Book of Numbers Chapter Ten Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Trumpets And The Cloud
Communication is important. Armies and nations function much better when their various parts can connect with each another. Smoke signals, trumpets, Morse code, computers...make us communicate more effectively, helping win the battle, and that's what the Verses that follow are all about—communication. Verses 1-2: "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.'" In a place where no one had clocks or wrist watches, the trumpets would alert the tribes when it was the time for events to occur. The Lord would inform Moses, who would command the trumpets to blow, and the people were to respond.
Multiple sounds and combinations from these two trumpets required different responses in varying situations, and a sampling of them is seen in Verses 3-6: "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." The tribes on the east side of the nation were Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Those to the south were Reuben, Simeon and Gad. These trumpets are a reminder that God speaks to us in many ways, including through "trumpets" thought of as His "prophets." Communicating through computers or other devices is not so different from trumpets that carry messages—the Lord will speak directly, through people and/or though Scripture, and we are to hear.
There are times to sound an alarm, and in other situations it's not necessary, as seen in places like Verses 7-8: "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." God gives gifts and assignments to ordinary people. The sons of Aaron were no different from anybody else, except that the Lord had a particular calling for them. Just like today, others were called also, though they had varying assignments. But He does communicate throughout all generations of humanity and we are to hear.
There is "a time of war and a time of peace," as reflected in Ecclesiastes 3:8, realities that are also seen here in Verses 9-10: "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.'" When you prepare a bulletin or notice for a religious gathering, warn others of an impending problem, say a comforting word to someone in need, or cook their dinner, it is like the trumpets of these verses. He "tells" us what to do, and we share with each other in relation to their need. Pray, listen to the Lord, and become willing to do what He says.
Verses 11-13: "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." There is a Master Plan for your life and mine, and the "cloud," a representation of God's Holy Spirit, is reaching through time and space into our lives, revealing what we must do next. He expects us to respond, and He has contingencies for each and every misstep we make on the journey.
Verses 14-16 relate to the tribes on the east side mentioned in Verse 5: "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." The cloud moved and so did the people. That's God's design for your life and mine. He is in our hearts, our lives, revealing the next step, and we are to become so sensitized to His Presence that we will move precisely when He shows us that it's time to go.
Verse 17 records the action of certain Levites in response to God's direction: "Then the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who were carrying the tabernacle, set out." The tabernacle, the tent that was the center, the focal point of the entire encampment, was propelled smoothly forward as the nation moved in response to the call, the leading of the Lord. We build buildings, organizations, and write doctrinal statements, trying to find stability in our lives. But people are actually more like water flowing through a canyon, directed forward and in motion at all times. We try to find stability, but our circumstances will soon change, and we are to see that the only constant in life is the Lord Himself.
Verse 6 mentioned the tribes to the south, seen here in Verses 18-20: "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." The actions of the Lord's faithful ones often seem chaotic, disjointed because our tendency is to reject those whose doctrinal beliefs are not precisely like ours. Here in these verses is the model of what we are supposed to be: Though we are of differing tribes, nations and churches, the prayer of our Lord is that we will be "one," just as the Father and Son are one (John 17:21-23).
Additional Levites were to respond to the trumpet call of God, to carry the holy objects of the Tabernacle, as seen in Verse 21: "Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy objects; and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival." Just as your brain tells your body to do something, God is directing us. We are variously portrayed in parables, word pictures in Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 12:14 & forward, where believers in the Lord are seen as one body with differing functions. You may be portrayed as a foot, a hand, an eye or an ear, but it's obvious that, just like the differing groups within Israel, each of us has a distinct purpose.
The remaining tribes of Israel are listed in Verses 22-28, along with their marching orders: "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." You will find that you are likely not the first to accomplish whatever it is the Lord has called you to do. You and I are part of many who make up the "body" Paul compared us to in 1 Corinthians 12:14 & forward. In an army of this world, someone carries a weapon, another a medical kit, still somebody else a communication device, and so on. We are one army, wherever and whatever our calling might be, one in our Lord, though we often differ externally and do not understand. We are many but one, following in the footsteps of those who went before us, in service to Him.
As we can see in places like Exodus Chapters 2 & 3, Moses attempted to use his status as an Egyptian prince to deliver his blood relations, the Israelites, from slavery. He remained surprised for the next forty years that his attempt led instead to his personal exile. He became a shepherd, as different from his status in Egypt as anyone could imagine, and he became also the son-in-law of Reuel, the priest of Midian (Exodus 2:16 & context). His unexpected Midianite family is touched upon here in Verses 29-32: "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.'" From the moment you decide to place your faith in the Lord and give your life to Him, you will be swept into a journey that is not yours to control. New associations will be made. You will live in unexpected places. Work will be given to you that was not your decision. Note the deep love and high regard Moses had for Hobab. God has carefully selected others to be in our lives, and will provide events, both "positive" and "negative," that, like the "trumpets" of Verse 2, will make our lives to be effective for God's purposes.
Verses 33-36: "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. 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.'" Again we have the visual imagery of this "cloud" that moved when Israel should move and rested when they were to stop. David understood the deep reality behind such imagery when he cried out, "Your hand shall lead me" (Psalm 139:10). Something large and impersonal has been revealed as the intimate, personal touch of God within us. As Paul the Apostle would observe, "God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!' Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 4:6). You and I are His, each called to become a "trumpet" that reveals to others their need of the Lord.
Dear Father, I am Yours. Please increase my faith, that I might hear your call and know when to start, when to stop, and where to go. Keep me in the way everlasting. Place the Spirit of Your Son deep in my heart that I may follow You, now and forever. In Jesus Name. Amen.