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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Numbers 10

Verses 1-10


THE SILVER TRUMPETS (Numbers 10:1-10).

Numbers 10:1

And the Lord spake. The command to make the silver trumpets is introduced here, because one principal use of them was connected with the order of march. It does not necessarily, follow that the command was actually given exactly at this time, or that all the different directions for use formed part of one communication. They may have been gathered together for convenience sake. See the Introduction on this subject. It is, however, a mistake to suppose that this use of trumpets has been anticipated in Le Numbers 25:9, or elsewhere, for the "trumpets" there mentioned were altogether different in shape, as in material.

Numbers 10:2

Make thee two trumpets. Hebrew, khatsotserah. From the testimony of Josephus, from the representation on the arch of Titus, and from a comparison of ancient Egyptian trumpets, it is clear that these trumpets were straight, long, and narrow, with an expanded mouth. The shophar, or trumpet of the Jubilee, on the other hand, was a buccina or cornet, either made of a ram's horn, or shaped like one. Of a whole piece. Rather, "of beaten work." Hebrew, mikshah (see on Exodus 25:18). Septuagint, ἐλατὰς ποιήσεις αὐτάς. Probably they were made of a single plate of silver beaten out into the required shape, which was very simple.

Numbers 10:3

When they shall blow with them, i.e; with both of them. All the assembly, i.e; by their natural or customary representatives.

Numbers 10:5

When ye blow an alarm. Hebrew, תְּרוּעָה. This seems to signify a continuous peal, easily distinguished, wherever audible, from the blowing in short, sharp tones (Hebrew, תָּקַע) mentioned below, Numbers 10:7. The peal of alarm was to be blown—לְמַסְּעֵיהֶם—"for their breaking up"—for that purpose, and no other. The camps. Only those on the east (Judah, with Issachar and Zebulun) and on the south (Reuben, with Simeon and Gad) are here mentioned. It may be that the silver trumpets themselves were carried with the sacred utensils after the southern camps, and that some other means were employed to start the remaining tribes; or it may be that the omission is due to some accidental circumstance. The Septuagint inserts in Numbers 10:6, "And ye shall sound a third alarm, and the camps which are pitched westwards shall move; and ye shall sound a fourth alarm, and the camps which are pitched northwards shall move." No doubt this was the actual order of starting, however the signal was given.

Numbers 10:8

The sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow. It was natural that they should be made responsible for the custody and use of these trumpets, not because their sound represented the voice of God, but because they were used for religious purposes, and could only be safely kept in the sanctuary. An ordinance forever. The accustomed formula for some sacred institution which was to have a permanent character and an eternal meaning (cf. Exodus 12:24). The truth of these words cannot be exhausted by an actual use of 1500 years, followed by complete disuse for 1800 years. The "ordinance" of the silver trumpets must be perpetuated "forever" in the gospel, or else the Divine word has failed.

Numbers 10:9

If ye go to war. בּוֹא מִלחָמָה, "come into war," or "be engaged," denoting actual hostilities. In your land. The practical use of the trumpets ceased with the years of wandering; the ceremonial use was continued as long as the people dwelt in "their land;" the spiritual use remains an "ordinance for ever," as long as the Church is militant here on earth. That the use of the two silver trumpets was ceremonial, and not practical, after the conquest of Canaan is evident from the purpose and effect ascribed to that use. Whether in war or in worship, that purpose was not to convoke the people, nor to give signals to the host, but to put God in mind of his promises, and to invoke his covenanted grace. Indeed, two trumpets, as here prescribed, could not be otherwise than ceremonially used after the nation was spread abroad over the whole face of Canaan; and there is no direction to make more than two such trumpets. The use of trumpets in subsequent times is indeed often mentioned both in war and in holy festivities, and it was undoubtedly founded upon this Divine ordinance; but it was not in literal compliance with it, for the obvious reason that many trumpets were used instead of two only (see 1 Chronicles 15:24; 2 Chronicles 5:12; Nehemiah 12:35). In these passages (and probably in 2 Chronicles 13:12) we have abundant evidence of one of those expansions and adaptations of the Mosaic ritual which were so freely made under the house of David. Numbers 31:6, and (perhaps) 1 Chronicles 16:6, and Psalms 81:3 may be quoted as pointing to the strict fulfillment of the law as it stands.

Numbers 10:10

In the day of your gladness. Any day of national thanksgiving, celebrated with religious services, as the feast of the dedication (John 10:22) or of Purim (Esther 9:19, sqq.). In your solemn days. מוֹעַדים. The feasts appointed to be observed by the law (see Numbers 28:1-31, and Numbers 29:1-40.). In the beginnings of your months. New moon days (Psalms 81:3). Only the first day of the seventh month was properly a feast (Le Numbers 23:24), but all were distinguished by special sacrifices (Numbers 28:11).


Numbers 10:1-10


Spiritually we have in the two silver trumpets the gospel in its twofold use—

(1) as preached to men,

(2) as pleaded before God;

for that which is preached to men must also be pleaded by and for men. The substance of our faith is also the substance of our intercession. Lex credendi, lex orandi. "Our Father,… through Jesus Christ our Lord," is the norm at once of every true sermon, and of every right prayer. The death of Christ, preached, is the voice of God to start the faithful on their way to heaven; the death of Christ, shown, is the voice of the faithful to put God in mind of his sure mercies, to bring themselves into remembrance before him. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT THE SACRED TRUMPET MUST BE OF ONE WHOLE PIECE OF SILVER, NEITHER ALLOYED WITH BASER METAL, NOR MADE UP OF FRAGMENTS. The gospel which we preach or plead must be the whole faith, and the pure faith once delivered to the saints, neither alloyed with human inventions nor pieced together out of fragments and remnants of the Divine revelation. Human art and labour has no further place than in bringing the gospel—as the trumpet—into such a shape as that it can be effectually used, without adding aught to it, or diminishing aught from it.


(1) for summoning the people into the more immediate presence of God;

(2) for ordering their march towards Canaan.

The gospel is preached, on the one hand, to call men from their cares, and pleasures, and earthly ties, in order to present themselves for pardon and for blessing before him who is their covenanted God and King; on the other hand, to instruct men in an orderly Christian walk, seeking the kingdom, not as isolated individuals, but as members of one body, soldiers in one army, units in one vast and organized whole.

III. THAT A PLAIN DISTINCTION OF SOUND WAS TO BE MADE IN CALLING THE ASSEMBLY, AND IN ORDERING THE MARCH. The persuasions of the gospel, by which we call men to draw nigh unto God, must needs differ in sound and in tone from the precepts of the gospel by which we seek to direct their onward march; but both are equally sacred, and equally necessary to be observed.

IV. THAT THE SUBSEQUENT USE OF THE SACRED TRUMPETS WAS TO INVOKE, WITH HOLY AND CONSECRATED SOUND, THE DIVINE AID AGAINST THE FOE, THE DIVINE ACCEPTANCE UPON THE SACRED FEAST OR OFFERING: IN DANGER OR IN WORSHIP TO BRING HIS OWN INTO REMEMBRANCE WITH THEIR GOD. The facts of the gospel which we preach, and whereby we "persuade men," the same do we plead; and thereby we "persuade God." All true prayer and intercession of the faithful for aid against spiritual enemies, for acceptance of spiritual sacrifices, is not only founded upon the gospel; it is the gospel, pleaded (whether in holy words or in holy rites) before high heaven; it is "the Lord's death" shown "until he come;" it is the sacred trumpet sounded in the ears of God prevailingly according to his command.

V. THAT THE USE OF THE TRUMPETS FOR THOSE PURPOSES WAS TO BE "AN ORDINANCE FOREVER." The calling of men to draw nigh unto God; the ordering of their onward walk; the cry to heaven for promised aid against our unseen foes; the pleading of the finished work of Christ wherein we trust, will never cease until there shall be no more time. Neither can the Church at large, nor can any faithful soul, dare to despise or to ignore any of these uses of the gospel trumpet; for they are of Divine and perpetual appointment.


Numbers 10:1-10


The blowing of the silver trumpets by Aaron and his sons has generally been taken to denote the preaching of the gospel. But the interpretation is a mistaken one, and arises from confounding the trumpet of jubilee (Le Numbers 25:9; Luke 4:16) with the silver trumpet. Although bearing the same name in the English Bible, these are quite different instruments, and are called by different Hebrew names. The former is the shophar or cornet, which, as its name implies, was of horn, or at least horn-shaped; whereas the latter, the chatsotser, was a long' straight tube of silver with a bell-shaped mouth. The true intention of the silver trumpets is distinctly enough indicated in the law before us. They were to be to the children of Israel for a memorial before their God (Numbers 10:10); the promise was that when the trumpets were blown, the people should be remembered before the Lord their God, and he would save them from their enemies (Numbers 10:9). In other words, the blowing of the silver trumpets was a figure of PRAYER (cf. Acts 10:4). An exceedingly striking and suggestive figure it is.

I. IT PRESENTS CERTAIN ASPECTS OF PRAYER WHICH CAN HARDLY BE TOO MUCH REMEMBERED. For one thing, it admonishes us that prayer ought to be an effectual fervent exercise (James 5:16). A trumpet-tone is the opposite of a timid whisper. There is a clear determinate ring in the call of a silver trumpet. This is not meant to suggest that there ought to be loud and vehement speaking in prayer. But it does mean that we are to throw heart into our prayers and put forth our strength. The spirit of adoption cries, Abba Father (see 2 Chronicles 13:14). When we call on God we ought to stir ourselves up to take hold of him (Isaiah 64:7.) Moreover, the silver trumpet emits a ringing, joyous sound. In almost every instance in which the blowing of these trumpets is mentioned in Scripture, it is suggestive of gladness, hope, exultation. And ought not a note of gladness, hope, exultation to pervade our prayers? When we pray we are to use a certain holy boldness; we are to draw near; we are to speak in full assurance of faith. This, I confess, may be pressed too far. There was nothing of the trumpet-tone in the publican's prayer. There may be acceptable prayer in a sigh, in a cry of anguish, in the groaning of a prisoner. But it is not the will of God that his children's ordinary intercourse with him should be of that sort. They are to call on him with a gladsome confidence that he is able and ready to help them. And many of them do this. There are Christian people whose prayers are always rising into the ringing' tones of the silver trumpet. I have spoken first of the general design or spiritual intention of this ordinance of the silver trumpets.

Let us now note THE PARTICULARS:—

1. It belonged to the priest's office (Numbers 10:8). It is not to be confounded with the Levitical service of song, instituted long after by David.

2. It served a variety of secular uses. Public assemblies were convened by the sounding of the trumpets, as they are convened among us by the ringing of bells (Numbers 10:2, Numbers 10:3, Numbers 10:7). And they were the bugles by which military signals were given (Numbers 10:4-6). That it was the priests who blew the trumpets on all such occasions reminds us that Israel was, in a special sense, "an holy nation;" and may also carry forward our minds to the time when "holiness to the Lord" will be written on the life of all Christian nations in all their relations.

3. The blowing of the silver trumpets found place chiefly in the service of the sanctuary. The particulars are noted in Numbers 10:10, and are of uncommon interest for the Christian reader.

(1) The trumpets were to be blown over the sacrifices. How this was done appears from the example related in 2 Chronicles 29:26-28. The intention was as much as to say, "O thou that dwellest in the heavens, give ear to us when we cry; remember all our offerings and accept our burnt sacrifice. Grant us the wish of our heart, and fulfill all our counsel."

(2) The sacrifices particularly named as to be thus signalized are the burnt offering and the peace offering. Not the sin offering. The omission can hardly have been accidental. When I have fallen into some notable sin, I am to humble myself before God with shame. The cry of the publican is what befits me, rather than trumpet-toned exultation. The sin offering is most acceptably presented without blowing of trumpets. As for the burnt offering, which denotes dedication; and the peace offering, which speaks of communion with God and of our communion with each other in the Lord; these are most acceptable when they are attended with gladness and thankful exultation in God.

(3) The blowing of the silver trumpets was especially to abound at the great solemnities. That is to say, at the new moons, at the three great festivals, the "solemn days" of the Jewish year, and on all days of special gladness (cf. 2Ch 5:12; 2 Chronicles 7:6; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:35).

(4) Above all other solemn days, the first day of the seventh month was to be thus distinguished. The seventh month was that in which the Feast of Tabernacles happened—at the full moon, in the end of September or beginning of October, after the Lord had crowned the year with his goodness. The new moon of this month was the Feast of the Blowing of Trumpets (cf. Leviticus 23:24); and fitly ushered in the Feast of Ingathering, the most joyous of all the festivals of the year.—B.


Numbers 10:1-10


There is a manifest connection between the cloud and the trumpets. At Sinai there was "a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud" (Exodus 19:16). This seems to have been a miraculous sound, but Jehovah now orders Moses to have two silver trumpets made for permanent use. Thus trumpets as well as cloud were remembrancers of Sinai. God uses sound along with light to signify his will to his people; he appeals not only to their eyes, but also to their ears. Though the cloud was there they were not ever watching it. The longer it rested, the less conscious of its presence they became. Therefore God added the sound of the trumpets, a sudden, startling sound, to stop each one in his work, or raise him out of his sleep.

I. GOD TAKES SUFFICIENT MEANS TO CONVEY TO MEN ALL THAT IT IS NEEDFUL FOR THEM TO KNOW. Exactly where they would next pass, and how long stay there, and how long be in the wilderness, the Israelites knew not; but when the hour came for them to move, it was of the first importance that none should be in ignorance or doubt. So with regard to the practical matters of the gospel; we may take it as perfectly certain that difficulties with regard to salvation and Christian duty are in us, not in God. Men have eyes, yet see not; ears, yet hear not. They clamour for more light, more evidence, more signs. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." And now they have also Christ and the apostles to listen to. All the great appeals and proclamations of the gospel have the trumpet sound in them; only men are so drenched and stupefied with the opiates of sin that the sound is as if it were not.

II. GOD COULD USE THE ONE AGENT TO INDICATE MANY REQUIREMENTS. There were always the same two trumpets, but sounded in different ways for different purposes. There was one sound for the princes, and another for the people. The trumpet called them to the march, and in later days, when the marching was over, it called them to the battle. It had to do with great religious occasions, and times of special gladness, e.g; the jubilee year (Le Numbers 25:9). So there is one Spirit and diversity of operations. There is the Spirit calling the attention of men by signs and wonders; there is the same Spirit breathing through the men who wrote book after book of the Scriptures. And now these Scriptures lie like a silent silver trumpet, till the same Spirit, breathing through them, makes them to teach, console, promise, warn, according to the need of the individual who listens. The trumpet of God gives no uncertain sound (1 Corinthians 14:8). Paul trusted it with the most complete confidence in his missionary work (Acts 16:6-10). There is a trumpet sound telling us not only to do something for God, but exactly what to do. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

III. THE TRUMPET WAS FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS. It was not a daily sound. It indicated fresh departures, and was associated with great celebrations. Between the soundings there were intervals for the quiet practice of everyday duties. It is good thus to have the ordinary and the extraordinary mingled in our life. It is an ill thing both for individuals and communities to be settled too long in the same circumstances. Too much change is bad, but too much rest is worse. Times of quiet, plodding toil scarcely noticed, faithfulness in little things day after day—then the trumpet sounds and there is change and strife. But though the trumpet is there for special occasions, God has voices for every day to all who have the listening ear. (2 Chronicles 5:12-14; Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 4:5; Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 42:14; Jeremiah 51:27; Ezekiel 33:1-6; Hosea 8:1; Joel 2:1; Amos 3:6; Zephaniah 1:16; Zechariah 9:14; Revelation 1:10.)—Y.

Verses 11-28



Numbers 10:11

On the twentieth day of the second month. This answered approximately to our May 6th, when the spring verdure would still be on the land, but the heat of the day would already have become intense. We may well suppose that the departure would have taken place a month earlier, had it not been necessary to wait for the due celebration of the second or supplemental passover (Numbers 9:11). As this march was, next to the actual exodus, the great trial of Israel's faith and obedience, it was most important that none should commence it otherwise than in full communion with their God and with one another. The cloud was taken up. For the first time since the tabernacle had been reared up (Exodus 40:34). This being the Divine signal for departure, the silver trumpets would immediately announce the fact to all the hosts.

Numbers 10:12

Took their journeys. Literally, "marched according to their journeys" לְמַסְּעֵיהֶם. Septuagint, τίαις αὐτῶν, set forward with their baggage. And the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran. Taken by itself this would seem to apply to the first resting of the cloud and the first halt of the host after breaking up from "the wilderness of Sinai." It appears, however, from Numbers 12:16 that "the wilderness of Paran" was fully reached after leaving Hazeroth at the end of three days' journey from Sinai, nor would a shorter space of time suffice to carry the host across the mountain barrier of the Jebel et-Tih, which forms the clearly-marked southern limit of the desert plateau of Paran (see next note). Some critics have arbitrarily extended the limits of "the wilderness of Paran" so as to include the sandy waste between Sinai and the Jebel et-Tih, and therefore the very first halting-place of Israel. This, however, is unnecessary as well as arbitrary; for

(1) Numbers 12:12, Numbers 12:13 are evidently in the nature of a summary, and the same subject is confessedly taken up again in verse 33, sq.; and

(2) the departure from Sinai is expressly said to have been for a "three days' journey" (verse 33), which must mean that the march, although actually divided into three stages, was regarded as a single journey, because it brought them to their immediate destination in the wilderness of Paran. Here then is a plain reason for the statement in this verse: the cloud did indeed rest twice between the two wildernesses, but only so as to allow of a night's repose, not so as to break the continuity of the march. "The wilderness of Paran." Septuagint, ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τοῦ φαράν. This geographical expression is nowhere exactly defined in Holy Scripture, and the name itself has disappeared; for in spite of the resemblance in sound (a resemblance here, as in so many cases, wholly delusive), it seems to have no connection whatever with the Wady Feiran, the fertile valley at the base of Serbal, or with the town which once shared the name. All the allusions, however, in the Old Testament to Paran point to a district so clearly marked out, so deeply stamped with its own characteristics, by nature, that no mistake is possible. This district is now called et-Tih, i.e; the wandering, and is still remembered in the traditions of the Arabs as the scene of the wanderings of the people of God. Little known, and never thoroughly explored, its main features are nevertheless unmistakable, and its boundaries sharply defined. Measuring about 150 miles in either direction, its southern frontier (now called the Jebel et-Tih) is divided by the broad sandy waste of er-Ramleh from the Sinaitic mountains and the Sinaitic peninsula properly so called; its northern mountain mass looks across the deep fissure of the Wady Murreh (or desert of Zin), some ten or fifteen miles broad, into er-Rachmah, the mountain of the Amorite, the southern extension of the plateau of Judah; on the east it fails abruptly down to the narrow beach of the Elanite Gulf, and to the Arabah; on the west alone it sinks slowly into the sandy desert of Shur, which separates it from the Mediterranean and from Egypt. Et-Tih is itself divided into nearly equal halves, by the Wady el Arish (or "river of Egypt"), which, rising on the northern slopes of the Jebel et-Tih, and running northwards through the whole plateau, turns off to the west and is lost in the desert of Shur. That the western half of the plateau went also under the name of Paran is evident from the history of Ishmael (see especially Genesis 21:21; Genesis 25:18), but it was through the eastern portion alone that the wanderings of the Israelites, so far as we can trace them, lay. This "wilderness of Paran" is indeed "a great and terrible wilderness'' (Deuteronomy 1:9), lacking for the most part the precipitous grandeur of the granite mountains of Sinai, but lacking also their fertile valleys and numerous streams. A bare limestone or sandstone plateau, crossed by low ranges of hills, seamed with innumerable dry water-courses, and interspersed with large patches of sand and gravel, is what now meets the eye of the traveler in this forsaken land. It is true that a good deal of rain falls at times, and that when it does fall vegetation appears with surprising rapidity and abundance; it is true also that the district has been persistently denuded of trees and shrubs for the sake of fuel. But whatever mitigations may have then existed, it is clear from the Bible itself that the country was then, as now, emphatically frightful (cf. Deuteronomy 1:19; Deuteronomy 8:15; Deuteronomy 32:10; Jeremiah 2:6). Something may be set, no doubt, to the account of rhetoric, and much may be allowed for variety of seasons. Even in Australia the very same district will appear at one time like the desolation of a thousand years, and in the very next year it will blossom as the rose. But at certain seasons at any rate et-Tih was (as it is) a "howling" wilderness, where the dreadful silence of a lifeless land was only broken by the nightly howling of unclean beasts who tracked the footsteps of the living in order to devour the carcasses of the dead. Perhaps so bad a country has never been attempted by any army in modern days, even by the Russian troops in Central Asia.

Amongst the many Wadys which drain the uncertain rain-fall of the eastern half of et-Tih (and at the same time testify to a greater rain-fall in bygone ages), the most important is the Wady el Terafeh, which, also rising on the northern slopes of Jebel et-Tih, runs northwards and north-westwards, and finally opens into the Arabah. Towards its northern limit et-Tih changes its character for the worse. Here it rises into a precipitous quadrilateral of mountains, about forty miles square, not very lofty, but exceedingly steep and rugged, composed in great measure of dazzling masses of bare chalk or limestone, which glow as in a furnace beneath the summer sun. This mountain mass, now called the Azaimat, or mountain country of the Azazimeh, rising steeply from the rest of the plateau to the southward, is almost completely detached by deep depressions from the surrounding districts; at the north-west corner alone it is united by a short range of mountains with er-Rachmah, and so with the highlands of Southern Palestine. From this corner the Wady Murreh descends broad and deep towards the cast, forking at the eastern extremity towards the Arabah on the southeast, and towards the Dead Sea on the north. east. The interior of this inaccessible country has yet to be really explored, and it is the scanty nature of our present knowledge concerning it which, more than anything else, prevents us from following with any certainty the march of the Israelites as recorded in this book.

Numbers 10:13

And they first took their journey. The meaning of this is somewhat doubtful. The Septuagint has ἐξῇραν πρῶτοι, the foremost set out; the Vulgate, profecti sunt per turmas suas. Perhaps it means, "they journeyed in the order of precedence'' assigned to them by their marching orders in Numbers 2:1-34.

Numbers 10:14

According to their armies. In each camp, and under each of the four standards, there were three tribal hosts, each an army in itself.

Numbers 10:17

And the tabernacle was taken down. That is, the fabric of it; the boards, curtains, and other heavy portions which were packed upon the six wagons provided for the purpose (Numbers 7:5-9). And the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari set forward. Between the first and second divisions of the host. In Numbers 2:1-34 it had been directed in general terms that "the tabernacle" should set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the host, between the second and third divisions. At that time the duties of the several Levitical families had not been specified, and the orders for the taking down and transport of the tabernacle and its furniture had not been given in detail. It would be historically an error, and theologically a superstition, to imagine that Divine commands such as these had no elasticity, and left no room for adaptation, under the teaching of experience, or for the sake of obvious convenience. Whether the present modification was directly commanded by God himself, or whether it was made on the authority of Moses, does not here appear. There can be no question that subsequent theocratic rulers of Israel claimed and used a large liberty in modifying the Divinely-originated ritual and order. Compare the case of the passover, the arrangements of Solomon's temple as corresponding with those of the tabernacle, and even the use of the silver trumpets. The Septuagint has the future tense here, καθελοῦσι τὴν σκηνήν κ.τ.λ. as if to mark it as a fresh command.

Numbers 10:21

The sanctuary. Rather, "the holy things." הַמִּקְדַּשׁ, equivalent to the קֹדֶשׁ הֲקָּדָשׁים if Numbers 4:4. Septuagint, τὰ ἅγια. The sacred furniture mentioned in Numbers 3:31 (but cf. Numbers 3:33). The other did set up the tabernacle. Literally, "they set up," but no doubt it means the Gershonites and Merarites, whose business it was.

Numbers 10:25

The rereward of all the camps. Literally, "the collector," or "the gatherer, of all the camps." The word is applied by Isaiah to God himself (Isaiah 52:12; Isaiah 58:8) as to him that "gathereth the outcasts of Israel." Dan may have been the collector of all the camps simply in the sense that his host closed in all the others from behind, and in pitching completed the full number. Under any ordinary circumstances, however (see next note) the work of the rear-guard in collecting stragglers and in taking charge of such as had fainted by the way must have been arduous and important in the extreme.

Numbers 10:28

Thus were the journeyings. Rather, "these were the journeyings," the marchings of the various hosts of which the nation was composed. The question may here be asked, which is considered more at large in the Introduction, how it was possible for a nation of more than two million souls, containing the usual proportion of aged people, women, and children, to march as here represented, in compact columns closely following one another, without straggling, without confusion, without incalculable suffering and loss of life. That the line of march was intended to be compact and unbroken is plain (amongst other things) from the directions given about the tabernacle. The fabric was sent on in advance with the evident intent that it should be reared up and ready to receive the holy things by the time they arrived. Yet between the fabric and the furniture there marched more than half a million of people (the camp of Reuben), all of whom had to reach the camping ground and turn off to the right before the Kohathites could rejoin their brethren. Now discipline and drill will do wonders in the way of ordering and expediting the movements even of vast multitudes, if they are thoroughly under control; the family organization also of the tribes, and the long leisure which they had enjoyed at Sinai, gave every opportunity of perfecting the necessary discipline. But it is clear that no discipline could make such an arrangement as the one above mentioned feasible under the ordinary circumstances of human life. It would be absolutely necessary to eliminate all the casualties and all the sicknesses which would naturally clog and hinder the march of such a multitude, in order that it might be compressed within the required limits of time and space. Have we any ground for supposing that these casualties and sicknesses were eliminated? In answering this question we must clearly distinguish between the journey from Sinai to Kadesh, on the borders of Palestine, which was a journey of only eleven days (Deuteronomy 1:2), and the subsequent wanderings of the people of Israel. It is the eleven days' journey only with which we are concerned, because it was for this journey only that provision was made and orders were given by the God of Israel. During the subsequent years of wandering and of excommunication, there can be no doubt that the marching orders fell into abeyance as entirely as the sacrificial system and the rite of circumcision itself. During these years the various camps may have scattered themselves abroad, marched, and halted very much as the circumstances of the day demanded. But that this was not and could not be the case during the short journey which should have landed them in Canaan is obvious from the whole tone, as well as from the particular details, of the commandments considered above. It is further to be borne in mind that the Divine promise and undertaking at the exodus was, impliedly if not explicitly, to bring the whole people, one and all, small and great, safely to their promised home. When the Psalmist asserts (Psalms 105:37) that "there was not one feeble person among their tribes," he does not go beyond what is plainly intimated in the narrative. If of their cattle "not an hoof" must be left behind, lest the absolute character of the deliverance be marred, how much more necessary was it that not a soul be abandoned to Egyptian vengeance? And how could all depart unless all were providentially saved from sickness and infirmity? But the same necessity (the necessity of his own goodness) held good when the exodus was accomplished. God could not bring any individual in Israel out of Egypt only to perish in the wilderness, unless it were through his own default, he who had brought them out with so lavish a display of miraculous power was bound also to bring them in; else they had been actual losers by obedience, and his word had not been kept to them. Under a covenant and a dispensation which assuredly did not look one hand's breadth beyond the present life, it must have seemed to be of the essence of the promise which they believed that not one of them should die or have to be left behind. And as the death or loss of one of God's people would have vitiated the temporal promise to thegn, so also it would have vitiated the eternal promise to us. For they were ensamples of us, and confessedly what was done for them was done at least as much for our sakes as for theirs. Now the promise of God is manifest unto every one that is included within his new covenant, viz; to bring him safely at last unto the heavenly Canaan, and that in spite of every danger, if only he do not draw back. The whole analogy, therefore, and the typical meaning of the exodus would be overthrown if any single Israelite who had crossed the Red Sea failed to enter into rest, save as the consequence of his own sin. We conclude, therefore, with some confidence that the ordinary incidents of mortality were providentially excluded from the present march, as from the previous interval; that none fell sick, none became helpless, none died a natural death. We know that the great difficulty of a sufficient supply of food was miraculously met; we know that in numberless respects the passage from Egypt to Canaan was hedged about with supernatural aids. Is there any difficulty in supposing that he who gave them bread to eat and water to drink, who led them by a cloudy and a fiery pillar, could also give them health and strength to "walk and not be weary"? Is it unreasonable to imagine that he who spake in his tender pity of the flight from Judaea to Pella, "Woe to them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days," miraculously restrained for that season the natural increase of his people?


Numbers 10:11-28


Spiritually, we have in this section the Divinely-appointed order of the Church of Cod, the ideal method of her journeying, towards the eternal rest. All the time which the children of Israel spent beneath the holy mount was to prepare them for a speedy and triumphant march by the shortest way into Canaan. All which we have learnt of the law of Christ, and in his school, is to fit us to make our way right onwards through the difficulties of this troublesome world to the home beyond; and this is the practical test of all we have acquired. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT THE IMMEDIATE MARCH OF ISRAEL WAS OUT OF THE "WILDERNESS OF SINAI" INTO THE "WILDERNESS OF PARAN," FROM ONE DESERT TO ANOTHER. Even so is the onward course of the Church, or of the faithful soul, in this world. The only change is from one set of difficulties and hardships to another, from an unrest of one kind to an unrest of another kind. After the green level of Egypt, Sinai was awful, but Paran was worse. To the natural mind the difficulties which surround the beginning of a Christian life are terrible, but those which beset its middle course are mostly harder, because drearier, even if less striking. The young always think that when the special temptations of youth are past it will be an easy and simple matter to walk uprightly. In truth the whole of this life is a desert-journey, and we only remove from the awful precipices of Sinai to encounter the rugged and barren expanse of Paran. The hope which cheers and sustains lies beyond (Matthew 10:22; James 1:12).

II. THAT THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL, AS SOON AS THE CLOUD REMOVED, COULD NOT STAY WHERE THEY WERE, BUT MUST SET FORTH THROUGH THE RUGGED WILDERNESS OF PARAN, IF THEY WERE EVER TO REACH CANAAN. Even so the Church cannot attain her rest by studying divinity or perfecting the definitions of morality or the appliances of worship; it must walk in faith and righteousness amidst the endless contradictions of time. Even Mary cannot always sit at the Master's feet; the hour will come when he will be taken away, and when she must follow in the hard way of practical goodness and self-denial, if she would see him again.

III. THAT THE MARCHING ORDERS GIVEN BY GOD TO ISRAEL SEEM ON THE FACE OF THEM TO BE INCONSISTENT WITH THE ENORMOUS NUMBER OF THE PEOPLE ON THE ONE HAND, AND THE EXTREME DIFFICULTY OF THE COUNTRY ON THE OTHER; there seems no room left for any physical incapacity, or for the least human failure. And these orders were in fact more or less departed from before long. The Divine ideal of the Christian life, whether as lived by the Church at large or by the individual soul, as drawn out in the New Testament, seems to be too high and too perfect to be possible in the face of the contradictions of the world and the perversities of human nature. It is apparently true that the infinite complications of modern life, and the infinite variety of human dispositions, have made the lofty purity and the unbroken unity of the gospel plan a thing practically unattainable in the Church.

IV. That the appointed ORDER OF MARCH WAS NOT IN FACT OBSERVED IN ITS ENTIRETY EXCEPT AT THE VERY FIRST, because sin and rebellion altered the face of things and made it impossible. The holy picture of the Christian community, drawn in Scripture, was only realized in the earliest days, and was soon made obsolete in many points by sin and unbelief.

V. That in spite of all apparent difficulties THE MARCH TO CANAAN WOULD HAVE BEEN ACCOMPLISHED WITHOUT A CHECK, without a loss, IF ONLY THE PEOPLE HAD OBEYED THE DIVINE COMMANDS, and relied upon the supernatural aid extended to them. Had Christians remained faithful, and responded to the heavenly graces promised to them, the Church would have gone on as it began, in spite of all difficulties; the whole earth had been evangelized, the number of the elect accomplished, and the heavenly rest attained long ere this.

VI. THAT THE GREAT SECRET, HUMANLY SPEAKING, OF THE ONWARD PROGRESS OF THE HOST WAS ORDER, in that every single person had his place and his work, and knew it. Without order carefully maintained that multitude had become an unmanageable mob, which could not have moved a mile or lived a day. Humanly speaking, order, discipline, due subordination, allotted division of labour, is the secret of the Church's success; and the absence—still more the contempt—of such order, is the obvious cause of the Church's failure.

VII. THAT THE GREAT SECRET, DIVINELY SPEAKING, OF ISRAEL'S SAFETY AND PROGRESS WAS THE FACT THAT THE LORD HIMSELF WAS IN THEIR MIDST when they rested, at their head when they marched, by the ark and by the cloud. In the deepest and truest sense the secret of our safety and of our victory is the supernatural presence of God with the Church and in the soul, by his incarnate Word and by his Spirit. There is at once the real bond of union, and the real source of strength. It may also be noted—

1. That, as soon as their time of preparation was fulfilled, the cloud led Israel into the wilderness of Paran, to be tried by the manifold temptations of that way. Even so, when the preparation of Jesus for his work was finished, he was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Israel, called out of Egypt, was a type of Christ (Matthew 2:15), and the cloud was the symbol of the Divine Spirit.

2. That the fabric of the tabernacle was sent on in order to be set up in readiness to receive the ark and sacred vessels when they arrived. It is not always an idle nor a useless thing to set up the external formalities of religion in advance of the true spirit of worship, in faithful expectation that this too will come, and with it the promised blessing of God.

Verses 29-32


THE INVITATION TO HOBAB (Numbers 10:29-32).

Numbers 10:29

Hobab, the son of Raguel, Moses' father-in-law. It is not quite certain who this "Hobab" was. The name occurs only here and in Judges 4:11. The older opinion, followed by the A.V; identified Hobab with Jethro, and Jethro with Reuel the "priest of Midian," and father of Zipporah, Moses' wife. It is, of course, no real objection to this opinion that Hobab is here called the "son of Reuel;" for the name may quite well have been an hereditary one, like Abimelech and so many others. Nor need the multiplicity of names given to one individual astonish us, for it is of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament, and not infrequent in the New. The father-in-law of Moses was a priest, holding (probably by right of birth) the patriarchal dignity of tribal priest, as Job did on a smaller, and Melchizedec on a larger, scale. He may very well, therefore, have had one or more "official" names in addition to his personal name. If this is accepted, then it may serve as one instance amongst many to remind us how extremely careless the inspired writers are about names—"careless" not in the sense of not caring whether they are right or wrong, but in the sense of not betraying and not feeling the least anxiety to avoid the appearance and suspicion of inaccuracy. Even in the lists of the twelve apostles we arc forced to believe that "Judas the brother of James" is the same person as "Lebbaeus" and "Thaddaeus;" and it is a matter of endless discussion whether or no "Bartholomew" was the same as "Nathanael." On the face of it Scripture proclaims that it uses no arts, that it takes no pains to preserve an appearance of accuracy—that appearance which is so easily simulated for the purposes of falsehood. Holy Scripture may therefore fairly claim to be read without that captiousness, without that demand for minute carefulness and obvious consistency, which we rightly apply to one of our own histories. The modem historian avowedly tells his story as a witness does in the presence of a hostile counsel; the sacred historian tells his as a man does to the children round his knee. Surely such an obvious fact should disarm a good deal of the petty criticism which carps at the sacred narrative.

Many, however, will think that the balance of probability is against the older opinion. It is certain that the word translated "father-in-law" has no such definiteness either in the Hebrew or in the Septuagint. It means simply a "marriage relation," and is even used by Zipporah of Moses himself. It ,is just as likely to mean "brother-in-law" when applied to Hobab. As Moses was already eighty years old when Jethro is first mentioned (Exodus 3:1), it may seem probable that his father-in-law was by that time dead, and succeeded in his priestly office by his eldest son. In that case Hobab would be a younger son of Reuel, and as such free to leave the home of his ancestors and to join himself to his sister's people.

Numbers 10:31

Forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes. It is an obvious conclusion, from the reasons here urged by Moses, that the many and wonderful promises of Divine guidance and Divine direction did not supersede in his eyes the use of all available human aids. It is not indeed easy to say where any room was left for the good offices and experience of Hobab; the cloud of the Divine Presence seemed to control absolutely the journeying and encamping of the people; yet if we really knew in detail the actual ordering of that wondrous march, we should doubtless find that the heavenly guidance did but give unity and certainty to all the wisdom, caution, and endeavour of its earthly leaders. Indeed if we recall to mind that the host is calculated at more than two millions of people, it is quite evident that even during the march to Kadesh (and much more in the long wanderings which followed) it must have been extremely difficult to keep the various divisions together. In the broken and difficult country which they were to traverse, which had been familiar to Hobab from his youth, there would be scope enough for all his ability as a guide. And it would seem that it was just this prospect of being really useful to the people of Israel that prevailed with Hobab. He must indeed have felt assured that a wonderful future awaited a nation whose past and present were, even within his own knowledge, so wonderful. But that alone could not move him to leave his own land and his own kindred, a firing so unspeakably repugnant to the feelings and traditions of his age and country. Doubtless to the child of the desert, whose life was a never-ending struggle with the dangers and vicissitudes of the wilderness, the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey, watered with the rain of heaven, seemed like the garden of Eden. Yet the offer of an heritage within that land moved him not so much, it would appear, as the claim upon his own good offices in helping the chosen people to reach their own abode. The Septuagint translation, or rather paraphrase, of this verse is, "Leave us not, forasmuch as thou wast with us in the wilderness, and thou shalt be an elder among us." This seems, on the one hand, to identify Hobab with Jethro; on the other, to imply that he was shortly afterwards one of the seventy elders upon whom the spirit came. This, however, is not likely. Hobab does indeed seem to have gone with the people, but his descendants were not incorporated into Israel; they were with them, but not of them.

Numbers 10:32

If thou go with us. From Judges 1:16 we learn that the sons of Hobab joined themselves to the sons of Judah, and dwelt amongst them on the southern border of the land. Here is an "undesigned coincidence," albeit a slight one. Judah led the way on the march from Sinai to Canaan, and Hobab's duties as guide and scout would bring him more into contact with that tribe than with any other.


Numbers 10:29-32


Spiritually, we have here the voice of the saints calling to the wavering and undecided to cast in their lot with them, and to be partakers with them in those good things which God hath prepared for them that love him. Thereupon we have the voice of the wavering and undecided urging the ties and affections of this world as supreme. Then again the voice of the saints holding up the prospect at once of greater usefulness and of higher reward in the service of God. Finally (in the subsequent history), we have the assurance that these persuasions prevailed, and that these promises were made good. Consider—


1. A child of the desert, a "Kenite," whose home was in the wild country outside the promised land: a country which had a certain wild freedom and a precarious abundance, but withal full of dangers, of drought, and of the shadow of death.

2. A child of a patriarchal family; his father, "the priest of Midian," and a worshipper of the true God according to tradition.

3. A child of Reuel, "Moses' father-in-law," and therefore connected by family ties with Israel, and moreover an eye-witness to some extent of the power and mercy of the God of Israel. Hobab is the child of this world, whose home is amidst the precarious beauties and fading hopes of time; who has a knowledge of God by tradition, and a knowledge of religion by observation, yet of both rather as belonging to others than to himself.

II. THAT THE INVITATION CAME FROM THE ISRAEL OF GOD. "Come with us." From a people redeemed and separated, and sanctified, a "holy nation, a royal priesthood," whom God had chosen to be the peculiar instruments of his glory, the peculiar recipients of his bounty. The Israel of God are we who are indeed in this world, but not of it, having our true and certain home beyond the reach of chance and change. Note, that countless individuals amongst the tribes of Israel never reached that land, and never tried to—but the people, as a people, reached it; even so, countless numbers of professing Christians will never get to heaven, and do not try to, but the Church of God, as a Church, will attain to eternal life. Therefore, "come with us."


1. To be partner and partaker in their pilgrimage, their toils, and trials;

2. To be partner and partaker in their promised home to which they were journeying-, in the blessings unto which they were called. As God "would have all men to be saved," so is it the chiefest desire of our hearts that all around us (and especially those connected with us) should share our blessings and our hopes, should be partakers with us (if need be) of that "light affliction" which worketh an "eternal weight of glory" (cf. Romans 9:3 and Romans 10:2).

IV. THAT THE INDUCEMENT WAS, "WE WILL DO THEE GOOD." Not of their own ability, or of their own abundance, but by communicating unto him the good things which God should bestow on them. We may fearlessly say to the child of this world, "we will do thee good." Christianity is not individualism, but we are called "in one body," and spiritual blessings flow chiefly in one way or another through human channels. As a fact men find peace, support, sympathy, consolation here—heaven hereafter—in the society of the faithful, not out of it.

V. THAT THE HINDRANCE TO HIS GOING WAS THE PRIOR CLAIM OF AN EARTHLY HOME AND KINDRED. "To mine own land, and to my kindred." His own land, although not half so good as the promised land, was familiar and accustomed. So were his relations, although they could not do half so much for him as Moses and the elders of Israel. Even so the great hindrance to a really religious walk are to be found in the habits of life which are so familiar, and in the associates who have so much influence. Many find an insuperable difficulty in breaking with the evil or vain traditions of their home, their education, their "set" or class: they would go—but the bondage of custom is too strong for them (cf. Luke 9:59-62; Luke 14:25, Luke 14:26).

VI. THAT THE FURTHER AND (AS IT SEEMS) THE PREVAILING INDUCEMENT WITH HIM TO GO WAS THE HELP HE MIGHT AFFORD, THE GOOD HE MIGHT DO. Perhaps it was after all as much for Hobab's sake as for the people's, that Moses suggested to him of how much use he might be; but no doubt his training and qualifications did fit him for this service, and he felt that it was so. Even so there is a nobler, and often more potent, incentive to a religious life than even the glory which is to come. The prospect of being really useful to others, of making the utmost of all their gifts and acquirements—and that in the service of the Most High—is the great ambition which we ought to set before the eyes of men. A worldly life is a wasted life; a religious life is a life of unselfish activity; and this, of all prospects and attractions, has the strongest charm for each nobler soul (cf. Matthew 4:19; Luke 19:31, Luke 19:34; Acts 9:16; Acts 26:16-18). Consider, also—

VII. THAT HOBAB'S WORK AND SERVICE ON THE MARCH WERE NOT SUPERFLUOUS IF RENDERED, NOR YET ESSENTIAL IF DENIED. The supernatural guidance vouchsafed to Israel left plenty of room for his human skill and experience; but if Israel had been deprived of them, no doubt the supernatural guidance would somehow have sufficed. Even so there is room in the work of salvation of souls for all human effort and wisdom, however Divine a matter it appears; and yet if any man withhold his co-operation the work shall not therefore be really injured (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 1:28; 1 Corinthians 2:7, 1 Corinthians 2:9).


Numbers 10:29-32


This incident carries one back in thought to the day, one and forty years ago, when Moses, a fugitive from Egypt, arrived at the well in Midian, and there met with the daughter of Jethro. At the expiry of forty years the call of the Lord constrained Moses to forsake Midian, that he might be the leader of Israel; but it did not finally sever him from all connection with the house of his Midianite father-in-law. When Israel, on the march from Egypt, arrived at the border of the wilderness of Sinai, Jethro came out to meet him, and to welcome him. This done, he returned to his own house and sheep-walks. But his son Hobab stayed behind, and witnessed the giving of the law. When the march was about to be resumed, Hobab proposed to bid farewell to his sister and Moses. But Moses would not hear of it. Reminding Hobab of the inheritance awaiting Israel in the land of the Canaanites, be, in his own name, and in the name of the whole people, invited him to join himself to their company, and share in all the goodness which the Lord was about to do to them in fulfillment of his promise. This invitation, addressed by Moses and the congregation to one who did not belong to the seed of Jacob, is of no small interest historically. And its practical interest is still greater; for it exhibits a bright example of a desire which ought always to find place in the hearts of the faithful—the desire to allure into their fellowship "them that are without," whether these are the heathen abroad, or the careless and vicious at home. Viewing the text in this light, it presents three topics which claim consideration.

I. THE CHURCH'S PROFESSION OF FAITH AND HOPE. "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you The Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." On the lips of Moses and the congregation this was really a profession and utterance of faith. From the day that God called Abraham, he and his seed were taught to expect Canaan as their inheritance; and it was faith's business to embrace the promise and look for its accomplishment. In the faith of this promise Abraham and Isaac and Jacob lived and died. In the faith of it Joseph, when he died, gave commandment concerning his bones. In the faith of it Moses forsook Pharaoh's house. In the faith of it he refused to cast in his lot with Jethro's Midianites, and called the son born to him in Midian Gershom, "a stranger there." In the faith of the same promise Israel was now resuming the march towards Canaan. It is no idle fancy which sees in all this a parable of the Christian faith and the Christian profession. We also look for an inheritance and rest. "We believe that we shall be saved." We have been begotten to a living hope by the resurrection of Christ. As truly as the tribes in the wilderness, we (unless we have believed in vain) have turned our backs upon Egypt, and have set our faces towards the better country. We are journeying. We are strangers and pilgrims. I admit that among professing Christians there are many who have no real hope of the kind described; many, also, whose hope is anything but bright and strong'. Nevertheless, the world is certainly mistaken when it persuades itself that the Christian hope is an empty boast. There are tens of thousands whose lives are sustained and controlled by it continually.

II. THE CHURCH'S INVITATION TO THEM THAT ARE WITHOUT. "Come thou with us." The words remind us of a truth too often forgotten, namely, that even under the Old Testament the Church was by no means the exclusive body which some take it to have been. It had an open door and a welcome for all who desired to enter. In point of fact, a considerable proportion of those who constituted the Hebrew commonwealth at any given time were of Gentile descent. Moses did not act without warrant when he invited Hobab to come in—he and all his. At the same time it is to be remembered that the gospel Church is not to be contented with simply maintaining the attitude of the Old Testament Church towards them that are without. We are not only to keep an open door and make applicants welcome, we are to go forth and compel them to come in. Christ's Church is a missionary Church. A religious society which neglects this function—which refuses to obey the command to go and preach the gospel to every creature—lacks one of the notes of the Christian Church. We are to charge ourselves with the duty of sending the gospel to the far-off heathen. As for the careless and ungodly who are our neighbours, we are not only to send to them the word, but ought personally to invite them to come with us.

III. THE ARGUMENTS WITH WHICH THE INVITATION IS FORTIFIED. I refer especially to those urged by Moses and the congregation here.

1. It will be well for Hobab and his house if he will come (Numbers 10:32). No doubt the man who follows Christ must be prepared to take up the cross—must be ready to suffer reproach, to encounter tribulation, to take in hand self-denying work. These things are not pleasant to flesh and blood. Yet after all, Wisdom's ways are the ways of pleasantness. Compared with the devil's yoke, the yoke of Christ is easy. Godliness has the promise of both worlds. Those who have given Christ's service a fair trial would not for the world change masters.

2. Hobab is to come, for the Lord hath need of him (Numbers 10:30, Numbers 10:31). It seems that Moses' brother-in-law feared he might be an intruder and a burden. No such thing. A son of the desert would be of manifold service to the congregation in the desert. There is great wisdom in this argument. It is a great mistake to suppose that people seriously inquiring after salvation will attach themselves most readily to the Church which will give them nothing to do. The nobler sort will be attracted rather by the prospect of being serviceable. To sum up—the argument which will carry the greatest weight with unbelievers and despisers of God is that which utters itself in the Church's profession of its own faith and hope. A Church whose faith is weak and whose hope is dim will be found to have little power to rouse the careless and draw them into its fellowship. Men are most likely to be gained to Christ and the way of salvation by the Church whose members manifest by their words and lives the presence in theist hearts of a bright and living hope of eternal life.—B.


Numbers 10:29-32


I. THE WONDERFUL CHANGES GOD MAKES IN HUMAN LIFE. What men do themselves, the history of self-made men, is often very astonishing, yet nothing to the history of God-made men. For forty years Moses had been a shepherd in this wilderness; as we may conjecture, an oft companion with Hobab in these very scenes, Suddenly he goes away to Egypt to visit his brethren, and in the course of a few months returns to the wilderness with over 600,000 fighting men, beside women and children. So in the Scriptures we find many other wonderful God-made changes in human life. Joseph leaving his brethren a slave—his brethren finding him again prime minister to Pharaoh. The lad David brought from the recluse pastoral scene to stand before armies and slay the dreaded foe of Israel. Jesus visiting Nazareth to be a wonderment and stumbling-block to those who had known him from infancy. Saul among the persecutors when he left Jerusalem—among the persecuted when he returns.

II. THESE WONDERFUL CHANGES MAY BE EXHIBITED SO AS TO MAKE OTHERS THE SUBJECTS OF THEM. Hobab had probably been much with Moses, for old acquaintance' sake, while the people of God were round about Sinai. The recollections of the past were comparatively fresh, and Moses had a natural interest in a kinsman. But now the time has come to move, and what must Hobab do? The necessities of God's kingdom bring a separation sooner or later in all friendship, unless both parties are in the kingdom. It is the critical moment of Hobab's life, and he must decide at once. Not but what he might change his mind, and follow afterwards, only the chances were that it was now or never. Thus Hobab is the illustration of all who are asked and pressed to join the people of God. To such persons every narration of God's experienced grace to others brings a cordial invitation in the very telling of it. It is our own fault if we be mere spectators of the cloud, hearers of the trumpet. God had made most gracious provision for the stranger to come into Israel. No word could be more cordial and pressing than that of Moses here. It was not hatred of outsiders as outsiders, but as abominably wicked, that brought God's vengeance on them.

III. THESE WONDERFUL CHANGES MAY BE EXHIBITED WITHOUT PRODUCING SYMPATHY AND APPRECIATION. The reply of Hobab illustrates the natural man in his want of sympathy with spiritual struggles. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." How many there have been of such spectators in every age, those who have seen some old companion suddenly borne away, come under the influence of new powers, and turn what is called fanatic and enthusiast! The old ties are all broken, or, if any remain, there is no substance in them. Believer and unbeliever may continue to meet in the commerce of the world, but in closer relations they can meet no longer. When Pitt was told of the great religious change that had passed over Wilberforce, he suggested to his friend that he was out of spirits, and that company and conversation would be the best way of dissipating his impressions. Hobab was quite contented with his sheep in the desert. He did not want to be circumcised, and held in with such rigorous restrictions. Doubtless he had a warm place in his heart for Moses, but he could not say as Buxton once signed himself in a letter to J.J. Gurney, "Yours, in the threefold cord of taste, affection, and religion."—Y.

Numbers 10:29


I. THE FEELING WHICH SHOULD BE IN ALL CHRISTIAN HEARTS. "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you." Thus our view of the future should be regulated as a future not of our achieving, but of God's giving. The end is definite and assured, however devious and tedious the way may be. The end is one not to be reached immediately; the place which God will give us must be at a secure distance from spiritual Egypt, with its bondage and tyranny. The feeling which we entertain with respect to this place must be a confident one, and expressed in a manner corresponding. The feeling thus entertained and expressed must have all our actions in harmony with it. Our closest connections with earth should be as nothing more than the pegs of the Israelite tents, here to-day and gone to-morrow (John 14:1-3; John 17:24; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9; Hebrews 4:11; Hebrews 11:13-16; Hebrews 12:27; 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 1:4).

II. THE INVITATION WHICH SHOULD COME FROM ALL CHRISTIAN LIPS. "Come thou with us, and we will do thee good." Addressed to those who may think they have a true home among things seen and temporal, but who are as really without a home as is the Christian. If Christians are sure they are going onward to the true home chosen, secured, and enriched by God, what is more Christ-like than that they should ask their Hobab-neighbours to join their well-protected, well-provisioned caravan? If even now sweet influences from the rest that remaineth for the people of God possess our souls, these should be used to win others from the illusions of this passing scene. What a blessed occupation to be drawing human spirits into that sphere of the unseen and eternal which alone gives them a fitting service here, and a true rest and reward hereafter! The invitation must be a loving and constraining one. To promise good to others, we must feel and show that we have got good ourselves. The invitation can only come when we ourselves feel that we are m the right Way to the desired end.

III. THE REASON BY WHICH THE INVITATION IS ENFORCED. "The Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." Concerning Israel. Concerning other nations he had spoken ill for their idolatries and abominations. Sodom was a witness to his consuming wrath, and his hand had been laid heavily on Egypt. But concerning Israel he had spoken good in a large and loving way (Exodus 3:6-8; Exodus 6:6-8; Exodus 23:20-33). The stranger then must cease to be a stranger, and enter by circumcision of the heart into the spiritual Israel. The force of the invitations does not depend on our sanguine anticipations. Others are as well able to consider what the Lord has spoken as we are. His word is the guarantee. If even the Jewish nation, the typical Israel, has still to have prophecies fulfilled, how much more its antitype, the spiritual Israel, those who are Jews inwardly! Consider for yourselves then all the good that God has spoken concerning Israel.—Y.

Numbers 10:31


Moses has failed in appealing to Hobab by a regard for his own best interests, but he has a second arrow in his quiver. He will touch Hobab's sense of friendship, his manliness, anything that was chivalrous in him; he will put him on his honour to render just the one service he was able to render. Note—

I. THE SERVICES WHICH THE WORLD CAN RENDER TO THE CHURCH. We may fairly assume, considering Judges 1:16, that Hobab went with Moses after all (Matthew 21:29). He will help Moses the man, when he cares nothing for Moses the prophet of God. There may be a certain sense of duty even when there is none of sin and spiritual need, a certain power to help, even though the highest power be utterly lacking. The peculiar strength of the Church is in God; when it does spiritual work with spiritual instruments; but the world may also be tributary in its own way. The wealth of the world is not a spiritual thing, but it has been helpful to the Church. Men of the world have neither the Christ-like love nor the self-denial to initiate enterprises, which, nevertheless, they will generously support. In person they will do nothing; in purse they will do much. The printer who cares nothing for Christ, who to-day prints the scoffs and quibbles of an atheist, or some frivolous fiction, may to-morrow print a Bible, or a precious biography of some departed saint. Places of worship have been built by men who had no religion in them. Fishers' boats ferried Jesus across the lake of Galilee; trading ships took Paul on his missionary journey; and soldiers of Caesar conveyed him to Rome, where for so long a time he had panted to preach the gospel.

II. THE HOLD WHICH THE CHURCH KEEPS ON THIS WORLD. Hobab said very bluntly he would not go with Moses; but he had not thought of all the considerations that might be brought to bear upon him. The grasp of Moses was firmer than he thought. Let no worldly man despise what he deems the dreams and delusions of the Christian. They may have a greater power on him in the end than at present he has any conception of. Human friendships and old associations are part of the bait with which Christ furnishes his fishers of men. Those who will not read the Scriptures for salvation, and who laugh at the schemes of doctrine draw,, from them yet find in the same Scriptures too much of poetry and interest to be slightingly passed by. What a strange thing, too, to hear men, even in all their vehement denials of the supernatural, extolling Jesus of Nazareth, admiring his spirit, and recommending his ethics. However they try, they cannot get away from him. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." We must not despair of unbelievers, even after many refusals (Luke 13:6-9). In connection with Moses and Hobab, a reference-to Tennyson's ‘In Memoriam,' 63, "Dost thou look back on what hath been?" etc; may be found homiletically helpful.—Y.

Verses 33-36



Numbers 10:33

And they departed. These words mark the moment of actual departure, which has been anticipated in the general statement of Numbers 10:12. It was one of the supreme moments in the life of Israel—one of those beginnings or "departures" which lead to untold gain or loss; it was, in fact, although they knew it not, the commencement of a march which for almost all of them should know no end except within a hasty grave. No doubt, during the months spent at Sinai, every preparation had been made for the onward journey; but none the less it was a stupendous enterprise to march that vast host, so largely composed of women and children, so little inured to such fatigue, and so impatient of such discipline, for three consecutive days into a wilderness. Three days' journey. This expression is apparently a general one, and not to be strictly pressed (cf. Genesis 30:36; Exodus 3:18; Exodus 15:22). At the same time it implies

(1) that the host twice halted for the night during the journey, and

(2) that the whole journey was regarded as one and in some sense as complete in itself.

The terminus ad quem of this three days' journey is given us in Numbers 10:12; it was to take them across the intervening belt of sand, and to land them fairly within the "wilderness of Paran." During this journey no doubt the march would be pushed on as steadily as possible, but it is not likely that it would cover so much as thirty miles. A modern army, unencumbered with non-combatants, does not make more than ten miles a day over difficult country, nor can cattle be driven faster than that. Even to accomplish that rate, and to keep the whole multitude together, as the narrative implies, required supernatural aid and strength. For the direction of the march see notes on Numbers 13:1-33. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them. It is obvious that what is apparently affirmed here is apparently at variance with Numbers 2:17 and Numbers 2:21 of this chapter, which speak of the holy things—of which the ark was the most holy—as carried by the Kohathites in the very midst of the long line of march. Three opinions have been held on the subject.

1. That the ark was really carried with the other "holy things," and only "went before" metaphorically, as a general may be said to lead his troops, although he may not be actually in front of them; to which it is obvious to reply that if the ark did not actually precede the host, there was no possible way in which it could direct their movements; the cloud alone would be the visible expression of the Divine guidance.

2. That the "holy things" generally were ordered to be carried in the midst of the host by the Kohathites, but that God reserved the place of the ark itself to his own immediate disposition. A general does not include himself in his own marching orders, however minute; and the ark was the outward symbol of God's own personal presence and guidance. It is, therefore, not at all surprising that the first intimation of the position of the ark on the march should be given at the moment when the march actually commenced.

3. That the usual place for the ark was no doubt with the sanctuary, as implied in the orders, but that o a this special occasion the ark went to the front in consequence of some Divine intimation, just as it did at the crossing of Jordan and at the taking of Jericho. Certainly there is much reason in this view, considering how momentous and formidable was their first assay at marching from their temporary home towards that unknown land beyond the northern horizon. If the deep waters of Jordan might fright them, or the walls of Jericho defy them, well might they shrink from plunging into the broken, stony, and intractable country into which the ark and the cloud now led them. We shall probably think that either habitually or at least occasionally the ark did go before, and that the feet of them that bare it were supernaturally directed, either by the movements of the cloud, or by some more secret intimation, towards the destined place of rest. It is allowed by all that the cloud preceded and directed the march, and it would be strange indeed if these twin symbols of the Divine presence had been so far separated from one another; for the accustomed place of the cloud was above the tabernacle, i.e; above the ark, yet outside of the tabernacle, so as to be visible to all.

Numbers 10:34

The cloud of the Lord was upon them by day. It would seem as if the cloud, which was luminous by night, dense and dark by day, spread itself upwards and backwards from over the ark, overshadowing the host as it followed—a refreshment at any rate to those who were near, perhaps to all, and a guiding beacon to those who were afar. To what extent the people at large were able to enjoy this shade amidst the burning heats of the desert we cannot possibly tell, but there is no doubt that it dwelt in the memory of the nation, and gave meaning to such expressions as the "shadow of the Almighty" (Psalms 91:1), and "the shadow of a cloud" (Isaiah 25:4, Isaiah 25:5).

Numbers 10:35

When the ark set forward. These words, taken in connection with the words "when it rested," in the following verse, confirm the belief that at this time (at any rate) the ark went before the host; for if it had remained in the midst, it would not have stirred until half the tribes had moved off, nor would it have halted until half the camp was pitched, whereas it is evident that its setting forward and standing still were the decisive moments of the day. They had, as it were, a sacramental character; they were visible signs, corresponding to invisible realities, as the movements of the hands on the dial correspond to the action of the machinery within. When the ark and the cloud set forward, it was the Almighty God going on before to victory; when the ark and the cloud rested, it was the all-merciful God returning to protect and cherish his own. This is clearly recognized in the morning and evening prayer of Moses. The typical and spiritual character of that setting forward and that resting could not well have been lost upon any religious mind—that God going before us is the certain and abiding pledge of final victory, that God returning to us is the only hope of present safety. Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered. The sixty-eighth Psalm, which we have learnt to associate with the wonders of Pentecost and the triumphs of the Church on earth, seems to be an expansion of Moses' morning prayer.

Numbers 10:36

Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands (literally, myriad thousands; see Numbers 1:16) of Israel. שׁוּבָה being construed with the accusative is of somewhat doubtful interpretation. It may be as in the beautiful and familiar rendering of the A.V; than which nothing could be more obviously in harmony with the circumstances, and the feelings which gave rise to the prayer. Or it may be necessary to translate it by a transitive verb, and then it will be either, with many moderns, "Restore, O Lord, the myriad thousands of Israel," i.e; to their promised home; or, with the Septuagint, "Convert, O Lord (ἐπίστρεφε, Κύριε), the thousand myriads of Israel." If the ordinary reading be (as it appears) grammatically defensible, it is unquestionably to be preferred. Only Moses, as he looked upon that huge multitude covering the earth far and wide, could rightly feel how unutterably awful their position would be if on any day the cloud were to rise and melt into the evening sky instead of poising itself above the sanctuary of Israel. The Septuagint transposes Numbers 10:34 from its proper place to the end of the chapter, apparently in order to keep together the verses which speak of the movements of the ark. Many Hebrew MSS. mark Numbers 10:35, Numbers 10:36 with inverted nuns, ,נ but the explanations given are fanciful, and the meaning uncertain.


Numbers 10:33-36


Spiritually, we have here the journey of the Church of God, or of the faithful soul, towards heaven under the guidance of the Saviour. For the ark, whereon rested the Shechinah, and in which was carried the law, is the type of Jesus, in whom dwelt the whole fullness of the Godhead bodily (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:6 b; Colossians 2:9), and in whom as manifested to us is found the new law of love and liberty. Therefore we have here Jesus going before his own,

(1) to guide them in the daily path,

(2) to lead them to their rest when the journey is over (cf. John 10:4; John 14:2).

In the cloud, again, we have the refreshment of the Holy Spirit ("another Comforter"), when we face the burden and heat of life. Lastly, we have the devout prayers of the faithful for the help of God in their spiritual warfare, for the presence of God with their souls. Consider, therefore, on Numbers 10:33, Numbers 10:34

I. THAT THE HOUR OF DEPARTURE FROM HOREB, SO LONG DELAYED, AND THE PLUNGE INTO THE STONY DESERT, SO OFTEN ANTICIPATED, CAME AT LAST. Many may have thought it would never really arrive, but it did; and in a few hours the mount, which had been the scene of such wondrous events, was hidden for ever from their eyes. Even so we cannot abide on the heights of contemplation (with Moses), or in the plains of instruction (with the people). There is a time to receive marching orders; there is a much longer and more trying time to march accordingly amidst hard trials and difficult undertakings—and this time will surely come to each and all (Matthew 10:38; Acts 14:22 b; 2 Timothy 2:12; 2 Timothy 3:12).

II. THAT THE ISRAELITES WERE NOT REQUIRED TO FIND THEIR OWN WAY, OR TRUST TO HUMAN GUIDANCE: THE ARK WENT BEFORE THEM. They only had to follow as best they might. Even so Jesus goes before his own; once for all, by his death, resurrection, and ascension; daily, by his example and encouragement. As he has gone before us all into heaven to prepare a "rest" for the people of God, so he goes before each weary soul in life and death to find out resting-places and places of refreshment for it (Psalms 23:4; John 8:12; John 12:26; John 14:2, John 14:6).

III. THAT THE ISRAELITES WERE IN PART SHIELDED FROM THE FIERCE AND FATAL HEATS OF THE DESERT MARCH BY THE CLOUD WHICH OVERSHADOWED THEM FROM ABOVE THE ARK. For that luminous cloud which rested permanently over the ark was spread over the following host when on the march. St. Paul says that the Jews were "baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea" (1 Corinthians 10:2), whence it appears that as the passage of the sea represented in a figure the baptism of water which separates outwardly unto Christ (the Moses of the better covenant), so did the overhanging cloud with its moist coolness represent the baptism of the Spirit, which is all abiding refreshment to tire faithful while (but only while) they follow Christ. And thus the old hymn, Veni Sanctus Spiritus—

Thou of Comforters the best;
Thou the soul's most welcome guest;

Sweet refreshment here below;

In our labour rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat,

Solace in the midst of woe.

Even so, therefore, the overshadowing presence (cf. Luke 1:35) of the Holy Ghost is the blessed solace, comfort, and refreshment of the faithful in fiery trials, fierce temptations, and weary disappointments; and this overshadowing Presence reaches us only from and through the glorified humanity of Jesus (our Ark), and only while we walk in faith and patience (cf. John 7:39; John 16:7; Romans 8:14; 1 John 2:20; 1 Peter 4:14). Note, that the unrecorded sufferings and vexations of such a host on such a march must have been beyond description; but this much appears, that the nearer they kept to the ark the more they were sheltered by the cloud: if any staid in camp, he had no shade. The more closely we follow Jesus, the more comfort of the Spirit shall we have amidst the unavoidable sorrows and sufferings of life. And note, that there are in the Old Testament very few symbols of the Holy Spirit, whereas there are an endless number of types of Christ—and this, no doubt, in accordance with the deep saying of John 7:39. (οὔπω γὰρ ἤν πνεῦμα ἅγιον). When therefore, we find one which is recognized in the New Testament, It is the more precious. Consider, again, on John 7:35, John 7:36

I. THAT EVERY DAY OF THE MARCH HAD FOR MOSES ITS TWO SUPREME MOMENTS, OF SETTING OUT AND OF SETTLING DOWN, AND EACH HAD ITS OWN DANGERS AND ANXIETIES. Even so every day in a Christian's life has its morning and evening, its opening and closing; its going forth to work, to business, to converse with the outer world, to manifold encounter with the strange, the unexpected, the difficult, perhaps the terrible; its coming in to rest, to ease, to unguarded relaxation, to the little circle where self is paramount, where the individual is all important. These two points are the critical points in the Christian's daily life.

II. THAT MOSES MADE HIS MORNING PRAYER FOR DIVINE DEFENCE AND AID AGAINST THE FOE. He knew that many enemies were hovering round (like the Amalekites) who might attack them at any time, even when least expected, and might find them, humanly speaking, an easy prey. He prayed that God would undertake their cause, and put to flight their foes. Even so the faithful soul, looking forward to the active hours of the day, knows from sad experience that spiritual foes will dog its path to assail it by temptation and overthrow it by sin when least prepared. Therefore, before it ventures forth, it beseeches God to be its succour and defense against all the craft and subtlety of its foes.

III. THAT MOSES MADE HIS EVENING PRAYER FOR THE CONTINUANCE OF THE DIVINE PRESENCE IN THEIR MIDST. He knew that the people were helpless, and moreover stiff-necked and hard-hearted, and that mischief would breed in the camp as readily as it might meet them on the march, and that they must perish miserably if left to themselves. He prayed that God would stay with them, and be their worship, and remain the center of their life ab intra, as well as their defense ab extra. Even so the Christian's evening prayer is, "Abide with us." The faithful soul, when it ceases from outward cares and is most thrown upon itself, feels most how lost would be its state without the abiding Presence and grace of God; and then it beseeches him—whom it has more or less offended—to return to it, because without him it were empty, desolate, and destroyed. Note, that if we read with some, "Restore the many thousands of Israel," i.e; to their promised land, then it is the voice of the faithful, recognizing at each pause in life that we are still strangers and wanderers here, and beseeching God to bring us to our true and only rest (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:4; Philippians 3:11; Revelation 6:10, Revelation 6:11). And cf. the ancient prayer, "Beseeching thee shortly to accomplish the number of thine elect, and to hasten thy kingdom, that we with all those that are departed in the true faith of thy holy name, may have our perfect consummation and joy in thy eternal and everlasting glory." Or, if we read with the Septuagint, "convert the many thousands of Israel," then it is the voice of the faithful in the intervals of labour supplicating God for all who in any wise belong to the Israel of God, that the grace of a true and entire conversion—which is the one thing needful—may be granted unto them (cf. Luk 22:32 b; 2 Corinthians 13:9 b; 1 Thessalonians 3:10 b).


Numbers 10:35, Numbers 10:36


Here are two petitions—one as the cloud rose to point the way, the other as it settled down again to indicate the time for rest. The morning and the evening prayer cannot be the same; there is one set of needs to be supplied during the day, and another during the night.

THE FIRST PETITION. It was fixed on the one thing needed, as the Israelites journeyed on into unknown territory. Moses needed not to pray for guidance. They were being guided, and had nothing to do but follow. Behind the ark and the cloud there was the evident duty of obedience, but what was there in front? Moses could make some guess from what he had already experienced. Before the Israelites had been three months out of Egypt, they were met by Amalek at Rephidim, blocking the way to Sinai. Moses, therefore, recognizes the great likelihood of more enemies in front, now they have left Sinai. The great bulk of his followers doubtless thought more of the present than the future, and both present and future they wanted to be like the past in Egypt, full of good things for their sinful cravings. But Moses, with a different spirit, felt there were enemies in the way. Getting into Canaan meant not only journeying but fighting. It is a serious defect in us that we do not think enough of the spiritual enemies in front. There are examples to warn: Peter overrating natural courage; Demas, overcome by the allurements of the present age. Notice that, in its own way, the New Testament is every whit as warlike in its spirit as the old (Matthew 10:34; Romans 7:23 : 2Co 7:5; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-17; 1 Timothy 1:18; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16 : indeed the Revelation is full of spiritual war and conquest). These enemies in front are considered also as God's enemies. "Thine enemies." As men attack one another through their property, so God's enemies attack him through his people. God in the blessedness and security of his own nature is unassailable, but in the workings of his manifold creation the powers of evil may attack him, maintaining a long and bitter struggle (‘Paradise Lost,' B. 2:310-370). Do not think of these powers as aiming simply at our destruction. This is but a means to an end. There is a far sublimer and more encouraging view, that they are aiming to destroy the government of God. We never find out the purpose of a battle by looking at the conflicts of the private soldiers and inferior officers. We must come to the supreme authorities. It is they who inspire and direct everything. So there may be a struggle going on in the universe of which we, with our little horizon, can form but a feeble conception. Lastly, it is prayed that these enemies should be decisively dealt with. It is an awful thing to think of, but we must not shut our eyes to plain and solemn facts, that as we look backwards from this point to the beginning of the Scriptures, we find the Almighty, in three instances, acting against the iniquity of the world in a most decisive and comprehensive way. The deluge was a scattering, so was the destruction of Sodom, so was the overwhelming of Pharaoh and his hosts, which last great punitive act of God, Moses had seen with his own eyes, and celebrated with his own laps. There is enough to assure his people that he will make a final scattering in his own time.


1. It was a welcome to the conqueror. God was doing something for his people in conquest every day. We may be sure there was no day in all these long forty years but something was done to undermine the huge and threatening' powers that opposed advancing Israel. As the huge tree is slowly hollowed and eaten away, leaving a mere shell to come down at last with a crash, so the strongholds of iniquity are effectually sapped, little by little. Jericho seemed to fall as in a day before the trumpet blasts of Israel; in reality it had been nodding to its fall for years. So we may be constantly welcoming Jesus as the Captain of our salvation (Exodus 15:2; Luke 4:14, Luke 4:15; Acts 14:26-28).

2. It indicated the use to be made of the victory. The enemies of God were scattered and dispossessed in order that his own people may come in and exercise a faithful stewardship for him. His victories open up regions which could not otherwise be attained. E.g; the risen Saviour, having triumphed over sin, death, and the grave, returned to his disciples in Galilee, telling them that all power was given to him in heaven and on earth, and thence he drew this consequence in the way of duty for them, that they were to go and disciple all nations, etc. (Matthew 28:18-20). If the risen Lord be indeed with us, then, because he is risen, we, having still our fight with sin and death to accomplish, are nevertheless assured of ultimate victory.—Y.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 10". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.