(Psalm 110: 2; Num. 17: 1-10).






E. H.  THOMAS (Colonel).






THE rod of strength here mentioned is the ancestral staff of Palestine and Syria which to this day is a familiar sight to travellers.



It is a stout, straight bough of a tree in its natural and undressed state.  It forms one of the recognized insignia of rank and authority.  It marks the hereditary and lineally descended ruler.  The elder or head of each village, who is also the hereditary ruler of the place, carries such a staff.  His father held it before him, and unless he be deposed, it will be born in turn by his son.  The sheik, the lineally descended hereditary chieftain of each Bedouin tribe still carries this ancestral staff as a badge of his dignity and power.  It also marks the priestly rank, to which it appertains equally with the priestly.  The cadi or judge in all religious matters, the mufti or Mahometan bishop, and the ullamahs or teachers of religion who answer to the priests, all bear this characterizing staff in virtue of their office.



This to the Oriental mind is symbolical.  As the branch is the direct and natural offshoot of the parent tree, so the man who owns the ancestral undressed branch is regarded as the lineal offspring and head of the house of his father.  The reason why it became a priestly badge is to be found in the fact that in patriarchal times each head of a house appears in the character of a priest to his family.  Noah offered a sacrifice on leaving the Ark, and Abraham built an altar in the places where he abode.  Thus the offices of priest and patriarchal ruler were originally invested in the same person, and when they afterward became dissociated, they continued to be marked in the same manner.



James Neil (in Palestine Explored) writes: “There are two words in Hebrew for ‘tribe’: one is shaivat, and means ‘sceptre,’ ‘mace’ or ‘club,’ such as is borne by the tribal chief.  The other word is matteh, and sometimes requires to be translated by the word ‘rod’ or ‘staff.’  This ancestral staff of dignity is a means of support, or walking stick, as we should say; and five times in the Old Testament the word matteh is used figuratively: thus matteh lehem signifies ‘the stay or support of bread’ (Lev. 26: 26).  In our Bibles, through misapprehension of the Hebrew vowel points, which however form no part of the inspired text we have in Gen. 47: 31, the word ‘bed-head’ which in Hebrew is mittah in place of ‘staff’ which is matteh” (pp. 158, 162).



Paul in Heb. 11. states that upon the occasion familiar to us, Jacob worshipped leaning upon the top of his staff.  It seems that matteh, as distinguished from shaivat, means a tribe as literally descended from the Patriarchs.  Shaivat means a tribe in its federal or corporate capacity; matteh a tribe as a clan represented by a hereditary chieftain.



The next mention of the matteh brings us to Horeb.  Moses, standing before the burning bush, hearing his high commission to bring Israel out of Egypt, tremblingly objects: “But behold, they will not believe me not hearken to my voice. … And Jehovah said unto him, ‘what is that in thy hand?’  And he said, ‘a staff’” (matteh) (Ex. 4: 2).  This was in all probability Levi’s original staff; in any case in Exodus ch. 7 it is spoken of as “Aaron’s staff,” to whom both as the eldest son of the priest it would by right belong.



In reference to the wonders wrought by this staff in the presence of Pharaoh, it will be observed that the magicians, Jannes and Jambres each carried such a rod of staff, which they cast down in imitation of Aaron.  The mural paintings on Egyptian monuments,” says WILKINSON, in his book The Ancient Egyptians, “show that the use of the matteh as a badge of rank was prevalent in Egypt among priests.”  As Aaron’s “staff swallowed up their staves,” it was shown from the very outset of the contest that victory would be upon the side of the priest of Jehovah over the priests of the idol gods of Egypt.  For the matteh of Aaron destroyed their badge of office, thus symbolically putting an end to their order altogether.



We again meet with this staff in the miraculous proof of Aaron’s calling to the priesthood (in Num. 17).  For it is appropriately used in deciding which tribe had been chosen for the hierarchy.  Moses is directed to take an almond-wood staff (matteh) from each one of the twelve tribes and to write everyman’s name upon his staff who was the head or prince of that tribe.  Aaron’s name was to be written upon the thirteenth staff, and these were all to be “laid up in the tabernacle of the congregation before Jehovah,” that is before the ark of testimony; that by the blossoming of one of the thirteen it might be determined which tribe-prince the Lord had chosen to be hereditary high priest.



DR. THOMPSON in his work, The Land and the Book, alluding to the fact that these staves were of almond-wood, observes that they were “selected for the purpose from the tree which in its natural development is the most expeditious of all; and not only do the blossoms appear on it suddenly, but the fruit sets at once and appears while the flowers are yet on the tree; buds, blossoms and almonds together on the same branch as with this rod of Moses” (p. 319).  To this may be added that the staff’s miraculous fruitfulness was in striking agreement with its state as a natural undressed bough, and with its being the “mighty staff” with which all the miracles of Moses and Aaron had up till then been performed.



For it seems clear that Aaron’s rod, thus laid up was indeed no other that the wonder-working staff with which the “signs” had been wrought in Egypt, at the Red Sea, and in the subsequent wilderness journey.  God, in giving Moses his first commission, said of the staff he then held in his hand: “Thou shalt take this matteh in thy hand wherewith thou shalt do signs” (Ex. 4: 17).  It is twice called “the mighty staff” which is the meaning of the expression “rod of God” according to Hebrew idiom (Ex. 4: 20; 17: 9).  At the miraculous trial to ascertain whom the Lord had appointed priest, the matteh taken to represent Aaron is called “the staff of Levi” (Num. 17: 3) and the “staff of Aaron” (17: 6), although in the case of the twelve priests of the other tribes, it is said that Moses was only to take a staff.  We are told, “every one of their princes gave him a staff apiece; for each prince one according to their houses even twelve staves, and the staff of Aaron was among their staves” (17: 6).  At the close of the trial of each of the twelve princes took back his own lifeless matteh; but that of Aaron which blossomed and bare fruit was brought again into the Holy of Holies “before the testimony” or ark - in other words “before Jehovah - “for a token against the rebels” (17: 10).



We next hear of it when God is about to work another miracle by the hand of Moses in the bringing water out of the rock at Meribah: “Then Jehovah spake unto Moses saying: take the staff”: and it is added that Moses took the staff from before Jehovah as he commanded him (Num. 20: 7, 9).  Hence we may clearly infer that Aaron’s staff which budded was the self same almond-wood staff which Moses had carried at Horeb and with which all the subsequent miracles were wrought.



Let us view the 110th Psalm in the light of these facts.  We know that this Scripture refers to Messiah from its very first verse.  When the Pharisees, in answer to the Master’s question, said that they thought Christ was David’s son, Jesus said to them, “How then doth David in the spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies a footstool for thy feet” (Matt. 22: 41-46).



That this is the most important Scripture in proof both of Christ’s priestly office and the change in the Levitical law, may be gathered from the use made of it in the Epistle to the Hebrews.  This Psalm represents Messiah by Jehovah’s appointment as both King and Priest for Zion.



The other kings of Judah were not priests.  Uzziah was struck with leprosy for attempting so much as to burn incense.  Of the tribe of Judah, Moses spake nothing concerning the priesthood (Heb. 7).  The jurisdiction of Levi’s line began and ended with things spiritual.  But this is the royal priest after the similitude of Melchisedek, the antitype of the high priest, Joshua, of whom it is said, “He shall sit and rule upon His throne, and He shall be a priest upon His throne” (Zech. 6: 3).



It is this King-priest that the second verse of this Psalm declares: “Jehovah will send the rod of Thy strength out of Zion.”



Now this is most deeply significant, for in Num. 24: 17; Ps. 2: 9, where Messiah’s kingly power and ability to break in pieces are in question the word shaivat or sceptre is made use of.  But here the ancestral staff or matteh is the word, and marks the priest as well as the king of lineal descent.  It is here, therefore, most fitly said to be given to Him who is described as bearing both offices and as being the promised prince of David’s line.



We read that this staff shall be sent out of Zion.  This carries us back to Aaron and the way in which his authority as high-priest was manifested.  His staff laid up before Jehovah, was brought out from the ark of the Tabernacle blossoming and bearing almonds, instinct with resurrection-life and indeed a “strong staff” of indisputable authority sent out of the sanctuary.  So manifestly and mightily should Christ be exhibited to Israel out of Jerusalem as their great High-Priest to the authority of Whom God would set miraculous seal!



That which answers to the miraculous proof of Aaron’s priesthood, in the case of our Saviour, is undoubtedly His own resurrection.  By this His Divine mission was incontrovertibly established.  He was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by the resurrection from among the dead (Rom. 1: 4).  Just as the blossoming or coming to life of Aaron’s almond-wood staff was the sign of his appointment by God, so Christ Himself, the “Branch of Jehovah,” was raised [out] from the dead, as a testimony to his unchangeable priesthood.



This is the view given us by the Apostle Paul regarding the call of Christ.  No man taketh the honour unto himself, but when he is called by God, even as was Aaron.  So Christ also glorified not Himself to be made a High-Priest; but He who spoke to him: ‘Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee’” (Heb. 5: 4, 5).  Now these words of the Second Psalm refer to Messiah’s resurrection, for the same are quoted by Paul at Antioch in connection with the statement, “He hath raised up Jesus again” (Acts 13: 33).  Out Lord Himself says the same thing; for when the Jews demanded a sign in proof of His authority to purge the temple, He said to them “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”; and He spake thus of the temple of his body (John 2: 19, 21).  Twice upon other occasions, when the Pharisees and Sadducees came and asked for a sign or miracle to establish His Messianic claims, he replied, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonah,” that is, as our Lord explains, His own resurrection from the dead on the third day (Matt. 12: 38-40; 16: 4).  This is still the one sign, the one token against the rebels to this day in Israel.



Christ’s ascension on high and continued session on the Father’s throne was prefigured by the laying up of “Aaron’s rod again before the testimony,” that is, in the Holy of Holies, which we are told is a type of heaven (Heb. 9: 7-12).  The bring out of the rod once more from “before Jehovah” to work further miracles, foreshadows our Lord’s coming with power and great glory amid fresh miraculous signs.



But this is not a popular theme.  Even among Evangelical believers a frame of mind is prevalent which causes them to discourage any dealing with this topic.  They will either reply that they refrain from the study of unfulfilled prophecy, or that this is a speculative and unpractical doctrine with nothing practical at all in it.  The truth is that the bulk of teachers and hearers do not want to be true.  They will gladly sing “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” “Jesus, lover of my soul,” and so on, they will willingly go on listening to rudimentary truths; they are up in arms upon the smallest suspicion of unorthodoxy; and, either knowing or thinking themselves to be safe, the shop, business of profession flourishing, and health fairly good, the prevailing idea is: “the lines are fallen to me in pleasant places” rather than “even so come Lord Jesus.”



Listen to the testimony which the late Joseph Rabinowitz so plaintively uttered in 1896 a short time before his death.  He writes: “The Spirit is suggesting to me to warn my Jewish brethren from communication with such Europeans as call themselves Christians only because after they die they are interred in a Christian cemetery according to Christian rite, when their life and tendency are altogether in a heathenly manner against Jehovah and His Anointed One.  I am more and more convinced that for Jews truly converted to Christ there is no place among the adherents of existing churches in Europe.  My thirteen years experience in the Lord’s work among the Jews has shown me again and again that the faith in Jesus Christ obtained by the Jews, ‘by hearing’ of the message from the lips of Christ’s preachers, fails and slips out of his heart as soon as the Jew finds himself in a church among those who are Christians by birth.  The cause of this is found in the fact that the Jew does not find in such a church a sufficient supply of heavenly food by which he may keep up the growth of the blessed hope of the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.  In those churches where the message of the second coming of our blessed Lord is ignored, the Jew pines away and turns into a phenomenally stuffed Christian.”



And with regard to the unconverted generally, to whom in this rapidly closing dispensation of this “Gospel of the grace of God” a gospel is being offered, may we not ask ourselves if the ill-success of missionary effort is not mainly due primarily to this suppression of the “blessed hope” involving as it is bound to do those evils in our midst, complained of by Rabinowitz?  To say nothing of the disastrous impression made among the heathen abroad by the conduct of nominal [and regenerate] Christians.



This latter point has always been the bitter regret of missionaries, many of whom prefer to hold aloof from their countrymen in consequence, to show that they themselves at least are separated to the Lord.



In a word: the Church, viewed as a corporate professing body has failed (as mankind has done in every dispensation) in the trust committed to it.  As a result, the time is near when professing Church testimony will, as a wild olive be broken off, and Israelitish testimony again grafted in (Rom. 11: 23).



Mark the words: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power”; that is when the Lord shall “take unto Himself His great power, and reign” (Rev. 11: 17).  The nations shall be angry, but the Rod of His strength will go forth and He shall break them in pieces as a potter’s vessel.  No more mocking and scourging, no more spitting and buffeting then!  Sinners shall be consumed out of the earth and the wicked shall be no more (Ps. 104: 35).