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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Numbers 10

Verses 1-4

The Silver Signal-Trumpets. - Although God Himself appointed the time for removal and encampment by the movement of the cloud of His presence, signals were also requisite for ordering and conducting the march of so numerous a body, by means of which Moses, as commander-in-chief, might make known his commands to the different divisions of the camp. To this end God directed him to prepare two silver trumpets of beaten work ( mikshah , see Exodus 25:18), which should serve “for the calling of the assembly, and for the breaking up of the camps,” i.e., which were to be used for this purpose. The form of these trumpets is not further described. No doubt they were straight, not curved, as we may infer both from the representation of these trumpets on the triumphal arch of Titus at Rome, and also from the fact, that none but straight trumpets occur on the old Egyptian monuments (see my Arch. ii. p. 187). With regard to the use of them for calling the congregation, the following directions are given in Numbers 10:3, Numbers 10:4: “ When they shall blow with them (i.e., with both), the whole congregation (in all its representatives) shall assemble at the door of the tabernacle; if they blow with only one, the princes or heads of the families of Israel shall assemble together.”

Verses 5-6

To give the signal for breaking up the camp, they were to blow תּרוּעה , i.e., a noise or alarm. At the first blast the tribes on the east, i.e., those who were encamped in the front of the tabernacle, were to break up; at the second, those who were encamped on the south; and so on in the order prescribed in ch. 2, though this is not expressly mentioned here. The alarm was to be blown למסּעיהם , with regard to their breaking up or marching.

Verse 7

But to call the congregation together they were to blow, not to sound an alarm. תּקע signifies blowing in short, sharp tones. &#הריע תּרוּעה תּקע , blowing in a continued peal.

Verses 8-10

These trumpets were to be used for the holy purposes of the congregation generally, and therefore not only the making, but the manner of using them was prescribed by God Himself. They were to be blown by the priests alone, and “ to be for an eternal ordinance to the families of Israel, ” i.e., to be preserved and used by them in all future times, according to the appointment of God. The blast of these trumpets was to call Israel to remembrance before Jehovah in time of war and on their feast-days.

Numbers 10:9

If ye go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, and ye blow the trumpets, ye shall bring yourselves to remembrance before Jehovah, and shall be saved (by Him) from your enemies.” מלחמה בּוא , to come into war, or go to war, is to be distinguished from למּלחמה בּוא , to make ready for war, go out to battle (Numbers 31:21; Numbers 32:6).

Numbers 10:10

And on your joyous day, and your feasts and new moons, he shall blow the trumpets over your burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, that they may be to you for a memorial (remembrance) before your God.” - השּׂמחה יום is any day on which a practical expression was given to their joy, in the form of a sacrifice. The השּׂמחה are the feasts enumerated in chs. 28 and 29 and Lev 23. The “beginnings of the months,” or new-moon days, were not, strictly speaking, feast-days, with the exception of the seventh new moon of the year (see at Numbers 28:11). On the object, viz., “ for a memorial, ” see Exodus 28:29, and the explanation, p. 450. In accordance with this divine appointment, so full of promise, we find that in after times the trumpets were blown by the priests in war (Numbers 31:6; 2 Chronicles 13:12, 2 Chronicles 13:14; 2 Chronicles 20:21-22, 2 Chronicles 20:28) as well as on joyful occasions, such as at the removal of the ark (1 Chronicles 15:24; 1 Chronicles 16:6), at the consecration of Solomon's temple (2 Chronicles 5:12; 2 Chronicles 7:6), the laying of the foundation of the second temple (Ezra 3:10), the consecration of the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 12:35, Nehemiah 12:41), and other festivities (2 Chronicles 29:27).

Verses 11-12

After all the preparations were completed for the journey of the Israelites from Sinai to Canaan, on the 20th day of the second month, in the second year, the cloud rose up from the tent of witness, and the children of Israel broke up out of the desert of Sinai, למסעיהם , “according to their journeys” (lit., breaking up; see at Genesis 13:3 and Exodus 40:36, Exodus 40:38), i.e., in the order prescribed in Numbers 2:9, Numbers 2:16, Numbers 2:24, Numbers 2:31, and described in Numbers 10:14. of this chapter. “ And the cloud rested in the desert of Paran. ” In these words, the whole journey from the desert of Sinai to the desert of Paran is given summarily, or as a heading; and the more minute description follows from Numbers 10:14 to Numbers 12:16. The “ desert of Paran ” was not the first station, but the third; and the Israelites did not arrive at it till after they had left Hazeroth (Numbers 12:16). The desert of Sinai is mentioned as the starting-point of the journey through the desert, in contrast with the desert of Paran, in the neighbourhood of Kadesh, whence the spies were sent out to Canaan (Numbers 13:2, Numbers 13:21), the goal and termination of their journey through the desert. That the words, “the cloud rested in the desert of Paran” ( Numbers 10:12), contain a preliminary statement (like Genesis 27:23; Genesis 37:5, as compared with Numbers 10:8, and 1 Kings 6:9 as compared with Numbers 10:14, etc.), is unmistakeably apparent, from the fact that Moses' negotiations with Hobab, respecting his accompanying the Israelites to Canaan, as a guide who knew the road, are noticed for the first time in Numbers 10:29., although they took place before the departure from Sinai, and that after this the account of the breaking-up is resumed in Numbers 10:33, and the journey itself described, Hence, although Kurtz (iii. 220) rejects this explanation of Numbers 10:12 as “forced,” and regards the desert of Paran as a place of encampment between Tabeerah and Kibroth-hattaavah, even he cannot help identifying the breaking-up described in Numbers 10:33 with that mentioned in Numbers 10:12; that is to say, regarding Numbers 10:12 as a summary of the events which are afterwards more fully described.

The desert of Paran is the large desert plateau which is bounded on the east by the Arabah, the deep valley running from the southern point of the Dead Sea to the Elanitic Gulf, and stretches westwards to the desert of Shur ( Jifar; see Genesis 16:7; Exodus 15:22), that separates Egypt from Philistia: it reaches southwards to Jebel et Tih, the foremost spur of the Horeb mountains, and northwards to the mountains of the Amorites, the southern border of Canaan. The origin and etymology of the name are obscure. The opinion that it was derived from פאר , to open wide, and originally denoted the broad valley of Wady Murreh, between the Hebrew Negeb and the desert of Tih, and was then transferred to the whole district, has very little probability in it ( Knobel). All that can be regarded as certain is, that the El-paran of Genesis 14:6 is a proof that in the very earliest times the name was applied to the whole of the desert of Tih down to the Elanitic Gulf, and that the Paran of the Bible had no historical connection either with the êù́ìç Öáñá̀í and tribe of Φαρανῖται mentioned by Ptol. (v. 17, i. 3), or with the town of Φαράν , of which the remains are still to be seen in the Wady Feiran at Serbal, or with the tower of Faran Ahrun of Edrisi, the modern Hammân Faraun, on the Red Sea, to the south of the Wady Gharandel. By the Arabian geographers, Isztachri, Kazwini, and others, and also by the Bedouins, it is called et Tih, i.e., the wandering of the children of Israel, as being the ground upon which the children of Israel wandered about in the wilderness for forty years (or more accurately, thirty-eight). This desert plateau, which is thirty German miles (150 English) long from south to north, and almost as broad, consists, according to Arabian geographers, partly of sand and partly of firm soil, and is intersected through almost its entire length by the Wady el Arish, which commences at a short distance from the northern extremity of the southern border mountains of et Tih, and runs in nearly a straight line from south to north, only turning in a north-westerly direction towards the Mediterranean Sea, on the north-east of the Jebel el Helal. This wady divides the desert of Paran into a western and an eastern half. The western half lies lower than the eastern, and slopes off gradually, without any perceptible natural boundary, into the flat desert of Shur ( Jifar), on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The eastern half (between the Arabah and the Wady el Arish) consists throughout of a lofty mountainous country, intersected by larger and smaller wadys, and with extensive table-land between the loftier ranges, which slopes off somewhat in a northerly direction, its southern edge being formed by the eastern spurs of the Jebel et Tih. It is intersected by the Wady el Jerafeh, which commences at the foot of the northern slope of the mountains of Tih, and after proceeding at first in a northerly direction, turns higher up in a north-easterly direction towards the Arabah, but rises in its northern portion to a strong mountain fortress, which is called, from its present inhabitants, the highlands of the Azazimeh, and is bounded on both south and north by steep and lofty mountain ranges. The southern boundary is formed by the range which connects the Araif en Nakba with the Jebel el Mukrah on the east; the northern boundary, by the mountain barrier which stretches along the Wady Murreh from west to east, and rises precipitously from it, and of which the following description has been given by Rowland and Williams, the first of modern travellers to visit this district, who entered the terra incognita by proceeding directly south from Hebron, past Arara or Aroër, and surveyed it from the border of the Rachmah plateau, i.e., of the mountains of the Amorites (Deuteronomy 1:7, Deuteronomy 1:20, Deuteronomy 1:44), or the southernmost plateau of the mountains of Judah (see at Numbers 14:45): - “A gigantic mountain towered above us in savage grandeur, with masses of naked rock, resembling the bastions of some Cyclopean architecture, the end of which it was impossible for the eye to reach, towards either the west or the east. It extended also a long way towards the south; and with its rugged, broken, and dazzling masses of chalk, which reflected the burning rays of the sun, it looked like an unapproachable furnace, a most fearful desert, without the slightest trace of vegetation. A broad defile, called Wady Murreh, ran at the foot of this bulwark, towards the east; and after a course of several miles, on reaching the strangely formed mountain of Moddera (Madurah), it is divided into two parts, the southern branch still retaining the same name, and running eastwards to the Arabah, whilst the other was called Wady Fikreh, and ran in a north-easterly direction to the Dead Sea. This mountain barrier proved to us beyond a doubt that we were now standing on the southern boundary of the promised land; and we were confirmed in this opinion by the statement of the guide, that Kadesh was only a few hours distant from the point where we were standing” ( Ritter, xiv. p. 1084). The place of encampment in the desert of Paran is to be sought for at the north-west corner of this lofty mountain range (see at Numbers 12:16).

Verses 13-21

In vv. 13-28 the removal of the different camps is more fully described, according to the order of march established in ch. 2, the order in which the different sections of the Levites drew out and marched being particularly described in this place alone (cf. Numbers 10:17 and Numbers 10:21 with Numbers 2:17). First of all (lit., “ at the beginning ”) the banner of Judah drew out, with Issachar and Zebulun (Numbers 10:14-16; cf. Numbers 2:3-9). The tabernacle was then taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites broke up, carrying those portions of its which were assigned to them (Numbers 10:17; cf. Numbers 4:24., and Numbers 4:31.), that they might set up the dwelling at the place to be chosen for the next encampment, before the Kohathites arrived with the sacred things (Numbers 10:21). The banner of Reuben followed next with Simeon and Gad (Numbers 10:18-21; cf. Numbers 2:10-16), and the Kohathites joined them bearing the sacred things (Numbers 10:21). המּקדּשׁ (= הקּדשׁ , Numbers 7:9, and הקּדשׁים קדשׁ , Numbers 4:4) signifies the sacred things mentioned in Numbers 3:31. In Numbers 10:21 the subject is the Gershonites and Merarites, who had broken up before with the component parts of the dwelling, and set up the dwelling, עד־בּאם , against their (the Kohathites') arrival, so that they might place the holy things at once within it.

Verses 22-28

Behind the sacred things came the banners of Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin (see Numbers 2:18-24), and Dan with Asher and Naphtali (Numbers 2:25-31); so that the camp of Dan was the “ collector of all the camps according to their hosts, ” i.e., formed that division of the army which kept the hosts together.

Verses 29-32

The conversation in which Moses persuaded Hobab the Midianite, the son of Reguel (see at Exodus 2:16), and his brother-in-law, to go with the Israelites, and being well acquainted with the desert to act as their leader, preceded the departure in order of time; but it is placed between the setting out and the march itself, as being subordinate to the main events. When and why Hobab came into the camp of the Israelites-whether he came with his father Reguel (or Jethro) when Israel first arrived at Horeb, and so remained behind when Jethro left (Exodus 18:27), or whether he did not come till afterwards-was left uncertain, because it was a matter of no consequence in relation to what is narrated here.

(Note: The grounds upon which Knobel affirms that the “Elohist” is not the author of the account in Numbers 10:29-36, and pronounces it a Jehovistic interpolation, are perfectly futile. The assertion that the Elohist had already given a full description of the departure in vv. 11-28, rests upon an oversight of the peculiarities of the Semitic historians. The expression “they set forward” in Numbers 10:28 is an anticipatory remark, as Knobel himself admits in other places (e.g., Genesis 7:12; Genesis 8:3; Exodus 7:6; Exodus 12:50; Exodus 16:34). The other argument, that Moses' brother-in-law is not mentioned anywhere else, involves a petitio principii , and is just as powerless a proof, as such peculiarities of style as “mount of the Lord,” “ark of the covenant of the Lord,” היטיב to do good (Numbers 10:29), and others of a similar kind, of which the critics have not even attempted to prove that they are at variance with the style of the Elohist, to say nothing of their having actually done so.)

The request addressed to Hobab, that he would go with them to the place which Jehovah had promised to give them, i.e., to Canaan, was supported by the promise that he would do good to them (Hobab and his company), as Jehovah had spoken good concerning Israel, i.e., had promised it prosperity in Canaan. And when Hobab declined the request, and said that he should return into his own land, i.e., to Midian at the south-east of Sinai (see at Exodus 2:15 and Exodus 3:1), and to his kindred, Moses repeated the request, “ Leave us not, forasmuch as thou knowest our encamping in the desert, ” i.e., knowest where we can pitch our tents; “therefore be to us as eyes,” i.e., be our leader and guide, - and promised at the same time to do him the good that Jehovah would do to them. Although Jehovah led the march of the Israelites in the pillar of cloud, not only giving the sign for them to break up and to encamp, but showing generally the direction they were to take; yet Hobab, who was well acquainted with the desert, would be able to render very important service to the Israelites, if he only pointed out, in those places where the sign to encamp was given by the cloud, the springs, oases, and plots of pasture which are often buried quite out of sight in the mountains and valleys that overspread the desert. What Hobab ultimately decided to do, we are not told; but “as no further refusal is mentioned, and the departure of Israel is related immediately afterwards, he probably consented” ( Knobel). This is raised to a certainty by the fact that, at the commencement of the period of the Judges, the sons of the brother-in-law of Moses went into the desert of Judah to the south of Arad along with the sons of Judah (Judges 1:16), and therefore had entered Canaan with the Israelites, and that they were still living in that neighbourhood in the time of Saul (1 Samuel 15:6; 1 Samuel 27:10; 1 Samuel 30:29).

Verses 33-34

And they (the Israelites) departed from the mount of Jehovah (Exodus 3:1) three days' journey; the ark of the covenant of Jehovah going before them, to search out a resting-place for them. And the cloud of Jehovah was over them by day, when they broke up from the camp. ” Jehovah still did as He had already done on the way to Sinai (Exodus 13:21-22): He went before them in the pillar of cloud, according to His promise (Exodus 33:13), on their journey from Sinai to Canaan; with this simple difference, however, that henceforth the cloud that embodied the presence of Jehovah was connected with the ark of the covenant, as the visible throne of His gracious presence which had been appointed by Jehovah Himself. To this end the ark of the covenant was carried separately from the rest of the sacred things, in front of the whole army; so that the cloud which went before them floated above the ark, leading the procession, and regulating its movements in the direction it took in such a manner that the permanent connection between the cloud and the sanctuary might be visibly manifested even during their march. It is true that, in the order observed in the camp and on the march, no mention is made of the ark of the covenant going in front of the whole army; but this omission is no more a proof of any discrepancy between this verse and Numbers 2:17, or of a difference of authorship, than the separation of the different divisions of the Levites upon the march, which is also not mentioned in Numbers 2:17, although the Gershonites and Merarites actually marched between the banners of Judah and Reuben, and the Kohathites with the holy things between the banners of Reuben and Ephraim (Numbers 10:17 and Numbers 10:21).

(Note: As the critics do not deny that vv. 11-28 are written by the “ Elohist ” notwithstanding this difference, they have no right to bring forward the account of the ark going first as a contradiction to ch. 2, and therefore a proof that Numbers 10:33. are not of Elohistic origin.)

The words, “the cloud was above them” (the Israelites), and so forth, can be reconciled with this supposition without any difficulty, whether we understand them as signifying that the cloud, which appeared as a guiding column floating above the ark and moved forward along with it, also extended itself along the whole procession, and spread out as a protecting shade over the whole army (as O. v. Gerlach and Baumgarten suppose), or that “above them” (upon them) is to be regarded as expressive of the fact that it accompanied them as a protection and shade. Nor is Psalms 105:39, which seems, so far as the words are concerned, rather to favour the first explanation, really at variance with this view; for the Psalmist's intention is not so much to give a physical description of the phenomenon, as to describe the sheltering protection of God in poetical words as a spreading out of the cloud above the wandering people of God, in the form of a protection against both heat and rain (cf. Isaiah 4:5-6). Moreover, Numbers 10:33 and Numbers 10:34 have a poetical character, answering to the elevated nature of their subject, and are to be interpreted as follows according to the laws of a poetical parallelism: The one thought that the ark of the covenant, with the cloud soaring above it, led the way and sheltered those who were marching, is divided into two clauses; in Numbers 10:33 only the ark of the covenant is mentioned as going in front of the Israelites, and in Numbers 10:34 only the cloud as a shelter over them: whereas the carrying of the ark in front of the army could only accomplish the end proposed, viz., to search out a resting-place for them, by Jehovah going above them in the cloud, and showing the bearers of the ark both the way they were to take, and the place where they were to rest. The ark with the tables of the law is not called “the ark of testimony” here, according to its contents, as in Exodus 25:22; Exodus 26:33-34; Exodus 30:6, etc., but the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, according to its design and signification for Israel, which was the only point, or at any rate the principal point, in consideration here. The resting-place which the ark of the covenant found at the end of three days, is not mentioned in Numbers 10:34; it was not Tabeerah, however (Numbers 11:3), but Kibroth-hattaavah (Numbers 11:34-35; cf. Numbers 33:16).

Verses 35-36

In Numbers 10:35 and Numbers 10:36, the words which Moses was in the habit of uttering, both when the ark removed and when it came to rest again, are given not only as a proof of the joyous confidence of Moses, but as an encouragement to the congregation to cherish the same believing confidence. When breaking up, he said, “ Rise up, Jehovah! that Thine enemies may be scattered, and they that hate Thee may flee before Thy face; ” and when it rested, “ Return, Jehovah, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel! ” Moses could speak in this way, because he knew that Jehovah and the ark of the covenant were inseparably connected, and saw in the ark of the covenant, as the throne of Jehovah, a material pledge of the gracious presence of the Almighty God. He said this, however, not merely with reference to enemies who might encounter the Israelites in the desert, but with a confident anticipation of the calling of Israel, to strive for the cause of the Lord in this hostile world, and rear His kingdom upon earth. Human power was not sufficient for this; but to accomplish this end, it was necessary that the Almighty God should go before His people, and scatter their foes. The prayer addressed to God to do this, is an expression of bold believing confidence, - a prayer sure of its answer; and to Israel it was the word with which the congregation of God was to carry on the conflict at all times against the powers and authorities of a whole hostile world. It is in this sense that in Psalms 68:2, the words are held up by David before himself and his generation as a banner of victory, “to arm the Church with confidence, and fortify it against the violent attacks of its foes” ( Calvin). שׁוּבה is construed with an accusative: return to the ten thousands of the hosts of Israel, i.e., after having scattered Thine enemies, turn back again to Thy people to dwell among them. The “thousands of Israel,” as in Numbers 1:16.

(Note: The inverted nuns, נ , at the beginning and close of Numbers 10:35, Numbers 10:36, which are found, according to R. Menachem's de Lonzano Or Torah (f. 17), in all the Spanish and German MSS, and are sanctioned by the Masorah, are said by the Talmud ( tract de sabbatho) to be merely signa parentheseos, quae monerent praeter historiae seriem versum 35 et 36 ad capitis finem inseri (cf. Matt. Hilleri de Arcano Kethib et Keri libri duo, pp. 158, 159). The Cabbalists, on the other hand, according to R. Menach. l. c., find an allusion in it to the Shechinah , “ quae velut obversa ad tergum facie sequentes Israelitas ex impenso amore respiceret ” (see the note in J. H. Michaelis' Bibl. hebr.). In other MSS, however, which are supported by the Masora Erffurt, the inverted nun is found in the words בּנסע (Numbers 10:35) and כּמתאננים העם ויהי (Numbers 11:1): the first, ad innuendum ut sic retrorsum agantur omnes hostes Israeliarum; the second, ut esset symbolum perpetuum perversitatis populi, inter tot illustria signa liberationis et maximorum beneficiorum Dei acerbe quiritantium, ad declarandam ingratitudinem et contumaciam suam (cf. J. Buxtorf, Tiberias, p. 169).)

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Numbers 10". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.