“And, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.” – Numbers 17:8
In the chapter preceding that of our text is the account of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram and the general murmuring of the people against Moses and Aaron. To quell this discontent, Moses was commanded to take a rod from each tribe – twelve in all – and to write the name of the head of the tribe upon the rod of each, writing the name of Aaron for the tribe of Levi. These rods were then all placed in the Tabernacle before the Ark, which contained the two tables of the Law. There the Lord promised to meet Moses, and said, “And it shall come to pass, that the man’s rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel.” All this was done according to the Divine command, and on the morrow, when Moses went into the Tabernacle, “the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.” This was done to establish the tribe of Levi in the service of the Tabernacle and to confirm the authority of Aaron and his posterity in the priesthood.
There are two qualities that proceed from the Lord, Divine love and Divine wisdom, or Divine good and Divine truth. It is the function of truth to rule by its laws, as a king does; it is the function of good to save by mercy or love. Originally in Israel the priesthood and royalty were conjoined in one person, because good and truth as they proceed from the Lord are united. Later these were divided, as the people declined into self-dependence and idolatry – doing what was right in their own eyes – and it was permitted that the two should be quite separated, and that the Lord should be represented as to Divine truth by kings and as to Divine good by priests.
The rod of Levi with Aaron’s name upon it stands for the principle of love to the Lord as the principle essential to life, the rod itself representing in particular that truth which tells us about the Lord as a God of love and mercy, and as our Savior. The rod in the hands of priest or king is a symbol of power, and all power is exercised through truth, not, of course, by knowledge or faith alone, but when love is in the heart, for love can exert its power only through truth. It is the man who knows how to accomplish his purposes, not the one who does not, who attains them. In the truths in any field resides the power to accomplish the desires of the heart.
There are many truths or principles which we need for our guidance. The twelve tribes stand for these, and each tribe stands for some principle by which we may direct our lives. We have many desires. There is the desire for outward success, success in one’s occupation. The love of one’s occupation is a legitimate love, and everyone should have it. The love of one’s family, the love of children, the love of the welfare of the community and of the nation are also loves which everyone should have. Yet there is one love which is superior to all, and which must be in all others if they are to bear fruit. It is the only love that is connected with life itself. This is love to the Lord, the first and greatest of the commandments. This is what is meant by the laying up of all the rods before the Ark in the Tabernacle. It is the acknowledgment that all good and truth are from the Lord.
The opposite to this is trust in self, the belief that of ourselves we know the way of salvation, fancying that our own virtue is sufficient. The assertion of the self-sufficiency of man’s own reason to find that truth of things which, in the nature of the case, only the Lord, Truth Itself, can reveal, of the self-sufficiency of man’s own inherent impulses to love the good which, in the nature of the case, only the Lord, Good Itself, can impart – this is that self-assertion signified by the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.
How different is the picture of the rods set up in the Holy of Holies. Here is the state of the man who knows that he is not sufficient unto himself, but acknowledges that a man can receive nothing that is spiritual and abiding unless it be given him from heaven. This is hard for the natural man to realize, but the fact is that we are sources of nothing, that we can only modify what we receive from outside of ourselves. We cannot make an eye that will see or an ear that will hear. We can learn to use those that are given us, but there is nothing of them that we produce. We put seed in the ground and water it and tend it, but we do not produce the harvest; we do not even produce the seed or any of the materials that nourish it. We bring together wood and stone to build a house, but in building we merely shape and arrange the materials that Another has made; we produce none of them.
It may be thought that the ideas according to which work is done are genuine productions of human minds. But ideas are formed from facts, and we no more produce such facts and knowledge than we produce the materials of which we build. We are no more originators of mental material than of physical. We may seek and select, modify and arrange – and herein lies our responsibility – but we are not sources. All these abilities are gifts to us, and all the materials upon which they operate are gifts. Even as regards good love or evil love, we are not the producers. No one can produce either. By looking to the Lord, learning of Him, and doing His will, one opens himself to the reception of good, and by turning from the Lord he opens himself to the influx of evil love. It is folly to think we can devise of ourselves that which is worthy and good without looking to Him who made us and all things to teach us what is really good and what course we ought to pursue.
The purposes or ends which men form for themselves are necessarily temporary ends, formed from little knowledge and from a superficial experience of good. We are branches of the vine, and separated from the vine we perish.
When man was created, all the laws of the universe were incorporated into his being. When the Most Ancient Church was established, men had come to know and trust in the Lord, and that church reached such a degree of love and wisdom and happiness that its name has come down to us as “The Golden Age.” But gradually, as men came to trust in themselves, the church declined, until black night rested upon the souls of men, bringing this church to an end.
Then the Ancient Church was formed by the slower and more laborious method of learning the truth and by self-compulsion conforming to it. It also reached its zenith and declined; and this church, although clothed in the most beautiful garments that truth could weave, in time came to its end. Once more had love of self and trust in self led to spiritual decay and death.
Then the Israelitish Church was instituted, in which there was no heart-worship of the Lord, but worship and obedience to the commandments were enforced by cruel and terrible punishments. The love of the Most Ancient Church was not there, the wisdom and intelligence of the Ancient Church were not there, but only enforced obedience. Men had separated themselves from God.
Then the Lord Himself came to bring life and healing to mankind. The lesson of Aaron’s rod alone among the other rods blossoming and bearing fruit is that there is one principle alone among all others which is able to bring order into life, that no one can see any real, heavenly, eternal truth without acknowledging from the heart that all virtue is from the Lord. Moses placed all the rods before the ark of the testimony.
The almond tree producing fruit signifies work done in the strength of spiritual truth, which gives it a spiritual quality. Works can be done from and for self and even in denial of God, but these are vastly different in their inward quality. They may appear much the same outwardly, but God looketh upon the heart. It is only the interior state that counts, that decides, that judges.
In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” And to the rich young ruler who asked the way of life He said, “Keep the commandments.” This keeping means not only outward mechanical or even reluctant observance; it means keeping them from love.
All that is good and true is from the Lord, and as we look to Him, He will give a new life to the truths that we learn; and as we develop – as do the bud, blossom, and fruit – all the works that go forth from us will be filled with love from our Heavenly Father. So this story is not a story of the remote past, but a present reality to all who search the Scriptures to find the way of life. Even the Lord, when He was in the flesh, said, “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”