17 The Eternal One continued.
Eternal One (to Moses): 2-3 Tell the Israelites that you’ll need twelve staffs—one for each of the extended families. Engrave on each one the respective leader’s name. (Aaron’s name should be on the Levi family’s staff.) 4 Bring the staff of each of them into the congregation tent and lay them in front of My tablets of witness with you in the place where I meet you. 5 I will indicate the person whom I choose by making his particular staff grow shoots and leaves. This will end once and for all any complaints about your leadership.
6-7 Moses passed these instructions on to the Israelites, and they all agreed to do it. They each gave their staffs as leaders representing their extended families with Aaron’s staff among them. Then Moses placed them before the Eternal One in the tent of the congregation and before the covenant. 8 The next day, when Moses went into the tent where the covenant was kept, it was obvious that Aaron of the Levite family was God’s choice. Aaron’s staff had grown not only little buds, but it had actually flowered and developed fully-ripened almonds. 9 Moses carried the staffs out of the Eternal’s presence, showed them to the congregation, and redistributed them to the twelve leaders.
Eternal One (to Moses): 10 Return Aaron’s staff to the tent and place it in front of the covenant, to serve as a reminder of whom I’ve chosen to lead this people. Let it be a warning to any who would question or undermine your leadership. I have made My choice clear and will kill anyone who persists in challenging it.
11 So Moses returned Aaron’s staff to the tent just as the Eternal told him to do.
The rod or staff is a symbol of guidance, protection, and power. At this time, the people are confused and afraid because the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram—followed by their sudden and absolute judgment—has caused the Israelites to think hard about their situation. Remember they said in response to God’s judgment, “What if the earth swallows us up too?” They are truly in awe of God. Immediately after this upheaval, God establishes the leadership of Aaron and his successors using the staff of Aaron. Only his staff and not those of the other leaders is affected. His staff not only buds but it bears fruit—almonds. Like the symbols of the testimony and the manna, the staff is a memorial for the people. With the staff, they are reminded that the Lord provides and protects.
Israelites (to Moses): 12 We’re going to die! We will be destroyed! 13 If anyone comes close to the tent where the Eternal One is supposed to meet with us, then he’ll die. Will we all die, then?