Numbers 17: Lessons Regarding the Blessings Available To You Symbolized by Aaron’s Rod

Introduction: Korah’s rebellion was a direct challenge to God’s appointed leaders and His order. What made it even more serious was that it was in effect a civil war within the tribes of Israel. Korah was the worship leader. He, Aaron, and Moses were three of the most powerful people within the tribe of Levi. Jesus warns us: “If a house is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” (Mk. 3:25). The division within the house of Levi caused the revolt to spread first to 250 “men of renown” and then to 14,700 sympathizers (Nu. 16:2, 49). Here, to stop the “grumbling” about who should be in charge, God had Moses direct the leaders of the 12 tribes to place their rods in front of the tent of meeting for God to select a leader. He showed mercy and grace to continue to allow the tribe of Levi to serve as His holy priesthood. From the symbolism behind Aaron’s dead staff that turned to life, God reveals several blessings that are available to you as well. These include His mercy and grace, the Holy Spirit, His discipline, power, protection, guidance, resurrection, transformation, and the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

1) God’s Rod of Mercy and Grace. Nu. 17:1-11.

  • A house divided cannot stand. God did not want Korah’s rebellion to cause further conflict. Thus, He directed a process where He would pick the leader of His priesthood: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, and obtain from them a staff for each father’s household: twelve staffs, from all their leaders for their fathers’ households. You shall write each man’s name on his staff, 3 and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi; for there is to be one staff for the head of each of their fathers’ households. 4 You shall then leave them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony, where I meet with you. 5 And it will come about that the staff of the man whom I choose will sprout. So I will relieve Myself of the grumblings of the sons of Israel, who are grumbling against you.’ 6 So Moses spoke to the sons of Israel, and all their leaders gave him a staff, one for each leader, for their fathers’ households, twelve staffs in all, with the staff of Aaron among their staffs. 7 Then Moses left the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.” (Nu. 17:1-7). Because the Levites were so terribly divided, Matthew Henry speculates: “The princes brought [their rods] in, some of them perhaps fondly expecting that the choice would fall upon them, and all of them thinking it honor enough to be competitors with Aaron, and to stand candidates, even for the priesthood.” (Matthew Henry on Numbers 17).1 Is there division within your church? Or, is there division within your house between siblings, between children and parents, or between the parents? If you ignore it, Satan will seek to exploit it.

  • Aaron’s submission. This story is both a play on words, and it is a story of submission. “Matteh,” the Hebrew word for “rod,” also means tribe. The word is translated as “rod” 52 times while it has been translated as “tribe” 182 times. This same word “matteh” also refers to Christ: “The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.” (Ps. 110:2 (KJV)). All 12 tribes submitted their rods to God to let Him select a tribe to serve as His priests. As a transformed man, Aaron left behind his ways of the flesh. He did not protest the test on the ground that God had previously selected him. Aaron instead humbly submitted to His test without a word of conflict. If you want to be a leader for God, are submitting to His will? Or, are you seeking to lead because you believe that you are the most qualified, just as Korah believed?

  • God’s grace in selecting Aaron. Aaron had no reason to boast in being selected by God. He built the golden calf (Ex. 32:1-6, 35). When Moses confronted him, he blamed the people for his own actions instead of repenting (Ex. 32:22-24). God later revealed that He would have destroyed Aaron if Moses had not intervened on his behalf (Dt. 9:20). Moreover, after Aaron’ sons died for their disobedience, Aaron violated God’s order that a sacrifice be eaten in the sanctuary. He also violated God’s order that he not mourn the death of his sons (Lev. 10:16-20). Out of pride and coveting, he also criticized Moses (Nu. 12:1-2). He repented only after seeing Miriam punished, a punishment he also deserved (Nu. 12:11-12). God does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). He is filled with grace. Have you given thanks for the mercy and grace that He has shown in your life?

  • God’s faithfulness. God made a covenant with the tribe of Levi. They would serve as His priests (Lev. 8-9; Nu. 3:12-13, 38). In exchange for giving up the right to their own land, their inheritance was the Lord (Dt. 18:2). By the rod, God showed that He is faithful to His word. “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; . . .” (Eze. 20:37). You may say that you trust God’s promises. Yet, if you don’t know His promises, how much faith can you have in them?

2) The Rod of the Holy Spirit. Nu. 17:10-11.

  • The Trinity inside the ark. God caused Aaron’s dead staff to bud with new life. God then told Moses that the staff be put “before the testimony.” “8 Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, Aaron’s staff for the house of Levi had sprouted and produced buds and bloomed with blossoms, and it yielded ripe almonds. 9 Moses then brought out all the staffs from the presence of the Lord to all the sons of Israel; and they looked, and each man took his staff. 10 But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Put the staff of Aaron back in front of the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, so that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me and they do not die.’ 11 Moses did so; just as the Lord had commanded him, so he did.” (Nu. 17:8-11). This is where the ark with the Ten Commandments was kept. From the New Testament, we learn that that the rod was later placed inside the ark: “having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant;” (Heb. 9:4). The ark was built to house these three items. All three elements provide the foundation to God’s throne above it.

God’s transformation of Aaron’s rod2

  • The Ten Commandments. Jesus was the Word made flesh (Jo. 1:1, 14). But God the Father is represented by the Law. He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29). As sinners, people cannot be in His holy presence (Ex. 33:20; Jo. 1:18). The Law reveals to each person his or her sins (Ro. 3:9-12; 3:20). From this knowledge, we appreciate the need for Jesus to pay the penalty for us at the Cross to restore our fellowship and access to God the Father (1 Jo. 2:2; Col. 2:13-14).

  • The Manna. Jesus was the manna that rained down from heaven (Ex. 16:32-34; Jo. 6:32-5). He wants you to consume the bread that He offers on a daily basis (Matt. 6:11). For those who exercise self-control and deny themselves the things of the flesh, He also promises to provide them with hidden manna (Rev. 2:17).

  • The blossoming rod. The new life in the dead wood of Aaron’s staff represents the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has “set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Ro. 8:1). “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him . . .” (Col. 2:13-14). The Holy Spirit has made you alive by dwelling within you (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). If the blossoming rod represents the Spirit within you, the rod reveals the power the Holy Spirit offers you. Believers are part of God’s royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:5). This means that you have inherited the blessings and responsibilities of Aaron’s rod. Is the power of the Spirit visible in your life?

Aaron’s transformed rod is added to the Ark of the Covenant3

3) God’s Rod of Judgment. Nu. 17:12-13.

  • Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Upon learning that God has reaffirmed His covenant with the tribe of Levi, the people realized that their rebellion was against God. They cried out in despair because they knew that the punishment that they deserved under the Law was death: “12 Then the sons of Israel spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Behold, we are passing away, we are perishing, we are all perishing! 13 Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, must die. Are we to perish completely?’” (Nu. 17:12-13). But the people did not need to fear because they had a contrite heart. It was only people like Korah, who were blinded by pride, who needed to fear God. They were the ones who could not repent and enjoy God’s mercy and grace.

  • God will judge unrepentant sin. In this context, God’s rod is a symbol of punishment for the wicked. “But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.” (Isa. 11:4). “From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.” (Rev. 19:15). “For at the voice of the LORD Assyria will be terrified, when He strikes with the rod.” (Isa. 30:31). “And every blow of the rod of punishment, which the LORD will lay on him, will be with the music of tambourines and lyres; and in battles, brandishing weapons, He will fight them.” (Isa. 30:32). “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of His wrath.” (Lam 3:1). Believers are no less deserving of death under the Law (Rom. 3:23). God, however, sent His only son to give you new life, like Aaron’s rod (Jo. 3:16). How are you showing your gratitude toward Christ for what He did for you at the Cross? (Ro. 12:1)


4) Seven Things God’s Divine Rod (His Spirit) Has To Offer Us.

1) Power. In Old Testament times, the rod was a symbol of power and authority. It was also a symbol of a shepherd’s authority over his flock. A prince likewise used it as a sign of his authority (Nu. 21:18). Aaron’s rod, like Moses’ rod, was used to show that God was more powerful than Satan, the source of Pharaoh’s power. Among other things, God transformed his rod into a snake, which devoured the rods of Pharaoh’s sorcerers (Ex. 7:17; 8:5, 16-17; 9:23; 10:13). God again showed His power through Moses’ staff on multiple other occasions. He used the lifted rod to part the Red Sea (Ex. 14:16), to bring water from rocks (Ex. 17: 5-6; Nu. 20:11), and to defeat the Amalekites in battle (Ex. 17:9-12). We also have been given a spirit of power: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7). Yet, from Aaron we learn that the Spirit of power can only be wielded when you walk with God. Early in his walk, the power of God was visible in Aaron’s life when he fought Pharaoh. He was like an excited new believer. Yet, the power of the Lord was later absent in Aaron’s life after he stumbled in his flesh. The absence of the power of the Spirit in Aaron’s life may have caused others to rebel. They could not see God’s power in their high priest. Yet, during the rebellion of Korah, Aaron put his flesh aside and joined Moses to pray for his attackers. This was the first time the Bible recorded Aaron joining Moses in intercessory prayer (Nu. 16:20-22). Yet, this was the role he was meant to perform as high priest. When you were a new believer, was your faith in God more evident in your life than it is today? Is the power of God still evident in your life? Are you boldly coming into God’s throne to pray for others?

2) Protection. Sheep have no natural means of protecting themselves. Only the shepherd’s rod can protect them from predators. God is likewise our source of protection. With His rod, He promises victory over your enemies: “You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.” (Ps. 2:9; Lev. 26:7-8; Ex. 23:22; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17). Thus, the protection of His rod should bring you comfort: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Ps. 23:4). Satan is a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8). Like sheep, you have no power on your own to defeat a roaring lion. How successful have you been when you tried to resist the devil and his temptations on your own? Are you making Him your shield of protection? (Prov. 30:5).

3) Discipline. The shepherd’s rod is also to discipline a sheep that strays from the protection of the flock. Yet, the shepherd disciplined the wayward sheep only out of love. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, does this for us (Jo. 10:11). “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men,” (Prov. 10:13). “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” (Prov. 13:24). “He who sows iniquity will reap vanity, and the rod of his fury will perish.” (Prov. 22:8). “Their houses are safe from fear, and the rod of God is not on them.” (Job 21:9). “Then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes.” (Ps. 89:32). A disciple is translated as a disciplined one. Are you disciplined to stay with the Good Shepherd? Has He had to use His rod to discipline you?

4) Guidance. The shepherd’s rod not only serves to discipline and protect the sheep, it also guides the sheep in the right direction. Like sheep, we are not the smartest animals. “The rod and reproof give wisdom . . ..” (Prov. 29:15). “You shall strike him with the rod, and rescue his soul from Sheol.” (Prov. 23:14). “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will protect them.” (Prov. 14:3). “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Prov. 22:15). “Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die.” (Prov. 23:13). As a prophet and priest, Aaron was to use his authority to guide others: “Behold, I have made you as God to Pharaoh and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.” The prophet’s task was to speak God's word on His behalf. The prophet was in effect God’s “mouth” (Ex. 4:15-16). Today, the Holy Spirit gives the guidance of God’s rod (Jo. 14:16-18, 26). He must lead you in order to be called a “son of God” (Ro. 8:14). Do you seek His guidance in your decisions? Or, do you rely upon the flesh to guide you? The Good Shepherd corrals believers with His word not to forsake the fellowship, i.e., the rest of the flock (Heb. 10:23-25). Like sheep, how much protection will you have on your own if you ignore the Good Shepherd’s guidance?

5) Resurrection. The rod of Levi was transformed from a dead wooden stick to a living branch. It blossomed because it was connected to the true Branch (Zech. 6:12). “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.” (Isa. 11:1). “For He grew up before them like a tender shoot, and like a root out of parched ground.” (Isa. 53:2). “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king . . . ” (Jer. 23:5; 33:15). We were also dead branches, worthy of being burned (Jo.15:5-6; Ezek. 15:1-8). But we are now alive because we are connected to Jesus (Jo. 15:5). Even the leaves of God's tree shall not wither (Ps. 1:3). God’s power to raise us from the dead is symbolized by His ability to make Aaron’s dry, dead rod bud (1 Sam. 2:6; Jo. 11:25). In addition, the rod also reveals that you have three stages in your walk as a resurrected believer. Aaron’s rod “put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds.” (Nu. 17:8). The same three symbols also appear on the golden lamp stand in the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:33-34; 37:19-20). A branch like this would not exist in nature. Thus, there would be no way for Aaron to have cut a rod off a tree to fool the people. More importantly, the three stages of growth represent the three stages of growth in a believer. The buds represent the potential to turn into flowers and almonds (Nu. 17:8). If you walked with Jesus after you accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, are you still walking in the fullness of His Spirit? Do you look with amazement at what missionaries, pastors, teachers, and others are doing to serve the Lord? Is there any reason why you can’t serve as well? Is there unfulfilled potential in your life?

6) Transformation. Aaron’s rod also produced blossoms (Nu. 17:8). The flower blossoms show our transformed lives through the beauty of the Holy Spirit within us: “My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards. . . ” (Song. 1:14). “Let us see whether the vine has budded and its blossoms have opened, and whether the pomegranates have bloomed. There I will give you my love.” (Song. 7:12). The flower is also a necessary step before fruit can appear. You are to be transformed by Christ. This is evidenced when your life becomes a “living sacrifice” to Him (Ro. 12:1-2). Is your life a living sacrifice to Him? Are you serving Him out of gratitude? Or, have you failed to put off your old self and the desires of the flesh? (Eph. 4:22-24).

7) Fruitfulness. Aaron’s rod also “bore ripe almonds.” (Nu. 17:8; Jer. 1:11). Botanists classify the almond as a type of fruit. It symbolizes one of the best fruits of the land (Gen. 43:11). When you are walking right, the Spirit brings you abundant life: “Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.” (Nu. 20:11). The flourishing of the almond-tree is also a sign of spiritual maturity (Ecc. 12:5). On the other hand, Jewish tradition tells us that Aaron’s rod produced bitter almonds if the Jews did not follow the Lord’s path: “Behold, the day! Behold, it is coming! Your doom has gone forth; the rod has budded, arrogance has blossomed.” (Eze. 7:10). “Violence has grown into a rod of wickedness.” (Eze. 7:11). Thus, you must always examine the fruit that comes forth in your life to make sure that it is of God. What fruit have you produced?

  • The fruit of the Spirit. “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is (1) love, (2) joy, (3) peace, (4) forbearance, (5) kindness, (6) goodness, (7) faithfulness, (8) gentleness and (9) self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23). Is the fruit of the Spirit visible in your life?

  • The deeds of the flesh. “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: (1) immorality, (2) impurity, (3) sensuality, (4) idolatry, (5) sorcery, (6) enmities, (7) strife, (8) jealousy, (9) outbursts of anger, (10) disputes, (11) dissensions, (12) factions, (13) envying, (14) drunkenness, (15) carousing, and things like these,” (Gal. 5:19-21). Have you produced any of these bitter deeds of the flesh?

5) The Foreshadow of the Betrayal, Death, and Resurrection of Christ.

  • The betrayal. Korah, the worship leader, brought Moses up on false charges before 250 men of renown. He then came with a mob to challenge Moses. Korah was jealous of Moses’ power. Out of pride, he wanted power for himself. Caiaphas, the high priest, likewise brought Jesus up on false charges before the Sanhedrin. He also used a mob to have Jesus executed. The Jews likewise betrayed Jesus out of jealousy.

  • The descent to Sheol. For his crimes, Korah was sent alive into Sheol (Nu. 16:33). For our crimes, Jesus was sent alive into Sheol (Matt. 12:40).

  • The resurrection. On the third day, the Jews came and found that God gave new life to the dead wood that made up Aaron’s rod (Nu. 17:8). On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave (Mk. 16:2). He gave new life and grafted us to the vine of life.