Numbers 10
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Verse 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 Leviticus 25:9, or elsewhere, for the "trumpets" there mentioned were altogether different in shape, as in material.
Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them: that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps.
Verse 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.
And when they shall blow with them, all the assembly shall assemble themselves to thee at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
Verse 3. - When they shall blow with them, i.e., with both of them. All the assembly, i.e., by their natural or customary representatives.
And if they blow but with one trumpet, then the princes, which are heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves unto thee.
When ye blow an alarm, then the camps that lie on the east parts shall go forward.
Verse 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, verse 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 verse 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.
When ye blow an alarm the second time, then the camps that lie on the south side shall take their journey: they shall blow an alarm for their journeys.
But when the congregation is to be gathered together, ye shall blow, but ye shall not sound an alarm.
And the sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow with the trumpets; and they shall be to you for an ordinance for ever throughout your generations.
Verse 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.
And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the LORD your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies.
Verse 9. - If ye go to war. בּוא 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. Chapter 31:6, and (perhaps) 1 Chronicles 16:6, and Psalm 81:3 may be quoted as pointing to the strict fulfillment of the law as it stands.
Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.
Verse 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. מועַדים. The feasts appointed to be observed by the law (see chapters 28, and 29.). In the beginnings of your months. New moon days (Psalm 81:3). Only the first day of the seventh month was properly a feast (Leviticus 23:24), but all were distinguished by special sacrifices (chapter 28:11).

CHAPTER 10:11-28 THE ORDER OF MARCH FROM SINAI (verses 11-28).
And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony.
Verse 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.
And the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran.
Verse 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) verses 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.
And they first took their journey according to the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
Verse 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 chapter 2.
In the first place went the standard of the camp of the children of Judah according to their armies: and over his host was Nahshon the son of Amminadab.
Verse 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.
And over the host of the tribe of the children of Issachar was Nethaneel the son of Zuar.
And over the host of the tribe of the children of Zebulun was Eliab the son of Helon.
And the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari set forward, bearing the tabernacle.
Verse 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 chapter 2 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.
And the standard of the camp of Reuben set forward according to their armies: and over his host was Elizur the son of Shedeur.
And over the host of the tribe of the children of Simeon was Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai.
And over the host of the tribe of the children of Gad was Eliasaph the son of Deuel.
And the Kohathites set forward, bearing the sanctuary: and the other did set up the tabernacle against they came.
Verse 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 chapter Numbers 3:31 (but cf. verse 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.
And the standard of the camp of the children of Ephraim set forward according to their armies: and over his host was Elishama the son of Ammihud.
And over the host of the tribe of the children of Manasseh was Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur.
And over the host of the tribe of the children of Benjamin was Abidan the son of Gideoni.
And the standard of the camp of the children of Dan set forward, which was the rereward of all the camps throughout their hosts: and over his host was Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai.
Verse 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.
And over the host of the tribe of the children of Asher was Pagiel the son of Ocran.
And over the host of the tribe of the children of Naphtali was Ahira the son of Enan.
Thus were the journeyings of the children of Israel according to their armies, when they set forward.
Verse 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 (Psalm 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 (we may say with reverence) 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?

CHAPTER 10:29-32 THE INVITATION TO HOBAB (verses 29-32).
And Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses' father in law, 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.
Verse 29. - Hobab, the sou of Raguel (or rather Reuel, of which Raguel is simply the Septuagint and Vulgate variation), 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 modern 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 (Exodus 4:25, 26 - Hebrew. The Septuagint avoids the word). 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.
And he said unto him, I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred.
And 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.
Verse 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.
And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the LORD shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee.
Verse 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.

And they departed from the mount of the LORD three days' journey: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting place for them.
Verse 33. - And they departed. These words mark the moment of actual departure, which has been anticipated in the general statement of verse 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 verse 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 chapter 13. 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 verse 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.
And the cloud of the LORD was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp.
Verse 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" (Psalm 91:1), and "the shadow of a cloud" (Isaiah 25:4, 5).
And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said, Rise up, LORD, and let thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate thee flee before thee.
Verse 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.
And when it rested, he said, Return, O LORD, unto the many thousands of Israel.
Verse 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 verse 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 verses 35, 36 with inverted nuns, נ, but the explanations given are fanciful, and the meaning uncertain.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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