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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 10

THE PREPARATIONS ENDED THE MARCH BEGUN.

This chapter records the institution and use of the silver signal trumpets, (Numbers 10:1-10,) the last statute given before leaving Sinai, and details the beginning and order of the march from Sinai to Paran, (Numbers 10:11-28,) the episode of Hobab, (Numbers 10:29-32,) three days’ march, and the chant of Moses at the removal and resting of the ark, (Numbers 10:33-36.)

CONCLUDING NOTE.

Numbers 10:1-10

The following are the condensed reflections of Dr. Ridgaway on leaving Mount Sinai: “But as we rode slowly off, the full importance of the transaction which had here taken place more than three thousand years before, when the world was yet in comparative infancy, began to open out and to bind me to the place with a strange spell. Israel sojourned here eleven months, and did any eleven months ever compress in them more influences? Hitherto Israel had been but as a child walking under the guidance of patriarchs, who, as fathers, led him in absolute though fitful simplicity; now grown to youth, he was put under distinct organic law, and was henceforth a nation, with his face toward a future the unfolding of which should be seen in all lands and in all times. The work accomplished by Moses and the people in this short year, regarded merely in its details, is remarkable for its extent and variety. All the while that he was reducing the crude mass to order, ruling them either personally or through elders, he received from Jehovah, and in some extent applied, the law which is distinguished by his name, comprising statutes moral, civil, criminal, judicial, constitutional, ecclesiastical, and ceremonial.”

CONCLUDING NOTE.

Numbers 10:11-36

The distance of Sinai from the south of Palestine is, in a straight line, less than two hundred miles, but the configuration of the country made a direct advance to it impracticable. The site of the camp on the plain beneath the sacred mount had been nearly 5,000 feet above the level of the sea. The descent from the successive plateaus, through rugged gorges, without a trace of road, must have been hard for so great a multitude a nation on the march not yet accustomed to the difficulties of the way. The vast crowds of human beings of all ages and of both sexes; the trains of beasts and wagons, with the tents and baggage; the herds and flocks, in long drawn succession, would fill all the ravines, far and near, which pointed at all in the same direction, and the progress made must have been equally slow and painful. Advance to the north was almost impossible, from the trend of the hills across the peninsula, so that it only remained to skirt their base, and take the north-eastern direction toward the shore of the gulf of Akaba the branch of the Dead Sea on the east of the triangle of Sinai.” Geikie.

Verses 1-10

PART SECOND.

THE SILVER SIGNAL TRUMPETS, Numbers 10:1-10.

The necessity of some system of signals is manifest when we consider the vastness of an assemblage of more than two millions of people. These signals, except the cloudy pillar, could not be successfully addressed to the eye in consequence of the unevenness of the ground over which the vast column must travel and on which they must spread their widely extended camp. Moreover, the pillar, the visible symbol of Jehovah’s guiding presence, was not designed to convey the minor directions requisite in the management of so vast a number, but only to indicate the beginning, course, and halting of the march. Hence a system of signals addressed to the ear is devised to communicate from the tabernacle to the various divisions of this grand army.

Numbers 10:2

2. Trumpets of silver There is no hint here of their form, but it is believed that the straight trumpets on the Arch of Titus at Rome are the exact representation of the priests’ signal trumpets. See Numbers 4:9, wood-cut. None but straight trumpets are found on the old Egyptian monuments.

Of a whole piece “Of beaten work.” Keil and R.V. “Turned, rounded, or carved work.” Furst. It is supposed that the number was limited to two because there were but two sons of Aaron who were to use them.

Verse 3

3. When they shall blow with them That is, with both.

All the assembly They were to send representatives to the door of the tabernacle who would constitute a larger assembly than that of the princes. The gathering of more than 600,000, the enrolled army of Israel, at the narrow space in front of the tabernacle is not demanded by these words. See notes on Numbers 1:18; Numbers 14:2; Numbers 14:7.

Verse 4

4. Heads of the thousands Numbers 1:16, note.

Verse 5

5. An alarm The same Hebrew word designates the loud clang of the trumpet announcing the new year or the jubilee. Leviticus 25:9. The order of march has been already fixed in chap. 2. We are left to infer that a third and a fourth alarm were sounded for the camps on the west and north of the tabernacle to move, preceded by the Levites.

Verse 7

7. Ye shall blow By this is meant that the stream of sound should be articulated, or broken into sharp, short tones, instead of the long and equable blast which Dr. A. Clarke identifies with the Roman taratantara, or clarion sound. Possibly Paul may allude to this distinction in 1 Corinthians 14:8.

Verse 8

8. The priests, shall blow And they alone, in the giving of the signals in this statute, and they were to preserve these trumpets and use them in all future generations in the manner described by this law.

Verse 9

9. If ye go to war The most virtuous and God-fearing nation may in defense of its life be compelled to engage in war. Until the conquest of the Canaanites Israel was commanded to wage an offensive war.

And ye shall be remembered “The blast of these trumpets,” says Keil, “was to call Israel to remembrance before Jehovah in time of war and on their feast days.” This anthropomorphic conception of Jehovah would be avoided by saying that Israel, in obeying this law, would be remembered or favored by him. We have intimation elsewhere that the divine regards were bestowed on moral and spiritual conditions accompanying the trumpet alarms. See Joel 1:14; Joel 2:1-16.

Verse 10

10. Gladness was the fourth occasion for the use of these sacred implements. Such occasions were the dedication of the first temple, (2 Chronicles 5:12-13,) the laying the foundation of the second, (Ezra 3:10-11,) and the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah 12:27; Nehemiah 12:35.

Solemn days Annual fasts and feasts. R.V., “Set feasts.” See Leviticus xvi and 23.

In the beginnings of your months Jehovah afterward ordered David and the prophets to add other instruments in the new moon feasts, such as harps, psalteries, cymbals; timbrels, and flutes. 2Ch 7:6 ; 1 Chronicles 16:5-6; Psalms 150:3. Peace offerings, being joyful feasts, are very properly “accompanied with the sound of the trumpet as a symbol of holy hilarity.” Bush.

A memorial See Leviticus 2:2, note.

I am the Lord The name of JEHOVAH is a sufficient sanction to this statute. They who deem this matter too small to be worthy of minute mention by the Creator of all things should consider that his greatness is enhanced by his ability and willingness alike to direct the atom in the air and the solar system sweeping through space. Nothing is a trifle which relates to the proper celebration of divine worship.

Verse 11

11. In the second year By comparing Exodus 19:1, it will be seen that the sojourn at Sinai had continued eleven months and twenty days.

The ability of that region to afford sustenance to so vast a concourse for so long a time has been doubted. Manna for man, and water for man and beast were supernaturally supplied. How about the pasturage? Says Prof. E.H. Palmer: “Although the general aspect of the country is one of sheer desolation and barrenness, it must not be supposed that there is no fertility there. There are no rivers, yet many a pleasant little rivulet fringed with verdure may be met with here and there, especially in the romantic glens of the granite district. At Wadies Nasb and Gharandel are perennial, though not continuous, streams and large tracts of vegetation. At that part of Wady Feiran where the valley contracts in breadth, and concentrates the moisture, we find the most considerable oasis in the peninsula, and behind the little seaport of Tor there exists a large and magnificent grove of date-palms.” The Sinai Survey Expedition found remaining to this day many gardens and olive-groves, some cultivated by the monks, and others left in neglect. They report that “even the barest and most stony hillside is seldom entirely destitute of vegetation.” It is probable that the country was more fertile in the time of the Exodus than it is now, since there are scriptural evidences of abundant rain during the passage of the Israelites found in Psalms 68:7-9; Psalms 77:17, where the allusion is evidently to Sinai. “There are abundant vestiges of large colonies of Egyptian miners, whose slag heaps and smelting furnaces are yet to be seen in many parts of the peninsula. These must have destroyed many miles of forest in order to procure fuel; nay, more, the children of Israel could not have passed through without consuming vast quantities of fuel too.” See Exodus 15:22-27, introductory note.

Verses 11-28

THE MARCH.

Numbers 10:11-14. [Time, about three months.]

THE BEGINNING OF THE MARCH FROM SINAI, Numbers 10:11-28.

The Samaritan MS. introduces in this place nearly the words of Deuteronomy 1:6-8, “Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount; turn and take your journey,” etc. The purpose of the Sinaitic sojourn had been accomplished. The decalogue had been given, the tabernacle built, the sacrificial system perfected, the priesthood established in the family of Aaron, the tribe of Levi substituted for the firstborn as the custodians of the tabernacle, Israel had been numbered and marshalled into an orderly encampment under appropriate banners, and the silver trumpets by which signals could be given had been made. All things were ready for the cloud to arise and move majestically northward toward the land of promise, about 175 miles distant. The immediate destination of Israel was “the wilderness of Paran,” a name long known. Genesis 14:6; Genesis 21:21. It is still called the “Desert of the Wandering.” It is a limestone plateau of irregular surface, hard, and covered in many places with a carpet of small flints so worn and polished as to resemble black glass. In the spring there is a scanty herbage even here, while in the ravines there is always sufficient for camels, and some ground available for cultivation.

Verse 12

12. The wilderness of Paran Paran literally signifies a region abounding in caverns. It corresponds in general outline with the desert Et-Tih, a wide stretch of hilly limestone region elsewhere known as “the Desert,” lying north of the Sinaitic triangle, its southern boundary not being a straight line running east and west, but a concave crescent of mountains about one hundred and twenty miles long. The surface of this extensive desert is a chalky formation covered with coarse gravel, mixed with black flint and drifting sand, dipping southward. See Genesis 21:21, note; Exodus 15:22-27, introductory note. The Paran proper, or definite spot to which the name is applied, (Deuteronomy 1:1,) is by Prof. Palmer and other eminent geographers identified with Wady Feiran, closely resembling it in sound.

Verse 14

14. In the first place The following is the order in which the tribes marched:

FIRST DIVISION.

Judah,

Issachar, Zebulun,

Gershonites and Merarites bearing the Tabernacle.

SECOND DIVISION.

Reuben,

Simeon,

Gad,

Kohathites w ith the Sanctuary.

THIRD DIVISION.

Ephraim,

Manasseh,

Benjamin.

FOURTH DIVISION.

Dan,

Ashur,

Naphtali.

For military reasons the advance and rear guards were stronger than the centre. See Numbers 2:4, note.

Standard See Numbers 1:52, note.

Nahshon See Numbers 1:1-15, note.

Verses 17-21

17-21. Bearing the tabernacle By inspecting the plan of the camp (Numbers 2:5, cut) it will be seen that the bearers of the various parts of the tabernacle wheeled into the column after the entire eastern division of the camp had moved. The bearers of the sanctuary, or the most holy things, (Numbers 4:4, note,) waited after the removal of the tabernacle till the entire southern side of the camp was in line, when they also marched. This arrangement afforded ample protection to the body of Levites, and gave the bearers of the tabernacle the opportunity to set it up in time for the reception of its furniture against the Kohathites came, that is, by the time when they should arrive. For the place of the ark on the march see Numbers 10:33, note. This fixed order, rigidly adhered to, was necessary not only for military reasons, but to prevent the host from becoming a confused mob.

Verse 25

25. The rearward of all the camps Literally, the gatherer. The division on the north side of the camp, under the lead of the tribe of Dan, was to pick up all the stragglers and the feeble ones, and to close up the rear. See Joshua 6:9, note.

Verse 29

29. Hobab See concluding note to Exodus chap. 2.

Raguel This is an unfortunate translation of Reuel. Both forms have only one corresponding word in the Hebrew.

Father-in-law Any relation by marriage, like the Greek γαμβρος . “The identity of Jethro and Hobab may be regarded as possible, but by no means certain. Jethro returned to his own land before the promulgation of the law on Sinai, nor does his name occur afterward. Hobab appears to have accompanied Moses on his journey, casting in his lot with Israel. Judges 4:11. He very probably was a younger brother of Jethro, not bound like him to his own tribe by the duties of an hereditary priesthood. This theory seems to meet all the conditions of the narrative, which would otherwise present serious if not insuperable difficulties.” Canon F.C. Cook. It is highly improbable that Reuel, Hobab, and Jethro are three names of one person, as the Mohammedan legends intimate rather than expressly declare.

The Midianite See Exodus 2:15, note.

We will do thee good Moses urges two motives in the order in which similar motives should be presented to the sinner to become a member of the household of faith: (1) his own well being, and (2) his usefulness. Numbers 10:31.

Spoken good concerning Israel In addition to temporal blessings, such as guidance in the way, rapid increase, and the inheritance of Canaan. spiritual good was promised in the pledge of Jehovah’s presence and benediction.

Verses 29-32

HOBAB INVITED BY MOSES, Numbers 10:29-32.

Though this interview is placed between the setting out and the march itself, as subordinate to the main events, it preceded the departure in the order of time.

Verse 31

31. Leave us not Even a decided refusal may be overcome by earnest persuasion. For we infer from Judges 1:16; Jdg 4:11 ; 1 Samuel 15:6, where the descendants of Hobab, called Kenites, are abiding with Israel, even down to the time of Saul, that the entreaty of Moses prevailed, and that Hobab, after a visit to his own land, returned and accompanied the Hebrews into Canaan. “It is always pleasant to read the indications of a return to the way of life on the part of those who have at one time seemed resolved to forsake it. We hail with delight every instance where the man who at first refuses to enter the vineyard afterward repents and goes.” Bush.

Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes Though Jehovah had promised to lead Israel in the desert, yet no promise of divine guidance is designed to supersede the use of the best natural means within their reach. God usually helps men in the manner best adapted to the development of their own self-reliance. In this case “the cloud directed their general journeys, but not their particular excursions. Parties took several journeys while the grand army lay still.” A. Clarke. The best camping grounds might not always be near to springs of water and pasturage. An experienced guide would be necessary to point out these. Similar service would be required in the commercial intercourse of Israel with the nomad tribes which lay along their path. Hence the Septuagint rendering is, “Thou shall be among us a presbutes ” an ambassador, legate, or negotiator. Says Bruce, in speaking of guides in the desert: “They are men of great consideration, knowing perfectly the situation and properties of all kinds of water to be met on the route, the distance of the wells, whether occupied by enemies or not, and, if so, the way to avoid them with the least inconvenience.” From their connexion with powerful tribes they are able to conciliate their favour. “As no further refusal is mentioned on the part of Hobab, and the departure of Israel is related immediately afterward, he probably consented.” Knobel.

Verse 33

33. Ark of the covenant It is so called according to its design and signification for Israel. The covenant is thus associated with the most sacred thing on the earth, on whose golden lid was the Shekinah, the visible Presence, and over which sublimely towered the cloudy, fiery pillar. This cannot be quoted to prove, as Prof. W. Robertson Smith attempts to do, that the sanctuary was then outside of the camp, for no mention is made of that sacred structure. The record simply says that the ark went before them as their guide.

Went before them The ark was carried separately from the rest of the sacred furniture, in advance of the column, wrapped in its peculiar purple blue covering, (Numbers 4:6, note,) at once an object of veneration and a symbol of Jehovah’s presence and of his separateness from sinners. “It is true, that in the order observed in the camp and on the march no mention is made of the ark going in front of the whole army; but this omission is no more proof of any discrepancy between this verse and Numbers 2:17, or of a different authorship, than the separation of the different divisions of the Levites upon the march, which is not mentioned in Numbers 2:17.” Keil.

A resting place This was not Taberah, the first place mentioned, (Numbers 11:3,) but Kibroth-hattaavah. Comp. Numbers 11:34-35; Numbers 33:16. Although the pillar of cloud was the real guide of Israel in all their journeying, yet the local knowledge of Hobab would manifestly prove of the greatest use in indicating springs and places of pasturage, since divine guidance, in any age, is never a substitute for the best means which human skill or knowledge can suggest.

Verses 33-34

THE THREE DAYS’ MARCH, Numbers 10:33-34.

By this we are not to understand an unbroken march of the entire people during seventy-two hours with no halt, but that the ark was borne steadily onward during this period before it came to a permanent stopping-place. The people must have paused to eat and sleep while the pillar of cloud or of fire moved ever slowly onward.

Verse 34

34. The cloud… was upon them Or, above them. This may be interpreted in two ways: (1.) The pillar at its upper extremity may have floated back, spreading out as a protecting shade over the whole procession, as is intimated in Psalms 105:39; or, (2.) It may be regarded as a poetical representation of the fact of protection by the pillar. Numbers 10:33-34 are quite poetical.

Verses 35-36

THE CHANT OF MOSES, Numbers 10:35-36.

The chant which was the signal for the ark to move was as follows:

“Arise, O Jehovah! let thine enemies be scattered;

Let them also that hate thee flee before thee.”

The chant which was the signal for the ark to rest, that the people might encamp, was:

“Return, O Jehovah,

To the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”

In the thought of Moses Jehovah is identified with the ark, his throne, and the visible pledge of his gracious presence. These chants are the language of believing confidence and wonderful intimacy with Jehovah. Their constant use had a tendency to inspire similar courage and joyous assurance in the hearts of the people of God in the presence of the whole hostile world. The first chant was the inspiration of Psalms 68:0, which, according to Hengstenberg, begins thus: “God arises, his enemies are scattered, and those that hate him flee before him.” “One single look,” says the same writer, “at the ark of the covenant, (whose place under the New Testament Christ occupies,) and all enemies sank down into nothing.” How remarkable the prediction in Jeremiah 3:16, that the time will come when this ark, the centre of Israel’s hopes and the seat of omnipotence, will no more come to mind, “neither shall they remember it, neither shall they visit it.” Its Antitype, Jesus risen from the dead, glorified in his saints, and taking vengeance on his enemies, will then take exclusive possession of all minds, either as an object of love or of dread.

36. Return, O Lord From marching in front, Jehovah is now invited to his customary abode amid the many thousands of Israel, literally, ten thousand thousands.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Numbers 10". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/numbers-10.html. 1874-1909.