Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Moses is commanded to make two silver trumpets for calling the assembly, Num 10:1, Num 10:2. On what occasions these trumpets should be sounded. First, for calling the assembly to the door of the tabernacle, Num 10:3. Secondly, to summon the princes and captains of the thousands of Israel, Num 10:4. Thirdly, to make the eastern camps strike their tents, Num 10:5. Fourthly, to make those on the south do the like, Num 10:6. No alarm to be sounded when the congregation only is to be assembled, Num 10:7. The sons of Aaron alone shall sound these trumpets, it shall be a perpetual ordinance, Num 10:8. Fifthly, the trumpets are to be sounded in the time of war, Num 10:9. Sixthly, on festival occasions, Num 10:10 On the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, the Israelites began their journey from the wilderness of Sinai, and came to the wilderness of Paran, Num 10:11, Num 10:12. By the commandment of God to Moses the first division, at the head of which was the standard of Judah, marched, first, Num 10:13, Num 10:14. Under him followed the tribe of Issachar, Num 10:15; and after them the tribe of Zebulun, Num 10:16. Then the Gershonites and Merarites followed with the tabernacle, Num 10:17. At the head of the second division was the standard and camp of Reuben, Num 10:18; and under him were that of Simeon, Num 10:19; and that of Gad, Num 10:20. Next followed the Kohathites bearing the sanctuary, Num 10:21. Then followed the third division, at the head of which was the standard of the camp of Ephraim, Num 10:22; and under him Manasseh, Num 10:23; and Benjamin, Num 10:24. At the head of the fourth division was the standard of the camp of Dan, Num 10:25; and under him Asher, Num 10:26; and Naphtali, Num 10:27. This was their ordinary method of marching in the wilderness, Num 10:28. Moses entreats Hobab the Midianite to accompany them through the wilderness, Num 10:29. He refuses, Num 10:30. Moses continues and strengthens his entreaties with reasonings and promises, Num 10:31, Num 10:32. They depart from Sinai three days' journey, Num 10:33. The cloud accompanies them by day and night, Num 10:34. The words used by Moses when the ark set forward, Num 10:35, and when it rested, Num 10:36.
Make thee two trumpets of silver - The necessity of such instruments will at once appear, when the amazing extent of this numerous army is considered; and how even the sound of two trumpets could reach them all is difficult to conceive; but we may suppose that, when they were sounded, the motion of those that were within reach of that sound taught the others in succession what they should do.
As the trumpets were to be blown by the priests only, the sons of Aaron, there were only two, because there were only two such persons to use them at this time, Eleazar and Ithamar. In the time of Joshua there were seven trumpets used by the priests, but these were made, according to our text, of rams' horns, Jos 6:4. In the time of Solomon, when the priests had greatly increased, there were 120 priests sounding with trumpets, Ch2 5:12.
Josephus intimates that one of these trumpets was always used to call the nobles together, the other to assemble the people; see Num 10:4. It is possible that these trumpets were made of different lengths and wideness, and consequently they would emit different tones. Thus the sound itself would at once show which was the summons for the congregation, and which for the princes only. These trumpets were allowed to be emblematical of the sound of the Gospel, and in this reference they appear to be frequently used. Of the fate of the trumpets of the sanctuary, See the note on Exo 25:31.
When ye blow an alarm - תרועה teruah, probably meaning short, broken, sharp tones, terminating with long ones, blown with both the trumpets at once. From the similarity in the words some suppose that the Hebrew teruah was similar to the Roman taratantara, or sound of their clarion.
When ye blow an alarm the second time - A single alarm, as above stated, was a signal for the eastward division to march; two such alarms, the signal for the south division; and probably three for the west division, and four for the north. It is more likely that this was the case, than that a single alarm served for each, with a small interval between them. The camps, or grand divisions of this great army, always lay, as we have already seen, to the east, south, west, and north: and here the east and south camps alone are mentioned; the first containing Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun; the second, Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. The west and north divisions are not named, and yet we are sure they marched in consequence of express orders or signals, as well as the other two. There appears therefore a deficiency here in the Hebrew text, which is thus supplied by the Septuagint: Και σαλπιειτε σημασιαν τριτην, και εξαρουσιν αἱ παρεμβολαι αἱ παρεμβαλλουσαι παρα θαλασσαν· και σαλπιειτε σημασιαν τεταρτην, και εξαρουσιν αἱ παρεμβολαι αἱ παρεμβαλλουσαι προς βορῥαν. "And when ye blow a third alarm or signal, the camps on the west shall march: and when ye blow a fourth alarm or signal, the camps on the north shall march." This addition, however, is not acknowledged by the Samaritan, nor by any of the other versions but the Coptic. Nor are there any various readings in the collections of Kennicott and De Rossi, which countenance the addition in the above versions. Houbigant thinks this addition so evidently necessary, that he has inserted the Latin in his text, and in a note supplied the Hebrew words, and thinks that these words were originally in the Hebrew text, but happened to be omitted in consequence of so many similar words occurring so often in the same verse, which might dazzle and deceive the eye of a transcriber.
If ye go to war - These trumpets shall be sounded for the purpose of collecting the people together, to deliberate about the war, and to implore the protection of God against their enemies.
Ye shall be remembered before the Lord - When ye decamp, encamp, make war, and hold religious festivals, according to his appointment, which appointment shall be signified to you by the priests, who at the command of God, for such purposes, shall blow the trumpets, then ye may expect both the presence and blessing of Jehovah in all that ye undertake.
In the day of your gladness - On every festival the people shall be collected by the same means.
The twentieth day of the second month - The Israelites had lain encamped in the wilderness of Sinai about eleven months and twenty days; compare Exo 19:1 with this verse. They now received the order of God to decamp, and proceed towards the promised land; and therefore the Samaritan introduces at this place the words which we find in Deu 1:6-8 : "The Lord our God spake unto us in Horeb, saying: Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount, turn and take your journey," etc.
The cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran - This was three days' journey from the wilderness of Sinai, (see Num 10:33), and the people had three stations; the first at Kibroth-hattaavah, the second at Hazeroth, Num 11:35, and the third in the wilderness of Paran, see Num 12:16. But it is extremely difficult to determine these journeyings with any degree of exactness; and we are often at a loss to know whether the place in question was in a direct or retrograde position from the place previously mentioned.
The standard - of Judah - See this order of marching explained at large on Numbers 2 (note). The following is the order in which this vast company proceeded in their march: -
Judah Issachar Zebulun Gershonites, and Merarites carrying the tabernacle.
Reuben Simeon Gad The Kohathites with the sanctuary.
Ephraim Manasseh Benjamin
Dan Asher Naphtali.
Moses said unto Hobab - For a circumstantial account of this person see the notes on Exo 2:15, Exo 2:16 (note), Exo 2:18 (note); Exo 3:1; Exo 4:20 (note), Exo 4:24 (note); and for the transaction recorded here, and which is probably out of its place, see Exo 18:5 (note), where the subject is discussed at large.
We are journeying - God has brought us out of thraldom, and we are thus far on our way through the wilderness, travelling towards the place of rest which he has appointed us, trusting in his promise, guided by his presence, and supported by his power. Come thou with us, and we will do thee good. Those who wish to enjoy the heavenly inheritance must walk in the way towards it, and associate with the people who are going in that way. True religion is ever benevolent. They who know most of the goodness of God are the most forward to invite others to partake of that goodness. That religion which excludes all others from salvation, unless they believe a particular creed, and worship in a particular way, is not of God. Even Hobab, the Arab, according to the opinion of Moses, might receive the same blessings which God had promised to Israel, provided he accompanied them in the same way.
The Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel - The name Israel is taken in a general sense to signify the followers of God, and to them all the promises in the Bible are made. God has spoken good of them, and he has spoken good to them; and not one word that he hath spoken shall fail. Reader, hast thou left thy unhallowed connections in life? Hast thou got into the camp of the Most High? Then continue to follow God with Israel, and thou shalt be incorporated in the heavenly family, and share in Israel's benedictions.
I will not go; but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred - From the strong expostulations in Num 10:31 and Num 10:32, and from Jdg 1:16; Jdg 4:11, and Sa1 15:6, it is likely that Hobab changed his mind; or that, if he did go back to Midian, he returned again to Israel, as the above scriptures show that his posterity dwelt among the Israelites in Canaan. Reader, after having been almost persuaded to become a Christian, to take Christ, his cross, his reproach, and his crown, for thy portion, art thou again purposing to go back to thy own land, and to thy kindred? Knowest thou not that this land is the place of destruction - that the children of this world, who are not taking God for their portion, are going to perdition? Up, get thee hence, for the Lord will destroy this place by fire; and all who are not of the kindred and family of Christ shall perish at the brightness of his appearing!
Thou mayest be to us instead of eyes - But what need had they of Hobab, when they had the pillar and fire continually to point out their way? Answer: The cloud directed their general journeys, but not their particular excursions. Parties took several journeys while the grand army lay still. (See Numbers 13, 20, 31, 32, etc). They therefore needed such a person as Hobab, who was well acquainted with the desert, to direct these particular excursions; to point them out watering places, and places where they might meet with fuel, etc., etc. What man cannot, under the direction of God's providence, do for himself, God will do in the way of especial mercy. He could have directed them to the fountains and to the places of fuel, but Hobab can do this, therefore let Hobab be employed; and let Hobab know for his encouragement that, while he is serving others in the way of God's providence, he is securing his own best interests. On these grounds Hobab should be invited, and for this reason Hobab should go. Man cannot do God's work; and God will not do the work which he has qualified and commanded man to perform. Thus then the Lord is ever seen, even while he is helping man by man. See some valuable observations on this subject in Harmer, vol. ii., 286. Instead of, And thou mayest be to us instead of eyes, the Septuagint translate the passage thus: Και εσῃ εν ἡμιν πρεσβυτης, And thou shalt be an elder among us. But Moses probably refers to Hobab's accurate knowledge of the wilderness, and to the assistance he could give them as a guide.
The ark - went before them - We find from Num 10:21 that the ark was carried by the Kohathites in the center of the army; but as the army never moved till the cloud was taken up, it is said to go before them, i. e., to be the first to move, as without this motion the Israelites continued in their encampments.
Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered - If God did not arise in this way and scatter his enemies, there could be no hope that Israel could get safely through the wilderness. God must go first, if Israel would wish to follow in safety.
Return, O Lord, unto the many thousands of Israel - These were the words spoken by Moses, at the moment the divisions halted in order to pitch their tents. In reference to this subject, and the history with which it is connected, the 68th Psalm seems to have been composed, though applied by David to the bringing the ark from Kirjath-jearim to Jerusalem. See the notes on Psalm 68 (note). Many thousands, literally the ten thousand thousands. Unless the ark went with them, and the cloud of the Divine glory with it, they could have neither direction nor safety; unless the ark rested with them, and the cloud of glory with it, they could have neither rest nor comfort. How necessary are the word of God and the Spirit of God for the direction, comfort, and defense of every genuine follower of Christ! Reader, pray to God that thou mayest have both with thee through all the wilderness, through all the changes and chances of this mortal life: if thou be guided by his counsel, thou shalt be at last received into his glory.