וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר   17:1

Numb. 17:1  And the Lord spoke to Moses saying,

אֱמֹר אֶל־אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן־אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן וְיָרֵם אֶת־הַמַּחְתֹּת מִבֵּין הַשְּׂרֵפָה וְאֶת־הָאֵשׁ זְרֵה־הָלְאָה כִּי   17:2


Numb. 17:2  “Say to Eleazar son of Aaron, the priest, that he shall pick up the censers from between the burning, and scatter the fire far away, for they have been made holy,

אֵת מַחְתֹּות הַחַטָּאִים הָאֵלֶּה בְּנַפְשֹׁתָם וְעָשׂוּ אֹתָם רִקֻּעֵי פַחִים צִפּוּי לַמִּזְבֵּחַ כִּי־הִקְרִיבֻם לִפְנֵי־   17:3

יְהוָה וַיִּקְדָּשׁוּ וְיִהְיוּ לְאֹות לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Numb. 17:3  these censers of sinners, by their deaths.  So they shall make broad plates with them, a covering for the altar, because of their being offered before the Lord, and they have been made holy and have been for a sign for the children of Israel.”

Verses 17:2 and 17:3 reveal something that is quite remarkable to me.  The death of sinners can make something holy.  I presume that the censers were not holy before this happened, as they belonged to the two hundred and fifty Israelites, who were not priests or Levites, and they had them in their possession in their tents.  Apparently the men were holding them when they were consumed by the fire of the Lord, which made the censers holy.  To me, that seems weird.  But it makes weird sense.  Is there a special significance to these verses?  Are we being told something profound and mysterious?  Any good guesses?  Because of v. 17:5 below, I’m inclined to conclude the following:  The Lord assigned holiness to the censers so that they may be used as an altar cover and a sign that Israelites not of the tribe of Levi should always stay a respectable distance from the tent of meeting, whether carrying a censer of incense or not.

וַיִּקַּח אֶלְעָזָר הַכֹּהֵן אֵת מַחְתֹּות הַנְּחֹשֶׁת אֲשֶׁר הִקְרִיבוּ הַשְּׂרֻפִים וַיְרַקְּעוּם צִפּוּי לַמִּזְבֵּחַ   17:4

Numb. 17:4  And Eleazar, the priest, took the bronze censers that the kindlers had offered, and they beat them, a covering for the altar,

זִכָּרֹון לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר לֹא־יִקְרַב אִישׁ זָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִזֶּרַע אַהֲרֹן הוּא לְהַקְטִיר קְטֹרֶת לִפְנֵי   17:5

יְהוָה וְלֹא־יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח וְכַעֲדָתֹו כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה בְּיַד־מֹשֶׁה לֹו

Numb. 17:5  a memorial for the children of Israel, in order that a commoner, one who is not from the seed of Aaron,  shall not come near to burn incense before the Lord, and not become as Korach or as his assembly, as the Lord had told, by the hand of Moses, to him.

וַיִּלֹּנוּ כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמָּחֳרָת עַל־מֹשֶׁה וְעַל־אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר אַתֶּם הֲמִתֶּם אֶת־עַם יְהוָה   17:6

Numb. 17:6  Yet all the congregation of the children of Israel complained the next day about Moses and about Aaron saying, “You have killed people of the Lord.”

וַיְהִי בְּהִקָּהֵל הָעֵדָה עַל־מֹשֶׁה וְעַל־אַהֲרֹן וַיִּפְנוּ אֶל־אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד וְהִנֵּה כִסָּהוּ הֶעָנָן וַיֵּרָא כְּבוֹד יְהוָה   17:7

Numb. 17:7  And it happened during the assembly of the congregation against Moses and against Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting and, behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.

וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֶל־פְּנֵי אֹהֶל מֹועֵד   17:8

Numb. 17:8  And Moses came with Aaron to the front of the tent of meeting.

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר   17:9

Numb. 17:9  And the Lord spoke to Moses saying,

הֵרֹמּוּ מִתֹּוךְ הָעֵדָה הַזֹּאת וַאֲכַלֶּה אֹתָם כְּרָגַע וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל־פְּנֵיהֶם   17:10

Numb. 17:10   “Get up from the midst of this congregation and let Me consume them immediately.”  And they fell on their faces.

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־אַהֲרֹן קַח אֶת־הַמַּחְתָּה וְתֶן־עָלֶיהָ אֵשׁ מֵעַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ וְשִׂים קְטֹרֶת וְהֹולֵךְ מְהֵרָה   17:11

אֶל־הָעֵדָה וְכַפֵּר עֲלֵיהֶם כִּי־יָצָא הַקֶּצֶף מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה הֵחֵל הַנָּגֶף

Numb. 17:11   And Moses said to Aaron, “Take the censer and put fire from the altar on it, then place incense and carry quickly to the congregation, and make atonement for them, for the wrath has erupted from before the Lord; the plague has begun.”

This method of atonement had not been described to us before.  Moses must have learned of it without our being told about it.  Notice once more, however, that the people have to do nothing for their atonement.  Aaron has the responsibility for that as before.  Atonement may be a simple matter of our repentance and confession, but only if we are not rebellious as these Israelites are.  For them, the priest must make atonement in some fashion.  Does this line of reasoning imply that without the temple and the priesthood unrepentant sinners have had no way to atone for their sins?

Now why do you suppose the Lord was intent on consuming the people?  I think it was because even after Moses had prophesied the miraculous destruction of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram, and it came about, the people were still denying God (v. 17:6).

וַיִּקַּח אַהֲרֹן כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה וַיָּרָץ אֶל־תֹּוךְ הַקָּהָל וְהִנֵּה הֵחֵל הַנֶּגֶף בָּעָם וַיִּתֵּן אֶת־הַקְּטֹרֶת   17:12

וַיְכַפֵּר עַל־הָעָם

Numb. 17:12   And Aaron took, as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly and, behold, the plague had begun among the people, and he put the incense and he made atonement for the people.

וַיַּעֲמֹד בֵּין־הַמֵּתִים וּבֵין הַחַיִּים וַתֵּעָצַר הַמַּגֵּפָה   17:13

Numb. 17:13   And he stood between the dead and the living, and the pestilence was restrained.

וַיִּהְיוּ הַמֵּתִים בַּמַּגֵּפָה אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר אֶלֶף וּשְׁבַע מֵאֹות מִלְּבַד הַמֵּתִים עַל־דְּבַר־קֹרַח   17:14

Numb. 17:14   And the dead by the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, besides the dead over the Korach matter.

וַיָּשָׁב אַהֲרֹן אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֶל־פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מֹועֵד וְהַמַּגֵּפָה נֶעֱצָרָה   17:15

Numb. 17:15   When Aaron returned to Moses, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, the plague had been contained.

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר   17:16

Numb. 17:16   And the Lord spoke to Moses saying,

דַּבֵּר אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְקַח מֵאִתָּם מַטֶּה מַטֶּה לְבֵית אָב מֵאֵת כָּל־נְשִׂיאֵהֶם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם שְׁנֵים   17:17

 עָשָׂר מַטֹּות אִישׁ אֶת־שְׁמֹו תִּכְתֹּב עַל־מַטֵּהוּ

Numb. 17:17   “Speak to the children of Israel and take a rod from them, a rod to a house of a father, from each of their chiefs for the house of their fathers, twelve rods.  You shall write each his name on his rod.”

אֵת שֵׁם אַהֲרֹן תִּכְתֹּב עַל־מַטֵּה לֵוִי כִּי מַטֶּה אֶחָד לְרֹאשׁ בֵּית אֲבֹותָם   17:18

Numb. 17:18   “And you shall write the name of Aaron on the rod of Levi, for one rod to the head of a house of their fathers.”

וְהִנַּחְתָּם בְּאֹהֶל מֹועֵד לִפְנֵי הָעֵדוּת אֲשֶׁר אִוָּעֵד לָכֶם שָׁמָּה   17:19

Numb. 17:19   “And you shall place them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, there where I will designate to you.”

וְהָיָה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אֶבְחַר־בֹּו מַטֵּהוּ יִפְרָח וַהֲשִׁכֹּתִי מֵעָלַי אֶת־תְּלֻנֹּות בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר הֵם מַלִּינִם   17:20


Numb. 17:20   “And it shall be, according to the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall blossom; so I shall make the murmurs of the children of Israel abate from Me that they are grumbling against you.”

In vss. 17:19 and 17:20, the last words, to you in v. 17:19, and against you in v. 17:20, the pronouns are plural.  Thus the Lord must have been speaking of both Moses and Aaron, although v. 16 indicates that He was speaking only to Moses

וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּתְּנוּ אֵלָיו כָּל־נְשִׂיאֵיהֶם מַטֶּה לְנָשִׂיא אֶחָד מַטֶּה לְנָשִׂיא אֶחָד לְבֵית   17:21

אֲבֹתָם שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר מַטֹּות וּמַטֵּה אַהֲרֹן בְּתֹוךְ מַטֹּותָם

Numb. 17:21   And Moses spoke to the children of Israel, and all their chiefs delivered a rod to him, a rod for one chief, for one chief for a house of their fathers, twelve rods, and the rod of Aaron was in the midst of their rods.

וַיַּנַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת־הַמַּטֹּת לִפְנֵי יְהוָה בְּאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת   17:22

Numb. 17:22   And Moses placed the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.

וַיְהִי מִמָּחֳרָת וַיָּבֹא מֹשֶׁה אֶל־אֹהֶל הָעֵדוּת וְהִנֵּה פָּרַח מַטֵּה־אַהֲרֹן לְבֵית לֵוִי וַיֹּצֵא פֶרַח וַיָּץֵץ צִיץ   17:23

וַיִּגְמֹל שְׁקֵדִים

Numb. 17:23   And it happened the next day that Moses came to the tent of the testimony and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had flourished and brought forth bud, and showed blossom and yielded almonds.

וַיֹּצֵא מֹשֶׁה אֶת־כָּל־הַמַּטֹּת מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה אֶל־כָּל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּרְאוּ וַיִּקְחוּ אִישׁ מַטֵּהוּ   17:24

Numb. 17:24   And Moses brought all the rods that were before the Lord out to all the children of Israel, and they looked, and they took away, each man his rod.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה הָשֵׁב אֶת־מַטֵּה אַהֲרֹן לִפְנֵי הָעֵדוּת לְמִשְׁמֶרֶת לְאֹות לִבְנֵי־מֶרִי וּתְכַל   17:25

תְּלוּנֹּתָם מֵעָלַי וְלֹא יָמֻתוּ

Numb. 17:25   And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron by the testimony, to be a charge for a sign to the rebellious children, so there will be an end of their murmurs against Me, and they will not die.”

We can only vaguely imagine God’s infinite patience, if at all.  Here for perhaps the umpteenth time, He is still trying to appeal to the rebellious Israelite spirits to turn about and acknowledge Him.  Without the Lord’s patience and forbearing, the people would most likely have been consumed ages ago.  Nevertheless, I believe that God’s ultimate purpose will not be thwarted by our blindness, merely delayed.

וַיַּעַשׂ מֹשֶׁה כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה אֹתֹו כֵּן עָשָׂה   17:26

Numb. 17:26   And Moses did as the Lord had commanded him; so he did.

וַיֹּאמְרוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל־מֹשֶׁה לֵאמֹר הֵן גָּוַעְנוּ אָבַדְנוּ כֻּלָּנוּ אָבַדְנוּ   17:27

Numb. 17:27   And the children of Israel spoke to Moses saying, “Look, we perish, we are undone, we are all undone.”

כֹּל הַקָּרֵב הַקָּרֵב אֶל־מִשְׁכַּן יְהוָה יָמוּת הַאִם תַּמְנוּ לִגְוֹעַ   17:28

Numb. 17:28   “Anyone who approaches who comes near to the Tabernacle of the Lord shall die.  Are we all to perish?”

The people seem to be totally ignorant of what they should already know -- that they are not to approach the Tabernacle, for they would die.  They seem to be acting as if this is new information.


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Numbers 17