DIVINE GUIDANCE DIRECTS THE ISRAELITES TO BREAK CAMP AT SINAI AND BEGIN THEIR JOURNEY TO THE PROMISED LAND
Most commentators argue that this passage begins the second major section in the book of Numbers – since they base their outline on the geographical location markers. My outline has the second section starting with the next paragraph in 11:1 since that is the thematic division for when things start to go bad for the nation of Israel with their grumbling and challenging of authority. In either case, this text comes at a very important juncture and marks the culmination of all of the preparations that the nation has been making to set out on their journey to the Promised Land. It is a momentous occasion when the cloud finally lifts and the Lord directs His people to set out on their wilderness journey. We see much faith and optimism as their vision is focused on the visible reminders of the favorable presence of their covenant God = the cloud and the ark of the covenant. God goes before them as their Victorious Warrior to lead them into battle as they are properly arrayed in order by their various tribes. Sadly, their unity and obedience and commitment to spiritual authority will quickly erode as they encounter various pressures and trials.
Iain Duguid: In this passage in Numbers 10 we receive our first impression of Israel on the march, and what we see is entirely positive. They began the journey so well. In fact, if they had continued in the same way that they started out, they would have been in the Promised Land within a few short weeks. First impressions can be deceptive though. As we will see, things began to unravel in short order as the journey continued. Nonetheless, it is important to notice the fact that Israel began well. This shows that the problems that subsequently developed were not due to ignorance on Israel’s part or a lack of clarity on the Lord’s part. God was faithful to do what he had promised, and the Israelites knew exactly what they ought to do. The problems that would soon emerge were thus entirely their own fault.
Ashley: The theme of this passage is Israel’s glorious leadership by Yahweh as the people depart from the Mountain of God for an immediate conquest of Canaan. There is no sense here of the impending doom that awaits Israel’s rebellion in the wilderness
Brueggemann: So far in the story, the people had been at Sinai, but now they began a three-stage journey: from Sinai to Kadesh (10:11–12:16), the 40 years near Kadesh (13:1–19:22), and finally the move from Kadesh to Moab (20:1–21:35). Up until this point in Numbers, they have demonstrated exemplary obedience, but now anarchy breaks out. The people (11:1–8), and even Miriam and Aaron (12:1–5), complain about Moses. Eventually it degenerates into mutiny as the people refuse to enter the Promised Land (14:1–10), and it also degenerates into Levitical anarchy as Korah refuses to acknowledge priestly leadership (16:1–30). The result is that the whole mutinous generation was consigned to death in the desert rather than life in the land (21:21–35).
Gordon Keddie: Beginning a new venture is always exciting. The passage conveys a vivid sense of that fresh enthusiasm, and does so in three stages: first, by describing something of the panoply of Israel’s power as the nation moved off at God’s command (10:11-28); second, in Moses’ invitation to the non-Hebrew Hobab to come to Canaan with them (10:29-32); and finally in the picture of people led by their God towards their unfolding destiny (10:33-36). . .
Israel made a good start. The first hurdle had been negotiated and they were on their way. They ought to have continued as they began. They had every reason to expect great things from God and every motive to attempt great things for him. But, as we shall see, their progress was soon to be compromised by a spirit of discontent and rebellion against the Lord.
I. (:11-13) TIME TO MOVE OUT IN OBEDIENCE TO THE LORD –
THE LAUNCH OF THE MARCH = THE DEPARTURE FROM SINAI TO PARAN
A. (:11-12a) Lifting of the Cloud from the Wilderness of Mt. Sinai
“Now it came about in the second year, in the second month,
on the twentieth of the month,”
Ashley: The departure date here is over eleven months after their arrival at the mountain, nearly fourteen months after their departure from Egypt, and nineteen days after the census of 1:1.
2. Divine Guidance to Depart
“that the cloud was lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony;”
Israel probably had become quite comfortable in staying in this same location for almost a year. Yet now God calls her to commence a difficult but promising journey that has as its final destination the blessings of the Promised Land.
3. Obedience to the Lord’s Command
“and the sons of Israel set out on their journeys
from the wilderness of Sinai.”
B. (:12b) Settling Down of the Cloud in the Wilderness of Paran
“Then the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran.”
Wenham: Verse 12 summarizes several days journeyings. Stops were made at Kibroth-hattaavah and Hazeroth before they finally reached the wilderness of Paran (11:35; 12:16). This is the largest and most barren of the wildernesses traversed by the Israelites, covering much of the Northern Sinai peninsula and some of the Southern Negeb and Arabah (Gen. 21:21; Num. 13:26; 1 Kgs 11:18).
Harrison: The statement of 10:12 is a summary of the journey, the details of which occupy 10:13 – 12:16.
C. (:13) Moving in Accordance with God’s Guidance
“So they moved out for the first time
according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses.”
II. (:14-28) IMPORTANCE OF MAINTAINING THE ORDER PRESCRIBED BY THE LORD TO EQUIP THEM FOR WARFARE AS THEY FOCUS ON HIS PRESENCE —
THE ORGANIZATION OF THE MARCH
A. (:14-16) Camp of Judah
1. (:14) Judah
“And the standard of the camp of the sons of Judah,
according to their armies, set out first,
with Nahshon the son of Amminadab, over its army,”
2. (:15) Issachar
“and Nethanel the son of Zuar,
over the tribal army of the sons of Issachar;”
3. (:16) Zebulun
“and Eliab the son of Helon
over the tribal army of the sons of Zebulun.”
B. (:17) Transportation of the Tabernacle
“Then the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who were carrying the tabernacle, set out.”
Wenham: Then came the Gershonites and Merarites carrying the curtains and poles of the tabernacle on the oxcarts (17; cf. 4:21–45; 7:2–8). This detail is not mentioned in chapter 2, which does not differentiate between the Kohathites marching in the middle of the procession, and the Merarites and Gershonites going ahead of them. The latter arrangement was adopted so that the tabernacle could be set up before the most sacred objects carried by the Kohathites arrived (21). These could then be immediately placed inside the tent.
C. (:18-20) Camp of Reuben
1. (:18) Reuben
“Next the standard of the camp of Reuben, according to their armies,
set out with Elizur the son of Shedeur, over its army,”
2. (:19) Simeon
“and Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai
over the tribal army of the sons of Simeon,”
3. (:20) Gad
“and Eliasaph the son of Deuel
was over the tribal army of the sons of Gad.”
D. (:21) Role of the Kohathites with the Holy Objects
“Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy objects;
and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival.”
Wenham: i.e. the table for the showbread, the lampstand, the incense altar and the altar of burnt offering and maybe the ark as well (4:5–15), though verse 33 implies that this went first of all, some way ahead of the main procession.
E. (:22-24) Camp of Ephraim
1. (:22) Ephraim
“Next the standard of the camp of the sons of Ephraim,
according to their armies, was set out,
with Elishama the son of Ammihud over its army,”
2. (:23) Manasseh
“and Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur
over the tribal army of the sons of Manasseh;”
3. (:24) Benjamin
“and Abidan the son of Gideoni
over the tribal army of the sons of Benjamin.”
F. (:25-27) Camp of Dan
1. (:25) Dan
“Then the standard of the camp of the sons of Dan, according to their armies, which formed the rear guard for all the camps, set out, with Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai over its army,”
2. (:26) Asher
“and Pagiel the son of Ochran
over the tribal army of the sons of Asher;”
3. (:27) Naphtali
“and Ahira the son of Enan
over the tribal army of the sons of Naphtali.”
G. (:28) Summary
“This was the order of march of the sons of Israel
by their armies as they set out.”
Dennis Cole: Seven groups in all followed the cloud/pillar as they journeyed from Mount Sinai into the surrounding wilderness. The order and symmetry of the beginning of the journey from the mountain of God, the place where the nation has been constituted, to the Promised Land, where the fulfillment of that nationhood was to be confirmed, echo the essential themes of the first two cycles of the Book of Numbers: unity and harmony, purity and faithfulness. The people of God move out in harmonious accord, faithful to the Lord’s leading through the cloud pillar and the ark of the covenant, the symbols of his presence with them in a miracle of nature and in the focal point of the relationship between God and his people. The ark of the covenant was the place of ultimate mediation between God and humanity, symbolized in the ritual activity of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:1–34) and in the verbal expression of the covenant in the two tablets placed within the chest covered by the mercy seat. Revelation through the natural world and through his word have been essential elements in the relationship between God and man since the creation, when God conversed with Adam in the garden. Despite Israel’s rebellion, God continued to reveal himself in nature and through history in his prophetic revelation to bring about the ultimate promise of redemption in Christ Jesus.
III. (:29-36) THREE KEY TYPES OF ASSISTANCE THAT WILL CONTRIBUTE TO VICTORY —
THE REINFORCEMENTS FOR THE MARCH
A. (:29-32) Soliciting the Scouting Assistance of Hobab Who Knows the Terrain
1. (:29) The Pitch
“Then Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, ‘We are setting out to the place of which the LORD said, ‘I will give it to you’; come with us and we will do you good, for the LORD has promised good concerning Israel.’”
Dennis Cole: The title “son of Reuel” can mean that he was the direct “offspring” of Reuel or that he belonged to the “clan” of Reuel. The latter definition of clanship is preferred here. The relationship of Reuel to Moses as ḥōtēn, usually translated as “father-in-law” is echoed in Judg 1:16 and 4:11, in which these relatives of Moses by marriage are also identified with the Kenites. By comparison with Exod 2:18–3:1, where Reuel is also called Jethro, who is also called the ḥōtēn Mōšeh, here he is obviously the “father-in-law” of Moses. Mitchell has demonstrated that the term ḥōtēn refers to a “relation by marriage.”
Wiersbe: Hobab was Moses’ brother-in-law, the son of Raguel, who was also known as Reuel and Jethro (Ex. 2:15 – 3:1). It’s likely that Jethro was now dead and Hobab was head of the family.
Brown: Scripture is gloriously balanced. In the preceding verses, the strong emphasis on total obedience to God’s commands might create the impression that all we need to do is to wait on him and to pursue his course for us, independent of other people’s help, advice and support. The narrative’s next item contradicts such insularity. Although Moses had the assurance of the guiding cloud (9:15–23) and the commanding voice (10:13), he still hoped for the support of human companions. His Midianite brother-in-law, Hobab, was now eager to return to his own people. During the preceding months Moses had often been impressed by Hobab’s innate skills. He was well acquainted with the vagaries of the desert’s weather patterns, the sudden force of contrary winds and the best places to pitch their tents for maximum protection. Hobab knew everything there was to know about the wilderness, and Moses longed to have alongside him a colleague with native skill and ability.
The Midianite rejected Moses’ initial invitation, having no desire to move to a totally different country. Moses urged him to come, and Hobab eventually consented. Although Moses was a towering and effective leader figure, he was also a mere man, with all the natural hesitancy and fears anyone would feel on the verge of such a massive enterprise. This story reveals ‘his humanity in its weakness (needing help) and in its strength (seeking help)’. He was eager for all the help he could get. The story relates Moses’ persuasive testimony as he shared with Hobab what God had said and done.
2. (:30) The Reluctance
“But he said to him, ‘I will not come,
but rather will go to my own land and relatives.’”
Hobab initially refused the offer, but when pressed by Moses apparently relented for it is recorded that some of his posterity gained an inheritance in the land (see Judges 1:16).
Harrison: Hobab was evidently unimpressed with Moses’ Proposal, even though it contained the assurance of divine blessing. The attraction of his homeland was uppermost in his feelings, probably more so because his father had departed earlier, and in any event Hobab did not appear anxious to commit himself to Moses for even the few weeks that would have been required for a journey directly from Mount Sinai to the southern border of Canaan
3. (:31-32) The Closing Argument
a. (:31) Your Assistance is Invaluable
“Then he said, ‘Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will be as eyes for us.’”
Roy Gane: When God is leading, prospering, protecting, and/or giving victory, he can participate and bring about his purposes providentially through human activity (cf. Gen. 45:5–8). Even when he provided a miracle at Jericho, he had the Israelites cooperate with him by entering and taking the city. Similarly, it appears that Moses saw Hobab’s potential for enhancing the quality of Israel’s desert experience and cooperation with the Lord by guiding some specifics within the overall framework of God’s direction and/or giving the people confidence and ability to plan ahead by telling them what to expect (cf. Num. 13:17–20).
b. (:32) You Will Be Rewarded
“So it will be, if you go with us, it will come about
that whatever good the LORD does for us, we will do for you.”
Keddie: This is a lovely intimation of the later universality of the call of the gospel to all nations. Moses did not see the blessing of God as something denied to non-Hebrews on narrowly racial grounds. He did not imagine that Hobab’s gain would diminish Israel’s share of God’s grace.
B. (:33-34) Focusing on the Visible Reminders of the Presence of the Lord that Provided Protection and Guidance During This Three Day Journey
1. (:33) The Ark of the Covenant
“Thus they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey,
with the ark of the covenant of the LORD journeying in front of them
for the three days, to seek out a resting place for them.”
2. (:34) The Cloud of the Lord
“And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day,
when they set out from the camp.”
Brown: With these visible signs of God’s presence [the ark and the cloud], the pilgrims expressed their confidence in God and their indebtedness to him in two exultant psalms, which heartened the people at the beginning and ending of each stage of the momentous journey.
C. (:35-36) Sounding the Rallying Battle Cry that Invokes God’s Dominion
1. (:35) Upon Departure
“Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said,
‘Rise up, O LORD! And let Thine enemies be scattered,
And let those who hate Thee flee before Thee.’”
Iain Duguid: The Israelites also understood that wilderness life is a life of constant warfare that can only be won in God’s strength. This is evident even in the ordering of the march: the Israelites were arranged by military divisions under their various tribal standards, as if marching out to war (vv. 12–28). Leading them from the front on the initial three-day leg of the journey was the ark of the covenant, which represented not only God’s throne but his chariot as well (v. 33). God was going to be their advance guard in the forthcoming conflict.
As a reminder of the true nature of their wilderness life, every time they broke camp, Moses would say, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you” (v. 35). “Arise” here isn’t just a request to God to get up and get going, as you or I might shout, “Rise and shine” to our children in the morning. The Jewish commentator Baruch Levine translates it, “Attack, O Lord!” It is a word that is sometimes used in military contexts as a summons to begin the assault (see Judges 5:12). Moses is thus invoking the Lord’s warrior presence with them in the conflict with their enemies.
The same theme reemerges in the words that Moses would say whenever the ark came to rest because the cloud had stopped moving: “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel” (10:36). The New Jewish Publication Society translation renders the Hebrew more literally, “Return, O Lord, you who are Israel’s myriads of thousands.” When it came to fighting, the Lord himself was the countless thousands of Israel, the decisive contributor to their victories. As long as the Lord was fighting for them, Israel’s victory was assured, no matter how heavily outnumbered the Israelites were by the opposition.
Eugene Merrill: As an indication of the warlike nature of the journey, a foretaste no doubt of the military conquest which lay ahead, Moses would lead the people in a battle cry in which the presence and conquering power of the Lord were invoked (v. 35; cf. Ps. 68:1). When the day’s march was over he would entreat the Lord to abide among His people through the night.
2. (:36) Upon Encampment
“And when it came to rest, he said, ‘Return Thou, O LORD,
To the myriad thousands of Israel.’”
Harrison: The ancient liturgical nature of the two utterances in this passage has been preserved in the traditional synagogue Torah service, in which the first saying commences, and the second terminates, the worship.
Wenham: The faith which Moses affirms so confidently stands in ironic contrast to what happens in the succeeding chapters: whereas Moses is sure God will do good to Israel, the people begin to complain of the evil (11:1) that he is doing them. Moses prays that all God’s enemies will be scattered: the spies declare Israel will be defeated (chapter 13). This chapter’s triumphant conclusion deepens the poignant tragedy of the succeeding scenes.
Dennis Cole: The final refrain—“Return, O Lord, to the myriads of thousands of Israel!”—bespeaks the magnitude of the forces of Israel as they prepare to launch into the victory march leading to holy war against Canaan. The parallelism of the dual declarations strikingly proclaims that Yahweh God of Israel is not only Lord of the armies of the heavens but also Lord of the innumerable armies of the children of Israel. Together they are an invincible force as long as they act in unity, harmony, purity, and faith.
Just when things look the brightest and most promising, with the Lord leading the people by the cloud of his presence in a glorious march from the mountain where they have encountered him toward a Promised Land of abundance and freedom, the story takes a dramatic turn. The children of Israel have departed Sinai just forty days after taking the census for the military conscription. Less than a month had transpired after having celebrated God’s great deliverance in the Exodus from Egypt during the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread and less than a week after the observance of the second month Passover (9:11) for those who had been unclean during the first month celebration. Then suddenly the story veers from victorious march to grievous grumbling and rebellious resistance to God’s plan for blessing and fulfillment of promise.