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In this post, I’d like us to look at a beautiful story about the Israelites in the wilderness that we find in the seventeenth chapter of the Book of Numbers. Because God’s people had not believed the good report delivered by two of the spies—Joshua and Caleb, who had scouted out the Promised Land—they were sentenced to forty years of wandering. Only those who were twenty years and younger would live to inherit the land the Lord had promised. After this sad consequence, some of their disgruntled number revolted against Moses, whom the Lord then swiftly dispatched, sending them directly to their death without passing go. After this strong judgment—it’s hard to believe, “But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the people of the LORD’” (Numbers 16:41).1 Perhaps the Lord will give us insight someday into why the people of Israel, having just seen the earth open up and swallow people would, first, dare to challenge Moses about this judgment, or, second, somehow think that Moses and Aaron caused it. It is difficult to understand their behavior.

Nevertheless, the Lord responded to this rebellion by sending a plague in which 14,700 people died. Moses and Aaron interceded, and the Lord relented. Perhaps by now you’re asking, “Jim, I thought you said that this was a beautiful story.” Well, here it is.

“The Lord told the people The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. 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 fathers’ house. Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus I will make to cease from me the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against you” (Numbers 17:1–5).

Then, “On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds” (Numbers 17:8).

That’s the beautiful part. Beautiful because the Lord God Almighty brought a dead stick to life and sprout with delightful buds, blossoms, and ripe almonds. I love this. Let’s think about this for a moment. Why buds, blossoms, and ripe almonds? Was it because images of the almond tree decorated the tabernacle? I think it is more than this. This is not a representation of power, as we understand power. If this had happened in a superhero movie, the staff would have been glowing and humming and perhaps killed those who were unprepared to pick it up. Or perhaps the staff would have gotten bigger and heavier. No, the Lord God demonstrated His choice of priest with life, beauty, and fruitfulness.

He just doesn’t think the way we do.

This account is a foreshadowing of what happened to our great high Priest, Jesus. When the tomb had been opened, like the tent containing the twelves staffs, He was found alive, overflowing with flourishing fruit, ripe and ready to nourish the ones He loved.

It is also a foreshadowing of what our great high Priest does when He brings us from death to life.

Recently, I heard a well-known biblical scholar refute the metaphor that a person who is not a Christian is like someone drowning at sea, clawing at the waves, shouting out for rescue. No, he said, that’s not what it is like at all. Being saved, becoming a Christian, becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is like someone dead at the bottom of sea with a few chomps taken out of him by the sharks. That’s our condition when our Jesus brings thriving life from lifelessness.

Fruit production is how we know the Lord is at work or not in those formerly dead “sticks.”

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15–20).

The men in the account from Numbers were shown to be dead pieces of wood. There is only one Priest who brings life, and the rest of those men did not have the goods. All the rest were false priests. We knew them by their fruit; rather their lack of it.

Christians must be careful. It is dangerous to measure life and fruitfulness as the world perceives it, and not by the Lord’s measure. We must not be deceived by false prophets, dead “sticks” without the loveliness of the life and fruit of the one, true Priest.


1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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