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(Num 19:1 - 22:1)

B'Midbar/Numbers 20:8   Take the staff and gather the congregation, you and Aharon your brother ...


Two imperative verbs start this text: the first, , is a Qal imperative from the root , to take; the second, is a Hif'il imperative from the root , to call together or assemble, from which come the noun - assembly, congregation - and - literally convener, but translated preacher - the name given to the author of the book of Ecclesiastes. Moshe is to do this right now!

The commentators are interested in whose staff this is - Aharon's or Moshe's - and why Moshe is here being told to take it and gather the congregation. Jacob Milgrom explains that "this could have been Aharon's rod, since it was kept 'before the L-rd' (v. 10) and was used during the plagues in Egypt; for example, 'When Pharaoh speaks to you and says, "Produce your marvel," you shall say to Aharon, "Take your rod and cast it down before Pharaoh." It shall turn into a serpent' (Shemot 7:9, JPS). However, it was more likely to be the rod of Moshe, which had been employed in the performance of G-d's miracles during the Exodus and in the wilderness; for example, "Lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground" (14:16, JPS). The latter was used in the previous instance of drawing water from a rock - "Pass before the people; take with you some of the elders of Israel, and take along the rod with which you struck the Nile, and set out. I will be standing there before you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock and water will issue from it, and the people will drink" (17:5-6, JPS) - where it was also identified as the one used to strike the Nile."

Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch, while assuming that it is Moshe's staff, more concerned with what it means. He comments, "The staff has not been in Moshe's hand since the victory over Amalek - "Moshe said to Joshua, 'Pick some men for us, and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of G-d in my hand'" (Shemot 17:9). The staff of G-d in the hands of Moshe designates him as being sent by G-d. A movement with that staff, a waving, a blow with it before an announced event takes place proclaims that event to be the result of a momentary direct intervening act of G-d." A number of the plagues in Egypt, for example, start when when Moshe and Aharon raise or wave their staff as a signal: "Moses held out his rod toward the sky, and the L-RD sent thunder and hail, and fire streamed down to the ground, as the L-RD rained down hail upon the land of Egypt" (9:23, JPS). Friedman confirms this, adding, "The reason for taking the staff is given in the story of Aharon's blossoming staff. Moshe is told to 'put back Aharon's staff in front of the Testimony ... for a sign to rebels' (B'Midbar 17:25). The text now says that Moshe 'took the staff from in front of Adonai' (v. 9) and starts his word to the people with, 'Listen, rebels, ...'". The staff is a sign of authority, an official instrument denoting that G-d is about to do something through Moshe.

The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim points out that Moshe is told to gather , not as in the first verse of the chapter, where the latter means the whole or entire congregation. By the Tur's thinking, Moshe is told to gather just some of the leaders or prominent members of the assembly, not everyone. This would mean that some see or are affected by the sign of authority, while others are not. The idea of the rod or staff only affecting some connects with the image of the shepherd - who also has a staff of authority and security, when used properly, to gather the sheep. The Torah tells us: "And every tithe of herds and flocks, every tenth animal of all that pass under the herdsman's staff, shall be holy to the L-RD" (Vayikra 27:32, ESV).

This is an important principle: that only those who pass under the staff are covered and protected by the staff. A shepherd is responsible only for his own flock, not for other sheep that do not belong to him. They should look to their own shepherd. When David says, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (Psalm 23:4, ESV), he is confirming that he has passed under the staff. To have the security, he is subject to the authority of the staff; David walks with G-d. Ezekiel proclaims how G-d is about to sort out His people during the time of exile in Babylon and on return: "As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the L-rd G-D. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant" (Ezekiel 20:36-37, CJB). There is going to be a selection: some will return to Israel, but some will not: "I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the L-RD" (v. 38, CJB).

The prophet Jeremiah made the vital connection between this selection process and the Messiah. Speaking of that counting and selection process, he says, "In the cities of the hill country, in the cities of the Shephelah, and in the cities of the Negeb, in the land of Benjamin, the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, flocks shall again pass under the hands of the one who counts them, says the L-RD" (Jeremiah 33:13, ESV). After the return, The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem promises the people, there will be a return to normal life; that the daily round of farming will resume, throughout the Land. Immediately following, the prophet explains how this will be: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the L-RD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and He shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: 'The L-RD is our righteousness.'" (vv. 14-16, (ESV)). The Branch, one of the picture words or names for the Messiah, will do this: "He will lift up a standard for the nations, and will assemble the banished ones of Israel, and will gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:12, NASB).

The synagogue prayers call for G-d to fulfill this promise three times every day: "Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise high the banner to gather our exiles ; and gather us together from the four quarters of the earth. Blessed are You, L-rd, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel" (Authorised Daily Prayer). The Jewish people are serious about seeing Messiah come; soon, if not before, even though that means judgement and selection: "I will rescue My flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, My servant David, and He shall feed them: He shall feed them and be their shepherd" (Ezekiel 34:22-23, ESV). How serious are we as believers to see Yeshua's return to Jerusalem? The ideas of Him ruling the nations with a rod of iron and slaying His enemies with the sword of His mouth sound all well and good, but do we really want it to happen - are we ready for the selection that will take place? That same chapter of Ezekiel contain the words, "As for you, My flock, thus says the L-rd G-D: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats" (v. 17, ESV), a clear foreshadow of Yeshua's words: "When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And He will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left" (Matthew 25:31-33, ESV).

As we approach the day when Yeshua will return, it is critical to make sure that we observe the principle: only those who pass under the staff are covered and protected by the staff. Some would say that He already has the staff in His hand and is preparing to wave it, as John the Baptist said: "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:12, ESV). We must ensure that we pass under Yeshua's staff and are counted by Him as His sheep, so that His rod and staff comfort and protect us. We must not only receive Him as our Saviour, but submit our lives to Him as L-rd. Our very lives depend on it.

Further Study: Matthew 25:31-46; Ezekial 34:22-31

Application: Are you secure in the knowledge of your Shepherd's staff over your life? Make every effort to pass under His staff now so that you are counted among the sheep and know His protection.

© Jonathan Allen, 2012



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