From Slaves to Soldiers

Chapter 17

Soon after Israel refused to go into the Promised Land with Yahweh they thought about what they were missing and told Moses they were ready to go take possession. Moses said no so they rebelled and went in without him and Yahweh’s blessing. They lost the battle and ran back into the Wilderness where their rebellious attitude got them into more trouble. Stepping out of the “me, me, me” take on their lives would have instantly freed them. Nevertheless, they choose to feel resentful because they thought they knew what was fair, but Moses and Aaron wouldn’t agree with them. They conveniently defined fairness as what they wanted and got locked into their own point of view. They assumed that things would change if people were only fair or really valued them. They held Moses and Aaron responsible for their pain and made them responsible, in their minds, for everything that had gone wrong – things that were actually the result of their own choices and decisions. They expected their leaders to change to suit them if they exerted enough pressure. Blaming Moses and Aaron for their troubles was easier than repenting and changing their wrong thinking. They allowed their minds to convince them of something that wasn’t true and they ran with the lie.

Even after Yahweh made it clear to his people that he had chosen Moses and Aaron for their positions and they weren’t up for grabs, Israel continued to grumble and complain against them.

A rod – מטה matteh, the staff or scepter, which the leader of each tribe bore, was the sign of office or royalty among almost all the people of the earth. Moses, as a shepherd, had his in his hand when he was tending sheep in the wilderness[1] and later his rod became a symbol of the authority that Yahweh gave to Moses[2]. The rod demonstrated Moses’ authority in action when it became a serpent, and turned back into a rod again; and worked the miracles of the plagues in Egypt[3]. Yahweh used that rod again and again to demonstrate his authority over humans.

When Israel’s rebellion reached a crescendo Yahweh told Moses to tell the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel to take their staffs to him. He was to write the names of the leaders on their staffs and start by writing Aaron’s name on the staff of the tribe of Levi. When the staffs were all labeled Yahweh told Moses to lay them out in the Tent of Meeting where Moses and Yahweh had their assignations. He told Moses he would put an end to the constant grumbling by the people against him by causing the rod of the man he choose to sprout.

When Moses walked into the Tent of Testimony the next day he saw that Aaron’s rod had buds, blossoms, and even ripe olives on it. He took all the staffs out and presented them to the people of Israel. The people inspected them all carefully and the leaders reclaimed their own staff. Yahweh told Moses to take Aaron’s staff back to the Testimony and keep it there as a sign to the rebels. It was to stop the grumbling against Yahweh and save the lives of his people.

The Israelites knew they were wrong and panicked again. They expected disaster to strike if they even looked at the Tent of Meeting. They still had their minds focused on themselves. Finding the worth that they had assigned to themselves was false; they swung to the other side of the bell curve and decided that they had no worth at all. They forgot all the lessons they had been taught about[4] Yahweh’s willingness to forgive the repentant heart.

Yahweh revealed his mercy toward Israel by not giving them what they deserved. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt and offered them the Promised Land and they refused it. Then they tried to take it against his orders. They rebelled again over the priesthood. Part of Yahweh’s mercy is to sometimes allow his children to enter into the hard places of life but he is always with us.

John put it this way: “This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”[5]

Yahweh has told us what is good and what he requires of his people: to do justly, to walk in humility with him and to lovingly display mercy. When Israel sinned by rejecting the Promised Land and trying to take it later without him, Yahweh reminded them that they could repent and be forgiven.[6] They ignored him and gave in to fear. Fear produced rebellion and more fear.


Summary of chapter 17

Yahweh used each of the twelve tribe’s symbols of authority to prove to the nation that he had chosen Aaron and his descendants for the priesthood and it wasn’t to be bargained for or taken by intimidation. Aaron’s staff not only budded and blossomed but also bore fruit as a message that the power that Yahweh assigned to Aaron was alive and well. “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God’s Word. We can’t get away from it—no matter what.”[7]


Prayer: Lord, I don’t know why you choose Aaron and his descendants to be your priests any more than the early Israelites did; but I know that it is your right as the Supreme Being of the universe – the all wise and all-knowing God – to make decisions and choices without my knowledge or understanding. There was a time when I wanted to know everything but wisdom comes with age and experience and makes me glad to be what and who you want me to be. You have asked me to do things that weren’t in “my comfort zone” and I did them and discovered that the truth that says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is more than powerless words. I can do anything that you want me to do, but I am free to let you make the choice. I don’t have to try to think up ways to make myself important for you. I am important to you because you decided, according to the counsel of your own will, to make me important to you.[8]



Things to think about

  1. Why did Yahweh tell Moses to get the staffs from the leaders of each tribe?
  2. How had Yahweh used Aaron and Moses staff in the past?
  3. Why was it important for Yahweh to establish the authority of Aaron and his descendants?
  4. How could a piece of dead wood sprout and produce fruit?
  5. Why do you think Aaron’s rod produced fruit?
  6. What does the story about the rods tell you about Yahweh?
  7. What does Yahweh require of humans? What did he do to show us how we can be separated unto him?



[1] Exodus 4:2

[2] Exodus 4:20

[3] Exodus 7:9-10

[4] Leviticus 4

[5] Joh 3:19-21

[6] Numbers 15

[7] Hebrews 4:12-14

[8] John 3:16; Ephesians 1:3-5


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