1 - 10 The Trumpets of Silver
1 The LORD spoke further to Moses, saying, 2 “Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out. 3 When both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting. 4 Yet if [only] one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you. 5 But when you blow an alarm, the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out. 6 When you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out. 7 When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm. 8 The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations. 9 When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies. 10 Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first [days] of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the LORD your God.”
There is, besides the cloud, another means by which God wants to lead His people: two trumpets of silver. Trumpets are not, like the cloud, to look at, but to listen to. The cloud is visible, the trumpets are audible. The trumpets are the voice of the LORD who speaks to them. They represent the Word of God, in which He emphatically reveals His will.
They are trumpets “of silver”. It is, so to speak, a voice of silver. The voice of God, His Word, is not just any voice. The silver speaks of the price paid for the reconciliation. The voice of the Lord Jesus is the voice of our Savior. They are trumpets made of “hammered” silver, which means that this silver is beaten. This reminds us that He Who speaks is the good Shepherd who was beaten for us by the sword of God (Zec 13:7a).
They are blown by the priests, not by the Levites. Not the brothers who serve with the Word (Levites), but believers who are used to having fellowship with God in the sanctuary, who know His thoughts and know what is appropriate for Him, let His thoughts be heard. That is not only in the meetings, but in the life of every day. Such believers quickly understand what God wants. They are able to pass on His will, His Word, to others and thus determine the direction to which the testimony should move.
We come together because God’s Word encourages us to do so (Heb 10:25). The LORD invites his people to come into his presence “at the doorway of the tent of meeting” (verse 3). The meeting should not be a matter of rut, but happens at the invitation of Him Who has bought us with the price of His blood. When we hear the Lord Jesus say: “Do this in remembrance of Me” (1Cor 11:24), then we come, don’t we?
When we prepare for the meeting, when we have priestly exercises in advance, we come otherwise than only out of habit. So we also go to the meeting to listen to the Word and pray together. The Lord is there in the same way and as personal as during His Supper. When we come together as a church, He is there in the midst (Mt 18:20).
If only on one trumpet is blown (verse 4), it sounds half as loud as on two trumpets. But the experienced ears of the leaders perceive that blow. To brothers and sisters with a heart for all the people of God in connection with the interests of the Lord, half a word from the Lord is enough to obey what He says. They know what the Lord wants, where others do not, or see no problems at all.
If an alarm is blown, the camp shall set up (verse 5). So not only the lifting of the cloud is decisive. It is not enough to be guided by the Holy Spirit alone. The standard is the Word of God. Never will the Holy Spirit work anything that is contrary to the Word of God. Thus, a sister will never be able to say that the Holy Spirit has made it clear to her to give out a song or to pass on a word in the church. The Word commands women to remain silent in the church (1Cor 14:34). But a sister who reveals a concern about a situation in the church may well be a priest who blows the trumpet.
Those who live on the east side hear the trumpet first. The east side speaks of looking forward to the coming of the Lord, the rising Sun. Those who expect the Lord, recognize His voice fastest. Then follow those who are on the south side, that is the right side. These are those who know their position in Christ. There is no trumpet blown for the west and north sides. They lie, so to speak, out of the reach of the Word, but they simply follow the example of the other tribes. There is not much spiritual exercise connected with this.
Verses 9-10 speak of the situation in the land, especially in case of battle (Joel 2:1; 2Chr 13:12) and feast (Lev 23:24; Psa 81:3; 2Chr 29:27). In both cases, in blowing the trumpet the people are remembered before God. When the Word is brought, not only the fellow believers listen, but also God. The brothers and sisters must be warned when danger is imminent or when there is something to celebrate. But God is also involved. He wants to be involved in everything that concerns His people.
Saul only lets the trumpet blow so that “the Hebrews hear” (1Sam 13:3), but he forgets that it is about God hearing it. Even though all believers hear it, but not God, what effect would it have? Victory begins with Jonathan, because he trusts in God (1Sam 14:6). We learn here that we should not complain to each other or seek support from each other, but that we should involve God. Then victory is certain.
We never have to fear the enemy’s attacks. Instead of being afraid, we must give a faithful testimony of Who God is: “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with [me] in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2Tim 1:7-8). God gives the promise that He will stand by us with His power and fight for us. That is His answer to our testimony.
Even if there are celebrations to celebrate because of the blessing He has given, the trumpets must be blown to let Him hear their joy. We may share our joy with each other, but especially with Him.
11 - 28 Israel Sets out from the Wilderness of Sinai
11 Now in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth of the month, the cloud was lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony; 12 and the sons of Israel set out on their journeys from the wilderness of Sinai. Then the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. 13 So they moved out for the first time according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses. 14 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, 15 and Nethanel the son of Zuar, over the tribal army of the sons of Issachar; 16 and Eliab the son of Helon over the tribal army of the sons of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who were carrying the tabernacle, set out. 18 Next the standard of the camp of Reuben, according to their armies, set out with Elizur the son of Shedeur, over its army, 19 and Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai over the tribal army of the sons of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph the son of Deuel was over the tribal army of the sons of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy [objects]; and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival. 22 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, 23 and Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur over the tribal army of the sons of Manasseh; 24 and Abidan the son of Gideoni over the tribal army of the sons of Benjamin. 25 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, 26 and Pagiel the son of Ochran over the tribal army of the sons of Asher; 27 and Ahira the son of Enan over the tribal army of the sons of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march of the sons of Israel by their armies as they set out.
The actual wilderness journey begins in verse 11. God’s people are going to write history. They are going to show what’s in their hearts. It is their history. This part of the wilderness journey is different from the first part, just after their redemption, from Egypt to Mount Sinai. That part is described in Exodus 16-19. During that part God acts in grace. Then the people promise to do everything the LORD says, and receive the law (Exo 19:6; 20:1-18). That is in Numbers the basis of God’s actions, although His grace is also visible every time.
In the history of the people of Israel we also see the history of Christianity. In both cases it is a history of failure and that while God has given so much blessing. The heart of man is fully revealed in the circumstances of life. The high – or better low – point of failure can be found in the “rebellion of Korah” in Numbers 16. Judas cites this history to illustrate the decline of Christianity (Jude 1:11).
After the people have been at Mount Sinai for almost a year (Exo 19:1; Num 10:11), God says it is time to set out on their journeys (Deu 1:6-7a). The people set out in the way God said in Numbers 2. They set out from the wilderness of Sinai to another wilderness, the wilderness of Paran, to camp there. As long as we are on earth, we move from wilderness to wilderness.
Still, there is a difference in the way they set out here with what is said about it in Numbers 2. It was said there that the tabernacle should set out in the middle. But here we see that already immediately after the setting out of the first three tribes the Gershonites and Merarites start setting out the tabernacle. The next three tribes follow. Then the Kohathites do their work. They carry the ark and the other objects of the sanctuary. The ark is the center of the parade, as God has said. Finally, the other tribes set out in the prescribed order.
The order is:
1. The first standard (Judah, Issachar, Zebulun);
2. A part of the Levites (the descendants of Gerson and Merari) with the tabernacle;
3. The second standard (Reuben, Simeon, Gad);
4. The rest of the Levites (the Kohathites) with the sanctuary;
5. The third standard (Ephraim, Manasseh, Benjamin);
6. The fourth standard (Dan, Asher, Naphtali).
Each tribe is led by the same leader who also helped in the census in Numbers 1:4-16 and came with his offering in Numbers 7. The third standard (Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin) immediately follows the ark, giving these tribes a direct view of it. It is possible that Psalm 80 refers to this section (Psa 80:2).
It is the wisdom of God who so governs this. When the people camp again, the Gershonites and Merarites can already do their work. And after the second standard has camped, they are ready so far that the Kohathites can place the holy object in the tabernacle.
29 - 34 Moses Asks Hobab to Guide Them
29 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.” 30 But he said to him, “I will not come, but rather will go to my [own] land and relatives.” 31 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. 32 So it will be, if you go with us, that whatever good the LORD does for us, we will do for you.” 33 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. 34 The cloud of the LORD was over them by day when they set out from the camp.
Moses asks Hobab, a man who is not of the people of God, to go up with the people, because he knows where the people should camp in the wilderness. But Hobab is a man of the world and he doesn’t like it. Moses should have left it at that. However, he urges Hobab to go along.
That is not a good thing. God has provided everything to guide the people. Appealing to Hobab is misplaced. Here Moses seems to rely more on a visible and tangible guide than the invisible God (cf. Jer 17:5-7). Have family relationships perhaps played a role? After all, Hobab is his brother-in-law. Such situations occur more often, like with Barnabas who wants to take his cousin (Acts 15:37; Col 4:10).
The LORD makes clear Who is in charge. The ark, which should be in the middle, takes the lead. Here the people don’t protect the ark, but the ark now protects the people. The ark, God, leaves the place He has taken in the middle of His own in the camp to be taken care of, as it were, by them. But now He becomes their servant, Who goes out before them to seek for them a resting place in the endless wilderness. This action of the LORD is also an encouragement for everyone who has to go a new, unknown way. The Lord knows the way well and goes ahead. He is the good Shepherd who goes ahead of His sheep (Jn 10:4).
The LORD cannot allow His people to be led by an unbelieving and disinterested man like Hobab. When we become unfaithful, God takes control. God will always uphold the honor of His Son, of whom the ark is a picture.
35 - 36 The Ark Set out and Come to Rest
35 Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said,
“Rise up, O LORD!
And let Your enemies be scattered,
And let those who hate You flee before You.”
36 When it came to rest, he said,
“Return, O LORD,
[To] the myriad thousands of Israel.”
Moses has learned the lesson. He agrees with God’s actions and calls upon Him to protect His people against their enemies, to stand up for His people against their enemies. He calls for a curse on the enemies and for a blessing on the people.
Moses speaks of “Your enemies”. The enemies of the people are in fact those of God. When we place our enemies in the light of God, the fear for them disappears. Our struggle then becomes the struggle of God. In faith Moses sees victory. He sees that the result of the battle means peace for the people. It leads him to the question: “Return, O LORD”, that the people may serve as a resting place for God Himself.