Aaron’s rod, or staff, played an important part in God’s plan to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. In ancient Israelite culture, a rod was a symbol of authority. Shepherds used rods to guide and correct their flocks (Psalm 23:4). When God called the shepherd Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, He demonstrated His power by performing miracles using Moses’ rod (Exodus 4:1–5; Numbers 20:11). God also chose Moses’ brother, Aaron, to perform miracles with his own rod (Exodus 7:19; 8:5, 16).
Aaron’s rod was the one that turned into a snake in Pharaoh’s court; when the Egyptian magi also turned their staffs into snakes, the snake that had been Aaron’s rod swallowed theirs up (Exodus 7:8–10). It was Aaron’s rod that God used to turn the water of Egypt into blood (Exodus 7:19–21). And it was Aaron’s rod that summoned the plagues of the frogs (Exodus 8:5–6) and gnats (verses 16–17). After Moses and Aaron had led the Israelites out of captivity, God set apart Aaron and his sons as priests (Exodus 28:1; Numbers 18:1). The rest of the Levites were to minister to the Lord in the tabernacle, offer sacrifices, and hear from God for the good of the whole nation.
The most famous story of Aaron’s rod begins with a few of the Levites becoming disgruntled about the extra authority given to Moses and Aaron. In Numbers 16, Korah, who was also a Levite, joined with two others, Dathan and Abiram, to incite a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. In verse 3 Korah says to Moses, “You have gone too far! The whole community of Israel has been set apart by the Lord, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than the rest of the Lord’s people?” Because of this defiance of the Lord’s authority, God caused the earth to open up and swallow these three men and their families (verses 28–33).
However, rather than submit to the Lord, the other tribal leaders jointed the revolt. Numbers 16:41 says, “But the very next morning the whole community of Israel began muttering again against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You have killed the Lord’s people!’” The Lord desired to wipe out the whole company, but Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and pleaded with Him not to destroy them. God relented and, instead, sent a plague throughout the company of rebellious Israel; the plague killed 14,700 of them (verse 49).
To put an end to the unrest, God once again used Aaron’s rod for a miracle. God commanded Moses to have the leader of each tribe of Israel bring his rod or staff to the tent of meeting, with Aaron’s rod representing the tribe of Levi. Each of the twelve leaders was to have his name inscribed on his rod. The Lord told Moses, “Buds will sprout on the staff belonging to the man I choose. Then I will finally put an end to the people’s murmuring and complaining against you” (Numbers 17:5). They left their rods before the Lord, and in the morning “Aaron’s staff, representing the tribe of Levi, had sprouted, budded, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds” (verse 8). Aaron’s rod didn’t just sprout buds; it brought forth flowers and fruit, a clear demonstration of the power of the One who gives life. Verse 10 says, “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Place Aaron’s staff permanently before the Ark of the Covenant to serve as a warning to rebels. This should put an end to their complaints against me and prevent any further deaths.’”
Hebrews 9:4 tells us that Aaron’s rod remained in the Ark of the Covenant as a testimony of God’s choice of Aaron and Moses to lead His people. Aaron’s rod was also a reminder that God does not put up with rebellion against Himself or His chosen representatives on earth (1 Corinthians 10:10). Those who murmur, complain, and cause division within the Body of Christ are to be rebuked (James 5:9; 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 2:23). God’s plans on this earth are far beyond any single human being. He desires that we work together, in one accord, to obey Him and reflect His glory.