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Deeper Commentary


Num 10:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying-
The exercise of prayer is for our benefit. Israel were told to blow trumpets at their feasts, representing prayer, in order that God would hear their prayer and sacrifice, and remember them / take notice of them (Num. 10:10). The blowing of the trumpets didn't of itself remind God about His people; it was an exercise for their benefit. And the God who knows before we ask evidently doesn't need our prayers as a means of information transfer. 

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. The trumpets weren't necessarily identical- see on :3.

The sons of Aaron were to blow the trumpets (:8). There were only two sons of Aaron left at this time, Eleazar and Ithamar. So that might explain why there were only two. In the time of Joshua and David there were seven trumpets used by the priests (Josh. 6:4), and 120 trumpets in Solomon's time (1 Chron. 15:24; 2 Chron. 5:12). So again we see that the command to make two trumpets was not set in stone. It was a principle open to interpretation and development. For again we must note that the law was not a leash, a chain, but rather a springboard towards serving God on our own initiative and interpretation of His basic principles. Although not of course in contradiction to those principles.

Num 10:3 When they blow them, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the door of the Tent of Meeting-
The idea is that both of them were blown (cp. :4). This would have made a different sound to just one of them being blown, so we can conclude the trumpets were not identical in sound, and when blown together, produced a very distinctive sound.

Num 10:4 If they blow just one, then the princes, the heads of the thousands of Israel, shall gather themselves to you-
"Thousands" is again not a literal numerical term but means "families". This fact means that the 600 "thousands" of men who left Egypt may not mean 600,000. If there were a congregation totalling a few million, two trumpets would not have been heard by them all. I have argued elsewhere that the size of the congregation was much smaller than that.

Num 10:5 When you blow an alarm, the camps that lie on the east side shall go forward-
Lead therefore by Judah who was effectively the firstborn, and from whom the Lord Jesus was to come.

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-
LXX adds "And when you blow the third alarm, the camps on the west shall begin their march; and when ye blow the fourth alarm, the camps on the north shall begin their march".

Num 10:7 But when the assembly is to be gathered together, you shall blow, but you shall not sound an alarm-
"Blow" here implies short, staccato notes. This looks ahead to the blowing of the trumpet associated with the gathering together of all God's people at the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:52), and moving forward into the Kingdom.

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-
See on :2. 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 10:9 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-
The "memorial portion" of the offerings was to serve as a reminder to God, as it were, of the covenants which He "remembered". He of course doesn't forget His covenant but ever remembers it (Ps. 105:8 etc.), yet He is presented in human terms as having His memory rekindled, as it were, by human prayer, faith, situations and sacrifices so that He "remembers the covenant" (Gen. 8:1; 9:15; Ex. 2:24; 6:5; Lev. 26:42,45; Num. 10:9 and often). The regular sacrifices were such a "memorial" or 'reminder'- both to God and to His people. The place of prayer, regular sacrifice of giving, breaking of bread at the "memorial meeting" etc., are all equivalents for us under the new covenant.   

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. The day of gladness could specifically refer to the days when they offered the burnt and peace offerings. Because of its association with the celebration of the forgiveness of sins, the peace offering brought together a variety of emotions, blending joy, sober recognition and gratitude. We therefore find it being offered in both days of gladness and solemnity (Num. 10:10). But normally there is at least some mention of joy connected with the records of the peace offering (2 Chron. 29:35,36; Dt. 27:7).  

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-
"The LORD came from Sinai and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, and he came with ten thousands of His saints (Angels): from His right hand (i.e. the Angels- they ministered the Law) went a fiery law for them" (Dt. 33:2); whilst earlier we only read "And the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran" (Num. 10:12). The passage in Dt. 33 almost seems a direct comment on this earlier description.

Num 10:13 They first went forward according to the commandment of Yahweh by Moses-
I will discuss on :34,35 how Yahweh commanded Moses whenever they had to move on or rest, and he as it were commanded the Angel in the cloud. The cloud therefore rose up and then rested over the tent of meeting at the command of Moses, who was repeating the commandment of Yahweh to him.

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-
He was brother-in-law of Aaron (Ex. 6:23), and yet also married to Rahab in order to be the ancestor of David and the Lord Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:4). He was one of the points at which the lines of Judah and Levi converged in the Lord's genealogy, appropriate for Him as a king-priest.

Num 10:15 Nethanel the son of Zuar was over the army of the tribe of the children of Issachar-
'God has given' suggests that he was named in faith that the promised land would indeed be given to Israel. 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-
We note how most of the names feature the 'El' suffix and not 'Yah' or 'Iah'. This is understandable, for Moses declared the Name of Yahweh to the people after most of these men had been born. This kind of artless internal corroboration is to me one of the strongest arguments for the Divine inspiration of the Bible.

Num 10:17 The tabernacle was taken down, and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who bore the tabernacle, went forward-
The visual image of the tabernacle being taken down stuck in the Lord's mind, and He saw it as a picture of His death on the cross (Jn. 2:19). And the raising up of the tabernacle was to be true in the restoration of "the temple of His body" (Jn. 2:21). We think of Joseph of Arimathea bearing away the Lord's body from the cross.

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-
"Elizur", 'God is my rock', is a name indicating faith that God would indeed be a rock to Israel. And probably these were names which were taken by choice rather than birth names. But Israel turned back from entering Canaan; their leaders had the names of faith but in reality their faith was weak. And we must ask ourselves whether that is the case with us, having a name that we spiritually live when we are dead.

Num 10:19 Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai was over the army of the tribe of the children of Simeon-
"God's peace" son of "The Almighty is my rock" could reflect a faithful family, especially considering that Israel were idolaters in Egypt, and carried the idols of Egypt with them through the Red Sea (Ez. 20:6-8) and also the tabernacle of Moloch as well as that of Yahweh, the star of Remphan as well as the standards of their tribes (Acts 7:43).

Num 10:20 Eliasaph the son of Deuel was over the army of the tribe of the children of Gad-
Deuel is better Reuel as in Num. 2:14. The Hebrew letters for 'D' and 'R' are easily confused; so here we have an example of slight copying errors in the original texts. But these in no way negate the overall Divine inspiration of the texts.

Num 10:21 The Kohathites set forward, bearing the sanctuary. The others set up the tabernacle before they arrived-
"The sanctuary" is put for the especially holy items of furniture within it; for the actual structure of the sanctuary was carried by others (:17).

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-
Elishama was Joshua's grandfather (1 Chron. 7:26). "God who hears" reflects Moses' message that God had indeed heard the crying of the Israelites in Egypt. This was likely a name change after acceptance of Moses' teaching.

Num 10:23 Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur was over the army of the tribe of the children of Manasseh-
"Gamaliel" is 'God is my reward', named in hope that the promised reward of the Kingdom would indeed be given.

Num 10:24 Abidan the son of Gideoni was over the army of the tribe of the children of Benjamin-
The names associated with the leadership of Benjamin and Naphtali (:24,27) stand out as not having any spiritual reference in them. Israel were very spiritually weak as they left Egypt and it is likely that the more spiritual names we read of in this list were the result of name changes. But the leaders of these two tribes didn't do that.

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-
"Ammishaddai" means 'People of the Almighty', using the term shaddai which is often associated with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He may well have been one of the faithful few who kept perceiving the vital separation of God's people from Egypt, whereas the majority in their hearts returned to Egypt and wished to assimilate with them in order to escape persecution and have what they imagined was a good life.

Num 10:26 Pagiel the son of Ochran was over the army of the tribe of the children of Asher-
Pagiel ['accident of God'] was son of Ochran, 'muddler'. As discussed on :27, people had multiple names and were known by the 'name' they carved for themselves in life, and the attitudes they had. God makes no accidents; so maybe in depression and bitterness this man felt like this, and was known for it. Hardly a great example to the tribe he was supposed to be leading. And indeed Asher all but disappears from Israel.

Num 10:27 Ahira the son of Enan was over the army of the tribe of the children of Naphtali-
What mother would have named her child Nabal (fool), or Ahira (brother of evil), or 'sickness' or 'wasting' (Mahlon and Chilion)? These names were either given to them by others and the use adopted by God, or simply God in the record assigned them such names. The names associated with the leadership of Benjamin and Naphtali (:24,27) stand out as not having any spiritual reference in them. Israel were very spiritually weak as they left Egypt and it is likely that the more spiritual names we read of in this list were the result of name changes. But the leaders of these two tribes didn't do that.

Num 10:28 Thus were the travels of the children of Israel according to their armies, and they went forward-
LXX "These are the armies of the children of Israel; and they set forward with their forces". The military analogies are continual. It was God's ideal intention that they should now march to Canaan and enter it as an army. The fact they turned away from this potential was tragic. So much Divine hope and carefully prepared potential was wasted, just as it is in so many lives. We marvel at His patience in continuing to try with so many people.

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-
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; 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. See on :32.

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-
Rom. 11:22 may allude here: "Towards you goodness, if you continue in His goodness". The context is likewise- Gentiles being invited to share in the goodness planned for Israel. And refusing it, for the most part, as Hobab did. See on :30.  

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-
Both the ark and the cloud with the Angel in it went before them. The Angel was clearly personally associated with the shekinah glory between the cherubim over the ark, and the departure of the glory from the temple in Ezekiel's time is described in terms of the Angel cherubim leaving. See on :29; 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).  

But the Angel and the glory of Yahweh clearly looked ahead to the Lord Jesus. He didn't exist at that time, and was greater than Angels; Heb. 1 is clear that He was not an Angel. "I go to prepare a place for you" (Jn. 14:1,2) clearly alludes to the scene here. The Lord went to the cross, and thence to Heaven, to prepare us the rest / camping place which Joshua couldn't ultimately give Israel in Canaan (Heb. 4:8). "Camping place" is s.w. "rest", used of Canaan (Dt. 12:9; Gen. 49:15). The ultimate resting place of God's glory, in those days manifest in an Angel, will be in the Kingdom of God upon earth at the Lord's return (s.w. Is. 11:10 "His rest shall be glorious"; Is. 32:18). But even in this life, the resting place of God is in hearts which have come under the dominion of the King, becoming thereby His Kingdom (s.w. Is. 66:1).    

In their faithlessness, Israel failed to learn the lesson from the ark and cloud going before them to search or spy out their resting place. They wanted human eyes to "spy out" the land (Num. 13:2). "Spy out" is the word used of how the ark and Angel in the cloud were ever going before Israel to "search out a resting place" (Num. 10:33; Dt. 1:33), and that resting place ultimately referred to the inheritance of Canaan. It was God Himself who had spied out the land for them (Ez. 20:6 s.w.). But they insisted upon empirical, human spying out. This insistence upon empirical evidence is not the stuff of faith, and led to their spiritual failure in this context. "Of every tribe" excluded Levi, because they were not going to inherit any land possession. 

The cloud was both in front of them and over them (:34), because it was over the ark which moved in the midst of them; just as Yahweh is both in the present and in the future, as His Name suggests. "Camping place" is literally "rest", a term used for inheritance of the Kingdom and land. Deuteronomy often speaks of Israel entering their "rest". The entire journey through the desert, every step of the way, every point of the itinerary, was intended to lead Israel to enter their "rest". The fact they chose not to enter the rest was therefore a waste of all the work the Lord had done with them on the journey.

Num 10:34 The cloud of Yahweh was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp-
The pillar of cloud was vertical as it stood above the tent of meeting when they encamped, but was spread out as a plume over them as they travelled, shielding them from the desert heat. We could deduce from Num. 10:34,35 that the cloud rose up when Moses commanded it to. They journeyed according to Yahweh's commandments to Moses, and it was he who in turn uttered that commandment to Israel and to the cloud: "The cloud of Yahweh was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp. It happened, when the ark went forward, that Moses said, Rise up, Yahweh" (Num 10:34,35). It wasn't therefore the case that Moses had no idea as to when they were to travel, and that he only knew when the cloud lifted up and went forward. It was rather he who commanded the cloud to do that. Representing the Lord Jesus, he was in this sense in a position of control over the Angel within the cloud. This command over the Angel was part of the same theme that we see in how Moses negotiated with God over the salvation of Israel. See on :36.

Num 10:35 It happened, when the ark went forward, that Moses said, Rise up, Yahweh-
David thought that the bringing of the ark to Zion could have been its’  final homecoming- although Solomon his son let everything down in reality. “Arise O Lord into Your rest” in Ps. 24:8 alludes to “Rise up, O Lord” in Num. 10:35. The travelling of the ark was intended to have come to a permanent rest in the sanctuary. But David and Solomon failed to appreciate that God preferred to keep on the move, and not to be tied down by mere religion.

It's unclear if the final verses of this chapter refer just to the initial journey of Israel with the ark until they came to the borders of the land. It's tempting to see them as a general statement of what happened throughout the 38 years journey. In which case we marvel at God's grace- that the condemned were still led by the cloud, their feet didn't swell, they were still protected from the sun by day and the cold at night. How God treats the condemned is truly the measure of Him.

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).  

We would rather there were a third way. But as far as God is concerned, there is none. None would say they hate God; not even the atheist. Yet God sees those who love the world as hating Him. Likewise the Bible speaks of the world as being sinful and actively hating God, whereas to human eyes the world is for the most part ignorant. Thus the Canaanite nations did not know much about the God of Israel, and yet they are described as actively hating Him (Num. 10:35 NIV; Ps. 68:1).

Num 10:36 When it rested, he said, Return, Yahweh, to the ten thousands of the thousands of Israel-
As discussed on :34, this could be read as Moses commanding the spread out cloud which went before them to return to the camp and make them rest there. But they journeyed "at the commandment of Yahweh" to Moses, and his commanding the Angel in the cloud to stop and start was therefore reflective of the commandment he had received from God.