The Dry Wood Yielded Fruit

Numbers 17:1–11

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, and get twelve staffs from them, one for each ancestral house, from all the leaders of their ancestral houses. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each ancestral house. Place them in the tent of meeting before the covenant, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you. Moses spoke to the Israelites; and all their leaders gave him staffs, one for each leader, according to their ancestral houses, twelve staffs; and the staff of Aaron was among theirs. So Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the covenant.

When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. en Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; and they looked, and each man took his staff. And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the covenant, to be kept as a warning to rebels, so that you may make an end of their complaints against me, or else they will die.” Moses did so; just as the Lord commanded him, so he did.

The Dry Wood Yielded Fruit

This is what God does: fruit from the fruitless, birth in barrenness. From the very beginning: light from the void, humanity from the dust, Isaac from Sarah’s barren womb, water from the wilderness rock. All of these prepare us for another mystery: the virgin birth of Christ. Aaron is even included the cover image above, which depicts Old Testament saints surrounding Christ and the Virgin Mary. He holds his blossoming staff in symbolic anticipation of Christ. It may not be the most popular Old Testament image that foreshadows the coming of Christ, but it does not escape the imagination of fourth century hymn-writer Ephrem the Syrian:

Thee staff of Aaron, it budded,
and the dry wood yielded fruit!
Its mystery is cleared up to-day,
for the virgin womb a Child hath borne!

Just as in this blooming, Aaron was chosen to lead the priestly tribe, so in his birth Jesus is chosen as High Priest over God’s priestly people, the Church. The covenant has been renewed. e author of Hebrews expands on this theme more than any other New Testament writer, so I will leave it to him to encourage us:

“Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrew 10:21–25).

The Day approaches. Hold fast.

by Rev. Nick Chambers