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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Numbers 10

 

 

Verse 2

X.

(2) Of a whole piece.—Better, of beaten (or, turned) work. (See Notes on Exodus 25:18; Exodus 25:31.) The trumpets here spoken of are supposed to have been straight, like that on the triumphal arch of Titus at Rome and on the old Egyptian monuments. In this respect the hazozerah is supposed to have differed from the cornet or horn, keren or shophar (which is interchanged with keren), which was crooked. (See Joshua 6:5. compared with 6:4, 6, 8, 13.) We find reference to the jubilee trumpet in Leviticus 25:9, from which it has been inferred that the trumpets here mentioned were not first made at this time. It is true, indeed, that the first verse might be rendered: “Now the Lord had spoken unto Moses, saying”; but the word used in Leviticus 25:9 is shophar, not hazozerah, and the latter word occurs in this place for the first time.


Verse 4

(4) With one trumpet.—Or, but once (or, at the same time). (Comp. Job 33:14; Proverbs 28:18; Jeremiah 10:8.) Some suppose that the meaning is that the trumpets were to be blown at the same time with one even or uniform sound, and that not a continuous one.


Verse 5

(5) When ye blow an alarm.—The word teruah, alarm, is supposed to denote a loud and continuous blast, by which the signal for the moving of the camps was distinguished from those which were used for the summoning of the congregation, or of the princes (Numbers 10:7). In the former of these cases some suppose that both trumpets were blown, and in the latter only one (Numbers 10:4 and Note. Comp. Light-foot’s Temple Service, Numbers 7:5; Numbers 7:2.) The fuller directions respecting the order in which the camps were to break up are given in Numbers 2. Here the order of the eastern and southern camps only is prescribed. In the LXX., however, we read thus: “And ye shall sound a third alarm, and the camps pitched by the sea (i.e., westward), shall move forward; and ye shall sound a fourth alarm, and they that encamp toward the north shall move forward; they shall sound an alarm at their departure.”


Verse 7

(7) But ye shall not sound an alarm.—A clear and intelligible distinction was to be made between the summons to the princes, or to the congregation, to assemble at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting and the signal for the moving of the camps. So the gospel trumpet must at no time give an uncertain sound (1 Corinthians 14:8), but must be used faithfully and diligently by the spiritual watchmen, whether it be to warn the ungodly, to arouse the careless, or to speak to the hearts of God’s people.


Verse 8

(8) And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets.—As Aaron had only two sons at this time, there was need only of two trumpets. In most of the places in which the word hazozerah (trumpet) occurs (as, e.g., Numbers 31:6; 1 Chronicles 15:24), this instrument appears to have been used by the priests. There are cases, however, in the later history (as 2 Kings 11:14; 1 Chronicles 16:42), in which the trumpets appear to have been used by the Levites, and perhaps by those who were neither priests nor Levites. The number of these trumpets was increased in the time of David and Solomon. We read in 1 Chronicles 15:24 of seven priests blowing with them before the ark of God, and in 2 Chronicles 5:12 of one hundred and twenty priests blowing with them. Josephus says that Solomon made 200,000 trumpets, according to the command of Moses (Antiq., Book 8, chap. 3).


Verse 9

(9) And if ye go to war.—Better, And when ye shall go to war. In Numbers 31:6 we read that in the war against the Midianites, Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, had these trumpets of alarm (hazozeroth) in his hand. So also Abijah, in his address to Jeroboam, previously to the battle, lays great stress upon the fact that Judah had on their side the priests with the trumpets of alarm (2 Chronicles 13:12; 2 Chronicles 13:14). On the other hand, the seven priests who compassed the city of Jericho carried the shophar, or keren—i.e., rams’ horn—not the hazozerah, or silver trumpet.


Verse 10

(10) In the day of your gladness.—As, e.g., at the dedication of Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 5:13), and at the cleansing of the Temple by Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:27-28). Compare Psalms 98:6.

For a memorial.—Compare Leviticus 23:24.

Before your God: I am the Lord your God.—Or, Before your God, (even) before me, Jehovah, your God. (Comp. Numbers 3:13 and Note.)


Verse 11

(11) On the twentieth day of the second month.—It appears from Exodus 19:1 that the Israelites encamped before Mount Sinai in the third month of the preceding year, and, as is generally supposed, on the first day of the month. In this case the encampment at the foot of Mount Sinai had lasted eleven months and nineteen days. No day of the month, however, is specified in Exod. xix 1, and no certain reliance can be placed upon the Jewish tradition that the Law was delivered fifty days after the Exodus. There is the same omission of the day of the month in Numbers 9:1; Numbers 20:1.


Verse 12

(12) And the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran.—The fact is here mentioned by way of anticipation (see Numbers 10:33). The spot referred to is probably Kibroth-hattaavah, which may have been at the southernmost extremity of the wilderness of Paran. In Deuteronomy 1:19 it is called “that great and terrible wilderness.” This wilderness is supposed to have been bounded by the land of Canaan on the north, by the valley of Arabah on the east, and by the desert of Sinai on the south. Its western boundary appears to have been the wilderness of Shur, or rather the river, or brook, of Egypt (Wady-el-Arish), which divides the wilderness into two parts, of which the western part is sometimes known as the wilderness of Shur. The sojourn of the Israelites was confined to the eastern part. (See Kurtz’s History of the Old Covenant, 3 p. 221.)


Verse 17

(17) And the tabernacle was taken down . . . —The order of precedence as regards the twelve tribes which were encamped on the four sides of the Tabernacle is clearly laid down in Numbers 2, where it is ordered that the camp of the Lervites should set forward “in the midst of the camps” (Numbers 10:17). The precise position which the three bodies of Levites were to occupy in the marches is defined in this chapter. The Gershonites, who had the charge of the curtains and hangings of the Tabernacle and the court (Numbers 4:25-26), with their two wagons, and the Merarites, who had the charge of the heavier and more bulky materials (Numbers 4:31-32), with their four wagons, were to set forward after the first or eastern camp, which was composed of the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon, in order that they might have time to erect the Tabernacle before the arrival of the Kohathites, “bearing the sanctuary” (or sacred things). Next in order after the Gershonites and Merarites followed the southern camp, consisting of the three tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. Then followed the Kohathites in the centre of the procession, “bearing the sanctuary.” After them marched the three tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, who formed the western camp, and as the rereward, the three tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali, which formed the northern camp. This arrangement serves to throw light upon Psalms 80:2 : “Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us.


Verse 28

(28) When they set forward.—Better, and they set forward.


Verse 29

(29) Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law.—Raguel is the same as Reuel (Exodus 2:18), and the orthography should be the same in all places. Reuel is commonly supposed to be identical with Jether (Exodus 4:18), or Jethro (Exodus 3:1), who is frequently described as the hothen (in the Authorised Version, “father-in-law”) of Moses (Numbers 18:2; Numbers 18:5-6, &c.). But, according to the ordinary rules of Hebrew syntax, Hobab, not Jethro, is here spoken of as the hothen of Moses; and in Judges 4:11 he is expressly so called. Inasmuch, however, as the cognate noun hathan is used to designate any near relation by marriage—as, e.g., the sons-in-law of Lot (Genesis 19:14)—the word hothen may here and in Judges 4:11 be rendered brother-in-law. Some, however, think that Hobab, whether identical with Jethro or not, was the son of Reuel, and that Zipporah was the daughter of Hobab. But when it is remembered that more than forty years had elapsed since Moses left the land of Egypt and came into that of Midian, and that he was now upwards of eighty years of age, it is much more probable that he should seek the aid of a guide through the wilderness amongst those of the same generation with Zipporah than amongst those of a generation above her. Whether Hobab accompanied Jethro on the occasion of the visit to Moses which is recorded in Exodus 18, whilst the Israelites were encamped at Sinai, and remained with them after Jethro’s departure (Numbers 10:27), or whether the Israelites had already commenced their journey (compare the words of Moses, “We are journeying,” or, setting forward, with the concluding words of Numbers 10:28, and they set forward, and were at this time passing through the territory in which Hobab, as the chief of a nomad tribe, was living, cannot positively be determined.

We are journeying unto the place . . . —These words imply a strong faith in God’s promise on the part of Moses, and a desire, not indeed altogether devoid of reference to mutual advantages, that those with whom he was connected by ties of earthly relationship should be partakers with himself and his people in the peculiar blessings which were promised to the chosen people of God. In any case, the invitation of Moses, when viewed as the mouthpiece of the Jewish Church, may be regarded in the light of an instructive lesson to the Church of Christ in all ages. It is alike the duty and the privilege of all who have heard and obeyed the Gospel invitation themselves to become the instruments of its communication to others. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come” (Revelation 22:17).


Verses 29-31

Come with Us

And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father in law, We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel. And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred. And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou shalt be to us instead of eyes. Numbers 10:29-31.

The Israelites reached Sinai in three months after leaving Egypt. They remained there for at least nine months, and amidst the solitude of those wild rocks they kept the first Passover—the anniversary of their deliverance. “On the twentieth day of the second month” they began again their march through the grim, unknown desert. One can fancy their thoughts and fears as they looked forward to the enemies and trials which might be awaiting them. In these circumstances this story comes in most naturally. Some time before the encampment broke up from Sinai, a relative of Moses by marriage, Hobab by name, had come into the camp on a visit. He was a Midianite by race; one of the wandering tribes from the south-east of the Arabian peninsula. He knew every foot of the ground, as such men do. He knew where the springs were and the herbage, the camping-places, the short-cuts, and the safest routes. So Moses, who had no doubt forgotten much of the little desert skill he had learned in keeping Jethro’s flock, prayed Hobab to remain with them and give them the benefit of his practical knowledge—“to be to us instead of eyes.”

The passage has been treated in two very different ways. Some expositors consider that Moses was to blame for seeking a human guide when God had given the pillar of cloud to conduct the Israelites through the wilderness. Maclaren takes this view. The historian, he says, after recording the appeal to Hobab, passes on to describe at once how “the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them to search out a resting-place for them,” and how “the cloud was upon them when they went out of the camp.” The historian puts the two things side by side, not calling on us to notice the juxtaposition, but surely expecting that we shall not miss what is so plain. He would teach us that it mattered little whether Israel had Hobab or not, if they had the ark and the cloud.1 [Note: A. Maclaren, The Secret of Power, 252.]

Others concentrate their attention on the invitation. They see that, rightly or wrongly, Hobab was invited to accompany Israel to Canaan, and that two arguments were used to induce, him to do so: he would find good for himself, and he would be a benefit to them.

We may use both forms of exposition, though it will be well to use them separately. Then we have—

I. The Pilgrim and his Guides.

1. Life is a journey through the Unknown.

2. Who is to be the Guide?

II. The Pilgrim and his Friends.

1. The Invitation.

2. The Arguments.

(1) For the Good you will get.

(2) For the Good you can do.

I

The Pilgrim and his Guides

i. Life is a journey through the Unknown

The itinerant life of God’s ancient people in the wilderness foreshadows and teaches much concerning the life of His true Israel in all ages. It teaches us that the historic Israel, the people who journeyed from Egypt through the wilderness to Canaan, and the spiritual Israel, those who journey from this world to the heavenly country, are alike called out and separated by God from the world-life that is around them. Neither of them has yet reached or entered the promised rest, but they are journeying toward it. Both are beset by dangers along the way, because of malicious adversaries surrounding it, and because of the deceitfulness of their own hearts within. To both, the Lord, under whose orders they march, extends the protection of His power and the guidance of His light. He also furnishes both with bread from heaven to satisfy their hunger, and gives them waters of life from wells of salvation to quench their thirst. Besides, He ever holds before them the blessed hope of an abundant entrance into the rest He has promised, when each shall have reached the end of the journey.

Among my own very earliest recollections, said Dr. Rainy, are those of an aged lady, very dear to me, whose life was one continued strain of overflowing piety, a long pilgrimage of faith, rising into an unbroken Beulah of praise and prayer.1 [Note: P. C. Simpson, The Life of Principal Rainy, i. 25.]

If It is a libel on God’s goodness to speak of the world as a wilderness. He has not made it so; and if anybody finds that “all is vanity and vexation of spirit,” it is his own fault. But still one aspect of life is truly represented by that figure. There are dangers and barren places, and a great solitude in spite of love and companionship, and many marchings, and lurking foes, and grim rocks, and fierce suns, and parched wells, and shapeless sand wastes enough in every life to make us quail often and look grave always when we think of what may be before us. Who knows what we shall see when we top the next hill, or round the shoulder of the cliff that bars our way? What shout of an enemy may crash in upon the sleeping camp; or what stifling gorge of barren granite—blazing in the sun and trackless to our feet—shall we have to march through to-day?2 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

The world is very much what you and I choose to make it. God intends it to be a place of discipline for the heirs of glory; a place of preparation for heaven; a place in which we may be trained and fitted for the high destiny to which He has called us—just what the wilderness was to Israel. Now, if we use the world in this way, we shall find it to be a very good world for its purpose. And the discipline will not be all painful. We shall have, as Israel had, our Marahs, where the waters are bitter. Disappointments, bereavements, sicknesses, temptations, painful and prolonged conflicts with evil—these we shall have, and they will be hard to bear. But, like Israel, we shall have our Elims also, with their seventy palm trees, and twelve wells of refreshing waters. God will give to us joy, comforts, peace, rest, to cheer us on our way. Yet, just as no schoolboy counts school his home, but longs for the holidays, and the happy meeting with relatives and friends; so we, placed in the world as a school for a while, should not regard it as our home; but should look forward to the day, when, our training complete, we shall enter heaven, and dwell there with Jesus for ever.1 [Note: A. C. Price.]

Elim, Elim! Through the sand and heat

I toil with heart uplifted, I toil with bleeding feet;

For Elim, Elim! at the last, I know

That I shall see the palm-trees, and hear the waters flow.


Elim, Elim! Grows not here a tree,

And all the springs are Marah, and bitter thirst to me;

But Elim, Elim! in thy shady glen

Are twelve sweet wells of water, and palms three-score and ten.


Elim, Elim! Though the way be long,

Unmurmuring I shall journey, and lift my heart in song;

And Elim, Elim! all my song shall tell

Of rest beneath the palm-tree, and joy beside the well.

ii. Who is to be the Guide?

1. God.—The true leader of the children of Israel in their wilderness journey was not Moses, but the Divine Presence in the cloud with a heart of fire, that hovered over their camp for a defence and sailed before them for a guide. “The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them the way.” When it lay on the tent, whether it was for “two days, or a month, or a year,” the march was stayed, and the moment that the cloud lifted “by day or by night,” the encampment was broken up and the long procession was got into marching order without an instant’s pause, to follow its gliding motion wherever it led and however long it lasted. First to follow was the ark on the shoulders of the Levites, and behind it, separated by some space, came the “standard of the camp of the children of Judah, and then the other tribes in their order.”

It would seem as if Hobab’s aid were rendered needless by the provision of guidance immediately promised. Up to this moment the position of the Ark had been in the midst of the host, in front of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh; but henceforth it went three days’ journey in front of the people, “to seek out a resting-place for them.” We are left to conceive of its lonely journey as it went forward, borne by its attendant band of priests and Levites, and perhaps accompanied by a little group of princes and warriors, and especially by the great lawgiver himself. Far behind, at a distance of miles, followed the camp with its tumult, its murmur of many voices, the cries of little children, the measured tramp of armed bands. But none of these intruded on the silence and solemnity which, like majestic angels, passed forward with that courier group accompanying the Ark, over which cherubic forms were bending. That Moses was there is indubitable; for the august sentences are recorded with which he announced its starting forth and its setting down. In the one case, looking into the thin air, which seemed to him thronged with opposing forces of men and demons, he cried, “Rise up, O Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee”; and in the other he cried, “Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel” (Numbers 10:35-36). Thus God Himself superseded the proposal of Moses by an expedient which more than met their needs.

We have the same Divine guidance, if we will; in sober reality we have God’s presence; and waiting hearts which have ceased from self-will may receive leading as real as ever the pillar gave to Israel. God’s providence does still shape our paths; God’s Spirit will direct us within, and God’s word will counsel us. If we will wait and watch we shall not be left undirected. It is wonderful how much practical wisdom about the smallest perplexities of daily life comes to men who keep both their feet and their wishes still until Providence—or, as the world prefers to call it, “circumstances”—clears a path for them.

Better to take Moses for our example when he prayed, as the ark set forward and the march began, “Rise up, O Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered,” than to follow him in eagerly seeking some Hobab or other to show us where we should go. Better to commit our resting times to God with Moses’ prayer when the ark halted, “Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel,” and so to repose under the shadow of the Almighty, than to seek safety in having some man with us “who knows how we are to encamp in this wilderness.”

Whither, midst falling dew,

While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,

Far, through their rosy depths, dost thou pursue

Thy solitary way?


Vainly the fowler’s eye

Might mark thy distant night to do thee wrong,

As, darkly seen against the crimson sky,

Thy figure floats along.


Seek’st thou the plashy brink

Of weedy lake, or marge of river wide,

Or where the rocking billows rise and sink

On the chafed ocean-side?


There is a Power whose care

Teaches thy way along that pathless coast—

The desert and illimitable air—

Lone wandering, but not lost.


All day thy wings have fanned,

At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,

Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,

Though the dark night is near.


And soon that toil shall end;

Soon shalt thou find a summer home, and rest,

And scream among thy fellows; reeds shall bend,

Soon, o’er thy sheltered nest.


Thou’rt gone, the abyss of heaven

Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my heart

Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given,

And shall not soon depart.


He who, from zone to zone,

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight

In the long way that I must tread alone,

Will lead my steps aright.1 [Note: W. C. Bryant, To a Waterfowl.]

2. Man.—Most commentators excuse, or even approve of, the effort of Moses to secure Hobab’s help, and they draw from the story the lesson that supernatural guidance does not make human guidance unnecessary. That, of course, is true in a fashion; but it appears to us that the true lesson of the incident, considered in connection with the following section, is much rather that, for men who have God to guide them, it argues weakness of faith and courage to be much solicitous of any Hobab to show them where to go and where to camp.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

Our weakness of faith in the unseen is ever tending to pervert the relation between teacher and taught into practical forgetfulness that the promise of the new covenant is, “They shall all be taught of God.” So we are all apt to pin our faith on some trusted guide, and many of us in these days will follow some teacher of negations with an implicit submission which we refuse to give to Jesus Christ. We put the teacher between ourselves and God, and give to the glowing colours of the painted window the admiration that is due to the light which shines through it.

We seek our Hobabs in the advice of sage grey-haired counsellors; in the formation of strong, intelligent, and wealthy committees; in a careful observance of precedent. Anything seems better than a simple reliance on an unseen guide. Now, in one sense, there is no harm in this. We have neither right nor need to cut ourselves adrift from others who have had special experience in some new ground on which we are venturing. It is a mistake to live a hermit life, thinking out all our own problems, and meeting all our own questions as best we may. Those who do so are apt to become self-opinionated and full of crotchets. God often speaks to us through our fellows; they are His ministers to us for good, and we do well to listen to our Samuels, our Isaiahs, our Johns. But there is also a great danger that we should put man before God; that we should think more of the glasses than of that which they are intended to reveal; and that we should so cling to Hobab as to become unmindful of the true Guide and Leader of souls. When we have given Him His right place, He will probably restore our judges as at the first and our counsellors as at the beginning; but the first necessity is that the eye should be single towards Himself, so that the whole body may be full of light.2 [Note: F. B. Meyer.]

3. Christ.—Moses sought to secure this Midianite guide because he was a native of the desert, and had travelled all over it. His experience was his qualification. We have a Brother who has Himself travelled every foot of the road by which we have to go, and His footsteps have marked out with blood a track for us to follow, and have trodden a footpath through the else pathless waste. He knows “how to encamp in this wilderness,” for He Himself has “tabernacled among us,” and by experience has learned the weariness of the journey and the perils of the wilderness.

Our poor weak hearts long for a brother’s hand to hold us up, for a brother’s voice to whisper a word of cheer, for a brother’s example to animate as well as to instruct. An abstract law of right is but a cold guide, like the stars that shine keen in the polar winter. It is hard even to find in the bare thought of an unseen God guiding us by His unseen Spirit within and His unseen Providence without, the solidity and warmth which we need. Therefore we have mercifully received God manifest in the flesh, a Brother to be our guide and the Captain of our salvation.

II

The Pilgrim and his Friends

i. The Invitation

It is one of those kindly gracious invitations which abound throughout the Word of God. It is the invitation of one relative to another. By faith, Moses saw before him the Promised Land; he realized it. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). And he longed intensely to have his friend and relative with him, in the inheritance of that land. Hence his earnest appeal. And as with Moses, so with all who are Christians indeed.

When Paul had tasted the joy and peace of believing, he said, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved” (Romans 10:1). When Andrew had found Christ himself, “he first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ; and he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42). So also Philip: he “findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And when “Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see” (John 1:45-46). Further, when our Lord had cured the man possessed with a legion of devils, He bade him, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (Mark 5:19). And, nearer to our own time than these instances, when the poor slave in Antigua had been converted to God, he used, day by day, to pray that there might be a full heaven, and an empty hell. Yes, and a little girl of eleven years, who had found Jesus as her all, ran to her mother, her heart overflowing with love, and cried, “O mother, if all the world knew this! I wish I could tell everybody—may I not run in and tell some of our neighbours, that they may love my Saviour too?” Such is everywhere and always the spirit of true Christianity.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

1. The Invitation is a promise, a promise of good in the future. “For the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.” The religion of the Bible is emphatically the religion of the promise. In heathen religion, the threat predominates over the promise. But in the glad faith that boasts the name of Gospel, the promise predominates over the threat. Christians are men with a hope, men who have been called to inherit a blessing. This element of promise runs through the whole Bible. What book anywhere can you point to with such a forward look as that book? As we watch the worthies of many generations pass in long procession onwards, from the day when the promise was first given of the One who should come and bruise the serpent’s head, down to the day when the aged Simeon in the Temple took the Child Jesus into his arms and blessed Him, we seem to see upon every forehead a glow of light. These men, we say, front the sunrising. They have a hope. Their journey is into the morning. A purpose is in their eyes. They are looking for something, and they look as those look who expect in due time to find. If this be true of the general tone of the Old Testament Scriptures, doubly, trebly is it true of the New Testament. The coming of Christ has only quickened and made more intense in us that instinct of hope which the old prophecies of His coming first inspired. For when He came, He brought in larger hopes and opened to us far-reaching vistas of promise, such as had never been dreamed of before. Only think how full of eager, joyous anticipation the New Testament is, from first to last.

2. The promise is of a Place, “The place of which the Lord said, I will give it you.” The progress of human knowledge has made it difficult to think and speak of heaven as believing men used to think and speak of it. But, while there is a certain grain of reasonableness in the argument for silence with respect to heaven and the things of heaven, there is by no means so much weight to be attached to it as many people seem to suppose. For after all, when we come to think of it, this changed conception of what heaven may be like is not traceable so much to any marvellous revolution that has come over the whole character of human thought, as it is to the changes which have taken place in our own several minds, and which necessarily take place in every mind in its progress from infancy to maturity. The reality and trustworthiness of the promise are not one whit affected by the revelation of the vastness of the resources which lie at His command who makes the promise. Instead of repining because we cannot dwarf God’s universe so as to make it fit perfectly the smallness of our notions, let us turn all our energies to seeking to enlarge the capacity of our faith, so that it shall be able to hold more.

When the Church says “Come thou with us” to any who are hesitating and undecided, her face is heavenwards, her movement is in that way, she holds in her hand the roll of promise, the map of “the better country, even the heavenly,” and sees her own title to possession written there as with the finger of God. She is not lured onwards by the dreams of natural enthusiasm, or by the flickering lights of philosophy, or by the dim hopes which arise in the human breast of something better and nobler to come, by God’s goodness, out of all this wrack and storm of disappointment, sorrow, and change. These things are good in their own place and measure, but the Church has a word of promise from God, a promise clear and firm about another life, a perfect state, “a better country, an heavenly.”1 [Note: A. Raleigh.]

We had needs invent heaven if it had not been revealed to us; there are some things that fall so bitterly ill on this side time!2 [Note: R. L. Stevenson, St. Ives.]

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet,

My staff of faith to walk upon;

My scrip of joy, immortal diet;

My bottle of salvation.

My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,

And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Blood must be my body’s only balmer,

Whilst my soul like a quiet palmer,

Travelleth towards the land of heaven,

No other balm will there be given.

Over the silver mountains,

Where spring the nectar fountains,

There will I kiss the bowl of bliss,

And drink mine everlasting fill

Upon every milken hill.

My soul will be a-dry before,

But after, it will thirst no more.1 [Note: Sir Walter Raleigh.]

3. Much depends always upon the way in which the invitation is made.

(1) As it is a very kind and tender word, “Come thou with us,” let it be spoken persuasively. Use such reasoning as you can to prove that it is at once a duty and a privilege. Observe, Moses does not command, but he persuades; nor does he merely make a suggestion or give a formal invitation, but he uses an argument, he puts it attractively, “And we will do thee good.” So, look the matter up; study it; get your arguments ready, seek out inducements from your own experience. Draw a reason, and then and thus try to persuade your Christian friends.

(2) Make it heartily. Observe how Moses puts it as from a very warm heart. “Come thou with us”; give me thy hand, my brother; come thou with us, and we will do thee good. There are no “ifs” and “ands” and “buts,” or, “Well, you may perhaps be welcome,” but “Come thou with us.” Give a hearty, loving, warm invitation to those whom you believe to be your brethren and sisters in Christ.

(3) Make it repeatedly if once will not suffice. Observe in this case, Hobab said he thought he would depart to his own land and his kindred, but Moses returns to the charge, and says “Leave us not, I pray thee.” How earnestly he puts it! He will have no put off. If at first it was a request, now it is a beseeching almost to entreaty—“Leave us not, I pray thee.” And how he repeats the old argument, but puts it in a better light!—“If thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee.”

ii. The Arguments Used

1. The first argument is, Come with us for the good you will get.

1. Moses has Hobab’s interests at heart when he asks him to accompany them. This is so even if Hobab, like Moses himself, should never enter the promised land; for he will be in the channel of the promise, under the blessing of God. For his own sake he ought to come, “Come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.”

As a lady, well known as an earnest and devoted servant of God, was going home from a meeting, she was asked to take the arm of a young gentleman who was moving in the highest circles of fashion, a man who had led a very gay life. He did not like taking this lady home; he suspected she would begin to preach to him before he got home; however, being a gentleman, he gave her his arm. She did not talk about the meeting, but as they were drawing near home she led the conversation round to subjects bearing on the well-being of her companion. He replied: “It seems to me that you religious people are always trying to strip us of all our little enjoyments. A young man has only once in his life an opportunity to enjoy himself; he will never have another chance. I am one of those who enjoy life thoroughly. I do not see why you should try to take away all I have got.” The lady pressed him on the arm, and said to him very emphatically: “My dear sir, I don’t want you to give up; I want you to receive.” He said, “What do you mean?” She replied, “I won’t say any more, I must leave that word for you to think over.” “Well,” he said, “I will try to turn it over in my mind, and see if I can understand you.” And so it fell out that the word went home to his heart, and he never rested until he had got the reality.1 [Note: Canon W. Hay M. H. Aitken.]

2. This argument is used by the Church. The Church says with assurance, Come with us and we will do thee good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel. It says this with emphasis; it says it pleadingly. It has blessings, promises, and powers, of which it is sure. It knows that men are in need of what it possesses. It sees men living to little purpose and for little ends. It sees the sin and the sorrow. It has deep pity for the deep pathos of human life. Its whole work is to do men good, as it declares the gospel of the Kingdom, calling them to pardon and peace, offering them salvation, presenting to them the manifold riches of Christ, pointing to the way of life and of joy. The heart of the true Church yearns over men with a great longing, seeing them to be, though they may know it not, wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. It has a message for you, which it is irreparable loss for you to neglect. It offers you a great and eternal good.1 [Note: Hugh Black.]

It seems in these days that this is the only invitation to church now possible. All that is now possible is to induce people to go to church. They must be drawn, not driven. “Come with us,” the congregation in God’s house seems to say to outsiders: “Come with us, and we will do you good.” It is well, it is a great thing, if the services of the church are felt to be pleasant: but it is vital and essential that they be felt to be helpful. They must do you good, or there is something wrong either in them or in you.2 [Note: A. K. H. Boyd.]

3. In what ways may we hope to get good by coming to church?

(1) By Recognition of the Unseen and Eternal.—When we gather in church, here is something, coming regularly, coming frequently, that keeps us in remembrance that there is more than what is seen and felt; that there are realities and interests beyond what our senses reveal to us, which are the most substantial and enduring of all. It is a great matter—in this world of things we see and touch, and pressed as we are continually by the power which these things have to make us vaguely feel and practically live as if there were nothing beyond them—that this testimony is borne, at least every Sunday, to the existence and solemn importance of the Invisible and Spiritual.

Tell me the old, old story

Of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and His glory,

Of Jesus and His love.

(2) By Repetition of the Story of the Cross.—We go to church to think of things; we go, intending that our minds be specially occupied with certain matters which, in the bustle of our life, we are ready to forget. There is a whole order of ideas present to our mind in God’s house, which (to say the least) are not habitually associated with any other place we go to. There is an old story to be pressed upon us: an old story which is of such a nature, that though we know it quite well, we like and we need to hear it over again. For it may be told perpetually without anything like wearisome repetition: and all outward surroundings in this life go so much to make us unmindful of it, that we need sorely to have our minds specially and earnestly urged in just this particular direction.

Tell me the story often,

For I forget so soon;

The early dew of morning

Has passed away at noon.

(3) By Realization of the Presence and Power of Christ.—For there is more in God’s house than instruction, or than stirring up the fading and feeble remembrance: more than that and deeper. God Almighty has appointed and decreed that there shall be a real power and grace and help in the ordinances of His house; and Christ has said, in sober earnest, that “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Tell me the story always,

If you would really be,

In any time of trouble

A comforter to me.

2. The second argument is, Come with us for the good you can do.

1. Moses had another plea, even after refusal—a plea, under the circumstances, far more powerful to such a man than the offer of personal good. It was the plea, not of Hobab’s need of Israel, but of Israel’s need of Hobab. He knew the country, knew all the dangers and resources: he was a man of great influence and wisdom; and cared for Moses, and presumably also for the great religious interests at stake in Israel’s future. To have him with them would be a source of strength to all. And so Moses’ invitation took another form. He appealed to Hobab’s heart and not to his interests: he appealed to their need of him, and no longer to anything of good that might come to himself. “Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou shalt be to us instead of eyes.”

I believe you will seldom get much good unless you are willing also to confer good; those who are the nearest to the heart of the preacher, in all Christian service, will in all probability be most spiritually enriched under his ministry.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]

2. This argument also is used by the Church. It is a powerful argument to a high heart; and the Church’s very existence—encamped in the wilderness, fighting the great battle against principalities and powers of evil, seeking, striving, suffering for that Promised Land, for man’s higher life on earth, waiting for the consolation of Israel, giving itself to the great task of establishing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth—the Church’s very existence is an appeal to us. God had spoken good concerning Israel whether Hobab came or stayed; but it was much to have Hobab’s help in the great enterprise, much to have one who could be to them instead of eyes. And the Kingdom of Heaven will come with us or without us; but just because it is a task high and hard, we should be in the thick of it, taking our part of the glorious burden. Though we might not think of coming for our own sake, can we resist this other appeal to come for the sake of the Church?

3. What good could Hobab have done?

(1) He could have been a companion on the journey.—We are meant to depend on one another. No man can safely isolate himself, either intellectually or in practical matters. The self-trained scholar is usually incomplete. Crotchets take possession of the solitary thinker, and peculiarities of character that would have been kept in check, and might have become aids in the symmetrical development of the whole man, if they had been reduced and modified in society, get swollen into deformities in solitude. The highest and the lowest blessings for life both of heart and mind—blessedness and love, and wisdom and goodness—are ministered to men through men, and to live without dependence on human help and guidance is to be either a savage or an angel. God’s guidance does not make man’s needless, for a very large part of God’s guidance is ministered to us through men. And wherever a man’s thoughts and words teach us to understand God’s thoughts and words more clearly, to love them more earnestly, or to obey them more gladly, there human guidance is discharging its noblest function. And wherever the human guide turns us away from himself to God, and says, “I am but a voice, I am not the light that guides,” there it is blessed and safe to cherish and to prize it.

Some of us have sad memories of times when we journeyed in company with those who will never share our tent or counsel our steps any more, and, as we sit lonely by our watchfire in the wilderness, have aching hearts and silent nights. Some of us may be, as yet, rich in companions and helpers, whose words are wisdom, whose wishes are love to us, and may tremble as we think that one day either they or we shall have to tramp on by ourselves. But for us all, cast down and lonely, or still blessed with dear ones and afraid to live without them, there is a Presence which departs never, which will move before us as we journey, and hover over us as a shield when we rest; which will be a cloud to veil the sun that it smite us not by day, and will redden into fire as the night falls, being ever brightest when we need it most, and burning clearest of all in the valley at the end, where its guidance will cease only because then “the Lamb that is in the midst of the throne will lead them.” “This God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even unto death.”1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

They talk about the solid earth,

But all has changed before mine eyes;

There’s nothing left I used to know,

Except God’s everchanging skies.


I’ve kept old ways and loved old friends,

Yet one by one they’ve slipped away;

Stand where we will, cling as we like,

There’s none but God can be our stay.


It is only by our hold on Him,

We keep our hold on those who pass

Out of our sight across the seas,

Or underneath the churchyard grass.2 [Note: W. R. Nicoll, Sunday Evening, 83.]

(2) He could have been of service to the good cause.—Come, said Moses; if not for your own sake, come for our sake: if you do not need us, we need you: we are to encamp in the wilderness girt round with danger and weighted with heavy tasks, and you can be to us instead of eyes. If you will not come because the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel, come to help us to achieve that good. “Leave us not, and thou mayest be to us as eyes.”

The Christian salvation is not just salvage, rescuing the flotsam and jetsam, the human wreckage that strews the sea of life; though it is the glory of the faith and its divinest attribute that it does save even the broken and battered lives of men. But salvation includes and implies service also. It is a summons to participate in a great work, to share in a glorious venture.

Think of the Church’s task in its widest aspect—to claim the world for God, to let them that sit in darkness see the great light, anointed like the Church’s Lord to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. Think of the terrible warfare to which it is committed—to subdue the beast in man, to oppose evil in high places and in low—a warfare that knows no truce, relentless, lifelong; and, as here in this corner of the field we are hard bestead and appeal to you for reinforcement, will you sit at ease and refuse the call?1 [Note: Hugh Black.]

Come with us, if not for the good you will get, then for the good you will do. You shall be to us for eyes, if it shall turn out that you can see more clearly and farther than we. You shall come in with your organic faculty unimpaired and use it to the utmost; with your natural tastes and tendencies that are sinless, undepreciated; with your points of natural superiority to be acknowledged and used. You shall be eyes to us to see what you only can see; and tongue, if you will, to tell the seeing for the good of all: and I think this, that if there be one spark of nobleness untarnished left in you, you cannot resist such an appeal. It is not to your selfishness; it is not for your own salvation; it is for the guidance and the good of God’s struggling people; it is for the salvation of your fellowmen who may become God’s struggling people through your means. There lives no man who has not something characteristic and peculiar to himself by the full development and expression of which he can benefit his fellow-creatures as no other but himself exactly can do. That idea can become fully real only in the Church of God.2 [Note: A. Raleigh.]

Though you know nothing about the passion of the saints, what about the service of the saints? You are not sure about the supreme claims over your life which Christ makes; but have you no opinion about the great purposes He seeks to accomplish in the world, the high ends He seeks to serve? And as you see Him go to the world’s redemption, have you never thrilled to the tacit appeal to come to the help of the Lord against the mighty? You who may be instead of eyes, can you hold back ingloriously?3 [Note: Hugh Black.]

The Son of God goes forth to war,

A kingly crown to gain;

His blood-red banner streams afar:

Who follows in His train?

Literature

Aitken (W. H. M. H.), Mission Sermons, i. 154.

Banks (L. A.), On the Trail of Moses, 192.

Black (H.), University Sermons, 259.

Black (J.), The Pilgrim Ship, 73.

Boyd (A. K. H.), Sermons and Stray Papers, 184.

Brooks (G.), Five Hundred Outlines of Sermons, 123.

Burrell (D. J.), A Quiver of Arrows, 42.

Burrell (D. J.), The Religion of the Future, 66.

Little (J.), The Day-Spring, 23.

M‘Cheyne (R. M.), Additional Remains, 95.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions: Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, 314.

Maclaren (A.), The Secret of Power, 251.

Meyer (F. B.), Moses the Servant of God, 148.

Perren (C.), Revival Sermons, 145.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, i. 353.

Raleigh (A.), From Dawn to the Perfect Day, 123.

Rankin (J.), Character Studies in the Old Testament, 85.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xvi. No. 916.

Talmage (T. de W.), Sermons, vi. 68.

Wood (H.), God’s Image in Man, 226.

Biblical World, xxx. (1907) 70 (Fullerton).

Christian World Pulpit, lxvii. 65 (Black).

Homiletic Review, xx. 33 (Huntington).


Verse 30

(30) And he said unto him, I will not go . . . —It is not expressly stated in the narrative whether Hobab did or did not ultimately accompany the Israelites on their march. It appears most probable, however, that the renewed solicitation of Moses proved effectual. In any case, it is certain from Judges 1:16 that the Kenites, as a body, “went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah,” and that “they went and dwelt among the people.” (See Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11; 1 Samuel 15:6; 2 Kings 10:15; compared with 1 Chronicles 2:55.)


Verse 31

(31) How we are to encamp . . . —It is clear from these words, as well as from many indications of the same nature, that notwithstanding the direct guidance which was vouchsafed from heaven, and the miraculous interpositions of Providence which the Israelites experienced throughout their journeys, Moses did not neglect to take advantage of all the ordinary precautions of which it was incumbent upon him as the leader of his people to avail himself. The line of march and the places of encampment were clearly marked out by the cloud, but many difficulties would arise in the course of the journeys, and at the places of encampment, which Hobab’s familiarity with the desert would enable him to meet.


Verse 33

(33) Three days’ journey.—The place at which the first protracted halt was made appears to have been either at Taberah, which means burning, or at Kibroth-hattaavah, the graves of lust. (Comp. Numbers 11:3; Numbers 33:16; see also Note on Numbers 11:34.)

And the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them.—It has been inferred from the fact that the Kohathites had the charge of the ark (Numbers 3:31), and that they were to set forward, “bearing the sanctuary,” after the second or southern camp, i.e., in the midst of the host, that the position of the ark during the journeys was in that place, and not in front. The obvious objection to this supposition arising out of the fact that the cloud which directed the march rested upon, or over, the ark may be overcome by the consideration that the cloud appears to have extended over the whole of the host during the journeys, and to have served as a protection from the scorching heat (see Numbers 10:34; also Exodus 13:21; Nehemiah 9:12; Psalms 105:39). On the other hand, the natural interpretation of this verse is that the ark was borne in front of the host, and did not merely serve to direct its line of march as a general, whose station might be in any part of an army. This interpretation is confirmed by Exodus 13:21, Deuteronomy 1:33, and also by the position which the ark occupied at the passage of the Jordan. In the latter case the people were expressly directed to go after the ark (Joshua 3:3); and in Numbers 10:11 the same word is used which occurs in this verse, “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan.” It will not follow, however, as a necessary inference, that the ark uniformly occupied the same position in all the journeys, and it cannot be denied that Numbers 10:21 presents a difficulty, partly arising from the ambiguity of meaning which is to be attached to the word mikdash, sanctuary, and partly from the omission of any word in the Hebrew corresponding to the words in italics, the other. Ibn Ezra thinks that this three days’ journey was different from all the other journeys in respect of the position of the ark.


Verse 35-36

(35-36) And it came to pass . . . —It appears from these words that the marches of the Israelites began and ended with prayer, a significant lesson to the Church of all after ages. It is deserving of observation that the prayers were offered by Moses, not by Aaron. The inverted nuns, or parenthetical marks, which are found in a large number of Hebrew manuscripts at the beginning and end of these verses, are thought by some to denote their insertion as a break in the narrative whilst others have ascribed to them a mystical meaning. The words, “Return, O Lord,” Bishop “Wordsworth observes,” pre-announced the blessed time of rest and peace, when God would abide with His Church on earth, by the gift of the Holy Ghost, and will tabernacle for ever with His people in heavenly rest and joy.” (Revelation 7:15; Revelation 21:3.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Numbers 10:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/numbers-10.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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