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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Numbers 10

 

 

Verses 1-10

2. THE SILVER TRUMPETS

Numbers 10:1-10

An air of antique simplicity is felt in the legislation regarding the two trumpets of silver, yet we are not in any way hindered from connecting the statute with the idea of claiming human art for Divine service. Instrumental music was of course rudimentary in the wilderness; but, such as it was, Jehovah was to control the use of it through the priests; and the developed idea is found in the account of the dedication of the temple of Solomon, as recorded in 2 Chronicles 5:1-14, where we are told that besides the Levites, who had cymbals, psalteries, and harps, a hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets took part in the music.

There is no need to question the early use of these instruments; nevertheless, the legislation in our passage assumes the settlement in Canaan, and times when defensive war became necessary and the observance of the sacred feasts fell into a fixed order. The statute is instructive as to the meaning of the formula "The Lord spake unto Moses," and not less as to the gradual accretion of particulars around an ancient nucleus. We cannot set aside the sincere record, though it may seem to make Jehovah speak on matters of small importance. But interpretation must spring from a right understanding of the purpose suggested to the mind of Moses. Uses found for the trumpets in the course of years are simply extensions of the germinal idea of reserving for sacred use those instruments and the art they represented. It was well that whatever fear or exhilaration the sounding of them caused should be controlled by those who were responsible to God for the moral inspiration of the people.

According to the statute, the two trumpets, which were of very simple make, and capable of only a few notes, had their use first in calling assemblies. A long peal blown on one trumpet summoned the princes who were the heads of the thousands of Israel: a long peal on both trumpets called the whole congregation to the "tent of meeting." There were occasions when these assemblies were required not for deliberation, but to hear in detail the instructions and orders of the leader. At other times the convocations were for prayer or thanksgiving; or, again, the people had to hear solemn reproofs and sentences of punishment. We may imagine that with varying sound, joyful or mournful, the trumpets were made to convey some indication of the purpose for which the assembly was called.

A sacred obligation lay on the Israelites to obey the summons, whether for joy or sorrow. They heard in the trumpet-blast the very voice of God. And upon us, bound to His service by a more solemn and gracious covenant, rests an obligation even more commanding. The unity of the tribes of Israel, and their fellowship in the obedience and worship of Jehovah, could never be of half so much importance as the unity of Christians in declaring their faith and fulfilling their vocation. To come together at the call of recurring opportunity, that we may confess Christ and hear His word anew, is essential to our spiritual life. Those who hear the call should know its urgency and promptly respond, lest in the midst of the holiest light there come to be a shadow of deep darkness, the midnight gloom of paganism and death.

Again, in the wilderness, the trumpets gave the signal for striking the camp and setting out on a new stage of the journey. Blown sharply by way of alarm, the peals conveyed now to one, now to another part of the host the order to advance. The movement of the pillar of cloud, we may assume, could not be seen everywhere, and this was another means of direction, not only of a general kind, but with some detail.

Taking Numbers 10:5-6, along with the passage beginning at Numbers 10:14, we have an ideal picture of the order of movement. One peal, sharply rung out from the trumpets, would signify that the eastern camp, embracing the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, should advance. Then the tabernacle was to be taken down, and the Levites of the families of Gershon and Merari were to set forward with the various parts of the tent and its enclosure. Next two alarms gave the signal to the southern camp, that of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. The Levites of the family of Kohath followed, bearing the ark, the altar of incense, the great altar, the table of shewbread, and other furniture of the sanctuary. The third and fourth camps, of which Ephraim and Benjamin were the heads, brought up the rear. In these movements the trumpets would be of much use. But it is quite clear that the real difficulty was not to set the divisions in motion each at a fit time. The camps were not composed only of men under military discipline. The women and children, the old and feeble, had to be cared for. The flocks and herds also had to be kept in hand. We cannot suppose that there was any orderly procession; rather was each camp a straggling multitude, with its own delays and interruptions.

And so it is in the case of every social and religious movement. Clear enough may be the command to advance, the trumpet of Providence, the clarion of the Gospel. But men and women are undisciplined in obedience and faith. They have many burdens of a personal kind to bear, many private differences and quarrels. How very seldom can the great Leader find prompt response to His will, though the terms of it are distinctly conveyed and the demand is urgent! God makes a plan for us, opens our way, shows us our need, proclaims the fit hours; but our unbelief and fear and incapacity impede the march. Nevertheless, through the grace of His providence, as Israel slowly made its way across the desert and reached Canaan at last, the Church moves, and will continue to move, towards the holy future, the millennial age.

Turning now to the uses of the silver trumpets after the settlement in Canaan, there is first that connected with war. The people are presumed to be living peaceably in their country; but some neighbouring power has attacked them. The sounding of the trumpets then is to be of the nature of a prayer to the Divine Protector of the nation. The cry of the dependent tribes will be gathered up, as it were, into the shrill blast which carries the alarm to the throne of the Lord of Hosts. To the army and to the nation assurance is given that the old promise of Jehovah’s favour remains in force, and that the promise, claimed by the priests according to the covenant, will be fulfilled. And this will make the trumpet-blast exhilarating, a presage of victory. The claim and hope of the nation rise heavenward. The men of war stand together in faith, and put to flight the armies of the aliens.

For the battles we have to fight, the conflicts of faith with unbelief, and righteousness with aggressive iniquity, an inspiration is needed like that conveyed to Israel in the peal of the silver trumpets. Have we any means of assurance resembling that which was to animate the Hebrews when the enemy came upon them? Even the need is often unrecognised. Many take for granted that religion is safe, that the truth requires no valour of theirs in maintaining it, and the Gospel of Christ no spirited defence. The trumpet is not heard because the duty to which all Christians are called as helpers of the Gospel is never considered. Messages are accepted as oracles of God only when they tell the trustful of safety and confirm them in easy enjoyment of spiritual privilege and hope. One kind of trumpet peal alone is liked-that which sounds an alarm to the unconverted, and bids them prepare for the coming of the Judge.

But there are for all Christians frequent calls to a service in which they need the courage of faith and every hope the covenant can give. At the present time no greater mistake is possible than to sit in comfort under the shadow of ancient forms and creeds. We cannot realise the value of the promise given to genuine faith unless we abandon the crumbling walls and meet our assailants in the open ground, where we can see them face to face, and know the spirit with which they fight, the ensigns of their war. There is no brave thinking now in those old shelters, no room to use the armour of light. Christianity is one of the free forces of human life. Its true inspiration is found only when those who stand by it are bent on securing and extending the liberties of men. The trumpets that lift to heaven the prayers of the faithful and fill the soldiers of the Cross with the hope of victory can never be in the hands of those who claim exclusive spiritual authority, nor will they ever again sound the old Hebrew note. They inspire those who are generous, who feel that the more they give the more they are blessed, who would impart to others their own life that God’s love to the world may be known. They call us not to defend our own privileges, but to keep the way of salvation open to all, to prevent the Pharisee and the unbeliever from closing against men the door of heavenly grace.

Once more; in the days of gladness and solemn feasting the trumpets were to be blown over the burnt offerings and peace offerings. The joy of the Passover, the hope of the new-moon festival, especially in the beginning of the seventh month, were to be sent up to heaven with the sound of these instruments, not as if Jehovah had forgotten His people and His covenant, but for the assurance and comfort of the worshippers. He was a Friend before whom they could rejoice, a King whose forgiveness was abundant, who showed mercy unto the thousands who loved Him and kept His commandments. The music, loud, and clear, and bold, was to carry to all who heard it the conviction that God had been sought in the way of His holy law, and would cause blessing to descend upon Israel.

We claim with gentler sounds, those of lowly prayer and pleading, the help of the Most High. Even in the secret chamber when the door is shut we can address our Father, knowing that our claim will be answered for the sake of Christ. Yet there are times when the loud and clear hallelujahs, borne heavenward by human voices and pealing organ, seem alone to express our exultation. Then the instruments and methods of modern art may be said to bind the old Hebrew times, the ancient faith of the wilderness and of Zion, to our own. We carry out ideas that lie at the heart of the race; we realise that human skill, human discovery, find their highest use and delight when they make beautiful and inspiring the service of God.


Verses 11-28

3. THE ORDER OF MARCH

Numbers 10:11-28

The difficulties connected with the order of march prescribed in this passage have been often and fully rehearsed. According to the enumeration given in chapter 2, the van of the host formed by the division of Judah, men, women, and children, must have reached some six hundred thousand at least. The second division, headed by Reuben, would number five hundred thousand. The Levites, with their wives and children, according to the same computation would be altogether about seventy thousand. Then came "the two remaining camps, about nine hundred thousand souls. At the first signal six hundred thousand would have to get into marching order and move off across the desert. There could be no absolute separation of the fighting men from their families and flocks, and even if there were no narrow passes to confine the vast multitude, it would occupy miles of road. We must not put a day’s journey at more than ten miles. The foremost groups would therefore have reached the camping ground, let us say, when the last ranks of the second division were only beginning" to move; and the rear would still be on its way when night had long fallen upon the desert. Whatever obstacles were removed for the Israelites, the actual distance to be traversed could not be made less; and the journey is always represented as a stern and serious discipline. When we take into account the innumerable hindrances which so vast a company would certainly have to contend with, it seems impossible that the order of march as detailed in this passage could have been followed for two days together.

Suppose we receive the explanation that the numbers have been accidentally increased in the transcription of records. This would relieve the narrative, not only here but at many points, of a burden it can hardly carry. And we remember that according to the Book of Nehemiah less than fifty thousand Jews, returning from Babylon at the close of the captivity, reconstructed the nation, so that it soon showed considerable spirit and energy. If the numbers as they stand in the Pentateuch were reduced, divided by ten, as some propose, the desert journey would appear less of a mere marvel. It would remain one of the most striking and important migrations known to history; it would lose none of its religious significance. No religious idea is affected by the numbers who receive it; nor do the great purposes of God depend on multitudes for their fulfilment. We can view with composure the criticism which touches the record on its numerical side, because we know the prophetic work of Moses and the providential education of Israel to be incontrovertible facts.

It has been suggested that the order of march as described did not continue to be kept throughout the whole of the wilderness journey; that in point of fact it may have been followed only so far as Kadesh. Whether this was so or not it must be taken into account that for the greater part of the forty years there was absolutely no travelling: the tribes were settled in the wilderness of Paran. The proofs are incidental but conclusive. From a central point, where the cloud rested (Numbers 10:12), the people spread themselves, we may suppose, in various directions, seeking grass for their cattle, and living for the most part like the other inhabitants of the district. Even if there were but three years of travelling in all, before and after the sojourn in the neighbourhood of Kadesh, there would be ample time for the movement from one place to another mentioned in the records.


Verses 29-36

HOBAB THE KENITE

Numbers 10:29-36

THE Kenites, an Arab tribe belonging to the region of Midian, and sometimes called Midianites, sometimes Amalekites, were already in close and friendly relation with Israel. Moses, when he went first to Midian, had married a daughter of their chief Jethro, and, as we learn from Exodus 18:1-27, this patriarch, with his daughter Zipporah and the two sons she had borne to Moses, came to the camp of Israel at the mount of God. The meeting was an occasion of great rejoicing; and Jethro, as priest of his tribe, having congratulated the Hebrews on the deliverance Jehovah had wrought for them, "took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God," and was joined by Moses, Aaron, and all the elders of Israel in the sacrificial feast. A union was thus established between Kenites and Israelites of the most solemn and binding kind. The peoples were sworn to continual friendship.

While Jethro remained in the camp his counsel was given in regard to the manner of administering justice. In accordance with it rulers of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens were chosen, "able men, such as feared God, men of truth, hating covetousness"; and to them matters of minor importance were referred for judgment, the hard causes only being brought before Moses. The sagacity of one long experienced in the details of government came in to supplement the intellectual power and the inspiration of the Hebrew leader.

It does not appear that any attempt was made to attach Jethro and the whole of his tribe to the fortunes of Israel. The small company of the Kenites could travel far more swiftly than a great host, and, if they desired, could easily overtake the march. Moses, we are told, let his father-in-law depart, and he went to his own place. But now that the long stay of the Israelites at Sinai is over and they are about to advance to Canaan, the visit of a portion of the Kenite tribe is made the occasion of an appeal to their leader to cast in his lot with the people of God. There is some confusion in regard to the relationship of Hobab with Jethro or Raguel. Whether Hobab was a son or grandson of the chief cannot be made out. The word translated father-in-law (Numbers 10:29), means a relation by marriage. Whatever was the tie between Hobab and Moses, it was at all events so close, and the Kenite had so much sympathy with Israel, that it was natural to make the appeal to him: "Come thou with us, and we will do thee good." Himself assured of the result of the enterprise, anticipating with enthusiasm the high destiny of the tribes of Israel, Moses endeavours to persuade these children of the desert to take the way to Canaan.

There was a fascination in the movement of that people who, rescued from bondage by their Heavenly Friend, were on their journey to the land of His promise. This fascination Hobab and his followers appear to have felt; and Moses counted upon it. The Kenites, used to the wandering life, accustomed to strike their tents any day as occasion required, no doubt recoiled from the thought of settling even in a fertile country, still more from dwelling in any walled town. But the south of Canaan was practically a wilderness, and there, keeping to a great extent their ancestral habits, they might have had the liberty they loved, yet kept in touch with their friends of Israel. Some aversion from the Hebrews, who still bore certain marks of slavery, would have to be overcome. Yet, with the bond already established, there needed only some understanding of the law of Jehovah, and some hope in His promise to bring the company of Hobab to decision.

And Moses had right in saying, "Come with us, and we will do thee good; for Jehovah hath spoken good concerning Israel." The outlook to a future was something which the Kenites as a people had not, never could have in their desultory life. Unprogressive, out of the way of the great movements of humanity, gaining nothing as generations went by, but simply reproducing the habits and treasuring the beliefs of their fathers, the Arab tribe might maintain itself, might occasionally strike for righteousness in some conflict, but otherwise had no prospect, could have no enthusiasm. They would live their hard life, they would enjoy freedom, they would die - such would be their history. Compared with that poor outlook, howgood it would be to share the noble task of establishing on the soil of Canaan a nation devoted to truth and righteousness, in league with the living God, destined to extend His kingdom and make His faith the means of blessing to all. It was the great opportunity of these nomads. As yet, indeed, there was no courage of religion, no brightness of enthusiasm among the Israelites. But there was the ark of the covenant, there were the sacrifices, the law; and Jehovah Himself, always present with His people, was revealing His will and His glory by oracle, by discipline and deliverance.

Now these Kenites may be taken as representing a class, in the present day to a certain extent attracted, even fascinated, by the Church, who standing irresolute are appealed to in terms like those addressed by Moses to Hobab. They feel a certain charm, for in the wide organisation and vast activity of the Christian Church, quite apart from the creed on which it is based, there are signs of vigour and purpose which contrast favourably with endeavours directed to mere material gain. In idea and in much of its effort the Church is splendidly humane, and it provides interests, enjoyments, both of an intellectual and artistic kind, in which all can share. Not so much its universality nor its mission of converting the world, nor its spiritual worship, but rather the social advantages and the culture it offers draw towards it those minds and lives. And to them it extends, too often without avail, the invitation to join its march.

Is it asked why many, partly fascinated, remain proof against its appeals? why an increasing number prefer, like Hobab, the liberty of the desert, their own unattached, desultory, hopeless way of life? The answer must partly be that, as it is, the Church does not fully commend itself by its temper, its enthusiasm, its sincerity and Christianity. It attracts but is unable to command, because with all its culture of art it does not appear beautiful, with all its claims of spirituality it is not unworldly; because, professing to exist for the redemption of society, its methods and standards are too often human rather than Divine. It is not that the outsider shrinks from the religiousness of the Church as overdone; rather does he detect a lack of that very quality. He could believe in the Divine calling and join the enterprise of the Church if he saw it journeying steadily towards a better country, that is a heavenly. Its earnestness would then command him; faith would compel faith. But social status and temporal aims are not subordinated by the members of the Church, nor even by its leaders. And whatever is done in the way of providing attractions for the pleasure-loving, and schemes of a social kind, these, so far from gaining the undecided, rather make them less disposed to believe. More exciting enjoyments can be found elsewhere. The Church offering pleasures and social reconstruction is attempting to catch those outside by what, from their point of view, must appear to be chaff.

It is a question which every body of Christians has need to ask itself-Can we honestly say to those without, Come with us, and we will do you good? In order that there may be certainty on this point, should not every member of the Church be able to testify that the faith he has gives joy and peace, that his fellowship with God is making life pure and strong and free? Should there not be a clear movement of the whole body, year by year, towards finer spirituality, broader and more generous love? The gates of membership are in some cases opened to such only as make very clear and ample profession. It does not, however, appear that those already within have always the Christian spirit corresponding to that high profession. And yet as Moses could invite Hobab and his company without misgiving because Jehovah was the Friend and Guide of Israel and had spoken good concerning her, so because Christ is the Head of the Church, and Captain of her salvation, those outside may well be urged to join her fellowship. If all depended on the earnestness of our faith and the steadfastness of our virtue we should not dare to invite others to join the march. But it is with Christ we ask them to unite. Imperfect in many ways, the Church is His, exists to show His death, to proclaim His Gospel and extend His power. In the whole range of human knowledge and experience there is but one life that is free, pure, hopeful, energetic in every noble sense, and at the same time calm. In the whole range of human existence there is but one region in which the mind and the soul find satisfaction and enlargement, in which men of all sorts and conditions find true harmony. That life and that region of existence are revealed by Christ; into them He only is the Way. The Church, maintaining this, demonstrating this, is to invite all who stand aloof. They who join Christ and follow Him will come to a good land, a heavenly heritage.

The first invitation given to Hobab was set aside. "Nay," he said, "I will not go; but I will depart to my own land and to my kindred." The old ties of country and people were strong for him. The true Arab loves his country passionately. The desert is his home, the mountains are his friends. His hard life is a life of liberty. He is strongly attached to his tribe, which has its own traditions, its own glories. There have been feuds, the memory of which must be cherished. There are heirlooms that give dignity to those who possess them. The people of the clan are brothers and sisters. Very little of the commercial mingles with the life of the desert; so perhaps family feeling has the more power. These influences Hobab felt, and this besides deterred him, that if he joined the Israelites he would be under the command of Moses. Hobab was prospective head of his tribe, already in partial authority at least. To obey the word of command instead of giving it was a thing he could not brook. No doubt the leader of Israel had proved himself brave, resolute, wise. He was a man of ardent soul and fitted for royal power. But Hobab preferred the chieftainship of his own small clan to service under Moses; and, brought to the point of deciding, he would not agree.

Freedom, habit, the hopes that have become part of life-these in like manner interpose between many and a call which is known to be from God. There is restraint within the circle of faith; old ideas, traditional conceptions of life, and many personal ambitions have to be relinquished by those who enter it. Accustomed to that Midian where every man does according to the bent of his own will, where life is hard but uncontrolled, where all they have learned to care for and desire may be found, many are unwilling to choose the way of religion, subjection to the law of Christ, the life of spiritual conflict and trial, however much may be gained at once and in the eternal future. Yet the liberty of their Midian is illusory. It is simply freedom to spend strength in vain, to roam from place to place where all alike are barren, to climb mountains lightning-riven, swept by interminable storms. And the true liberty is with Christ, who opens the prospect of the soul, and redeems the life from evil, vanity, and fear. The heavenward march appears to involve privation and conflict, which men do not care to face. But is the worldly life free from enemies, hardships, disappointments? The choice is, for many, between a bare life over which death triumphs, and a life moving on over obstacles, through tribulations, to victory and glory. The attractions of land and people, set against those of Christian hope, have no claim. "Every one," says the Lord, "that hath left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for My sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life."

Passing on, the narrative informs us that Moses used another plea: "Leave us not, I pray thee; forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou shalt be to us instead of eyes." Hobab did not respond to the promise of advantage to himself; he might be moved by the hope of being useful. Knowing that he had to deal with a man who was proud, and in his way magnanimous, Moses wisely used this appeal. And he used it frankly, without pretence. Hobab might do real and valuable service to the tribes on their march to Canaan. Accustomed to the desert, over which he had often travelled, acquainted with the best methods of disposing a camp in any given position, with the quick eye and habit of observation which the Arab life gives, Hobab would be the very adjutant to whom Moses might commit many details. If he joins the tribes on this footing it will be without pretence. He professes no greater faith either in Israel’s destiny or in Jehovah’s sole Godhead than he really feels. Wishing Israel well, interested in the great experiment, yet not bound up in it, he may give his counsel and service heartily so far as they avail.

We are here introduced to another phase of the relation between the Church and those who do not altogether accept its creed, or acknowledge its mission to be supernatural, Divine. Confessing unwillingness to receive the Christian system as a whole, perhaps openly expressing doubts of the miraculous, for example, many in our day have still so much sympathy with the ethics and culture of Christianity that they would willingly associate themselves with the Church, and render it all the service in their power. Their tastes have led them to subjects of study and modes of self-development not in the proper sense religious. Some are scientific, some have literary talent, some artistic, some financial. The question may be, whether the Church should invite these to join her ranks in any capacity, whether room may be made for them, tasks assigned to them. On the one hand, would it be dangerous to Christian faith? on the other hand, would it involve them in self-deception? Let it be assumed that they are men of honour and integrity, men who aim at a high moral standard and have some belief in the spiritual dignity man may attain. On this footing may their help be sought and cordially accepted by the Church?

We cannot say that the example of Moses should be taken as a rule for Christians. It was one thing to invite the co-operation with Israel for a certain specified purpose of an Arab chief who differed somewhat in respect of faith; it would be quite another thing to invite one whose faith, if he has any, is only a vague theism, to give his support to Christianity. Yet the cases are so far parallel that the one illustrates the other. And one point appears to be this, that the Church may show itself at least as sympathetic as Israel. Is there but a single note of unison between a soul and Christianity? Let that be recognised, struck again and again till it is clearly heard. Our Lord rewarded the faith of a Syrophoenician woman, of a Roman centurion. His religion cannot be injured by generosity. Attachment to Himself personally, disposition to hear His words and accept His morality, should be hailed as the possible dawn of faith, not frowned upon as a splendid sin. Every one who helps sound knowledge helps the Church. The enthusiast for true liberty has a point of contact with Him whose truth gives freedom. The Church is a spiritual city with gates that stand wide open day and night towards every region and condition of human life, towards the north and south, the east and west. If the wealthy are disposed to help, let them bring their treasures; if the learned devote themselves reverently and patiently to her literature, let their toil be acknowledged. Science has a tribute that should be highly valued, for it is gathered from the works of God; and art of every kind-of the poet, the musician, the sculptor, the painter-may assist the cause of Divine religion. The powers men have are given by Him who claims all as His own. The vision of Isaiah in which he saw Tarshish and the isles, Sheba and Seba offering gifts to the temple of God did not assume that the tribute was in all cases that of covenant love. And the Church of Christ has broader human sympathy and better right to the service of the world than Isaiah knew. For the Church’s good, and for the good of those who may be willing in any way to aid her work and development, all gifts should be gladly received, and those who stand hesitating should be invited to serve.

But the analogy of the invitation to Hobab involves another point which must always be kept in view. It is this, that the Church is not to slacken her march, not divert her march in any degree because men not fully in sympathy with her join the company and contribute their service. The Kenite may cast in his lot with the Israelites and aid them with his experience. But Moses will not cease to lead the tribes towards Canaan, will not delay their progress a single day for Hobab’s sake. Nor will he less earnestly claim sole Godhead for Jehovah, and insist that every sacrifice shall be made to Him and every life kept holy in His way, for His service. Perhaps the Kenite faith differed little in its elements from that which the Israelites inherited. It may have been monotheistic; and we know that part of the worship was by way of sacrifice not unlike that appointed by the Mosaic law. But it had neither the wide ethical basis nor the spiritual aim and intensity which Moses had been the means of imparting to Israel’s religion. And from the ideas revealed to him and embodied in the moral and ceremonial law he could not for the sake of Hobab resile in the least. There should be no adjustment of creed or ritual to meet the views of the new ally. Onward to Canaan, onward also along the lines of religious duty and development, the tribes would hold their way as before.

In modern alliances with the Church a danger is involved, sufficiently apparent to all who regard the state of religion. History is full of instances in which, to one company of helpers and another, too much has been conceded; and the march of spiritual Christianity is still greatly impeded by the same thing. Money contributed, by whomsoever, is held to give the donors a right to take their place in councils of the Church, or at least to sway decision now in one direction, now in another. Prestige is offered with the tacit understanding that it shall be repaid with deference. The artist uses his skill, but not in subordination to the ideas of spiritual religion. He assumes the right to give them his own colour, and may even, while professing to serve Christianity, sensualise its teaching. Scholarship offers help, but is not content to submit to Christ. Having been allowed to join itself with the Church, it proceeds, not infrequently, to play the traitor’s part, assailing the faith it was invoked to serve. Those who care more for pleasure than for religion may within a certain range find gratification in Christian worship; they are apt to claim more and still more of the element that meets their taste. And those who are bent on social reconstruction would often, without any thought of doing wrong, divert the Church entirely from its spiritual mission. When all these influences are taken into account, it will be seen that Christianity has to go its way amid perils. It must not be unsympathetic. But those to whom its camp is opened, instead of helping the advance, may neutralise the whole enterprise.

Every Church has great need at present to consider whether that clear spiritual aim which ought to be the constant guide is not forgotten, at least occasionally, for the sake of this or that alliance supposed to be advantageous. It is difficult to find the mean, difficult to say who serve the Church, who hinder its success. More difficult still is it to distinguish those who are heartily with Christianity from those who are only so in appearance, having some nostrum of their own to promote. Hobab may decide to go with Israel; but the invitation he accepts, perhaps with an air of superiority, of one conferring a favour, is really extended to him for his good, for the saving of his life. Let there be no blowing of the silver trumpets to announce that a prince of the Kenites henceforth journeys with Israel; they were not made for that! Let there be no flaunting of a gay ensign over his tent. We shall find that a day comes when the men who stand by true religion have-perhaps through Kenite influence-the whole congregation to face. So it is in Churches. On the other hand, Pharisaism is a great danger, equally tending to destroy the value of religion; and Providence ever mingles the elements that enter into the counsels of Christianity, challenging the highest wisdom, courage, and charity of the faithful.

The closing verses of Numbers 10:33-36, belonging, like the passage just considered, to the prophetic narrative, affirm that the ark was borne from Sinai three days’ journey before the host to find a halting-place. The reconciliation between this statement and the order which places the ark in the centre of the march, may be that the ideal plan was at the outset not observed, for some sufficient reason. The absolute sincerity of the compilers of the Book of Numbers is shown in their placing almost side by side the two statements without any attempt to harmonise. Both were found in the ancient documents, and both were set down in good faith. The scribes into whose hands the old records came did not assume the role of critics.

At the beginning of every march Moses is reported to have used the chant: "Rise up, O Jehovah, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee." When the ark rested he said: "Return, O Jehovah, unto the ten thousands of the thousands of Israel." The former is the opening strain of Psalms 68:1-35, and its magnificent strophes move towards the idea of that rest which Israel finds in the protection of her God. Part of the ode returns upon the desert journey, adding some features and incidents, omitted in the narrations of the Pentateuch-such as the plentiful rain which refreshed the weary tribes, the publishing by women of some Divine oracle. But on the whole the psalm agrees with the history, making Sinai the scene of the great revelation of God, and indicating the guidance He gave through the wilderness by means of the cloudy pillar. The chants of Moses would be echoed by the people, and would help to maintain the sense of constant relation between the tribes and their unseen Defender.

Through the wilderness Israel went, not knowing from what quarter the sudden raid of a desert people might be made. Swiftly, silently, as if springing out of the very sand, the Arab raiders might bear down upon the travellers. They were assured of the guardianship of Him whose eye never slumbered, when they kept His way and held themselves at His command. Here the resemblance to our case in the journey of life is clear; and we are reminded of our need of defence and the only terms on which we may expect it. We may look for protection against those who are the enemies of God. But we have no warrant for assuming that on whatever errand we are bound we have but to invoke the Divine arm in order to be secure. The dreams of those who think their personal claim on God may always be urged have no countenance in the prayer, "Rise up, O Jehovah, and let Thine enemies be scattered." And as Israel settling to rest after some weary march could enjoy the sense of Jehovah’s presence only if the duties of the day had been patiently done, and the thought of God’s will had made peace in every tribe, and His promise had given courage and hope-so for us, each day will close with the Divine benediction when we have "fought a good fight and kept the faith." Fidelity there must be; or, if it has failed, the deep repentance that subdues wandering desire and rebellious will, bringing the whole of life anew into the way of lowly service.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Numbers 10:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/numbers-10.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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