Shortly after Watchman Nee was saved, he began to love the Lord and was intensely burdened to preach the gospel to his schoolmates and countrymen in season and out of season. Through his preaching nearly all his schoolmates were led to the Lord...
Witness Lee was born in 1905 in northern China and raised in a Christian family. At age 19 he was fully captured for Christ and immediately consecrated himself to preach the gospel for the rest of his life. Early in his service, he met Watchman Nee, a renowned preacher, teacher, and writer.
The Budding Rod, Life-Study of Hebrews, Message Sixty-One, pp. 675-678
In this message we come to the matter of the budding rod (Heb. 9:4; Num. 17:1-10). Not many Christians have realized the full significance of the budding rod. Many simply regard the record of the budding rod as an interesting Bible story of a piece of dried wood that budded, blossomed, and yielded fruit overnight. But this incident is not a small point in the divine revelation.
Christians pay attention to the tabernacle. We have seen that with the tabernacle there are the altar and the laver in the outer court; the showbread table, the lampstand, and the incense altar in the Holy Place; and the ark of testimony in the Holy of Holies. The ark of testimony, the unique unit in the Holy of Holies, signifies Christ as the unique testimony of God. The contents of the ark comprise three items: the hidden manna, the budding rod, and the tables of the law. In the three previous messages, we have covered the first item, the hidden manna. Many Christians can understand something of the manna, for they know that it is a heavenly food signifying Christ as the bread of life. It is difficult, however, to understand the significance of the budding rod.
The children of Israel had many experiences in the wilderness, and the Lord commanded them to place in His presence symbols of three of the experiences through which they passed. These symbols were the tables of testimony, the manna, and the budding rod. After the Israelites had received the law at Mount Sinai, the Lord told them to put the two tables of the law into the ark (Exo. 34:1, 29; 25:21; 40:20). An omer full of manna was put in a pot and laid up the Lord to be kept (Exo. 16:32-34). In the wilderness, the children of Israel also passed through some experiences of rebellion. Numbers 16 is an account of the most serious rebellion. Out of that rebellion came the budding rod, which was put before the testimony, which was in the ark, as a sign (Num. 17:10-11). By this we see that each of these items came out of the experiences of the Israelites. They were not teachings, but the issue, the outcome, of their experiences. Thus, if we try to understand these three items by our mentality and for the purpose of knowledge, we shall not succeed. We can only understand them in, with, and for our experiences.
If we would understand the budding rod, we must have a little background. God's purpose is to gain a collective people to be His corporate expression to express and represent Him that He might have a dominion, a kingdom, in which to carry out His eternal economy. Many people think that God had a partial love for the Jews, working for them and doing things for them, and that He did not care for the Gentiles. This is a religious concept; it is not the focus of the divine revelation. The focus of the divine revelation is that the eternal God has a purpose. This purpose is to gain a people as a corporate unit to contain Him, to be one with Him, and to let Him be one with them that they might be the living expression of the invisible God, and that God might have a kingdom on earth to carry out His economy for His glory and to deal with His enemy. This was God's purpose when He called the children of Israel out of Egypt, making them a chosen and a called people.
As such a people outside of Egypt, the Israelites were walking in the wilderness toward God's goal. The children of Israel were at least a few million in number, for the male warriors alone numbered more than six hundred thousand (Num. 1:45-46). Since the number of the Israelites was so great, there was certainly the need, as there is today, for the building up of God's people. For the building up of the people of God, there was, in turn, the need for some authority. Using today's term, there was the need of leadership. As we shall see, God did not only raise up this leadership—He built it up. The leadership among the children of Israel was a corporate leadership comprising at least two men: Moses, representing the aspect of dominion and kingship, and Aaron, representing the aspect of image and priesthood.
In order for God's people to express God and to represent Him, there must be both the priesthood and the kingship. Even the New Testament tells us clearly that in God's redemption He has made us priests and kings (Rev. 1:5-6; 5:9-10). Thus, we have the priesthood and we are in the kingship. We have the priesthood so that we may express God. This is related to the image of God. The kingship is for God's dominion. God created man in His image and gave him dominion over all the creatures (Gen. 1:26). This is the kingship for God's kingdom. In the church today there is still the need of the priesthood to express God and the kingship to represent God. In the coming millennial kingdom, we shall also be the priests expressing God and the kings representing God (Rev. 20:6). Furthermore, for eternity in the New Jerusalem we shall be priests and kings (Rev. 22:3-5) expressing God through our priesthood and representing Him with His dominion in our kingship. From the first chapter of Genesis through the last chapter of Revelation, the Bible is very consistent about these two aspects of God's corporate people.
Moses, representing the kingship, and Aaron, representing the priesthood, were put together for God's leadership. As we have already mentioned, they were both raised up and built up. God did not take Moses and put him into the leadership immediately after he had completed his education in Pharaoh's palace. No, after Moses had been educated, God brought him into the wilderness where He built up his leadership. Moses was born into a Jewish family and thus received the knowledge concerning God. Since he did not have a worldly education, God raised up the circumstances to enable him to receive the highest education in Pharaoh's palace (Acts 7:22). I believe that his education was higher than that of a Ph.D. Although he was so well educated, he was still not qualified to be the leader. During his first forty years, Moses learned of God and gained the world's best education. After that, he had to spend another forty years in the wilderness in order to be built up as a leader. The Bible does not afford us a clear record regarding the leadership of Aaron, but, in principle, Aaron must have also been under God's building hand. When Moses told the Lord that he was not eloquent but was "slow of speech, and of a slow tongue" (Exo. 4:10), the Lord said that Aaron, his brother, who could speak well, would be unto Moses "instead of a mouth" and that Moses would "be to him instead of God" (Exo. 4:14, 16). Only after Moses and Aaron had been built up as leaders were they able to take the lead.