B'Midbar/Numbers 17:25 "Return Aharon's staff before the Testimony for safe-keeping as a sign for the rebels ..."
Following on the heels of Korah's rebellion, "the whole community of the people of Israel complained against Moshe and Aharon: 'You killed Adonai's people!'" (B'Midbar 17:61, CJB).HaShem initiated the contest of the staffs to show the people who had been chosen for leadership of Israel: a staff was taken for each tribe and placed in the Tent of Meeting overnight to see which one sprouted buds; this would demonstrate which of the tribal leaders was chosen. As the text tells us, "Aharon's staff for the tribe of Levi had budded - it had sprouted not only buds but flowers and ripe almonds as well" (v. 23, CJB). After Moshe has shown the staff to all the people, HaShem tells him to take Aharon's staff back into the Tent of Meeting and place it before the Ark of the Testimony to be kept safe - for it would become a part of the Tabernacle furniture, packed and unpacked by the priests and carried by the Levites - for all generations to know that it was HaShem who had chosen Aharon and the tribe of Levi; not that they had chosen themselves. The book of Hebrews tells us that the staff was kept in the Ark with the jar of manna and the stone tablets (Hebrews 9:4).
The commentators differ as to the exact purpose of both the sign itself and the safe-keeping of Aharon's staff. WhereasRashi firmly states: "as a safe-keeping, as a sign: As a remembrance that I chose Aharon the priest and they should no longer complain over the priesthood", Nachmanides does not agree. Explaining that the fire falling on Aharon's offerings on the eighth day of the installation of Aharon and his sons as priests had been the sign for the priesthood, the Ramban claims that the budding staff was a sign of HaShem's choice of the tribe of Levi as the servants of the Tabernacle and ritual in place of the first-born. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch glosses over this question, focusing instead on the divine choice: "Just as the tablets of Testimony testified to the fact of the Divine origin of the Torah, so did the staff of Aharon testify to the Divine origin of the choice" of the priests and Levites. He sees both as explaining G-d's supreme role - "it was brought home to the minds of the people that the Torah came to the people, did not emanate from them."
Richard Elliott Friedman, a contemporary scholar, has a much shorter time-horizon in view. Commenting to this verse, "Aharon's staff ... is now saved by the ark as a reminder when people will rebel in future", he notes how Moshe is later told to "Take the staff and assemble the congregation" (20:8) as a specific sign to the people that they are back in the same rebellious condition again when there was no water after Miriam had died. Moshe is to take the staff as both a reminder and a sign of authority and his misuse of that authority at that point causes both himself and Aharon to forego being able to lead the people into the Land.
The writings of the prophets contain references both to signs and sprouting branches. Speaking through Jeremiah, at the start of the Babylonian exile, of the time when He will fulfill His promises to the houses of Israel and Judah, G-d says, "When those days come, at that time, I will cause to spring up - - for David a Branch - - of Righteousness. He will do what is just and right in the land. When those days come, Y'hudah will be saved, Yerushalayim will live in safety, and the name given to her will be ADONAI our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 33:15-16, CJB). Writing after the remnant have returned to the Land, G-d picks the theme up again in Zechariah's vision: "ADONAI-Tzva'ot says: 'There is coming a man whose name is Tzemach - [Sprout]. He will sprout up - - from his place and rebuild the temple of ADONAI" (Zechariah 6:12, CJB). These texts are reflected in the 'Kingdom of David' stanza of the Amidah where we pray: May the offshoot - - of Your servant David soon flower, and may His pride be raised high by Your salvation, for we wait for your salvation all day. Blessed are You, L-rd - - who causes the horn [strength, reputation] of Your salvation to flourish [sprout] (Authorised Daily Prayer, Sachs).
G-d also spoke the way in which the people from the nations would receive the light of His relevation: "In the past the land of Z'vulun and the land of Naftali were regarded lightly; but in the future he will honor the way to the lake, beyond the Yarden, Galil-of-the-Goyim. The people living in darkness have seen a great light; upon those living in the land that lies in the shadow of death, light has dawned" (Isaiah 8:23-9:1(9:1-2), CJB), quoted in Matthew's gospel (Matthew 4:15-16). Yeshua started His ministry in the area of the Galil, an area where many of the nations had come to live since the Assyrian conquest and in Roman times. Yeshua said, "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up ... And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself" (John 3:14, 12:32, NASB), referring to His death and connecting it to the bronze serpent that Moshe was instructed to fashion and hold up in the middle of the Israelite camp in the wilderness when there was a plague of snakes (B'Midbar 21:9). Unlike Moshe, Yeshua did not misuse His authority and only did exactly what He saw the Father doing and so completed His mission perfectly. Although widely misused by the church authorities in the past, the cross is G-d's staff or sign of authority bringing freedom for all who will turn to Him.
Yeshua is the Branch from the root of David. In these days and among our own Jewish people, G-d is answering our prayers and causing the name and reputation of Yeshua - G-d's salvation for which we have been waiting - to flourish. Every day, more and more Jewish people are discovering the secret that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah and that to trust in Him is a uniquely Jewish thing to do. As they do and prove by a continuing Jewish lifestyle that they are still Jewish, G-d is building the believing remnant in our generation who will cry out, "Baruch ha'ba b'shem Adonai - Blessed is He who comes in the name of the L-rd" so that Yeshua may soon return to take His rightful place as the King of Israel in Jerusalem!
1 - There is a difference between the Jewish and Christian chapter and verse markings in this portion of the text. The Jewish chapter 17 begins at the Christian 16:36 and they come back together again at the beginning of chapter 18 in both reckonings.
Further Study: Isaiah 60:1-5; John 8:28
Application: If you are Jewish and are struggling with who Yeshua is, be encouraged that the words of Scripture are true and never lie. G-d has sent His salvation to save His people as He said that He would. You can know that salvation today; all you have to do is ask: Yeshua is His name!
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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