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New American Bible

2002 11 11
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Chapter 17


The LORD said to Moses,


"Tell Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, to remove the censers from the embers; and scatter the fire some distance away,


1 for these sinners have consecrated the censers at the cost of their lives. Have them hammered into plates to cover the altar, because in being presented before the LORD they have become sacred. In this way they shall serve as a sign to the Israelites."


So Eleazar the priest had the bronze censers of those burned during the offering hammered into a covering for the altar,


in keeping with the orders which the LORD had given him through Moses. This cover was to be a reminder to the Israelites that no layman, no one who was not a descendant of Aaron, should approach the altar to offer incense before the LORD, lest he meet the fate of Korah and his band.


The next day the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, "It is you who have slain the LORD'S people."


But while the community was deliberating against them, Moses and Aaron turned toward the meeting tent, and the cloud now covered it and the glory of the LORD appeared.


Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the meeting tent,


and the LORD said to Moses and Aaron,


"Depart from this community, that I may consume them at once." But they fell prostrate.


Then Moses said to Aaron, "Take your censer, put fire from the altar in it, lay incense on it, and bring it quickly to the community to make atonement for them; for wrath has come forth from the LORD and the blow is falling."


Obeying the orders of Moses, Aaron took his censer and ran in among the community, where the blow was already falling on the people. Then, as he offered the incense and made atonement for the people,


standing there between the living and the dead, the scourge was checked.


Yet fourteen thousand seven hundred died from the scourge, in addition to those who died because of Korah.


When the scourge had been checked, Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the meeting tent.


The LORD now said to Moses,


2 "Speak to the Israelites and get one staff from them for each ancestral house, twelve staffs in all, one from each of their tribal princes. Mark each man's name on his staff;


3 and mark Aaron's name on Levi's staff, for the head of Levi's ancestral house shall also have a staff.


Then lay them down in the meeting tent, in front of the commandments, where I meet you.


There the staff of the man of my choice shall sprout. Thus will I suppress from my presence the Israelites' grumbling against you."


So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and their princes gave him staffs, twelve in all, one from each tribal prince; and Aaron's staff was with them.


Then Moses laid the staffs down before the LORD in the tent of the commandments.


The next day, when Moses entered the tent, Aaron's staff, representing the house of Levi, had sprouted and put forth not only shoots, but blossoms as well, and even bore ripe almonds!


Moses thereupon brought out all the staffs from the LORD'S presence to the Israelites. After each prince identified his own staff and took it,


the LORD said to Moses, "Put back Aaron's staff in front of the commandments, to be kept there as a warning to the rebellious, so that their grumbling may cease before me; if it does not, they will die."


And Moses did as the LORD had commanded him.


4 Then the Israelites cried out to Moses, "We are perishing; we are lost, we are all lost!


Every time anyone approaches the Dwelling of the LORD, he dies! Are we to perish to the last man?"


1 [3] Whatever was brought into intimate contact with something sacred shared in its sacredness. See note on Numbers 19:20.

2 [17] (17)The staff was not merely an article of practical use, but also a symbol of authority; cf Genesis 49:10; Numbers 24:17; Jeremiah 48:17. Hence, the staff of a leader of a tribe was considered the emblem of his tribe; in fact, certain Hebrew words for "staff" also mean "tribe." Perhaps for this reason, to avoid confusion, the author here uses the term "ancestral house" instead of the ordinary word for "tribe."

3 [18] (18)Levi's staff: it is not clear whether this is considered as one of the twelve mentioned in the preceding verse, or as a thirteenth staff. Sometimes Levi is reckoned as one of the twelve tribes (e.g., Deut 27:12-13), but more often the number twelve is arrived at by counting the two sub-tribes of Joseph, i.e., Ephraim and Manasseh, as distinct tribes. In this passage also it seems probable that the tribe of Levi is considered apart from the other twelve.

4 [27] (27,28)Logically these two verses belong immediately after Numbers 16:35.

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