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Deeper Commentary

 

Num 10:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying,

Num 10:2 Make two trumpets of silver. You shall make them of beaten work. You shall use them for the calling of the congregation, and for the journeying of the camps-

"Calling of the congregation" is LXX ekklesia. This is the word rendered "church" in the New Testament. We could reason from this therefore that "church" specifically refers to a gathering of God's people. At that time and during those moments, they are a church. When the entire community of believers is referred to as "church", this is how God views them- as if they are all gathered together at a gathering or convocation before Him. The word in its Biblical usage therefore doesn't refer to what we might call a denomination or fellowship.


Num 10:3 When they blow them, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the door of the Tent of Meeting.
Num 10:4 If they blow just one, then the princes, the heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves to you.
Num 10:5 When you blow an alarm, the camps that lie on the east side shall go forward.
Num 10:6 When you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that lie on the south side shall go forward. They shall blow an alarm for their journeys.
Num 10:7 But when the assembly is to be gathered together, you shall blow, but you shall not sound an alarm.
Num 10:8 The sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. This shall be to you for a principle forever throughout your generations.
Num 10:9 When you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets. Then you will be remembered before Yahweh your God, and you will be saved from your enemies-
If Israel were obedient, they were promised that they would live in their land in peace with no oppressors; they would only be oppressed if they were disobedient. So here we have another reflection of God’s sensitivity to the weakness of His people; the very structure of His law foresaw their likely weakness, and offered a way out. In this case, it was through the blowing of the trumpets. The perceptive Israelite would have seen that the same blowing of trumpets was what had been done to command Israel to move forward during their wilderness journey (:5). Even in the settled existence in Canaan, they were to still see themselves as on a wilderness journey- just as we should in our settled lives. And when we fail, we are to rally ourselves and move onwards, rather like a ‘Play on!’ command in some sports, when a player has tumbled and fallen. We have to move on, as quickly as possible.



Num 10:10 Also in the day of your gladness-
The trumpet call was an appeal to God. It wasn’t only to be made in times of crisis (:9), but in good times too. We shouldn’t treat God as someone we rush to only in times of crisis, but should share with Him our good times as well as the bad times.

And in your set feasts, and in the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be to you for a memorial before your God. I am Yahweh your God-
Moses speaks in Ex. 18:16 of how "I judge between a man and his neighbour, and I make them know the statutes of God, and His laws". Those laws were not given at the time of Ex. 18, so the passage there is out of chronological order. For the people only arrived at Horeb ("the mountain of God", Ex, 18:5) at the time of Ex. 19:1,2. It was only when they left Horeb on the 20th day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year that Moses established the system of judges as Jethro had advised (Dt. 1:12-15). At the time of Num. 10:11,29, Moses asks Jethro ["Hobab"] to remain with the people as a guide through the desert. I suggest that the events of Ex. 18 should be inserted after Num. 10:10 and before Num. 10:11. In this case the argument between Moses, Aaron and Miriam about Zipporah in Num. 12:1 would have occurred after Zipporah had been accepted again by Moses as his wife.

Num 10:11 It happened in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony-
The tent of meeting is sometimes called the tent of the “testimony”, a reference to God’s word on the tables of stone which were within the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place. Out of all the tabernacle furniture, the symbol of God’s word was seen as central. God’s word- the Bible, in our times- is to be utterly central to our lives and collective sense of community.

 

Num 10:12 The children of Israel went forward according to their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud stayed in the wilderness of Paran-
 
- see on Dt. 33:1


Num 10:13 They first went forward according to the commandment of Yahweh by Moses.
Num 10:14 First, the standard of the camp of the children of Judah went forward according to their armies. Nahshon the son of Amminadab was over his army.
Num 10:15 Nethanel the son of Zuar was over the army of the tribe of the children of Issachar-

Although the inheritances for the location of the tribal cantons were drawn by lot, it is clear the hand of God was in it. For the inheritances were appropriate to the people given them. Issachar's lot for possession of the land was next to Judah and Zebulun (Josh. 19:17), with whom Issachar had lived and journeyed side by side during the wilderness years (Num. 2:5; 10:15). This opens up the question as to whether we should also draw lots in this age. For God worked through them clearly enough in Joshua's time. 


Num 10:16 Eliab the son of Helon was over the army of the tribe of the children of Zebulun.
Num 10:17 The tabernacle was taken down, and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who bore the tabernacle, went forward.
Num 10:18 The standard of the camp of Reuben went forward according to their armies. Elizur the son of Shedeur was over his army.
Num 10:19 Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai was over the army of the tribe of the children of Simeon.
Num 10:20 Eliasaph the son of Deuel was over the army of the tribe of the children of Gad.
Num 10:21 The Kohathites set forward, bearing the sanctuary. The others set up the tabernacle before they arrived.
Num 10:22 The standard of the camp of the children of Ephraim set forward according to their armies. Elishama the son of Ammihud was over his army.
Num 10:23 Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur was over the army of the tribe of the children of Manasseh.
Num 10:24 Abidan the son of Gideoni was over the army of the tribe of the children of Benjamin.
Num 10:25 The standard of the camp of the children of Dan, which was the rear guard of all the camps, set forward according to their armies. Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai was over his army.
Num 10:26 Pagiel the son of Ochran was over the army of the tribe of the children of Asher.
Num 10:27 Ahira the son of Enan was over the army of the tribe of the children of Naphtali.
Num 10:28 Thus were the travels of the children of Israel according to their armies, and they went forward.
Num 10:29 Moses said to Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, We are journeying to the place of which Yahweh said, ‘I will give it to you’. Come with us, and we will treat you well; for Yahweh has spoken good concerning Israel-
 
v. 29-32 Num. 10 and 11 seem to portray Moses in weakness. He pleads with his brother in law not to leave them, because  without him they would not know where to camp in the wilderness; " thou mayest be to us instead of eyes" . Yet the Angels are God's eyes, they were seeking out resting places for Israel in the wilderness; the record reminds us of this straight afterwards (Num. 10:33). Jethro elsewhere suggested that Moses needed more help in leading the people because otherwise fading thou wilt fade away’ (Ex. 18:18 A.V.mg.); at the end of his days, the record seems to highlight the untruth of this by commenting that his natural strength was not faded (Dt. 34:7). So Jethro’s advice wasn’t always spiritual.
10:31 suggests Moses saw Jethro's knowledge of the desert as better than the Angelic " eyes" of Yahweh (2 Chron. 16:9; Prov. 15:3) who were going ahead of the camp to find a resting place (Num. 10:33 cp. Ex. 33:14 cp. Is. 63:9). It seems Moses recognized his error in this on the last day of his life, when he admits Yahweh, not Jethro's wisdom, had led them (Dt. 1:33). Likewise Paul in his final communication comments on the way that Mark with whom he had once quarelled was profitable to him (2 Tim. 4:11).


Num 10:30 He said to him, I will not go; but I will depart to my own land, and to my relatives-
There’s something very sad about this; Hobab could’ve identified himself with Israel and shared a place in the promised land with them, if he had travelled with them through the wilderness. But he preferred his own family rather than God’s family, and so he turned back. We too invite people to share our future hope, but they turn back, even if they journey with us for a while as Hobab did with Israel.


Num 10:31 He said, Don’t leave us, please, because you know how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and you can be to us instead of eyes-
This may have been a moment of weakness in Moses, for the Angel went before Israel to find them camping places (:33), and the Angels are God’s eyes (2 Chron. 16:9; Rev. 4:6-8). Like Moses, we tend to seek for human guidance in our wilderness journey, rather than trusting in God’s Angelic Spirit guidance of us.

In this time of final spiritual maturity, Moses was keenly aware of his own spiritual failings (as Paul and Jacob were in their last days). This is one of the great themes of Moses in Deuteronomy. He begins his Deuteronomy address by pointing out how grievously they had failed thirty eight years previously, when they refused to enter the good land. He reminds them how that although God had gone before them in Angelic power (Dt. 1:30,33), they had asked for their spies to go before them. And Moses admits that this fatal desire for human strength to lead them to the Kingdom "pleased me well" (Dt. 1:23). It seems to me that here Moses is recognizing his own failure. Perhaps he is even alluding to his weakness in wanting Jethro to go before them "instead of eyes", in place of the Angel-eyes of Yahweh (Num. 10:31-36). Moses at the end was aware of his failures. And yet he also shows his thorough appreciation of the weakness of his people. Moses admits at the end that Israel’s faithless idea to send out spies “pleased me well”- when it shouldn’t have done (Dt. 1:23,32,33). He realized more and more his own failure as he got older. 


Num 10:32 It shall be, if you go with us, yes, it shall be, that whatever good Yahweh does to us, we will do the same to you.
Num 10:33 They set forward from the Mount of Yahweh three days’ journey. The ark of the covenant of Yahweh went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a camping place for them-
 
- see Ps. 132:8
The Angels have worked out every victory for us in prospect- we have to have the faith to go ahead and act, believing that they have acted, even when there is no visible evidence. Our works must therefore repeat those which our Angels have done previously- hence their great interest in us. The Angel brought Israel "forth out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them" (Ez. 20:6); the Angel in the ark "went before them in the three days journey to search out a resting place for them" (Num. 10:33). Yet Israel still had to send out human spies, and carefully "describe the land in a book" (Josh. 18:4-8).  

Num. 10 and 11 seem to portray Moses in weakness. He pleads with his brother in law not to leave them, because  without him they would not know where to camp in the wilderness; "thou mayest be to us instead of eyes". Yet the Angels are God's eyes, they were seeking out resting places for Israel in the wilderness; the record reminds us of this straight afterwards (Num. 10:33). Jethro elsewhere suggested that Moses needed more help in leading the people because otherwise fading thou wilt fade away’ (Ex. 18:18 A.V.mg.); at the end of his days, the record seems to highlight the untruth of this by commenting that his natural strength was not faded (Dt. 34:7). So Jethro’s advice wasn’t always spiritual. Moses is depressed by Israel complaining at how boring the manna was. He doubts God's earlier promises to him: "Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight (God said he had, in Ex.33:17)... have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto them, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child unto the land which thou swearest unto their fathers (not "our"- notice the uncharacteristic separation between Moses and Israel). Whence should I give flesh unto all this people... if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in the sight (as God had earlier promised him that he had)".


Num 10:34 The cloud of Yahweh was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp.
Num 10:35 It happened, when the ark went forward, that Moses said, Rise up, Yahweh, and let your enemies be scattered! Let those who hate you flee before you!-

The fleeing of the Egyptians from Israel in the midst of the Red Sea (Ex. 14:25,27) was to be repeated in all Israel's conflicts with their enemies; every time, the essence of the Red Sea deliverance [which was by grace alone, as Israel then were so weak spiritually] was to be repeated throughout the history of God's people (Num. 10:35; Dt. 28:7).  


Num 10:36 When it rested, he said, Return, Yahweh, to the ten thousands of the thousands of Israel.