In Numbers 17, we have an interesting and perplexing story of God using the walking staffs of the elders of Israel to convey His will. In one sense, Numbers 17 is meant to end the rebellion and complaining of the children of Israel.
There is a lot of complaining and jockeying for positions of power and influence within the nation. They are challenging God’s choice of Aaron as the high priest and trying to take it by force. To make matters worse is that they don’t see it that way. In their minds, Moses and Aaron are taking all the positions of power for themselves and rejecting them.
To settle the disputes and put an end to the attempts to seize by force the priesthood, God instructs Moses to take one staff from each of the elders of Israel. They are told to write their name on each staff (one for each family) and place it in the tent of meeting. The staff that sprouts will be the man who will be the high priest.
The next morning Moses brings out all the staffs and Aaron’s staff has sprouted, put forth buds, and even produced almonds. Once and for all, God makes clear that Aaron is His choice for the high priest. He even instructs them to take Aaron’s staff and place it before the testimony as a perpetual reminder of God’s choice. This staff was placed in the Ark of the Covenant with the stone tablets of the 10 commandments, and the jar of manna.
After seeing all of this, the people of Israel are frightened and say unto Moses, “Behold, we perish, we are undone. Everyone who comes near, who comes near to the tabernacle of the Lord, shall die. Are we all to perish?” (Numbers 17:12-13, ESV).
There are two powerful lessons in this text.
- God is a holy and all-powerful God and we have no right to question his choices. As a sovereign and all-knowing God, He alone has the wisdom to make the right choices in this world. We often think our way of thinking and doing things is superior to anyone else, yet God repeatedly reminds us that our view and wisdom is finite. A key aspect of faith is to trust that God’s choices are the right choices.
- God is a holy and all-powerful God who should be feared. The Israelites realized in this event that they were not able to approach God without being destroyed. Too many today, have lost the much-needed fear of God. It is this fear of God and His judgment that motivates us to listen and obey Him.
Aaron’s staff that budded, sprouted and bore almonds reminds us that God, while loving and gracious, is still a God to be feared, honored, and obeyed.
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31, ESV)