ repeated admonitions accusing them of sin. For the moment the people were silenced by the judgments that fell on the rebels before their very eyes; but they were still not ready to leave the ideas of Korah and his company go. By morning their courage had returned, and they were ready to believe that it was some magical power of Moses’ and not really the wrath of God which had done away with those men. The more they talked it over among themselves, the more the thought appealed to them, until at last they gained sufficient boldness to stand before Moses and Aaron and accuse them to their faces, “Ye have killed the people of the LORD.

Progressively the wickedness of Israel was becoming more. But even in the judgment of God there is mercy. He uses and more apparent. It had been evident, of course, from the very beginning of the exodus that they were a sinful people for they had always murmured and complained at the way of the Lord. Still, for a long time it had seemed to be nothing more than a weakness on the part of the people that would wonder eventually be overcome. They had appeared to be affected by the works of God and subject to Moses’ instruction. However, as time went on. matters were becoming worse instead of better. The works of God were becoming ever greater, the instruction of Moses was becoming more pointed, but the people were less and less responsive. The more apparent it became that the true blessing of God was spiritual for the heart, the less the people wanted of it. They became ever more bold in the way of rebellion; and this in spite of the fact that God’s judgments were coming ever closer with greater destruction. It was an evil generation that Moses led. A very large percentage of them were of reprobate heart. The clearer the Word of God became to them the less they wanted of it. There was but one end to which they could come, to fall under the judgment of Jehovah’s just wrath. They had no true part in Jacob, and the judgment of God struck out again and again to cut them off. And so now once again the anger of the Lord was kindled, and he spoke to Moses saying, “Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment.”

But the fact remained that Israel was the people of God. As a nation they were the typical participants in God’s covenant. God had promised to keep that covenant unto all generations. This Moses knew. If Israel were destroyed the covenant of God would have proved to be of none effect and the name of Jehovah who had established that covenant would forever be discredited. In spite of the unworthiness of the people, the honor of Jehovah had to be maintained. Even more Moses realized that although so many in Israel were rebellious of heart, there were a few, a small remnant according to election that still feared God from the heart. These he could not forsake. Neither could he forget the children of the next generation that had not yet joined themselves to the sins of their fathers. For all these reasons Moses could not stand aside unto the destruction of the nation. With Aaron he fell on his face before God in intercession.

But the anger of God was kindled, and already judgment stalked the camp. Already at Marah God had said, “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee.” In this the people had notedly failed, and now the plague from God was felt upon their bodies. It was a terrible disease spreading throughout the camp and carrying death on every side. There was no doubt, The people knew. The judgment of God was upon them.

But even in the judgment of God there is mercy. He uses His revelations of wrath to bring forth the Gospel unto them that are able to receive it. So was it here in the wilderness. Many hardened men were falling under the plague by the hand of God’s wrath. The whole nation seemed to stand on the brink of destruction. But the scene was set for a wonderful, typical revelation of the Gospel. The rights of the High Priest’s office had been questioned. Now as death swept over the camp God would make it perfectly clear that Aaron’s position in the office was not only right, it was absolutely necessary. He was the priest appointed by God, and only he could save the people from the death that they deserved. Moses sent Aaron immediately to take his holy tenser and to fill it with burning incense. By this incense the prayers of the high priest in behalf of the people were typified. With it Aaron went forth into the camp, passing between those who had been smitten by the plague and those who had not, between the living and the dead. As he did so the plague was stopped. It brought to the people an indisputable proof of the fact that only the typical office of the high priest stood between them and destruction. Israel’s salvation existed only in the perfect atonement to be made by the true High Priest which was to come.

Once again a rebellion of the people was silenced. 14,700 people besides Korah, Dathan and Abiram and their 250 followers had died by the fierce wrath of God’s judgment. By indisputable signs it had been established that Moses and Aaron functioned in their offices by authoritative appointment from God. Israel was indeed a holy nation, but only because of the typical offices of Moses and Aaron, and the promised redeemer whom they typified. But God was not ready to leave it at that. There was yet one more sign that He would give to the people.

Summoning Moses to Him, God gave to him careful instructions. “Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of every one of them a rod according to the house of their fathers, of all their princes according to the house of their fathers twelve rods: write thou every man’s name upon his rod. And thou shalt write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi: for one rod shall be for the head of the house of their fathers. And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you. And it shall come to pass, that the man’s rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you.”

It was a solemn meeting that brought the children of Israel together once again. They had stood on the brink of death, and only by the official priestly functions of Aaron had they been saved. They were no longer in any position to challenge his rights, and would perhaps have preferred to let the matter rest. But God had called them to receive one more sign. With troubled conscience they listened as the sign was set forth.

It was a simple sign that was given. From the head of each tribe of Israel there was taken a rod. Each rod was, to stand as a symbol of the tribe from which it was taken, and upon each rod was written the name of the father of the tribe. The only exception to this was the rod of Levi. Because Aaron was head of that tribe by special appointment of God, because he functioned as the High Priest of the nation before God, and because his right to that office had been a matter of dispute, Aaron’s name was written upon that rod instead of Levi’s. Finally these rods were laid together over night in the tabernacle before the sanctuary of God.

The next morning the leaders of Israel were again summoned to stand before the tabernacle. As they watched, Moses entered the tabernacle and brought forth the rods that had lain all night in the sanctuary. All of the rods were the same as they had been the day before except for the rod of Aaron. From Aaron’s rod there had sprouted forth branches of fresh growth, bearing buds, blossoms, and even almonds. From a dead branch there had come forth new life.

To the children of Israel the implications of this sign were disconcerting. They had held strongly to the teaching of Korah that the whole congregation was holy before God. This holiness they had considered to be an innate characteristic of their nation which gave to them all a right to stand in the presence of God. Even after Korah had died in judgment they had held to them. Now through the signs of the rods God had revealed to them what they were in his presence—nothing but dead wood as was represented in their rods. There was only one evidence of life in all of Israel, that was in Aaron and the priesthood. To him God had given life, and apart from him all of Israel was dead. Troubled by the sign, the people cried out unto Moses in fear, “Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish. Whosoever cometh anything near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?” The people had caught the full implication. As they were they were not holy and had no right to draw nigh unto the presence of God. Under His justice they could only taste death.

The real trouble in Israel, however, was that they found no comfort in this sign. They could not identify themselves with the life of the priest. They were so determined to stand on their own pride, that when God gave a testimony of life through their priesthood they felt it to be unto their condemnation rather than unto their salvation. Only the few who were true believers in Israel felt themselves to be one with the priest that God had given them. In his life they had life, and through him they were united to the perfect priest who was yet to come.

—B.W.