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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Numbers 10

 

 

Verses 1-28

The Trumpets of Providence

Numbers 10:1-10

Moses was commanded to make two trumpets of silver. They were to be used in calling the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps. The trumpets were to be sounded in different ways. When one trumpet was blown, then the princes were to gather themselves unto Moses; when an alarm was blown, the camps were to move; when the congregation was to be gathered together, the trumpets were to be blown, but so blown as not to sound an alarm. The trumpets were to be blown by the sons of Aaron, the priests. Whether in war or in festival, the trumpets were to be to Israel for a memorial before God. Where are those trumpets? The sacred trumpets are still sounded; they still call men to worship, to festival, to battle. If we have lost the literal instrument, we are still, if right-minded, within sound of the trumpets of Providence. We do not now go out at our own bidding; we are, if wise, responding to a Voice, wherever we may be found. We impoverish ourselves by imagining that God does not now call the people to worship, the camp to war, the family to festival, the Church to victory. Look at the men who are pouring forth in all directions every morning; stand, in imagination, at a point from which you can see all the stations at which men alight; so present the scene to the fancy that you can see every little procession hastening to its given point of departure; then bring on all the processions to the various points of arrival; read the faces of the men; take in the whole scene. What action; what colour; what expression of countenance! And if we had ears acute enough to hear, what various voices are being sounded by every life; what tumult; what desire; what intersection of paths; what imminent collisions!—and yet the whole scene moves on with a kind of rough order all its own. What has called these men together—and yet not together?—the trumpet! That it was not a literal trumpet does not destroy the high poetry of the occasion; the trumpet is the more wonderful that it is not material. These men are not in a trance; they are not night-walkers; they have not been seduced by some dream to come out all at once, wandering hither and thither, not knowing destiny, purpose, or intention. This is a scheme; there is a mind behind all this panorama; it never could settle itself into such order and effect and issue if it were the mere sport of chance. Watch the scene; it is full of pathos, it is loaded with manifold sorrow. An awful sight is a crowd of men; the bustle, the rush, the apparent hilarity cannot hide the tragedy. To what are these men hastening? Explain the scene. Some have heard the trumpet calling to controversy. Many of these men carry bloodless swords; they are well equipped with argument; they are about to state the case, to defend the position, to repel, to assert, to vindicate righteousness, and to claim compensation for virtue outraged; they are soldiers; they have mapped out the battlefield in private; all their forces have been disposed within the sanctuary of the night, and presently the voice of genius and of eloquence will be heard in high wrangling, in noble contention, that so the wicked may claim nothing that is not his own, and the righteous have the full reward of his purity. They are going to the political arena to adjust the competing claims of nations, or causes; war is in their eyes; should they speak, they would speak stridently, with clear, cutting tone, with military precision and emphasis; they would hold no long parley with men, for they mean the issue to end in victory. Others have heard no such trumpet: they have heard another call—to peaceful business, to daily routine, to duty, made heavy often by monotony, but duty still, which must be done according to the paces and beatings of the daily clock. They cannot resist that voice without resisting themselves. Sometimes they long to be in more active scenes, to vary the uniformity by some dash or enterprise, to startle the blood into a quicker gallop by doing something unusual and startling; but they are not so called by the trumpet; they are moved in that direction by some mean passion or unholy rivalry. The trumpet has called them to the culture of fields, to the exchanges and settlements of merchandise, to the business without which the world, in its broadest civilisation, would stand still; having heard the trumpet, they obey. And other men, in smaller bands,—more aged men,—men who have seen service in the market field, in the political field, in the field of literature,—how go they? Away towards sunny scenes, quiet meadows, lakes of silver, gardens trimmed with the patience and skill of love. They are men of leisure, men in life"s afternoon. The sunbeam has been a trumpet to them; hearing it, they said,—Who would remain at home to-day? All heaven calls us out, the great blue arch invites us to hospitality in the fields and woods and by the river-side. All men are obeying a trumpet; the call is addressed from heaven to earth every morning. We may have outlived the little, straight, silver trumpet, turned up at the ends; but the trumpet invisible, the trumpet of Providence, the call of Heaven, the awakening strain of the skies,—this we cannot outlive: for the Lord is a Man of war, and must have the battle continued; the Lord is a Father, and must have the family constituted in order; the Lord is a Shepherd, and must have the flocks led forth that they may lie down in the shadow at noonday.

There are other men going forth. Fix yourselves again, in imagination, at a point from which you can see nations moving on as if to some great conference; they move from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south;—fair men, men of darker hue; men speaking our own language, men talking an unknown tongue; stalwart men, trained, every muscle having been under the touch of culture; men carrying arms of various names, all meant to be steeped in blood. Have these men come out in some fit of somnambulism? Are they sleep-walkers? Is all this an illustration of nightmare? What is it? These men have heard a trumpet. Many trumpets have been sounded, and yet in the midst of all the blare and stormy blast there is one clear note. What is the meaning of all this movement of the camps? Strong nations are called to go out and support weak ones. It is a policy of insanity which says, Take no heed of other people; let them fight their own battles and settle their own controversies. That is not the spirit of Christ. Every weak nation belongs to the strong one; every fatherless child belongs to the man who can keep it, and teach it, and guide it. Were nations equal and causes equal, then the foolish talk of leaving men alone might have some point in it. We must not leave the slave and the slave-holder to settle the controversy; the slave-holder will soon settle it, if it be so left; it is not an equal fight. Freedom must plant all its soldiers on the field, and strike for weakness and beat down the oppressor and grind him out of existence. Who will speak one word in favour of war? No Christian man. War can have no purely Christian defence as war. It sometimes becomes a dire necessity; it Isaiah , in very deed, the last appeal. As war, it is not only barbarous and irrational, it is infernal, altogether and inexpressibly deplorable. Yet we cannot read history or study events without seeing that the Lord has not scrupled to call himself "a Man of war," and the sword has had a place in the history of freedom and the development of progress. What Christian men ought to see Isaiah , that the cause is good; that war is the only alternative; that having exhausted all the pleas of reason, all the entreaties of persuasion, all the claims of righteousness, all the appeals of pathos, nothing is to be done but to fight the tyrant with his own weapons. The Lord go with the right; the Lord support the weak; the Lord comfort those who are suddenly and tragically bereaved. But there is a call to difficulty, a call to battle, a call to sorrow. We must not delude ourselves into the notion that we are only called to Sabbatic calm, and the security of the sanctuary, and the delights of the mead, and the summer holiday of the verdant woods filled with sweet music of birds; we are called to battle, to loss, to die far away from home; and, rightly accepted, obedience to such a call means heroism upon earth and coronation in heaven.

The trumpets were to be sounded by the priests. The priests are not likely to sound many trumpets to-day. Ministers have been snubbed and silenced into an awful acquiescence with the stronger party. The pulpit should be a tower of strength to every weak cause. Women should hasten to the Church, saying,—Our cause will be upheld there. Homeless little children should speed to the sanctuary, saying,—We will be welcomed there. Slaves running away should open the church door with certainty of hospitality, saying,—The man who stands up in that tower will forbid the tyrant to reclaim me, or the oppressor to smite me with one blow. It was God"s ordination that the trumpet should be sounded by the priests—interpreting that name properly, by the teachers of religion, by the man of prayer, by the preachers of great and solemn doctrines; they are to sound the trumpet, whether it be a call to festival or to battle. We dare not do so now, because now we have house-rent to pay, and firing to find, and children to educate, and customs to obey. Were we clothed in sackcloth, or with camels" hair, and could we find food enough in the wilderness—were the locusts and the honey sufficient for our natural appetites, we might beard many a tyrant, and decline many an invitation, and repel many an impertinent censor; but we must consider our ways, and balance our sentences, and remember that we are speaking in the ear of various representatives of public opinion and individual conviction. The pulpit has gone down! It has kept its form and lost its power; its voice is a mumbling tone, not a great trumpet blast that creates a space for itself, and is heard above the hurtling storm and the rush of hasteful and selfish merchandise. Were ministers to become the trumpeters of society again, what an awakening there would be in the nation! Were every Sabbath day devoted to the tearing down of some monster evil—were the sanctuary dedicated to the denunciation, not of the vulgar crimes which everybody condemns, but the subtle and unnamed crimes which everybody practises, the blast of the trumpet would tear the temple walls in twain! We live in milder times—we are milder people: we wish for restfulness. The priests wish to have it so also,—like priest, like people The man who comes with a trumpet of festival will be welcomed; the man who sounds an alarm will be run away from by dyspeptic hearers, by bilious supporters, and by men who wish to be let alone—to creep into heaven, and to be as unnoticed there as they were unknown here.

There are trumpets which call us in spiritual directions. They are heard by the heart They are full of the tone of persuasion—that highest of all the commandments. The heart hears the trumpet on the Sabbath day. The trumpet that could sound an alarm is softened in its tone into a tender entreaty, or a cheerful persuasion, or a promise of enlarged liberty. Everything depends upon the tone. The trumpet may be the same, but the tone is different. We cannot take up the trumpet of the great player and make it sound as he made it. What is it, then, that plays the trumpet? It is the soul. If we knew things as we ought to know them, we should know that it is the soul that plays every instrument, that sings every hymn, that preaches every discourse that has in it the meaning of God and the behest of Heaven. No man can deliver your messages; no man can preach your sermon. Never trust any man to deliver a message for you if you can by any possibility deliver it yourself. The words may be the very words you used, and yet what from you would have been a persuasion, from the lips of another may become almost an insult. Who can put the proper tone into the instrument—make it talk lovingly, soothingly? Who can make the trumpet pronounce a benediction? Only the skilled player whose lessons have been begun, continued, and consummated in heaven. We perish for lack of tone. We have the right doctrine but the wrong expression; the words are the words of God, but the voice is an iron one—a tongue heavy, and without the subtle emphasis which makes every note a revelation and every tone a welcome. Hear men read what you have written, if you would really see in it some other meaning than what you intended to convey. Ask another man to read the writing for you. Whilst you read it, you read it, with your soul"s sympathy and with a purpose in your heart, and the words answer something that is within you, and therefore you imagine that the speech is sphered off into completeness and is resonant with tones of music. Hand it to your friend; let him stand up and read your sermon back to you, and there is no humiliation upon earth equal to the agony of that distress,—every word misunderstood, the emphasis put in the wrong place, words that you shade off to a vanishing point are brought to the front and made to be principal actors upon the scene; and you, with a wounded heart, turn away and say that your word has returned unto you void. But hear some man read who has entered into the very music of your soul, and he brings back a larger sermon than you gave him; he has heard every word; all the minor tones, all the shades of thought have impressed themselves upon his heart, and when he reads you say—"Would God he had first made the speech! Surely the people would have risen and then bowed down and said,—The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God." The same trumpet called to festival and to war; so the Gospel has two tones: it calls lovingly, sweetly, tenderly; and it sounds an alarm, making the night tremble through all its temple of darkness, and sending into men"s hearts pangs of apprehension and unutterable fear.

There is another trumpet yet to sound: "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." The trumpet is not lost, then; it is in heaven, where the Ark of the Testimony Isaiah , where the Shekinah Isaiah , where the Tabernacle of God is. The Apocalypse has taken charge of all the things which we thought were lost. Reading on through the history, we say,—This is evolution: see how we have dropped off all these elementary, initial, temporary things, and how we have risen up into spirituality and idealism and the freedom of an air which has no boundary lines, no foundations, no beginning, no ending. And as we are talking this religious licentiousness, behold, the Apocalypse comes, and puts before us all the things we thought we had grown away from. Without the Apocalypse, the New Testament would have come to a deadlock; with the Apocalypse, the whole Bible is reunited, consolidated into a massive consummation, and in the Apocalypse we have tribes—ay, of Judah, and Asher, and Simeon, and Zebulun, of Joseph and Benjamin; we have censers and altars and significant blood, great lights, mighty voices, marvellous exhibitions of all kinds of strength. It seems as if all the Levitical ritual had been transformed and glorified into some sublimer significance. This is the Book of God. We thought the silver trumpets were lost, and we read,—And at the last, a great trumpet was sounded in heaven, and announcements were made to earth by the trumpet sounded by an angel, and the last battle was convoked by the trumpet of a spiritual trumpeter. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth!


Verses 29-36

Gospel Invitations

Numbers 10:29-36

The standards were all in motion. In the first place there went the standard of the camp of the children of Judah; immediately following came the standard of the camp of Reuben; then followed the standard of the camp of the children of Ephraim; and last of all came the standard of the camp of the children of Dan. When the camps began to move, Moses said unto Hobab, his father-in-law,—We are going now; everything is set in order for the march;—"We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." It was a speech of nature. There is a gospel in human feeling. If we could abolish all written gospels, all doctrinal methods of welcoming and persuading men, there would still remain the gospel of love, sympathy, tenderness, all that is involved in the noblest meaning of the term nature. The gospel of heaven is in harmony with this gospel of the heart; it lifts it up to highest meanings, interprets it into broadest, brightest hopes, sanctifies and purges it of all selfishness and narrowness. This is the hold which the Gospel will always have upon human attention. It appeals to the heart; it addresses the pain of necessity; it answers the often-unspoken interrogatories of the soul. Thus it can never fail. Our conceptions of it will be changed; our methods of arguing it will be done away, being superseded by nobler methods; but the innermost quantity itself—the central spirit of redemption, love, hospitality—this will remain evermore, because, though we pass away, Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Our years fail, and with them go all methods and plans and schemes of work; but Christ is the same, and his time is eternity.

A beautiful picture this! full of modern questioning—a very pattern of inquiry and invitation in a gospel sense. Can we honestly invite men to join us on our life-march? Consider the question well. Do not involve others in grievous and mournful responsibilities. Do not entreat men to leave what is to them at least a partial blessing, unless you are sure you can replace that enjoyment by purer and larger gladness. Can we honestly, with the full consent of judgment, conscientiousness, and experience, invite men to join us in the way which we have determined to take? If not, do not let us add the murder of souls to our other crimes. Do not let us, merely for the sake of companionship, involve in ruin innocent men. What is our life-march? To what place are we journeying? Who laid its foundation? Who lighted its lamps? Who spread its feast? What is its name? Are not many men wandering without a destiny? Is it not too usual to have no map of life, no definite end in view, no location that can be named to pursue day and night until we reach its golden streets? There is too much of haphazard in our life—not knowing where the night will land us, going forth day by day at a venture, not sure whether it is a mountain or a valley, a garden or a wilderness, with which the day shall close. This is not living; this is adventure, empiricism,—the very quackery of Wisdom of Solomon , the very irony and sarcasm of knowledge. Moses knew whither the camps were going; they were all set in one direction. The divine flame was seen through the immediate cloud, and with eyes fixed upon the glowing point, away went the standards, the confidence of the leaders being in God, and the hope of the people being in the wisdom of the Most High. What is our destiny? Towards what place are we journeying? Are we surprised when we see an angel? or do we say,—This is the satisfaction of expectation? Sad, to tears and veriest woe, is the life that has no map, no plan, no purpose,—that is here and there, retracing its steps, prying, wondering, experimenting, frittering away its energy in doing and undoing, in marching and remarching. All wisdom says,—Determine your course; have one object in view; be ruled by one supreme purpose; and make all circumstances, incidents, and unexpected events, fall into the march and harmony of the grand design. Be careful how you ask people to go along with you. First lay down a basis of sound wisdom. "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you." If that be the first sentence, or part of it, the sentence may end in the boldest invitation ever issued by love to the banquet of grace and wisdom. But let us have no adventuring, no foolish or frivolous speculation in life; let us speak from the citadel of conviction and from the sanctuary of assured religious confidence.

Have we such a view of the end as may make us independent of immediate trials? Was it all, then, such plain sailing, or easy marching, or garden-tramping, that Moses could invite any stranger to join the march? Was he not exchanging one wilderness for another? To what was he inviting his father-in-law?—to great palaces immediately in front of him? to a smoking feast? to rivers of heaven"s own pure wine? He was inviting the man to march, to the incidents of battle, to the discipline of the day, to circumstances often fraught with trial and pain, disappointment and mockery; for there were birds in the wilderness that were hooting at Israel, voices in the air taunting the leaders and mocking the priests. When we invite men to join us on the Christian pilgrimage, it must be on the distinct understanding that we are ruling the present by the future. This is precisely the logic of Moses:—"We are journeying unto the place." The end was indicated—the goal, the destiny of the march; and that was so bright, so alluring, so glowing with all hospitable colour, that Moses did not see that to-morrow there was to be a battle, or seeing it, already passed the war-field like a victor. This, too, is the Christian logic as laid down by Paul; the great apostle said,—"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." He brought "the power of an endless life" to bear upon the immediate day: he quieted to-day"s tumult by a sure anticipation of heaven"s peace. This is right reasoning; this is practical philosophy. There is nothing pleasant in the process: "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." Truly we have no special invitation that commends itself by the immediate rest and quiet and release and Sabbatic tranquillity which may be enjoyed. The Christian does not call the world to what the world understands by peace and luxury, rest and enjoyment; these terms are indeed true in the Christian acceptation, but the world has not been educated to receive that acceptation, and to speak in those terms to a world not understanding them, may be to tell lies under the very banner of the Gospel. He who accepts the invitation to march with the Christian camp, accepts a call to service, duty, discipline, pain, disappointment, varied and continual chastisement,—self consideration put down, passion destroyed, self-will rooted out, pride and vanity crushed down under a heavy weight. To join the Christian camp is to begin a process of self-mortification, to undergo all the discipline of self-contempt, and to accept much strain and distress of life. Is this Gospel-preaching? It is so. Will not this repel men? It will at first,—it must at first. It is Christ"s method: "If any man will follow me, let him take up his cross." How, then, did Jesus Christ encounter the opening difficulties of the road and pass the trial of the cross? In the same way—for the wisdom of God is unchanging:—he "had respect unto the recompense of the reward." "For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God." Moses had respect unto the recompense of the reward. Christ saw the end from the beginning; in the very conduct of the battle, he was wearing the conqueror"s diadem. We must draw ourselves forward by taking firm hold of the end,—in other words, we must have such a conception of life"s destiny as will invigorate every noble motive, stir every sacred passion, and make us more than conquerors in all war and conflict. This was the reasoning of Moses, this was the reasoning of Paul, this was the practice of Christ; and we are not yet advanced enough in true wisdom to modify the terms or readjust and redistribute the conditions.

Moses did not invite Hobab to join merely for the sake of being in the company; he expected service from Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite. He said,—"Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes"—in other words,—Thou knowest the ground so well that thy presence will be of service to us; experience will assist devotion; we are willing to march: we know nothing of the processes of the way: thou understandest the whole country: come with us and be as eyes unto us. Moses showed leadership even there; it was the invitation of a soldier and a legislator and a wise man. Eyes are of inexpressible value in the whole conduct of life; to be able to see, to take note of, to recognise—the man who can do this is rendering service to the whole Church. So we invite men to come with us that they may render service according to their opportunity and capacity. To some men we say,—If you will come, you will supply the music. To others,—you will furnish the inspiration. And to others,—If you come with us, we shall feel the stronger in the security of your presence; there is such massiveness in your character, such solidity in your judgment, such ripeness of experience in your life, that if you will join this march, we shall be your debtors; you will give as well as take; you will bless as well as be blessed.

Did Moses make a mistake here? I fancy so. Could Moses make mistakes? He often did. What then becomes of his inspiration? It is untouched; but Moses often acted in his own name and strength He is weak here. When he gave the invitation he was noble: he intended to do the man good; but when he put in the reason, he showed the incompleteness of his faith. What did he want with Hobab"s eyes? Had he forgotten the Eye that struck off the iron wheels of Egypt"s chariots? For a moment, perhaps, he had. Who can be always his best self? Who can every day stand on the rock of the Amen of his own great prayers? Who is there amongst us—prince or priest or strongest man—that does not want some little local assistance? We are broken down by the wants of the place, by the necessities of the occasion, by the small difficulties of the road. Moses had no difficulty whatever as to the end of the way; and it is possible for us to have very definite conceptions of heaven, and yet to be asking help on the road from men to whom we should never come in suppliant attitude; offer to give them something, to do them good, to take them to the place of rest and security; but who can patronise the camps of Israel? Who can come in saying,—I am necessary to the march of the Church, to the triumph of those who war in the name of the Lord of hosts? Abram showed a better mettle; he said to the king, who offered him hospitality and bounty,—No; "lest thou shouldest say, I have made Abram rich." Moses wanted the eyes of a local man to help him, forgetting that God had been to him all eye—a fire by night, a cloud by day,—a veiled eye with the fire trembling under the filament. We all forget these things, and we want a crutch, forgetting the sword is enough; we want the help of magistrate, or important Prayer of Manasseh , or local celebrity, or wise resident, forgetting that we are in charge of God, that his Spirit is the one fountain of inspiration, and that when we ask for human help, we distrust the Providence of God. But this is like us: we do wish the magistrate to help us just a little. We are not altogether independent of the spirit of local respectability: we will go to the little when we might go to the great, to the human when we might go to the divine,—to Hobab when we might go to Jehovah. Take care when you go to men that you ask no favour of them for God"s camp; do not beg for patrons. Die of divinely-appointed starvation—if such discipline there be—rather than accept help which interferes with the completeness of faith in God. The Church should always offer great invitations. The Church is not a Church if it be inhospitable. Christ"s Church should always have its table spread, its flagons of wine full, and its bounty ready; and it should always be saying,—Still there is room: bring in the hungry guests; inquire not into littlenesses, peculiarities, infirmities, dressings and decorations; but go out into the highways, and the hedges, and compel them to come in. Has the Church lost its power of invitation—sweet welcome, boundless hospitality? Is it not now putting up little toll-gates of its own, and asking questions of approaching guests which Heaven never suggested? Is it using the eyes of Hobab when it might avail itself of the omniscience of God? If you are not giving Christian invitations, other people will give invitations of another kind. Men will not go without invitation; it is for us to say what shall be the quality and range of that invitation. "My Song of Solomon , if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: we shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: my Song of Solomon , walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: for their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood." Who is to issue invitations to the young? Who is to be boldest and first in the offer of hospitality to the hungry life? The Church ought to be first; the Christian Gospel ought to have the first claim upon human attention. The Spirit and the bride say, Come; let him that is athirst come, and whosoever will. The Gospel is not a mere argument, a petty contest in dubious words; it is a great speech to the sore heart, a glorious appeal unto the broken spirit; an utterance of love to a world in despair. Let us, then, go back to the old methods of welcoming men. With all newness of scheme and method and plan in the conduct of Christian service, never drop out of your speech the tone of invitation, the music of welcome, the broad and generous call to ample—to infinite hospitality.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 10:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/numbers-10.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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