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The Real Temple of God (part 7): Aaron's Rod that Budded

Hebrews 9:2 – 4 - "For a tent was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of the Presence; this is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a tent called the Holy of Holies. In it stood the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which there were a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant;"

Aaron’s Rod (Numbers 16:1 – 17:11) (choosing Christ as the High Priest, even though the Jews reject Him as such)

"Aaron’s rod that budded" is described in Numbers 17:3, 8, and 10. However, for us to understand the symbolism of Aaron’s rod, what it meant to the Israelites and how it points to the gospel, we must first understand the episode that preceded it. The episode with the rods started with Numbers 16:41, but even this was really more of an epilogue to a larger episode which began at Numbers 16:1…

1-2 "Now Korah son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reuben—took two hundred fifty Israelite men, leaders of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men, and they confronted Moses."

A casual reading of these verses doesn't reveal much more than a bunch names, so let's sift through this together.  Of all of the names mentioned at the beginning of this episode, there are three culprits that should stand out. They are Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; Korah is the primary instigator. Also notice the tribe that Dathan and Abiram are from… Reuben, NOT Levy (you'll see the importance of this later). Notice what they're doing: they’re confronting Moses. Can you believe that? Would you confront Moses? Personally, he just doesn’t strike me as the most approachable man in the world, and here we have these three guys. The only other person in scripture that even gives Moses advice was Jethro, and he was Moses’ father-in-law (I guess in-laws have a way of getting your ear when no one else can).  Well, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram are not coming to give Moses advice; they’re not coming to ask advice either. They’re coming to confront. I would have backed up if I were there, because I wouldn't want to get hurt by God for their audacity.  Well, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram must have known their action was a big deal, because they didn’t go alone. They took an additional 250 men with them, well-known Levites at that. Well, if nothing else, it did gain them an audience…

3-4 "They assembled against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, 'You have gone too far! All the congregation are holy, everyone of them, and the Lord is among them. So why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'  When Moses heard it, he fell on his face."

How much patience do you have? Imagine the patience Moses must have had. He’s trying his best to serve the Lord faithfully, to bring the Israelite people to a land flowing with milk and honey. He’s trying to show them the prescription God has given for worshipping the one and only God, and they question whether God really chose Moses and Aaron to lead. In doing this, they could be making one of two statements: 1) "You’re not God’s choice; God meant to choose someone else" or 2) "You’re not our choice; we want to choose someone else."

In discerning which statement Korah and company were making, notice the argument they used, that everyone in the congregation is holy, God’s obvious presence is proof of it, and therefore Moses and Aaron must be exalting themselves over everyone else. Let’s consider their argument seriously. If God’s presence is everywhere, and everyone is Holy, and if that means that Moses and Aaron could only have their positions by exalting themselves over everyone else, then no one except God could ever have any authority.

In a way, they have a point. If anyone exalts themselves over other men (i.e., God has not given them their authority), then such men should be challenged and removed. If God is in charge however, then He can delegate leadership posts to anyone He chooses. But, their challenge implies that they are not thinking in terms of God’s right to choose. Instead, they use God’s presence as proof that their leaders are self-exalted, hence robbing God of His authority to delegate.

Their question was, "Why do you exalt yourselves?" Men ask questions in terms of their own heart. A man honestly concerned about whether someone is chosen by God could seriously ask, "How do I know you are chosen by God?" And, he’d be open to evidence in either direction. However, by asking, "Why do you exalt yourselves over us?" Korah is exposing the heart of someone who wants to exalt himself over everyone else.

If Moses’ heart is right, and if he truly is the God-chosen leader for that time, then he has nothing to fear. He would know that God’s will is His will, and Moses would be willing to put his authority to the test. Furthermore, he would know that the real question to answer is not, "Who deserves to exalt themselves?" After all, Moses knows that no one deserves to exalt themselves (Exodus 16:11). Instead, the question that should be answered is, "Who was chosen by God for this task?"

5 "Then he said to Korah and all his company, 'In the morning the Lord will make known who is His, and who is holy, and who will be allowed to approach Him; the one whom He will choose He will allow to approach him. ' "

Recall our study of the Altar of Incense and what it takes to approach God. First of all, only one man is allowed to approach. That man is the High Priest. At this time, the High Priest is Aaron. Furthermore, he must take coals on a censer, bring it into the Holy of Holies, and pour incense on it. The smoke that rises up will protect the High Priest from dying in God’s presence. In other words, we’re talking serious business here.

6 " 'Do this: take censers, Korah and all your company, 7 and tomorrow put fire in them, and lay incense on them before the Lord; and the man whom the Lord chooses shall be the holy one. You Levites have gone too far! ' "

If I were Korah, or one of his company, I’d be kind of scared right now. Moses has just told me to do something that only the High Priest can do… and even the High Priest’s life is at risk when he does it! None of these men are the High Priest. None of them will be offering their incense in the Holy of Holies. This isn’t being done on the day of repentance. Any smoke that rises from their censers will surely dissipate in the outdoors, so they will not be protected by it. Any of these men who know the law should realize that by following Moses’ instructions in verses 6 and 7, they will surely die.

Also, did you see how Moses talked to them? "You Levites have gone too far!" Recall what they were saying to Moses and Aaron in verse 3, "You have gone too far!" Moses is drawing a line in the sand, that no "holy" man should ever cross, and that’s to presume upon God by not taking Him seriously. Look at Leviticus 10:1 – 3. Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire to the LORD in their firepans, and God consumed them for it, saying, "By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored." Once again, following Moses’ instructions can only mean death for them.

8-10 "Then Moses said to Korah, 'Hear now, you Levites!  Is it too little for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to allow you to approach Him in order to perform the duties of the Lord’s tabernacle, and to stand before the congregation and serve them?  He has allowed you to approach Him, and all your brother Levites with you; yet you seek the priesthood as well!' "

Are you satisfied with your lot in life? Has God given you the ministry He wants you to serve in? Are you jealous that someone else serves in a ministry that you are not serving in? If so, then these verses are asking you, "Is it too little that God had given you the ministry that you have? He has allowed you to do things that others do not do; yet you seek a ministry that God has already given to someone else!" By having this kind of attitude, Korah and his men are not gathering against Moses and Aaron, but against God.

11 " 'Therefore you and all your company have gathered together against the Lord. What is Aaron that you rail against him?' "

Moses knows that even the most lofty of posts is manned by the lowliest of creatures. But, God did appoint Moses as leader of the Israelites, to settle disputes, and to make God’s will known.

12-14 "Moses sent for Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab; but they said, 'We will not come! Is it too little that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also lord it over us? It is clear you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come!' "

Do these men know that obeying Moses will result in their death? Could that be their reason for rebelling against him? Perhaps, or maybe they just think that Moses has been playing them for fools with all of his "milk and honey" talk. After all, look at how they mock him, "Is it too little…" (compare to verses 8-10). In any case, Moses wasn’t happy with their response…

15-17 "Moses was very angry and said to the Lord, 'Pay no attention to their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, and I have not harmed any one of them.' And Moses said to Korah, 'As for you and all your company, be present tomorrow before the Lord, you and they and Aaron; and let each one of you take his censer, and put incense on it, and each one of you present his censer before the Lord, two hundred fifty censers; you also, and Aaron, each his censer.' "

I can almost hear Moses’ voice in verses 16 and 17, seething from the defiance in verse 14, and from having to repeat the orders he gave in verses 6 and 7. When my parents used to get mad at me, and had to repeat themselves, every word stung. Even if these men had been afraid to follow his orders, they might have been more afraid not to. But, Moses did tell Aaron to get his censer, too, and it’s not the prescribed time. "So," they might be thinking, "maybe it’s not too dangerous after all."

18-19 "So each man took his censer, and they put fire in the censers and laid incense on them, and they stood at the entrance of the tent of meeting with Moses and Aaron. Then Korah assembled the whole congregation against them at the entrance of the tent of meeting. And the glory of the Lord appeared to the whole congregation."

Notice that God is doing exactly as Korah said in verse 3: He is appearing to the whole congregation. Now, if Korah is correct, that means that Moses and Aaron are not to be exalted over everyone, and all the incense offerings will be accepted except perhaps for Aaron’s, because he’s exalting himself.

20-21 "Then the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying: Separate yourselves from this congregation, so that I may consume them in a moment."

So, Moses gets his confirmation, and Korah is rebuked. Moses could have gloated, but look at how angry God was. He was mad enough to kill the entire congregation of Israel, and start all over again with Moses’ and Aaron’s families. Here, we see Moses’ true heart. He forgets his own anger to respond to our Lord’s…

22 "They fell on their faces, and said, 'O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one person sin and you become angry with the whole congregation?'

23-30 "And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Say to the congregation: Get away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. So Moses got up and went to Dathan and Abiram; the elders of Israel followed him. He said to the congregation, 'Turn away from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, or you will be swept away for all their sins.' So they got away from the dwellings of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the entrance of their tents, together with their wives, their children, and their little ones. And Moses said, 'This is how you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works; it has not been of my own accord: If these people die a natural death, or if a natural fate comes on them, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.'

31-35 "As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them was split apart. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households—everyone who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they with all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol; the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. All Israel around them fled at their outcry, for they said, 'The earth will swallow us too!' And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred fifty men offering the incense."

At this point, it looks like Moses did everything right. However, I’m not so sure. He seemed awfully angry at those men earlier, ordering them to their death, possibly making it easier for them to go along by having Aaron offer a censer, too. If you doubt that this is what Moses was doing, recall verse 15 where, just before ordering everyone to offer God incense, Moses said to God, "Do not regard their offering!" So, out of anger I think, Moses told God not to regard their offering, then told them to give God an offering. It seems kind of like entrapment to me.  So, did God approve of Moses’ tactics or not?

36-40 "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Tell Eleazar son of Aaron the priest to take the censers out of the blaze; then scatter the fire far and wide. For the censers of these sinners have become holy at the cost of their lives. Make them into hammered plates as a covering for the altar, for they presented them before the Lord and they became holy. Thus they shall be a sign to the Israelites. So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers that had been presented by those who were burned; and they were hammered out as a covering for the altar— a reminder to the Israelites that no outsider, who is not of the descendants of Aaron, shall approach to offer incense before the Lord, so as not to become like Korah and his company—just as the Lord had said to him through Moses."

Did God approve of Moses’ tactics? Not entirely. Moses told God not to regard the incense offerings he was ordering them to give. God killed them for offering "a strange fire", as He did Aaron’s sons before. However, notice that God did regard their offerings. It's true that the offerings cost them their lives, but God honored it. I’d say that using the bronze from the censers was as much a reminder to Moses as it was to the congregation.

By the same token however, verse 40 does remind the congregation not to become like Korah and his company – "just as the LORD had said to him through Moses." Is this a contradiction? Not at all. When Moses was speaking in verses 28 – 30, it was of the LORD. What God was chastising Moses for was his comment to God in verse 15.

So, God has dealt with the rebellious hearts of the Israelites, and with Moses’ heart as well. Right? Well…

41-46 "On the next day, however, the whole congregation of the Israelites rebelled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, 'You have killed the people of the Lord.' And when the congregation had assembled against them, Moses and Aaron turned toward the tent of meeting; the cloud had covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Get away from this congregation, so that I may consume them in a moment.' And they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, 'Take your censer, put fire on it from the altar and lay incense on it, and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them. For wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.' "

Now, Moses is through making points to the people. He’s now trying to save their lives.

47-50 "So Aaron took it as Moses had ordered, and ran into the middle of the assembly, where the plague had already begun among the people. He put on the incense, and made atonement for the people. He stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stopped. Those who died by the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died in the affair of Korah. When the plague was stopped, Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting."

Wow! Twice the people have challenged God’s choice of Moses and Aaron. Twice, God has threatened to kill the entire congregation for their wicked hearts. Twice, Moses and Aaron interceded for the people. Twice, God relented. How stiff necked can a people be? Do they really want to die? Well, not really, and God doesn’t really want to kill them. But, He also wants them to stop questioning His judgment. Just leaving Moses and Aaron in leadership positions won’t be enough. What the people need is a symbol, something they can see... but wouldn't that be an idol?  Watch what God does next...

17:1-7 "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, and get twelve staffs from them, one for each ancestral house, from all the leaders of their ancestral houses. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each ancestral house. Place them in the tent of meeting before the covenant, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you. Moses spoke to the Israelites; and all their leaders gave him staffs, one for each leader, according to their ancestral houses, twelve staffs; and the staff of Aaron was among theirs. So Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the covenant.

8-11 "When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; and they looked, and each man took his staff. And the Lord said to Moses, 'Put back the staff of Aaron before the covenant, to be kept as a warning to rebels, so that you may make an end of their complaints against me, or else they will die.' Moses did so; just as the Lord commanded him, so he did."

And so Moses put the rod into the ark as a reminder against grumblers that God chooses whom He chooses, and spared their lives for complaining about it.

In general, Aaron’s rod is an affirmation that God makes the choices He will make. God chose Moses to lead His people, and chose Aaron to be their High Priest. That choice was not open to debate. Those who questioned it were, and would be, killed.

However, there is something else to be noticed about God’s choices. God was going to kill the entire congregation, until Moses interceded for them. Notice that God did not kill Moses for questioning Him. In fact, God backed down from His original position, and only killed those who had taken an active position action against Him.

Gospel themes in this story

  • We are a people of sin and arrogance. God is jealous, but He is a God of mercy.

  • Moses was a type of Jesus, acting as a vocal intercessor between God and His people. To take the parallel further, Moses was rejected by men, yet still fulfilled his duty as their advocate before God.
  • When Aaron’s rod budded, he became a type of Jesus Christ, as God’s choice for the Messiah King would sprout from the rod of Jesse. To take the parallel further, notice that Aaron never came to his own defense. However, God affirmed His choice of Aaron for high priest.

Isn't God good?  Such a Jewish un-Christian story this seems to be, and yet even here we find Jesus Christ amidst the events!

In the next study, we discuss the symbolism of putting the Tablets, the Manna, and Aaron's Rod together in the Ark.



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