Is Numbers 17 the end to the grumblings against Moses? No (cf. Numbers 20:3). But the sign in this chapter (Numbers 17:10) was to that purpose (17:5).
Numbers documents so much rebellion (17:10), spurning of God (16:30), grumbling (16:41;17:5,10), assembling against (20:2), contending (20:3), that describing it has an overwhelming effect upon the reader.
In the midst of this story is that of the sign of Aaron's staff, or rod, that budded. The New Testament (Heb 9:4) picks up on this. Aaron's rod, alone among the twelve specified for observation, "sprouted and put forth buds" (17:8), blossoms, and ripe almonds. In the midst of all this complaining, is it really true ... in the middle of events that could lead to disaster for the whole enterprise (16:21; 16:45) ... plagues with thousands dying (16:49) ... the ground opening up and swallowing precisely those who rebelled, and precisely all their belongings alone (16:32) ... is it really true that God is setting up a sign, a miraculous positive sign, ... for future generations? Yes (17:4)! It is not only for the future, but for the present -- both to deal with the rebels and so that they will not die (17:10).
God, dealing with "the sons of rebellion" (17:10, lit.), creates a sign in the chaos, so that they will not die. Nothing so proves the utility of this, as their voices: their voices crying out in fear is the noisy proof to the reader of the fact that they're still alive (17:12-13).
Why does God create this sign, among people who are appointed to die in the wilderness (14:22-23; cf. Heb 3:16ff), so that they will not die? Moses (Dt 2:7) and Nehemiah (Neh 9:21) pick up on the significance of this.
After all these stories of rebellion, the incident at Meribah (20:13) is read as one of many such. How then can we fail to see, in retrospect, the careful language of Exodus 3:8, compared to what we would have expected to happen!? Everything there happens, but not in the way that we thought it would happen! That generation, the one called "My people" in Ex 3:7, is certainly going to be delivered from the power of the Egyptians ... and brought "to" ... "the place of the Canaanite and ...." (Ex 3:8). By the time the Israelites are actually in the land, they will have downsized to being without Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, and with only two others of the generation that left Egypt!
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