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The Budding of Aaron’s Staff

17 [a] The Lord spoke to Moses: “Speak to the Israelites, and receive from them a staff from each tribe,[b] one from every tribal leader,[c] twelve staffs; you must write each man’s name on his staff. You must write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi; for one staff is for the head of every tribe.[d] You must place them[e] in the tent of meeting before the ark of the covenant[f] where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose will blossom; so I will rid myself of the complaints of the Israelites, which they murmur against you.”

So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and each of their leaders gave him a staff, one for each leader,[g] according to their tribes[h]—twelve staffs; the staff of Aaron was among their staffs. Then Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.[i]

On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony—and[j] the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted, and brought forth buds, and produced blossoms, and yielded almonds![k] So Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites. They looked at them,[l] and each man took his staff.

The Memorial

10 The Lord said to Moses, “Bring Aaron’s staff back before the testimony to be preserved for a sign to the rebels, so that you may bring their murmurings to an end[m] before me, that they will not die.”[n] 11 So Moses did as the Lord commanded him—this is what he did.

12 The Israelites said to Moses, “We are bound to die![o] We perish, we all perish! 13 (17:28)[p] Anyone who even comes close to the tabernacle of the Lord will die! Are we all to die?”[q]


  1. Numbers 17:1 sn Num 17:1 in the English Bible is 17:16 in the Hebrew text (BHS). See also the note on 16:36.
  2. Numbers 17:2 tn Heb “receive from them a rod, a rod from the house of a father.”
  3. Numbers 17:2 tn Heb “from every leader of them according to their fathers’ house.”
  4. Numbers 17:3 tn Heb “one rod for the head of their fathers’ house.”
  5. Numbers 17:4 tn The verb is the Hiphil perfect of נוּחַ (nuakh, “to rest”), and so “to set at rest, lay, place, put.” The form with the vav (ו) consecutive continues the instruction of the previous verse.
  6. Numbers 17:4 tn The Hebrew text simply reads “the covenant” or “the testimony.”
  7. Numbers 17:6 tn Heb “a rod for one leader, a rod for one leader.”
  8. Numbers 17:6 tn Heb “the house of their fathers.”
  9. Numbers 17:7 tn The name of the tent now attests to the centrality of the ark of the covenant. Instead of the “tent of meeting” (מוֹעֵד, moʿed) we now find the “the tent of the testimony” (הָעֵדֻת, haʿedut).
  10. Numbers 17:8 tn Here too the deictic particle (“and behold”) is added to draw attention to the sight in a vivid way.
  11. Numbers 17:8 sn There is no clear answer why the tribe of Levi had used an almond staff. The almond tree is one of the first to bud in the spring, and its white blossoms are a beautiful sign that winter is over. Its name became a name for “watcher”; Jeremiah plays on this name for God’s watching over his people (1:11-12).
  12. Numbers 17:9 tn The words “at them” are not in the Hebrew text, but they have been added in the translation for clarity.
  13. Numbers 17:10 tn The verb means “to finish; to complete” and here “to bring to an end.” It is the imperfect following the imperative, and so introduces a purpose clause (as a final imperfect).
  14. Numbers 17:10 tn This is another final imperfect in a purpose clause.
  15. Numbers 17:12 tn The use of הֵן (hen) and the perfect tense in the nuance of a prophetic perfect expresses their conviction that they were bound to die—it was certain (see GKC 312-13 §106.n).
  16. Numbers 17:13 sn Num 17:13 in the English Bible is 17:28 in the Hebrew text (BHS). See also the note on 16:36.
  17. Numbers 17:13 tn The verse stresses the completeness of their death: “will we be consumed by dying” (הַאִם תַּמְנוּ לִגְוֹעַ, haʾim tamnu ligvoaʿ).