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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 10

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary



The Mobilisation of the Army of Israel, and the Preparation of the Levites For Their Work of Bearing the Ark and Dwellingplace of Yahweh (1:1-4:49).

The first stage towards entry into the land had to be the mobilisation of the army of Israel, both of its fighting men, and of its ‘servants of the dwellingplace of Yahweh’. That is what is in mind in the first four chapters.

The description of this follows a general chiastic pattern indicated by the letters a to d and can be divided up as follows:

a The taking of the sum of the tribes and their responsibility (to war) (Numbers 1:1-46).

b The Levites’ responsibility for the Dwellingplace (Numbers 1:47-54).

c Positioning and arrangements for travel of the people (Numbers 2:1-32).

d The consecration of the priests to Yahweh (Numbers 3:1-4).

d The dedication of the Levites to the priests and to Yahweh (Numbers 3:5-13)

c Positioning and arrangements for travel of the Levites (Numbers 3:14-51).

b The priests’ responsibility for the Dwellingplace (Numbers 4:5-15).

a The taking of the sum of the Levites and their responsibilities (Numbers 4:1-4; Numbers 4:21-49).

Verses 1-10

Chapter 10 The Silver Trumpets And The Commencement of Their Journeying.

The problem for any large company on the march in those days was communication. In the case of Israel this was partly resolved by the use of two silver trumpets, by the blowing of which quick messages could be rapidly imparted over a wide area.

Note again the chiastic arrangement.

a The general purposes of the trumpets (Numbers 10:1-2).

b When they were blown the congregation would gather, one blast will call up the princes (Numbers 10:3-4).

c A blast will cause those on the east to journey (Numbers 10:5).

c A second blast will cause those on the south to journey (Numbers 10:6).

b When the assembly was to gather together they were to be blown - note the reverse order (Numbers 10:7).

a The general purpose of the trumpets (Numbers 10:8-10)

Numbers 10:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,’

As ever this resulted from Yahweh’s words to Moses.

Numbers 10:2

‘Make yourself two trumpets of silver; of beaten work shall you make them, and you shall use them for the calling of the congregation, and for the journeying of the camps.’

Two trumpets were to be made of beaten silver. They were to be used for the calling together of all the men in the camp for worship or consultation, or just for calling the princes of the tribe, or for giving indications about moving forward. Trumpets were used in Egypt for similar purposes in 16th-11th century BC. While we do not know what these were like we do know what they were like centuries later. They were then straight pipes, about 45 centimetres (18 inches) long, and flared at the end.

Numbers 10:3

‘And when they shall blow them, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the door of the tent of meeting.’

The normal signal, possibly two or three blasts, would call together the whole congregation at the door of the Tent of meeting. They would gather around the Dwellingplace.

Numbers 10:4

‘And if they blow but one, then the princes, the heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves to you.’

One sharp blast would be a signal for the princes, those who were over tribes and sub tribes, to gather. Each tribe was here seen as ‘an ’eleph’.

Numbers 10:5

‘And when you blow an alarm, the camps that lie on the east side shall take their journey.’

A different type of blast would be a signal to be on the move. The first such blast would be the signal for the camps that lay on the east side to commence their journey. These would be the tribes in association with Judah.

Numbers 10:6

‘And when you 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.’

A second similar blast would indicate that it was time for those on the south side to move forward. These were the tribes in association with Reuben. Presumably the system continued for the western and northern tribes. The northern tribes in association with Dan moved last because they guarded against any unexpected attack from the north at a time when they might be vulnerable.

Numbers 10:7

‘But when the assembly is to be gathered together, you shall blow, but you shall not sound an alarm.’

However the calling of the assembly would be by a different kind of blast. It would not be an alarm signal. ‘The assembly’ here might signify the whole of the people, in contrast with the men (‘the congregation’) or vice versa. The terms tend to be used interchangeably.

Numbers 10:8

‘And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets; and they shall be to you for a statute for ever throughout your generations.’

The blowing of the trumpets was to be by the sons of Aaron. This was to a permanently fixed practise into the distant future.

Numbers 10:9

‘And when you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you shall be remembered before Yahweh your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies.’

They were assured that the sounding of the alarm when in battle against oppressors would be heard not only by their men, but by Yahweh. He would hear, and remember them, and move to deliver them. Sounding the silver trumpets would, among other things, be like a prayer directed to Yahweh.

Numbers 10:10

‘Also in the day of your gladness, and in your set feasts, and in the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your whole burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace-offerings, and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God. I am Yahweh your God.’

The trumpets would also be sounded at their feasts and at times of rejoicing and at the beginning of each moon period. This time with a glad note. They would be sounded over their whole burnt offerings, and over their sacrifices, and would be a reminder to them that they were being brought into remembrance before their God. And their God was Yahweh.

Our trumpets are our prayers which bring us into remembrance before God. And for us the final trumpet will sound when we are called to be with Him at His second coming when we will ‘march forward’ to the heavenly land (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:52). That will sound a glad note indeed.

Verses 11-13

B. THE JOURNEY FROM SINAI TO KADESH (Numbers 10:11 to Numbers 12:15 ).

This section comprises of:

a The setting forward from Sinai and the order of the march (Numbers 10:11-33).

b The people complain and are smitten, Moses intervenes (Numbers 11:1-3)

c Murmuring for meat instead of manna (Numbers 11:4-15).

d Appointment of the seventy elders (Numbers 11:16-24).

d Enduing of the seventy elders (Numbers 11:25-30)

c The provision of meat instead of manna in the form of quails (Numbers 11:31-35).

b Personal complaint about Moses by Aaron and Miriam, Miriam is smitten, Moses intervenes (Numbers 12:1-15).

a Journeying forward and arrival at the Wilderness of Paran (Numbers 12:16)

1). The Setting Forward From Sinai and The Order of the March (Numbers 10:11-33 ).

After eleven months which have passed encamped before Mount Sinai, during which the people had received the ten words of the covenant and had set up the Dwellingplace of Yahweh, the people were now called to move on towards Canaan. The remainder of this chapter covers the first setting forward from the wilderness of Sinai.

The first section divides up chiastically as follow:

a The ‘setting forth’ of the children of Israel on their journeys (Numbers 10:11-13).

b The troops who are in the van (Numbers 10:14-16).

c The Levites bearing the Dwellingplace (Numbers 10:17).

d The troops who are in the centre (Numbers 10:18-20).

c The Levites bearing the bearing the holy things (Numbers 10:21).

b The troops who are in the rear (Numbers 10:22-27).

a The ‘setting forth’ of the children of Israel (Numbers 10:28).

The Setting Forward (Numbers 10:11-13 ).

Numbers 10:11

‘And it came about that in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony.’

The time for moving forward had come on the twentieth day of the second month of the second year. This would have given time for the additional second Passover to have taken place on the fourteenth day of the second month (Numbers 9:10-11). The requirement for this movement was indicated by the cloud being taken up from over the Dwellingplace, the place of the covenant, in accordance with Yahweh’s instructions in Numbers 9:15-23.

Numbers 10:12

‘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.’

So the children of Israel set forward in the course of their journeying from the wilderness of Sinai where they had remained for eleven months (see Exodus 19:1) and were brought to rest by the abiding of the cloud in the wilderness of Paran. This was a large and barren wilderness to the north of Sinai. How large or big it was thought to be is disputed. Again we must keep in mind that there were no clearly defined boundaries and the description would therefore be general.

They had covered a ‘three day journey’ (Numbers 10:33). That was a recognised designation of a fairly short journey, compared with a ‘seven day journey’ which would be a longer one. It theoretically measured the distance that a group moving easily would expect to travel in the time. It does not necessarily indicate the passing of three days. It was a measure of distance. It would take slightly shorter or somewhat longer depending on the speed at which people travelled. Given the necessary slowness of the convoy it would almost certainly have been longer. The point being made is that for a few days they did not establish more than a temporary camp.

Numbers 10:13

‘And they first took their journey according to the commandment of Yahweh by Moses.’

It is stressed that the beginning of the journey was in accordance with Yahweh’s command by Moses. This was the first stage of Yahweh’s plan to possess the land. Moses would command the silver trumpets to sound, and the march would begin.

Verses 14-16

The Troops in the Van (Numbers 10:14-16 ).

Numbers 10:14-16

‘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.’

In the lead went the tribe of Judah accompanied by Issachar and Zebulun as described earlier (Numbers 2:3-9). They marched under their respective chieftains. The standard of the tribe of Judah led the way behind the Ark of the Covenant, which was at the forefront of the march, the Ark being borne by the sons of Korath and covered in its blue cloth (Numbers 10:35-36).

Verse 17

The Levites Who Bore The Dwellingplace (Numbers 10:17 )

Numbers 10:17

‘And the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who bore the tabernacle, set forward.’

Behind the leading troops set forward the sons of Gershon and Merari, the Levites who bore the Dwellingplace itself and all that was required for its erection. Once the cloud ceased moving they would immediately erect the Dwellingplace ready to receive the Sanctuary furniture.

Verses 18-20

The Troops In The Centre of the March (Numbers 10:18-20 ).

Numbers 10:18-20

‘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.’

These were then followed by the tribe of Reuben, along with Simeon and Gad, under their respective chieftains. The Dwellingplace of Yahweh was being well protected.

Verse 21

The Levites Who Bore the Holy Things (Numbers 10:21 )

Numbers 10:21

‘And the Kohathites set forward, bearing the holy things, and the others set up the tabernacle in readiness for their coming.’

Next came the remainder of the Korathites bearing all ‘the holy things’ apart from the Ark which led the march (Numbers 10:35-36). By the time they arrived at the next camp the Dwellingplace would have been erected by the other Levites. The holy things were the furniture of the Dwellingplace, apart from the Ark which led the way in its magnificent blue covering. These were the altar of incense, the table of showbread, the golden lampstand and the brazen altar, all discreetly hidden and weather-protected beneath dolphin skins.

Verses 22-28

The Troops Who Followed Up In The Rear (Numbers 10:22-24 ).

Numbers 10:22-24

‘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.’

The Korathites with the holy things would be followed by the other contingents of the Israelite army. Firstly would come the tribe of Ephraim under its chieftain accompanied by Manasseh and Benjamin under their chieftains, the three tribes of Rachel.

Numbers 10:25-27

‘And the standard of the camp of the children of Dan, which was the 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.

Finally taking up the rear would come the tribe of Dan under its chieftain accompanied by Asher and Naphtali under their chieftains.

Numbers 10:28

‘Thus were the journeyings of the children of Israel according to their hosts; and they set forward.’

In this way the children of Israel set forward on their journeys in orderly array.

Verses 29-32

Moses Asks Hobab To Accompany Them (Numbers 10:29-32 ).

Hobab, Moses’ Midianite brother-in-law, was with them, giving assistance to Moses with his knowledge of wilderness lore, but determined to return to his own people. Moses pleaded with his brother-in-law to continue to accompany them and give them the benefit of his knowledge of wilderness survival. Among other things he was clearly very knowledgeable about the whereabouts of water. Note that even in this small section the ‘doing of good’ to Hobab both begins and ends the incident, maintaining the chiastic pattern.

a Moses promises Hobab that if he accompanies them they will ‘do him good’ in the land Yahweh has described as good (Numbers 10:29).

b Hobab plans to depart to his own land (Numbers 10:30).

b Moses pleads with him not to depart but to go with them as their eyes (Numbers 10:31)

a He promises that whatever good Yahweh does to them they will do to him (Numbers 10:32).

Numbers 10:29

‘And Moses said to Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ brother-in-law, “We are journeying to the place of which Yahweh said, I will give it you. You come with us, and we will do you good, for Yahweh has spoken good concerning Israel.” ’

Hobab was of the Midianites, and was a relation of Moses. The word used probably means ‘in-law’ and can thus mean either father-in-law or brother-in-law. Reuel is the Reuel whose ‘daughter’ Moses married (Exodus 2:18), and thus Hobab may well have been his brother-in-law. But the relationship may have been a little more complicated. The point is that he was related to Moses through Moses’ marriage to a Midianite. Moses requested Hobab to come with them with his knowledge of wilderness lore. Moses himself knew much of wilderness survival but he was probably aware that Hobab was especially skilled in the art, with a reputation as a man of the wilderness.

He emphasised that they were going towards the place which Yahweh had promised to give them, and that Yahweh had spoken good about it. Once in the land they would see that he did not lose by his act. They would ‘do him good’.

We should note here that the fact that Yahweh was leading them did not mean that Moses did not make use of all skilled help available. We must trust God fully, and at the same time make use of all the means available.

Numbers 10:30

‘And he said to him, “I will not go, but I will depart to my own land, and to my kindred.’

But Hobab was minded to return to his own people and refused. He wanted to return to his own land and to his own wider family.

Numbers 10:31

‘And he said, “Leave us not, I pray you, forasmuch as you know how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and you shall be to us instead of eyes.’

But Moses knew his value both as an expert on wilderness lore, and as a valuable scout. He knew that Hobab was aware of how best to encamp, and where, and he could be as eyes to them as he acted as a scout, covering the areas around the camp in order to detect any possible danger, and seeking out water. Most of the travellers were wilderness novices. Here was one on whom he could rely for sound practical advice and guidance on the journey, and to pass on to others his skills..

Numbers 10:32

‘And it shall be, if you go with us, yea, it shall be, that whatever good Yahweh shall do to us, the same will we do to you.’

And Moses confirmed that if he would go with them, whatever good Yahweh did to them they would do to him. He would be treated on equal terms. He would not lose his reward. The assumption must be that he agreed to go with them (Judges 1:16 with Judges 4:11). In Judges he is called a Kenite, which was a wilderness tribe who were possibly a Midianite sub-tribe. Or Hobab may have become a Kenite by adoption through marriage.

Verses 33-36

The Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh Leads The Way (Numbers 10:33-36 ).

Ahead of the fighting contingents went the Ark of the Covenant of Yahweh. It was a regular feature of nations going forth to war that they were led by a sacred symbol, and nothing was more sacred than the Ark. This was why its blue cloth was on the outside rather than its dolphin skins, so that all might be aware of the heavenly nature of what lay beneath (Numbers 4:6).

This connection of the Ark with battle comes out a number of times. The Ark led the way over Jordan and against Jericho (Joshua 3:3; Joshua 3:11); it was brought to Bethel when the tribes united against Benjamin (Judges 20:27); it went into battle against the Philistines who had clearly heard of it (1 Samuel 4:3-9). There was even a battle song, incorporated in a Psalm, connected with it (Numbers 10:35; Psalms 68:1).

Again we have the chiastic structure which predominates in this book.

a They went forward to seek out a ‘resting place’ (Numbers 10:33).

b The cloud ‘was over them’ them when they set forward (Numbers 10:34).

b Yahweh was ‘to rise up’ and scatter their enemies when they set forward (Numbers 10:35).

a Yahweh was to return to His Dwellingplace when the Ark ‘rested’ (Numbers 10:36).

Numbers 10:33

‘And they set forward from the mount of Yahweh three days’ journey, and the ark of the covenant of Yahweh went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting-place for them.’

Their first stage was on a ‘three day journey’. This was a standard term signifying a journey of one and a half days to about four days (consider Genesis where all journeys except those completed in a day were either for ‘three’ or ‘seven’ days, a short or a longer journey. Part days were counted as days. Consider also the use of the standardised ‘three days’, an indefinite short time period, in Joshua 1:11; Joshua 2:22; Joshua 3:2). The Ark went before them, and the cloud hovered above them. They were seeking out a resting place (menuwchah from the root nwch) for them. There is no reason for suggesting that the Ark was three days ahead of the people. It simply means that on the three day journey the Ark went ahead of them for the whole three days.

Numbers 10:34

‘And the cloud of Yahweh was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp.’

And continually above was the protecting and guiding cloud. The presence of Yahweh on the journey was being made very clear.

Numbers 10:35

‘And it came about, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, “Rise up, O Yahweh, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.’

For this battle song compare Psalms 68:1. Yahweh had risen up and left His dwellingplace in order to go before them and scatter their enemies. Those who hated Him would flee before Him. This song would be sung whenever the Ark set forward. Its declaration by Moses would encourage and give heart to the people.

Numbers 10:36

‘And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Yahweh, to the ten thousands of the thousands of Israel.’

But when the Ark came to its rest (nuwach, from the root nwch) and returned to its dwellingplace the song was, ‘return, O Yahweh, to the ‘multitudes of families’ (ribboth ’elephe) of Israel’. Once more He dwelt among them at peace.

In the Hebrew text Numbers 10:35-36 are seemingly both followed by inverted nuns (Hebrew n) of which we do not know the significance (compare also Psalms 107:23-28; Psalms 107:40 where a similar phenomenon occurs seven times).

As we too journey forward towards the heavenly Kingdom, we can rest assured that unseen the cloud hovers over us and the Ark goes before us. If we are His we are never out of God’s eye.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Numbers 10". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/numbers-10.html. 2013.
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