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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Numbers 10

Verse 1

This chapter reports the conclusion of preparations made for the departure of Israel from Sinai, the final thing mentioned being that of procuring the silver trumpets and the explanation of their function (Numbers 10:1-10). The rest of the chapter recounts the actual departure from Sinai (Numbers 10:11-36). Numbers 10:11, therefore, is the beginning of a second major division of Numbers. Whereas, all the previous portion of the book has been devoted to "knitting up the loose ends," as we might say, right here in Numbers 10:11, God gives the command, and Israel begins her march to the Promised Land. It should have been a rather short journey, but it was not. The excursion that began somewhat over a year after their deliverance from Egyptian bondage was to be frustrated by many sad experiences, but at last, a remnant of them would indeed enter Canaan. That space of time covered in these middle chapters (Numbers 10:11 to Numbers 20:13) was about thirty-eight years, counting the year before they started and the year while they were poised for entry into Canaan. This whole period of forty years is that of "The Wanderings," typical of the wilderness of the Church's probation in the current dispensation of the grace of God.

Some have marveled that so little record of those thirty-eight intervening years is given, but there is actually no mystery about this. In the long bitter years after Israel rebelled and were condemned to wait upon the arrival of another generation who would more nearly obey the Lord, what they did during that period of living out of their sentence had little importance. All of the incidents recorded in Numbers were not oriented to the project of telling what that generation did, but to the provision of examples from their sins and mistakes that would have value for Christians in ages to come, as cited in the N.T.:

Now these things happened unto them by way of example, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come. - 1 Corinthians 10:11.

A realization of this fundamental truth is important in any effort to understand the Book of Numbers. The whole history of Israel in the wilderness is not given here, nor are the things mentioned always clear as to times and details of their happening. The minute identification of the places mentioned is in many cases impossible. Persons mentioned are not always fully identified, simply because such identification would have been totally irrelevant to the purpose of God who is the author of this fourth book of Moses. In this very chapter, such details as the exact sound of the various alarms and signals of the trumpets is largely conjectural. Just who was Hobab? Why did the ark go before the people instead of going "in the midst of the column" as indicated earlier? Etc., etc. Our curiosity might have been somewhat satisfied if the Lord had gone into more detail, but the whole purpose of these writings was that of using the mistakes of that generation of Israel who failed, in order that Christians of future ages might avoid their mistakes and avert the penalties that fell upon them:

"Neither be idolaters, as were some of them ... Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed ... Neither let us make trial of the Lord, as some of them made trial, and perished by the serpents ... Neither murmur ye, as some of them murmured, and perished by the destroyer." - 1 Corinthians 10:7-10.

It is evident that Paul had the Book of Numbers specifically in view when he penned these lines. Therefore, knowing the purpose of these writings, we shall not vex ourselves and our readers with the repetition of endless opinions about where this or that place was actually located, or about exactly how this or that was done. What good could it possibly do us, even if we certainly knew?

"And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Make thee two trumpets of silver; of beaten work shalt thou make them: and thou shalt use them for the calling of the congregation, and for the journeying of the camps. And when they shall blow them, all the congregation shall gather themselves unto thee at the door of the tent of meeting. And if they blow but one, then the princes, the heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto thee. And when ye blow an alarm, the camps that lie on the east side shall take their journey. And when ye blow an alarm the second time, the camps that lie on the south side shall take their journey: they shall blow an alarm for their journeys. But when the assembly is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm. And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets; and they shall be to you for a statute forever throughout your generations. And when ye go to war in your land against the adversary that oppresseth you, then ye shall sound an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before Jehovah your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies. Also in the day of your gladness, and in your set feasts, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow the trumpets over your burnt-offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God: I am Jehovah your God."

"Make thee two trumpets ..." (Numbers 10:2). It may not be supposed that God waited until the day before Israel was to march and then instructed Moses to make these silver trumpets. "It does not follow necessarily that the command was given at this time."[1] The trumpets were already procured, but their production, and the explanation of their use, was explained here.

"Sons of Aaron shall blow ..." (Numbers 10:8). Only the priests were commissioned to blow these trumpets, a prerogative that was to extend throughout their generations forever. Such a connection with the priesthood of Israel could not fail to be used as an excuse to find evidence of a late date. "The word here for trumpet is distinctly a late term and usually a priestly word."[2] The trumpets may not in any manner be supposed as a late invention in Israel. "Elegant specimens of this very kind of trumpet were found interred with the body of Tutankhamen, Egyptian Pharaoh (circa 1350 B.C.)."[3] Josephus says that Moses invented them. He described them thus:

"Each was a little less than a cubit in length, and was made of silver, and was composed of a narrow tube somewhat thicker that a flute; it ended in the form of a bell."[4]

One may also see depictions of these instruments on the Arch of Titus in Rome, as the silver trumpets were part of the loot carried off by the Romans when Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70. The priests of our Lord's era still utilized these instruments in their ceremonies, with some remarkable perversions of God's will, as was pointed out by Jesus.

"When therefore thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have the glory of men." - Matthew 6:2.

One finds a tremendous amount of writing with regard to the exact types of signals that meant one thing or another; but, as Gray pointed out: "Whether the verbs (Numbers 10:6,7) mean to blow a series of short staccato notes, or a single long blast, there is no evidence to decide."[5] Keil thought the alarm was given by the short staccato blasts,[6] but Adam Clarke thought that a very long blast was also associated with the alarm.[7] There has been no new breakthrough with regard to the verbs (blow, sound). "These are [~teqia`] (traditionally, long blasts), and [~terua`] (traditionally, short staccato blasts)."[8] Orlinsky says that, "nothing certain has been achieved in the interpretation of these words."[9]

Of far more importance than the exact nature of the signals is the typical import of these silver trumpets with regard to the kingdom of God. Those ancient priests supplied with the silver trumpets and commissioned to warn God's people of their daily duties and of dangers to be encountered are most certainly types of the ministers of Jesus Christ in these present times.

What a need exists today for such a priestly ministry to call the Lord's people and their leaders BACK TO THE BIBLE out of error, priestism, cultism, and apostasy to apprehend the full and free salvation (through the obedience of faith) in Jesus Christ our Lord.[10]

These silver trumpets are to be distinguished from the [~showpar], or ram's horn frequently used in Israel's earlier history. "These were `an entirely new kind of trumpet'."[11] That God himself was the Author of this new device is inherently proved by the words of Jesus Christ himself who used this trumpet to typify something associated with the final Judgment itself:

"Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send forth his angels WITH A GREAT SOUND OF A TRUMPET, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." - Matthew 24:30-31.

In this connection, "The Apostle Paul doubtless had the use of these instruments in mind when he made metaphorical reference to `the trumpet' in 1 Corinthians 14:8; 15:52."[12] Both from the words of Jesus and from those of Paul, we thus learn that some tremendous noise of cosmic and universal dimensions will come at the termination of our age, this fact alone reveals the hand of God Himself in these instructions to Moses, and eliminates any possibility whatever of these trumpets having been in any manner of late improvisation of Jewish priesthood. "The ordinance of the silver trumpets must be perpetuated forever in the preaching of the gospel."[13]

As for the question of why only two trumpets were commanded, Cook supposed that, "It was because, at that time, Aaron had only two sons; and when the number of priest greatly increased at a later date, the number of trumpets was increased; there were seven in the times of Joshua and 120 in the times of Solomon (2 Chronicles 5:12)."[14]

Verse 11

ISRAEL ORDERED TO LEAVE SINAI

"And it came to pass in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony. And the children of Israel set forward according to their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud abode in the wilderness of Paran. And they first took their journey according to the commandment of Jehovah by Moses. And in the first place the standard of the camp of the children of Judah set forward according to their hosts: and over his host was Nahshon the son of Amminadab. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Issachar was Nethanel the son of Zuar. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Zebulun was Eliab the son of Helon."

This is the beginning of the second major division of Numbers, ending in Numbers 20. It was a significant moment indeed in the history of Israel. The deliverance from Egypt has been accomplished, the Decalogue Covenant has been ratified, the rebellion in the matter of the golden calf was behind them, the tabernacle had been constructed, set up, and staffed with the appointed priesthood, the numbering of the tribes, the instructions for their march, the clarification of certain laws with added instructions had been given, the tribal leaders appointed, and even the silver trumpets made ready. The cloud lifted, the trumpets sounded. "They went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came" (Genesis 12:5). However, it was not to be with this generation of Israel, exactly as it had been with their distinguished ancestor.

"According to their journeys ..." (Numbers 10:12). This means according to the plans and instructions already given them in Numbers 1 and Numbers 2.

"The cloud abode in the wilderness of Paran ..." (Numbers 10:12). At first glance it might appear that Paran would be their first stop, but this was anticipatory of the eventual destination which they would not reach at once. "Typical of Hebrew writings, the general content is given in brief form at the beginning of a passage (Numbers 10:11,12); and after this brief introduction, a large account with many details is given (Numbers 10:13-12:16)."[15] In the last reference (Numbers 12:16) is recorded their eventual entry into the desert (wilderness) of Paran. We should remember the purpose of this book and not be too overly concerned about the exact movements of Israel in Numbers. True, a list of all the stations is given in Numbers 33, but that does not appear at all to be the order in which Israel made those encampments. "Time has changed the desert's face in many ways, and obliterated old names for new."[16] Scholars still dispute about the actual locations of places even like Sinai and Paran. The time elapsed between the mention of Paran here, and Israel's actual arrival time was "at least a number of months."[17] The spies were sent out during this period. "The actual location of Paran is uncertain."[18] However, we may infer from certain references that it lay north of Sinai and south of Kadesh.

Verse 17

"And the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who bare the tabernacle, set forward. And the standard of the camp of Reuben set forward according to their hosts: and over his host was Elizur the son of Shedeur, And over the host of the tribe of the children of Simeon was Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Gad was Eliasaph the son of Deuel."

"The sons of Gershon and Merari ..." (Numbers 10:17)." The dispatch of these families in advance of the main group was evidently so that they could, "set up the tabernacle and have it ready when the furniture arrived."[19]

"The son of Deuel ..." (Numbers 10:20). This is evidently a typographical error, unless we resort to the supposition that Reuel (Numbers 2:14) was also called Deuel, which is not an impossible supposition at all. It may be news to some that there is even a typographical error in the ASV (2 Timothy 3:17) where "throughly" was written instead of "thoroughly" in all early copies of that version.

Verse 21

"And the Kohathites set forward, bearing the sanctuary: and the others did set up the tabernacle against their coming. And the standard of the camp of the children of Ephraim set forward according to their hosts: and over his host was Elishama the son of Ammihud. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Manasseh was Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Benjamin was Abidan the son of Gideoni.

And the standard of the camp of the children of Dan, which was rearward of all the camps, set forward according to their hosts: and over his host was Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Asher was Pagiel the son of Ochran. And over the host of the tribe of the children of Naphtali was Ahira the son of Enan. Thus were the journeyings of the children of Israel according to their hosts; and they set forward."

Although these verses in the main part simply repeat the marching orders given in Numbers 2, there is a variation in that the ark of the covenant goes ahead instead of remaining in the center of the column of Levites as first commanded. Any one of four good reasons for this change might be correct:

(1) Cook thought that for this very first journey, the ark's proceeding in front was just another exception, as was the case also, "when the ark preceded the people into the bed of the Jordan River (Joshua 3:3,6)."[20]

(2) Smick pointed out that the instructions to go in advance might have applied merely to the men actually transporting the tabernacle and the furniture, and that the great number of the hosts of Levites, along with all the women and children, and persons not needed in the transport occupied the position assigned in Numbers 2. "It is likely that only the burden-bearers are meant in Numbers 10:17 and Numbers 10:21."[21]

(3) The explanation given by the Jews is that, "Although the ark traveled in the midst of the people, in a figurative sense it led them."[22]

(4) "The `ark went before them' in the Hebrew is literally `to their faces,' which also bears the translation, `in their sight'."[23]

Verse 29

"And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, We are journeying unto the place of which Jehovah said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good; for Jehovah 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. And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what good soever Jehovah shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee."

There is a whole hateful of problems concerning this passage. First of all, there is what some call the moral problem. Why would Moses who had God Himself as the guide of Israel have sought so earnestly to have Hobab also? We shall not seek to improve the answer given by Maclaren:

What did Moses want a man for, when he had the cloud? What do we want common sense for, when we have the Holy Spirit? What do we want experience and counsel for, when Divine guidance has been promised us? The two things work together.[24]

God's promise of guidance and success never relieved any person of the utmost watchfulness and labor toward the same objective. It will be remembered that God had promised Paul that his life and the lives of all on board the ship would be spared, but it was precisely the watchfulness and alertness of Paul that prevented sailors from lowering a boat and abandoning all on board to certain death (Acts 27:30-32).

Then, there are a number of other problems enumerated by Thompson:

(1) Hobab is here called a Midianite, but in Judges 4:11, he is said to be a Kenite. "Hobab was the leader of a group known as the Kenites, a Midianite clan (Judges 1:16; Judges 4:11)."[25] What is wrong with calling a man a "Texan" on one occasion, and an "American" on another?

(2) Moses' father-in-law is called "Reuel" (Exodus 2:18), "Jethro" in Exodus 3:1 and "Hobab" here. Due to missing information, "This problem is insoluble."[26] The word here rendered father-in-law, in Hebrew, actually may mean father-in-law, brother-in-law, or some other close family relationship.[27] There is also the question (unknown) as to whether any one, any two, or even all three of these names may have referred to one individual. Also, it is not clear whether the name Reuel, for example, might not have been a title held by Jethro, or whether Jethro might have been a title held by Reuel. It is a careless scholar indeed who can bring himself to allege a "contradiction" in any area where such a profound lack of information exists.

(3) Did Hobab actually go with Moses? "From Judges 1:16, it appears likely that Hobab acceded to Moses' request."[28]

Verse 33

"And they set forward from the mount of Jehovah three days' journey; and the ark of the covenant of Jehovah went before them three days' journey to seek out a resting place for them. And the cloud of Jehovah was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp.

And when it came to pass when the ark set forward, that Moses said,

Rise up, O Jehovah, and let thine enemies be scattered; And let them that hate thee flee before thee. And when it rested, he said,

Return, O Jehovah, unto the ten thousands of the thousands of Israel."

The prayer uttered by Moses in the last two verses became a classic, and "The two sayings are included in the synagogue's traditional Torah service, at the beginning, and at the end."[29]

Numbers 10:36, according to Cook, may also be translated: "Restore to the land which their fathers sojourned in."[30] This inherent meaning of the passage has a very special reference to that first generation of Israelites who were indeed restored (in the times of Moses) to the land once inhabited by the Patriarchs and removes all logic from speculations, such as that of Gray, who said, "Numbers 10:36 seems to imply an already existing settled life in Canaan."[31]

We appreciate the comment of Smick who spoke of this final prayer thus:

"It eloquently teaches the working relationship between God and the Church Militant. He goes before her, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. He abides in her midst and she is strengthened and becomes a great host."[32]

The wilderness experience made a profound impression upon the Hebrew nation, and one of their Psalms (Psalms 68) is closely related to this very chapter.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 10". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/numbers-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.