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 Vindication of Proper Leadership, Life-Study of Hebrews, Message Sixty-One, pp. 678-681
The journey through the wilderness was a test to the Israelites. When the Lord sent Moses to the children of Israel, He told him to speak to the people, saying on His behalf, "I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto...a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exo. 3:17). This was a good promise. The children of Israel were delivered out of the land of Egypt and they should have entered into the land of milk and honey. But due to their unbelief, which is recorded in Numbers 14. they could not enter in. Eventually, in Numbers 16, the rebels blamed Moses and Aaron, and not their own unbelief, for their not entering into the good land. The rebellious ones said, "Is it a small thing that thou has brought us up out of a land that floweth with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, except thou make thyself altogether a prince over us? Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land that floweth with milk and honey" (Num. 16:13-14). Numbers 17:10 refers to these rebellious ones as "the rebels." The Hebrew word rendered rebels means "sons of rebellion." These sons of rebellion seemed to be saying to Moses and Aaron, "You promised to bring us into a land flowing with milk and honey, but you have not done it. Don't you know that the land out of which you brought us was a land of milk and honey? You have not fulfilled your promise." These sons of rebellion even said that Egypt was the land of milk and honey. What rebellion!
Who were these rebels? The first was Korah. Korah, who was a Levite (Num. 16:1), considered himself to be the same as Moses and Aaron, who also were Levites. Korah might have said within himself, "You two are Levites. How about me? Am I not also a Levite? Why must you take the lead, while I have no share in it?" Two of the other rebels were Dathan and Abiram, descendants of Reuben, the first son of Jacob. Considering themselves to be the tribe of the birthright, they might have said, "You Levites are number three, but we, the sons of Reuben, the first son of Jacob, are number one. Since you came after us, why should only the two of you take the lead?" Eventually, they all said to Moses and Aaron, "Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them: wherefore lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?" (Lev. 16:3). This was the subtle, devilish argument and condemnation within those rebels. What a rebellious root we see here!
Moses and Aaron were not young men. Both of them must have been about a hundred years of age. According to Psalm 90, which was written by Moses, the span of a human life is seventy years. If one's health is good, he might live to be eighty years of age. Hence, according to Moses' own writing, he should have been dead. But he was serving God after the age of death, and Aaron was even older than he. What was the good of their being so aged? The fact that it was not easy for them to lose their temper. The rebellion in Numbers 16 was serious and terrible, but it did not cause Moses to lose his temper. When the rebels gathered themselves together against Moses and Aaron, Moses "fell upon his face" (Num. 16:4). As we shall see in the next message, God came in to judge this rebellion.
In Numbers 17 God seemed to be saying to Moses, "Those sons of rebellion were fighting with you over the leadership. Tell them that I shall do something to vindicate the leadership. I shall show them who the real leaders are, and their mouths will be shut." In Numbers 17:2 the Lord said to Moses, "Speak unto the children of Israel, and take of every one of them a rod according to the house of their fathers, of all their princes according to the house of their fathers twelve rods: write thou every man's name upon his rod." A rod is a piece of dead and dried-up wood. Its nature is that of dead wood. What is the function of a rod? It is to rule over others. A rod is different from a staff. A staff is for helping and supporting those who are weak and crippled and who have difficulty standing or walking. But a rod is not for supporting; it is for ruling and beating. According to the book of Proverbs, a father must use a rod to discipline his children (Prov. 23:13-14).
Our God is very wise, and He had the best way to vindicate the leadership. God did not argue. Rather, He seemed to say, "Since you have been arguing about the leadership, I ask you to bring your rods in before the testimony. You thought that you had the rods and could rule over others, and that Moses and Aaron assumed too much. You said that since you are all the people of God you all have the same authority. Do you have authority? Every tribe has a rod. Bring your rods to Me and put them in front of My testimony for a night, and let us see what will come out." In Numbers 17:5 the Lord said, "And it shall come to pass, that the man's rod, whom I shall choose, shall blossom: and I will make to cease from me the murmurings of the children of Israel, whereby they murmur against you."
Twelve rods were laid up before the Lord in the tabernacle of witness (Num. 17:7). Numbers 17:8 says, "It came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds." This signifies that the real leadership, the real authority, is in the budding life. This life not only buds and blossoms; it yields fruit that we might feed others, not that we might beat them. Although the rod is for ruling, this ruling is for feeding, not for beating.
The leadership among God's people is different from that found among the Gentiles. All the Gentile kings use their rods for ruling. No rod among the Gentile leaders is useful for feeding, because none of their rods is living. Every rod is just a piece of dead wood. Only with the proper leadership among God's people is there a rod budding with resurrection life and yielding fruit to nourish others.
The almond tree is the first tree in the year to blossom, blossoming in either January or February. The first fruit which comes out of a tree is the almond. This signifies resurrection. Hence, the budding, blossoming, fruit yielding rod signifies the resurrection life of Christ. The leadership among God's children must be Christ Himself as the resurrection life which buds, blossoms, and bears almonds to feed God's people.