BIBLE STUDY SERIES #365, 366 and 367

22 November, 1998

AARON'S ALMOND ROD

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

On the last programme, we once again took a short wayside stop along the journey of life in order to review our past, and to contemplate our future prospects as individuals and as the people of The Almighty God of all the Earth. We explained how God's Great Plan was stretched before our eyes as we meditated upon the unfolding of our history, and we spoke of what is yet to be.

Today, we return to our regular series of Bible Studies, where, in Numbers 17 we left Moses and Aaron, and the children of Israel in the Wilderness of Sinai, and we yet sense that they are in a mood for further rebellion for they had failed the test of going into Canaan in The LORD's Strength and must thus endure a generation of the detested meagre existence of that parched land from which they might have escaped by venturing into the Promised Land, had they but shown the faith required of them in that enterprise.

We might profitably review once more, those words of holy writ found in Numbers 17, verses 1 to 13, to pick up once again the story of our people.

1. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. And thou shalt lay them up in the tabernacle of the congregation before the testimony, where I will meet with you.
5. 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.
6. And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, and every one of their princes gave him a rod apiece, for each prince one, according to their fathers' houses, even twelve rods: and the rod of Aaron was among their rods.
7. And Moses laid up the rods before the LORD in the tabernacle of witness.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. And the LORD said unto Moses, Bring Aaron's rod again before the testimony, to be kept for a token against the rebels; and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from me, that they die not.
11. And Moses did so: as the LORD commanded him, so did he.
12. And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish.
13. Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?

We had but briefly commented on this passage at the end of the broadcast, and now we have, once again to contemplate what was done, for The Almighty will not permit rebellion to His face, and all who did so had of late perished. The evidence of their metal censers was now formed as plates to cover the altar of sacrifice, for they had been carried before The LORD and, albeit carried by unholy hands, were thus holy in His service.

As Keil and Delitzsch put it, "Whilst the Lord had thus given a practical proof to the people, that Aaron was the high priest appointed by Him for His congregation, by allowing the high-priestly incense offered by Aaron to expiate His wrath, and by removing the plague; He also gave them a still further confirmation of His priesthood, by a miracle which was well adapted to put to silence all the murmuring of the congregation." They continue with a recapitulation of the Biblical record, and state that "upon that (rod) of the tribe of Levi he was to write Aaron's name, because each rod was to stand for the head of their fathers' houses, i.e. for the existing head of the tribe; and in the case of Levi, the tribe-head was Aaron. As only twelve rods were taken for all the tribes of Israel, and Levi was included among them, Ephraim and Manasseh must have been reckoned as the one tribe of Joseph, as in Deut. xxvii. 12." They give some discussion of the exact meaning of certain Hebrew terms, and then continue: "And Moses brought all the rods out of the sanctuary, and gave every man his own; the rest, as we may gather from the context, being all unchanged, so that the whole nation could satisfy itself that God had chosen Aaron. Thus was the word fulfilled which Moses had spoken at the commencement of the rebellion of the company of Korah (chap. xvi. 5), and that in a way which could not fail to accredit him before the whole congregation as sent of God." After further discussion, they remark "The miracle which God wrought here as the Creator of nature, was at the same time a significant symbol of the nature and meaning of the priesthood. The choice of the rods had also a bearing upon the object in question. A man's rod was the sign of his position as ruler in the house and congregation; with a prince the rod becomes a sceptre, the insignia of rule (Gen. xlix. 10). As a severed branch, the rod could not put forth shoots and blossom in a natural way. But God could impart new vital powers even to the dry rod. and so Aaron had naturally no pre-eminence above the heads of the other tribes. But the priesthood was founded not upon natural qualifications and gifts, but upon the power of the Spirit, which God communicates according to the choice of His wisdom, and which He had imparted to Aaron through his consecration with holy anointing oil. It was this which the Lord intended to show to the people, by causing Aaron's rod to put forth branches, blossom, and fruit, through a miracle of His omnipotence; whereas the rods of the other heads of the tribes remained as barren as before. In this way, therefore, it was not without deep significance that Aaron's rod not only put forth shoots, by which the divine election might be recognised, but bore even blossom and ripe fruit. This showed that Aaron was not only qualified for his calling, but administered his office in the full power of the Spirit, and bore the fruit expected of him. The almond rod was especially adapted to exhibit this, as an almond tree flowers and bears fruit the earliest of all the trees, and has received its name ... 'awake,' from this very fact." Commanding that Aaron's rod be "returned back into the sanctuary and preserved before the testimony...The preservation of the rod before the ark of the covenant, in the immediate presence of the Lord, was a pledge to Aaron of the continuance of his election, and the permanent duration of his priesthood; though we have no need to assume, that through a perpetual miracle the staff continued green and blossoming. In this way the staff became a sign to the rebellious, which could not fail to stop their murmuring. ... This miracle awakened a salutary terror in all the people, so that they cried out to Moses in mortal anguish, 'Behold we die, we perish, we all perish! Every one who comes near to the dwelling of Jehovah dies; are we all to die?' Even if this fear of death was no fruit of faith, it was fitted for all that to prevent any fresh outbreaks of rebellion on the part of the rejected generation."

The New Bible Commentary, on this passage, states: "It was not enough to strike dead a multitude of those who opposed Moses and Aaron. Great issues are rarely decided by force alone. Reasonable proof is also requisite, if a decision is to be lasting. God commanded that the leaders of each tribe present a rod to be placed in the tabernacle. The rod of Levi was to bear the name of Aaron. Then God caused the rod of Aaron to produce buds, blossoms and almonds (8). This gave proof of two facts, answering with one sign both portions of the rebellion. The fact that the rod of the tribe of Levi was singled out for such special treatment proved that Moses and Aaron were not wrong in asserting divine appointment to leadership over the nation, against the claims of Dathan and Abiram who belonged to the tribe of Reuben (xvi. 1). The budding of a rod which bore the name of Aaron gave added denial to the claims of Korah and his Levitical followers that they had as much right to the priesthood as the family of Aaron (xvi. 8-11), claims which already had been met by the death of Korah and his followers (xvi. 35). As permanent evidence of the divine decision, God commanded that Aaron's rod be preserved in the tabernacle (10; cf. Heb. ix. 4).

We might point out, with the note in The Companion Bible, "Korah's rebellion added two things to the tabernacle; Aaron's rod within, brazen plates without." That reference also gives the Hebrew of the word "rebels" in verse 10 as "sons of rebellion." It is clear from the result of the contention for leadership, then, that God can even use such disturbances to effect His ultimate Plan, as in this case, for Aaron's rod thus entered the list of symbolic items in the furniture of the tabernacle, to be used as a teaching aid for the future descendants of Israel and all who would read the account in the Bible from that time forward.

29 November, 1998

AARONIC ASSIGNMENT - PART I

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began some years ago with the call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees has followed the Scriptural account of the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Esau, and Jacob's wives, their sons and daughters through Genesis and into Exodus as they entered Egypt to escape a famine, and later emerged through the great signs and wonders of The Exodus. At Sinai, they had received and agreed to a national offer of marriage to Yahweh, the God of Israel, received God's Laws, and built the Tabernacle.

Israel had subsequently approached The Promised Land, and then, in fear at hearing the report of the spies, turned back. On the news that the mature generation must endure until death the stress of the wilderness existence, they had been led to a rebellion against Moses and Aaron by Korah, Dathan and Abiram, with two hundred and fifty of the leaders of the nation in their support. All these leaders, and over fourteen thousand of the people had perished by the LORD's hand, and Aaron had been confirmed as the LORD's choice as the High Priest, and his sons after him through the blossoming, budding and bearing of almonds in Aaron's Rod, as it lay in the Tabernacle over night before The LORD among the rods of the rest of the leaders of the Tribes.

Now, as we approach Numbers 18, we find the rest of the Israelites fearful at the awesome severity of God, administered from The Tabernacle, and if Moses and Aaron are to have their co-operation in the service before The LORD, God must now make certain provision for the defining of duties and their allocation among the various tribes and portions of the Tribe of Levi. As The New Bible Commentary puts it: "Instead of quieting the minds of the people, the miracle seems to have left them confused and uneasy. It was hard for them to forget the death of the 250 men who offered incense, and they began to think of the tabernacle of God as a place of terror and perplexity (12-13). In order to set their fears at rest, God proceeded next to give a comprehensive statement of the divine arrangements for the ministry of the tabernacle, 'that there be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel' (xviii.5)."

Today we will be examining the first portion of Numbers 18, the Scriptural record of these dispositions, but for the sake of continuity, we might repeat the last two verses of the previous chapter by way of introduction to our study.

12. And the children of Israel spake unto Moses, saying, Behold, we die, we perish, we all perish.
13. Whosoever cometh any thing near unto the tabernacle of the LORD shall die: shall we be consumed with dying?

Here, then is the reaction of fear which the people of Israel naturally began to manifest in consequence of the deaths of the leadership and core of the rebellion at the hand of The LORD. We now continue with today's passage:

1. And the LORD said unto Aaron, Thou and thy sons and thy father's house with thee shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary: and thou and thy sons with thee shall bear the iniquity of your priesthood.
2. And thy brethren also of the tribe of Levi, the tribe of thy father, bring thou with thee, that they may be joined unto thee, and minister unto thee: but thou and thy sons with thee shall minister before the tabernacle of witness.
3. And they shall keep thy charge, and the charge of all the tabernacle: only they shall not come nigh the vessels of the sanctuary and the altar, that neither they, nor ye also, die.
4. And they shall be joined unto thee, and keep the charge of the tabernacle of the congregation, for all the service of the tabernacle: and a stranger shall not come nigh unto you.
5. And ye shall keep the charge of the sanctuary, and the charge of the altar: that there be no wrath any more upon the children of Israel.
6. And I, behold, I have taken your brethren the Levites from among the children of Israel: to you they are given as a gift for the LORD, to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
7. Therefore thou and thy sons with thee shall keep your priest's office for every thing of the altar, and within the vail; and ye shall serve: I have given your priest's office unto you as a service of gift: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death.

The New Bible Commentary says of those verses "Priesthood is to be restricted to the family of Aaron (1-7). The other Levites are to serve the tabernacle under his direction, but never to do the actual task of the priesthood. Their position is one of great honour, but subordinate to the family of Aaron. Verses 8-19 describe the offerings (8-11), firstfruits (12-13), devoted things (14), and firstlings (15-18), which are to become the property of the priests." We continue by reading those verses, first those pertaining to the offering, verses 8-11:

8. And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Behold, I also have given thee the charge of mine heave offerings of all the hallowed things of the children of Israel; unto thee have I given them by reason of the anointing, and to thy sons, by an ordinance for ever.
9. This shall be thine of the most holy things, reserved from the fire: every oblation of theirs, every meat offering of theirs, and every sin offering of theirs, and every trespass offering of theirs, which they shall render unto me, shall be most holy for thee and for thy sons.
10. In the most holy place shalt thou eat it; every male shall eat it: it shall be holy unto thee.
11. And this is thine; the heave offering of their gift, with all the wave offerings of the children of Israel: I have given them unto thee, and to thy sons and to thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: every one that is clean in thy house shall eat of it.

We now see in verses 12 and 13 the two verses which pertain to the firstfruits, followed by verse 14 concerning the devoted things:

12. All the best of the oil, and all the best of the wine, and of the wheat, the firstfruits of them which they shall offer unto the LORD, them have I given thee.
13. And whatsoever is first ripe in the land, which they shall bring unto the LORD, shall be thine; every one that is clean in thine house shall eat of it.
14. Every thing devoted in Israel shall be thine.

At this point, in verses 15-18, there are mentioned those items called "the firstlings" which are to become the property of the priests.

15. Every thing that openeth the matrix in all flesh, which they bring unto the LORD, whether it be of men or beasts, shall be thine: nevertheless the firstborn of man shalt thou surely redeem, and the firstling of unclean beasts shalt thou redeem.
16. And those that are to be redeemed from a month old shalt thou redeem, according to thine estimation, for the money of five shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary, which is twenty gerahs.
17. But the firstling of a cow, or the firstling of a sheep, or the firstling of a goat, thou shalt not redeem; they are holy: thou shalt sprinkle their blood upon the altar, and shalt burn their fat for an offering made by fire, for a sweet savour unto the LORD.
18. And the flesh of them shall be thine, as the wave breast and as the right shoulder are thine.

In the next verse, (19), as the Commentary points out, there is mention of a specific covenant, "the covenant of salt." i.e. an indissoluble covenant; cf. Je. xxxiii. 18-22. Salt was used with every sacrifice (Lv. ii. 13; Mk. ix. 49-50).

Perhaps I might read those Biblical references in order to complete the record for our study. Leviticus 2:13 states, concerning the firstfruits offering "And every oblation of thy meat offering shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt." Mark 9:49-50 says "For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another."

19. All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the LORD, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the LORD unto thee and to thy seed with thee.

I will have more to add on that verse in the next study. For the present, may I leave with you the thought for the week, as a meditation, that we are to be the salt of the world. That is to say, we are to be the special seasoning which gives the benefit of its savour to the meal, but also, as a dictionary definition states of salt, "that which preserves from corruption", and so, like salt, we are to have the effect of checking the spread of the leaven of unrighteousness.

6 December, 1998

AARONIC ASSIGNMENT - PART II

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began some years ago with the call of The Almighty God to Abram in Ur of the Chaldees has followed the Scriptural account of the lives of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their progeny as they entered Egypt to escape a famine, and later emerged through the great signs and wonders of The Exodus. At Sinai, they had received and agreed to a national offer of marriage to Yahweh, the God of Israel, had received God's Laws, and had built the portable focus of national worship, the Tabernacle.

Israel had subsequently approached The Promised Land, and then, in fear at hearing the report of the spies, turned back. A rebellion led by Korah, Dathan and Abiram, with two hundred and fifty of the leaders of the nation in their support, had followed against the leaders, Moses and Aaron, on the news that the mature generation must endure until death the stress of the wilderness existence. All the rebel leadership, and over fourteen thousand of the people, had perished by the LORD's hand, and Aaron and his sons had been confirmed as the LORD's choice in the office of High Priest.

We had begun the study of Numbers 18, in which that confirmation of Aaron, and assignment of the Levitical order to their honoured tasks under Aaron's leadership had been stipulated.

At Numbers 18:19, as the New Bible Commentary points out, there is mention of a specific covenant, "the covenant of salt." i.e. an indissoluble covenant; cf. Je. xxxiii. 18-22. Salt was used with every sacrifice (Lv. ii. 13; Mk. ix. 49-50).

Perhaps I might re-read those Biblical references in order to complete the record for our study. The covenant given in Jeremiah 33:18-22 says "Neither shall the priests the Levites want a man before me to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually. And the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; Then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne; and with the Levites the priests, my ministers. As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister unto me."

Last week I quoted Leviticus 2:13 which relates the law concerning salt being part of the sacrificial offerings, and Mark 9:49-50 which speaks of Christ's followers as salt on the last study. Our study verse, Numbers 18:19, states:

19. All the heave offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the LORD, have I given thee, and thy sons and thy daughters with thee, by a statute for ever: it is a covenant of salt for ever before the LORD unto thee and to thy seed with thee.

As I said in last week's final meditation, we are to be the salt of the world. That is to say, we are to be the special seasoning which gives the benefit of its savour to the meal, but also, as a dictionary definition states of salt, "that which preserves from corruption", and so, like salt, we are to have the effect of checking the spread of the leaven of unrighteousness.

It might be an additional point worth mentioning, that among the Royal Crown Jewels and regalia in Britain, there is a magnificent collection of salt-holders which were formerly used at Coronation Banquets of the British Sovereigns, the last such usage being at the banquet following the crowning of George IV, on July 19, 1821. One, called "Queen Elizabeth's Salt" dates from 1572, another group of standing salts, known collectively as "St. George's Salts" date from about 1660. Four salts are pictured in The Illustrated London News of May 30, 1953. It may seem curious to some that these ornate articles should reside among the Crown Jewels. I would suggest that they form an enduring symbolic reminder that God's Covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:6-7 and 15-16) has held true through the millennia since that day when The LORD gave covenant to that Patriarchal couple, concerning the royal lineage which should descend from them down through the succeeding generations of their progeny to our own time. God there stated to Abraham "And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee", and, in verses 15 and 16: "And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her." I thereupon concluded that last study with the reading of verse 19.

Thus we have the promise of The Almighty that will not be broken, for it is a Covenant of Salt. We now pick up our Scripture reading at verse 20:

20. And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.
21. And, behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tenth in Israel for an inheritance, for their service which they serve, even the service of the tabernacle of the congregation.
22. Neither must the children of Israel henceforth come nigh the tabernacle of the congregation, lest they bear sin, and die.
23. But the Levites shall do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation, and they shall bear their iniquity: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they have no inheritance.
24. But the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer as an heave offering unto the LORD, I have given to the Levites to inherit: therefore I have said unto them, Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.

The New Bible Commentary adds these thoughts concerning those verses: "Aaron is not, like the priests of other nations, to become a wealthy landholder (20), nor are the Levites to receive a section of Canaan, like the other tribes (23-24). Anyone who does not belong to this tribe risks his life if he tries to usurp their place in the service of the tabernacle (22). Thus God undertakes to remove the fears of the Israelites about the sanctuary by specifying the way in which His tabernacle may be served in safety by those whom He has selected for the particular tasks. The statement about the right of the Levites to the tithes (21, 24) had sometimes been thought to be contradicted by Dt. xiv. 22-29. However, there is no contradiction, but only an elaboration, caused by the fact that when Moses gave the addresses recorded in Deuteronomy the people were about to enter the Promised Land, and soon the matter of distance from the sanctuary would become a problem. Also Deuteronomy brings in a new subject - the portion of the tithe before the Lord (Dt. xiv. 22-29; cf. xii. 7, 17-18). Exhortation to the people not to forget the Levites, after the nation is scattered over Canaan (Dt. xii. 12, 18-19, xiv. 27, 29), in no way contradicts the ideal arrangement of Nu. xviii. 21, 24, which might naturally be much harder to enforce after the people are scattered over the Promised Land than while they are camping together in the wilderness. Up to this point the various sections of this chapter have been addressed to Aaron (1, 8, 20). Now the Lord speaks to Moses (25), as representing the nation as a whole, telling him to order the Levites to give to the priests a tithe of the tithes which they themselves receive (26-32)." The passage concluding Numbers 18 reads thus:

25. And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
26. Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the LORD, even a tenth part of the tithe.
27. And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshingfloor, and as the fulness of the winepress.
28. Thus ye also shall offer an heave offering unto the LORD of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the LORD'S heave offering to Aaron the priest.
29. Out of all your gifts ye shall offer every heave offering of the LORD, of all the best thereof, even the hallowed part thereof out of it.
30. Therefore thou shalt say unto them, When ye have heaved the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted unto the Levites as the increase of the threshingfloor, and as the increase of the winepress.
31. And ye shall eat it in every place, ye and your households: for it is your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation.
32. And ye shall bear no sin by reason of it, when ye have heaved from it the best of it: neither shall ye pollute the holy things of the children of Israel, lest ye die.

We shall take up our studies in this series next week.

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