Aaron and His Unusual Walking Stick

Aaron and His Unusual Walking Stick

Aaron and His Unusual Walking Stick.

“Now it came to pass on the next day that Moses went into the tabernacle of witness, and behold, the rod of Aaron, of the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth buds, had produced blossoms and yielded ripe almonds.”(Numbers 17:8).

Aaron’s big walking stick, in Biblical terms his rod or staff, has come down through history as something that far transcends a mere branch from a tree. Aaron’s staff was used of the Lord in such powerful ways that it deserves a retelling. His rod has become a symbol full of rich meanings for us today. After much miraculous use, it finally found a resting place in the Ark of the Covenant (Hebrews 9:4), along with the tablets of the Ten Commandments and a golden bowl full of manna. How did Aaron’s rod acquire such an eminent place in Hebrew history?

Aaron’s staff is famous in Scripture for figuring in so many dramatic miracles. Let’s take the last miracle first. The Israelites in the wilderness were rebelling against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, and wanted to know if God truly chose those two men to lead the people to the Promised Land (Numbers 17). God was getting impatient with their rebellion, so He instructed each tribe to place a branch, hewn into a tribal rod, with the name of each tribe inscribed on it, into the Holy Tabernacle. All twelve tribes were represented as those tribal-identifying rods lay overnight untouched in the Holy Place. The word from the Lord was that the man of His choosing would have his rod blossom. By the next morning, the question of leadership was decided by God’s miracle… Aaron’s rod had sprouted, blossomed, and bore ripe almonds. All of Israel saw Aaron’s rod and knew without a doubt that Aaron was the one chosen by God to lead the holy priesthood of Israel. It was at this time that Aaron’s rod was placed in the Ark and considered a holy object to be remembered and revered.

What is the significance of the the rod developing ripe almonds, as opposed to figs, or pomegranates or  dates? Why almonds? In answer to that question, there’s a good chance the Lord was reminding everyone of the divinely inspired lampstand in the Holy Place. Yahweh had given strict instructions that the golden lampstand in the tabernacle was to be shaped in the form of an almond tree, with its branches, blossoms and almonds all engraved in the gold. (Exodus 25). It turns out that the Hebrew root word for “almond” was “watching.” Those two words are basically the same in Hebrew, and the Lord used the almond tree to let the people know that He would be observant over His Chosen people, alert to His word that it be performed as He said. Jeremiah said it best, “Moreover the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see a branch of an almond tree.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am always watching, ready to perform my word.‘” (Jer. 1:11-12). In other words, almonds are a sign from God that He is always watching to make His word fruitful, to bring them through all the stages of growth, to bring forth fruit, just like Aaron’s fruitful rod in the Holy Place. It was no accident that Aaron’s rod blossomed as the branch of an almond tree. It was not random. It was all God’s design. No wonder that the Hebrew name for the almond tree was the “Watchful Tree.” Indeed, God is the watchguard of Israel, and His word will be accomplished as He said.

As dramatic as Aaron’s fruitful rod was, we can’t overlook how important that simple walking stick was in Israel’s history before they were even out of Egypt. When Moses and Aaron were starting to press Pharaoh to let God’s people go, Aaron’s staff was central to the eventual exodus of the enslaved people. It was Aaron’s staff that struck the Nile River and made the water turn to blood (Ex. 7:19). It was also Aaron’s rod that stretched out over the waters of Egypt and caused a massive influx of frogs to come from the River to cover the land (Ex. 8:5). And it was Aaron’s rod too that struck the “dust of the land”, the ground, so that every speck of dust became lice, or gnats, that settled on all of Egypt’s people and animals. Before these plagues even happened, though, Aaron’s rod figured in a major victory over Egypt’s sorcerers and magicians. In this piece of drama, Pharaoh wanted Moses and Aaron to perform a miracle, so Aaron took his rod and threw it on the floor next to Pharaoh. Aaron’s rod immediately became a snake. The sorcerers were brought onto the scene, and through their enchantments were also able to turn their rods into snakes. But to show who’s boss, Aaron’s serpent quickly swallowed up all the magicians’ snakes (Ex. 7:12). Pharaoh’s sorcerers may have successfully figured out how to inflict a temporary paralysis to their pet cobras, but it didn’t matter. Aaron’s snake ate them all anyway. Aaron’s God is clearly superior to Pharaoh’s gods, as the upcoming plagues revealed. “On the Egyptian gods the Lord had executed judgments.” (Numbers 33:4).

So Aaron’s rod is rich in symbolism and proves to be a picture of many different truths.

Something dead can come to life. Aaron’s rod is a resurrection story. His staff was a dead, lifeless branch from an almond tree. It was simply a long, sturdy stick hewn from a tree, with no roots, no sap, nothing that would result in fruit or growth of any kind. According to nature’s plan, it had no chance whatsoever of coming back to life. The blossoming of Aaron’s rod was God’s doing, supernatural, a miracle from heaven. It was totally unexpected to see a dead branch display all three stages of vegetable life at all, let alone at the same time. This is a story about the resurrection, much like Ezekiel’s dry bones. It’s a powerful picture of the fact that with almighty God, dead things can come back to life, whether it’s a lifeless branch, or dry bones, or a human heart dead in sin, or a dead human body on the Last Day.

Something powerless can wield authority. In Pharaoh’s presence, God used a mere walking stick to exert His power. Everyone of those plagues visited upon Egypt was a judgment from God on the various gods of Egypt. When Aaron struck the Nile with his rod, God’s power was displayed over their god of the Nile. When Aaron waved his staff over the River and frogs inundated the land, God was giving evidence of His superiority over their worship of the frog. When Aaron struck the ground and Egypt was immediately overwhelmed with lice and gnats, God revealed His power over their god of the biting insect. When Aaron’s rod turned into a serpent that ate all the magicians’ serpents, there was no doubt whose god was most powerful… Yahweh, the God of the Israelites. The rod/staff was always a symbol of authority, and that symbol came to life with Aaron’s rod as he wielded the very real authority of the almighty God.

Something barren can bear fruit. Aaron’s rod is a story of miraculous fruitfulness. When his staff brought forth ripe almonds, literally overnight, we can easily see a picture of the many times barren women in the Hebrew Bible were able to bear children only after God’s intervention. We think of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Hannah, for starters. We also think of times in Scripture when a child was born unexpectedly, most notably with Mary’s pregnancy from the Holy Spirit. Jesus was the unexpected fruit of a devout teenaged girl, a branch in David’s tree, who nonetheless served the Lord by giving birth to the Son of God. A ripe almond from a mere branch. Only God’s miraculous power could bring this to happen. Is it any wonder that so many painters during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance painted a blossoming almond tree into Annunciation scenes? There is Mary, an unknown, common village girl, unexpectedly and miraculously bearing the fruit of her union with the Holy Spirit. With God, even the barren can bear fruit, and even the common can be miraculous, just like Aaron’s rod.

Almond trees are beloved in Israel, because they are the first sign of spring. Their beautiful white blossoms bloom in late January. So when those pure white blossoms bloom, the people know that winter is almost over and new life is just around the corner. When Aaron’s dead rod brought forth living buds, and full blossoms, and ripe almonds, the Israelites were not merely assured of Aaron’s leadership role in the priesthood. They were also reminded that God was always watching over them, ready to perform His word over their life in their journey to the Promised Land and beyond. The pregnancy of Mary would speak to unexpected fruitfulness, to God’s love and watchfulness, and to signs of God’s new life coming just around the bend, springtime in the history of man. In God’s powerful hands, Aaron’s rod shows us that the dead can come back to life, the powerless can wield God’s authority, the common can become miraculous, the Lord will be alert and watchful, and fruit can come in the most unexpected and timely ways. Aaron’s rod turns out to be profound in ways that appeal to Jews and Christians alike. It’s no wonder it is held in such high esteem throughout Biblical history.

 

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