Numbers 10
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The blowing of the silver trumpets by Aaron and his sons has generally been taken to denote the preaching of the gospel. But the interpretation is a mistaken one, and arises from confounding the trumpet of jubilee (Leviticus 25:9; Luke 4:16) with the silver trumpet. Although bearing the same name in the English Bible, these are quite different instruments, and are called by different Hebrew names. The former is the shophar or cornet, which, as its name implies, was of horn, or at least horn-shaped; whereas the latter, the chatsotser, was a long' straight tube of silver with a bell-shaped mouth. The true intention of the silver trumpets is distinctly enough indicated in the law before us. They were to be to the children of Israel for a memorial before their God (verse 10); the promise was that when the trumpets were blown, the people should be remembered before the Lord their God, and he would save them from their enemies (verse 9). In other words, the blowing of the silver trumpets was a figure of PRAYER (cf. Acts 10:4). An exceedingly striking and suggestive figure it is.

I. IT PRESENTS CERTAIN ASPECTS OF PRAYER WHICH CAN HARDLY BE TOO MUCH REMEMBERED. For one thing, it admonishes us that prayer ought to be an effectual fervent exercise (James 5:16). A trumpet-tone is the opposite of a timid whisper. There is a clear determinate ring in the call of a silver trumpet. This is not meant to suggest that there ought to be loud and vehement speaking in prayer. But it does mean that we are to throw heart into our prayers and put forth our strength. The spirit of adoption cries, Abba Father (see 2 Chronicles 13:14). When we call on God we ought to stir ourselves up to take hold of him (Isaiah 64:7.) Moreover, the silver trumpet emits a ringing, joyous sound. In almost every instance in which the blowing of these trumpets is mentioned in Scripture, it is suggestive of gladness, hope, exultation. And ought not a note of gladness, hope, exultation to pervade our prayers? When we pray we are to use a certain holy boldness; we are to draw near; we are to speak in full assurance of faith. This, I confess, may be pressed too far. There was nothing of the trumpet-tone in the publican's prayer. There may be acceptable prayer in a sigh, in a cry of anguish, in the groaning of a prisoner. But it is not the will of God that his children's ordinary intercourse with him should be of that sort. They are to call on him with a gladsome confidence that he is able and ready to help them. And many of them do this. There are Christian people whose prayers are always rising into the ringing' tones of the silver trumpet. I have spoken first of the general design or spiritual intention of this ordinance of the silver trumpets. Let us now note THE PARTICULARS: -

1. It belonged to the priest's office (verse 8). It is not to be confounded with the Levitical service of song, instituted long after by David.

2. It served a variety of secular uses. Public assemblies were convened by the sounding of the trumpets, as they are convened among us by the ringing of bells (verses 2, 3, 7). And they were the bugles by which military signals were given (verses 4-6). That it was the priests who blew the trumpets on all such occasions reminds us that Israel was, in a special sense, "an holy nation;" and may also carry forward our minds to the time when "holiness to the Lord" will be written on the life of all Christian nations in all their relations.

3. The blowing of the silver trumpets found place chiefly in the service of the sanctuary. The particulars are noted in verse 10, and are of uncommon interest for the Christian reader.

(1) The trumpets were to be blown over the sacrifices. How this was done appears from the example related in 2 Chronicles 29:26-28. The intention was as much as to say, "O thou that dwellest in the heavens, give ear to us when we cry; remember all our offerings and accept our burnt sacrifice. Grant us the wish of our heart, and fulfill all our counsel."

(2) The sacrifices particularly named as to be thus signalized are the burnt offering and the peace offering. Not the sin offering. The omission can hardly have been accidental. When I have fallen into some notable sin, I am to humble myself before God with shame. The cry of the publican is what befits me, rather than trumpet-toned exultation. The sin offering is most acceptably presented without blowing of trumpets. As for the burnt offering, which denotes dedication; and the peace offering, which speaks of communion with God and of our communion with each other in the Lord; these are most acceptable when they are attended with gladness and thankful exultation in God.

(3) The blowing of the silver trumpets was especially to abound at the great solemnities. That is to say, at the new moons, at the three great festivals, the "solemn days" of the Jewish year, and on all days of special gladness (cf. 2 Chronicles 5:12; 2 Chronicles 7:6; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 12:35).

(4) Above all other solemn days, the first day of the seventh month was to be thus distinguished. The seventh month was that in which the Feast of Tabernacles happened - at the full moon, in the end of September or beginning of October, after the Lord had crowned the year with his goodness. The new moon of this month was the Feast of the Blowing of Trumpets (cf. Leviticus 23:24); and fitly ushered in the Feast of Ingathering, the most joyous of all the festivals of the year. - B.

There is a manifest connection between the cloud and the trumpets. At Sinai there was "a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud" (Exodus 19:16). This seems to have been a miraculous sound, but Jehovah now orders Moses to have two silver trumpets made for permanent use. Thus trumpets as well as cloud were remembrancers of Sinai. God uses sound along with light to signify his will to his people; he appeals not only to their eyes, but also to their ears. Though the cloud was there they were not ever watching it. The longer it rested, the less conscious of its presence they became. Therefore God added the sound of the trumpets, a sudden, startling sound, to stop each one in his work, or raise him out of his sleep.

I. GOD TAKES SUFFICIENT MEANS TO CONVEY TO MEN ALL THAT IT IS NEEDFUL FOR THEM TO KNOW. Exactly where they would next pass, and how long stay there, and how long be in the wilderness, the Israelites knew not; but when the hour came for them to move, it was of the first importance that none should be in ignorance or doubt. So with regard to the practical matters of the gospel; we may take it as perfectly certain that difficulties with regard to salvation and Christian duty are in us, not in God. Men have eyes, yet see not; ears, yet hear not. They clamour for more light, more evidence, more signs. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead." And now they have also Christ and the apostles to listen to. All the great appeals and proclamations of the gospel have the trumpet sound in them; only men are so drenched and stupefied with the opiates of sin that the sound is as if it were not.

II. GOD COULD USE THE ONE AGENT TO INDICATE MANY REQUIREMENTS. There were always the same two trumpets, but sounded in different ways for different purposes. There was one sound for the princes, and another for the people. The trumpet called them to the march, and in later days, when the marching was over, it called them to the battle. It had to do with great religious occasions, and times of special gladness, e.g., the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:9). So there is one Spirit and diversity of operations. There is the Spirit calling the attention of men by signs and wonders; there is the same Spirit breathing through the men who wrote book after book of the Scriptures. And now these Scriptures lie like a silent silver trumpet, till the same Spirit, breathing through them, makes them to teach, console, promise, warn, according to the need of the individual who listens. The trumpet of God gives no uncertain sound (1 Corinthians 14:8). Paul trusted it with the most complete confidence in his missionary work (Acts 16:6-10). There is a trumpet sound telling us not only to do something for God, but exactly what to do. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."

III. THE TRUMPET WAS FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS. It was not a daily sound. It indicated fresh departures, and was associated with great celebrations. Between the soundings there were intervals for the quiet practice of everyday duties. It is good thus to have the ordinary and the extraordinary mingled in our life. It is an ill thing both for individuals and communities to be settled too long in the same circumstances. Too much change is bad, but too much rest is worse. Times of quiet, plodding toil scarcely noticed, faithfulness in little things day after day - then the trumpet sounds and there is change and strife. But though the trumpet is there for special occasions, God has voices for every day to all who have the listening ear. (2 Chronicles 5:12-14; Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 27:13; Isaiah 58:1; Jeremiah 4:5; Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 42:14; Jeremiah 51:27; Ezekiel 33:1-6; Hosea 8:1; Joel 2:1; Amos 3:6; Zephaniah 1:16; Zechariah 9:14; Revelation 1:10.) - Y.

This incident carries one back in thought to the day, one and forty years ago, when Moses, a fugitive from Egypt, arrived at the well in Midian, and there met with the daughter of Jethro. At the expiry of forty years the call of the Lord constrained Moses to forsake Midian, that he might be the leader of Israel; but it did not finally sever him from all connection with the house of his Midianite father-in-law. When Israel, on the march from Egypt, arrived at the border of the wilderness of Sinai, Jethro came out to meet him, and to welcome him. This done, he returned to his own house and sheep-walks. But his son Hobab stayed behind, and witnessed the giving of the law. When the march was about to be resumed, Hobab proposed to bid farewell to his sister and Moses. But Moses would not hear of it. Reminding Hobab of the inheritance awaiting Israel in the land of the Canaanites, be, in his own name, and in the name of the whole people, invited him to join himself to their company, and share in all the goodness which the Lord was about to do to them in fulfillment of his promise. This invitation, addressed by Moses and the congregation to one who did not belong to the seed of Jacob, is of no small interest historically. And its practical interest is still greater; for it exhibits a bright example of a desire which ought always to find place in the hearts of the faithful - the desire to allure into their fellowship "them that are without," whether these are the heathen abroad, or the careless and vicious at home. Viewing the text in this light, it presents three topics which claim consideration.

I. THE CHURCH'S PROFESSION OF FAITH AND HOPE. "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you The Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." On the lips of Moses and the congregation this was really a profession and utterance of faith. From the day that God called Abraham, he and his seed were taught to expect Canaan as their inheritance; and it was faith's business to embrace the promise and look for its accomplishment. In the faith of this promise Abraham and Isaac and Jacob lived and died. In the faith of it Joseph, when he died, gave commandment concerning his bones. In the faith of it Moses forsook Pharaoh's house. In the faith of it he refused to cast in his lot with Jethro's Midianites, and called the son born to him in Midian Gershom, "a stranger there." In the faith of the same promise Israel was now resuming the march towards Canaan. It is no idle fancy which sees in all this a parable of the Christian faith and the Christian profession. We also look for an inheritance and rest. "We believe that we shall be saved." We have been begotten to a living hope by the resurrection of Christ. As truly as the tribes in the wilderness, we (unless we have believed in vain) have turned our backs upon Egypt, and have set our faces towards the better country. We are journeying. We are strangers and pilgrims. I admit that among professing Christians there are many who have no real hope of the kind described; many, also, whose hope is anything but bright and strong'. Nevertheless, the world is certainly mistaken when it persuades itself that the Christian hope is an empty boast. There are tens of thousands whose lives are sustained and controlled by it continually.

II. THE CHURCH'S INVITATION TO THEM THAT ARE WITHOUT. "Come thou with us." The words remind us of a truth too often forgotten, namely, that even under the Old Testament the Church was by no means the exclusive body which some take it to have been. It had an open door and a welcome for all who desired to enter. In point of fact, a considerable proportion of those who constituted the Hebrew commonwealth at any given time were of Gentile descent. Moses did not act without warrant when he invited Hobab to come in - he and all his. At the same time it is to be remembered that the gospel Church is not to be contented with simply maintaining the attitude of the Old Testament Church towards them that are without. We are not only to keep an open door and make applicants welcome, we are to go forth and compel them to come in. Christ's Church is a missionary Church. A religious society which neglects this function - which refuses to obey the command to go and preach the gospel to every creature - lacks one of the notes of the Christian Church. We are to charge ourselves with the duty of sending the gospel to the far-off heathen. As for the careless and ungodly who are our neighbours, we are not only to send to them the word, but ought personally to invite them to come with us.

III. THE ARGUMENTS WITH WHICH THE INVITATION IS FORTIFIED. I refer especially to those urged by Moses and the congregation here.

1. It will be well for Hobab and his house if he will come (verse 32). No doubt the man who follows Christ must be prepared to take up the cross - must be ready to suffer reproach, to encounter tribulation, to take in hand self-denying work. These things are not pleasant to flesh and blood. Yet after all, Wisdom's ways are the ways of pleasantness. Compared with the devil's yoke, the yoke of Christ is easy. Godliness has the promise of both worlds. Those who have given Christ's service a fair trial would not for the world change masters.

2. Hobab is to come, for the Lord hath need of him (verses 30, 31). It seems that Moses' brother-in-law feared he might be an intruder and a burden. No such thing. A son of the desert would be of manifold service to the congregation in the desert. There is great wisdom in this argument. It is a great mistake to suppose that people seriously inquiring after salvation will attach themselves most readily to the Church which will give them nothing to do. The nobler sort will be attracted rather by the prospect of being serviceable. To sum up - the argument which will carry the greatest weight with unbelievers and despisers of God is that which utters itself in the Church's profession of its own faith and hope. A Church whose faith is weak and whose hope is dim will be found to have little power to rouse the careless and draw them into its fellowship. Men are most likely to be gained to Christ and the way of salvation by the Church whose members manifest by their words and lives the presence in theist hearts of a bright and living hope of eternal life. - B.

I. THE WONDERFUL CHANGES GOD MAKES IN HUMAN LIFE. What men do themselves, the history of self-made men, is often very astonishing, yet nothing to the history of God-made men. For forty years Moses had been a shepherd in this wilderness; as we may conjecture, an oft companion with Hobab in these very scenes, Suddenly he goes away to Egypt to visit his brethren, and in the course of a few months returns to the wilderness with over 600,000 fighting men, beside women and children. So in the Scriptures we find many other wonderful God-made changes in human life. Joseph leaving his brethren a slave - his brethren finding him again prime minister to Pharaoh. The lad David brought from the recluse pastoral scene to stand before armies and slay the dreaded foe of Israel. Jesus visiting Nazareth to be a wonderment and stumbling-block to those who had known him from infancy. Saul among the persecutors when he left Jerusalem - among the persecuted when he returns.

II. THESE WONDERFUL CHANGES MAY BE EXHIBITED SO AS TO MAKE OTHERS THE SUBJECTS OF THEM. Hobab had probably been much with Moses, for old acquaintance' sake, while the people of God were round about Sinai. The recollections of the past were comparatively fresh, and Moses had a natural interest in a kinsman. But now the time has come to move, and what must Hobab do? The necessities of God's kingdom bring a separation sooner or later in all friendship, unless both parties are in the kingdom. It is the critical moment of Hobab's life, and he must decide at once. Not but what he might change his mind, and follow afterwards, only the chances were that it was now or never. Thus Hobab is the illustration of all who are asked and pressed to join the people of God. To such persons every narration of God's experienced grace to others brings a cordial invitation in the very telling of it. It is our own fault if we be mere spectators of the cloud, hearers of the trumpet. God had made most gracious provision for the stranger to come into Israel. No word could be more cordial and pressing than that of Moses here. It was not hatred of outsiders as outsiders, but as abominably wicked, that brought God's vengeance on them.

III. THESE WONDERFUL CHANGES MAY BE EXHIBITED WITHOUT PRODUCING SYMPATHY AND APPRECIATION. The reply of Hobab illustrates the natural man in his want of sympathy with spiritual struggles. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." How many there have been of such spectators in every age, those who have seen some old companion suddenly borne away, come under the influence of new powers, and turn what is called fanatic and enthusiast! The old ties are all broken, or, if any remain, there is no substance in them. Believer and unbeliever may continue to meet in the commerce of the world, but in closer relations they can meet no longer. When Pitt was told of the great religious change that had passed over Wilberforce, he suggested to his friend that he was out of spirits, and that company and conversation would be the best way of dissipating his impressions. Hobab was quite contented with his sheep in the desert. He did not want to be circumcised, and held in with such rigorous restrictions. Doubtless he had a warm place in his heart for Moses, but he could not say as Buxton once signed himself in a letter to J.J. Gurney, "Yours, in the threefold cord of taste, affection, and religion." - Y.

I. THE FEELING WHICH SHOULD BE IN ALL CHRISTIAN HEARTS. "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you." Thus our view of the future should be regulated as a future not of our achieving, but of God's giving. The end is definite and assured, however devious and tedious the way may be. The end is one not to be reached immediately; the place which God will give us must be at a secure distance from spiritual Egypt, with its bondage and tyranny. The feeling which we entertain with respect to this place must be a confident one, and expressed in a manner corresponding. The feeling thus entertained and expressed must have all our actions in harmony with it. Our closest connections with earth should be as nothing more than the pegs of the Israelite tents, here to-day and gone to-morrow (John 14:1-3; John 17:24; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9; Hebrews 4:11; Hebrews 11:13-16; Hebrews 12:27; 1 Peter 1:3, 4).

II. THE INVITATION WHICH SHOULD COME FROM ALL CHRISTIAN LIPS. "Come thou with us, and we will do thee good." Addressed to those who may think they have a true home among things seen and temporal, but who are as really without a home as is the Christian. If Christians are sure they are going onward to the true home chosen, secured, and enriched by God, what is more Christ-like than that they should ask their Hobab-neighbours to join their well-protected, well-provisioned caravan? If even now sweet influences from the rest that remaineth for the people of God possess our souls, these should be used to win others from the illusions of this passing scene. What a blessed occupation to be drawing human spirits into that sphere of the unseen and eternal which alone gives them a fitting service here, and a true rest and reward hereafter! The invitation must be a loving and constraining one. To promise good to others, we must feel and show that we have got good ourselves. The invitation can only come when we ourselves feel that we are m the right Way to the desired end.

III. THE REASON BY WHICH THE INVITATION IS ENFORCED. "The Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." Concerning Israel. Concerning other nations he had spoken ill for their idolatries and abominations. Sodom was a witness to his consuming wrath, and his hand had been laid heavily on Egypt. But concerning Israel he had spoken good in a large and loving way (Exodus 3:6-8; Exodus 6:6-8; Exodus 23:20-33). The stranger then must cease to be a stranger, and enter by circumcision of the heart into the spiritual Israel. The force of the invitations does not depend on our sanguine anticipations. Others are as well able to consider what the Lord has spoken as we are. His word is the guarantee. If even the Jewish nation, the typical Israel, has still to have prophecies fulfilled, how much more its antitype, the spiritual Israel, those who are Jews inwardly! Consider for yourselves then all the good that God has spoken concerning Israel. - Y.

Moses has failed in appealing to Hobab by a regard for his own best interests, but he has a second arrow in his quiver. He will touch Hobab's sense of friendship, his manliness, anything that was chivalrous in him; he will put him on his honour to render just the one service he was able to render. Note -

I. THE SERVICES WHICH THE WORLD CAN RENDER TO THE CHURCH. We may fairly assume, considering Judges 1:16, that Hobab went with Moses after all (Matthew 21:29). He will help Moses the man, when he cares nothing for Moses the prophet of God. There may be a certain sense of duty even when there is none of sin and spiritual need, a certain power to help, even though the highest power be utterly lacking. The peculiar strength of the Church is in God; when it does spiritual work with spiritual instruments; but the world may also be tributary in its own way. The wealth of the world is not a spiritual thing, but it has been helpful to the Church. Men of the world have neither the Christ-like love nor the self-denial to initiate enterprises, which, nevertheless, they will generously support. In person they will do nothing; in purse they will do much. The printer who cares nothing for Christ, who to-day prints the scoffs and quibbles of an atheist, or some frivolous fiction, may to-morrow print a Bible, or a precious biography of some departed saint. Places of worship have been built by men who had no religion in them. Fishers' boats ferried Jesus across the lake of Galilee; trading ships took Paul on his missionary journey; and soldiers of Caesar conveyed him to Rome, where for so long a time he had panted to preach the gospel.

II. THE HOLD WHICH THE CHURCH KEEPS ON THIS WORLD. Hobab said very bluntly he would not go with Moses; but he had not thought of all the considerations that might be brought to bear upon him. The grasp of Moses was firmer than he thought. Let no worldly man despise what he deems the dreams and delusions of the Christian. They may have a greater power on him in the end than at present he has any conception of. Human friendships and old associations are part of the bait with which Christ furnishes his fishers of men. Those who will not read the Scriptures for salvation, and who laugh at the schemes of doctrine draw,, from them yet find in the same Scriptures too much of poetry and interest to be slightingly passed by. What a strange thing, too, to hear men, even in all their vehement denials of the supernatural, extolling Jesus of Nazareth, admiring his spirit, and recommending his ethics. However they try, they cannot get away from him. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." We must not despair of unbelievers, even after many refusals (Luke 13:6-9). In connection with Moses and Hobab, a reference-to Tennyson's 'In Memoriam,' 63, "Dost thou look back on what hath been?" etc., may be found homiletically helpful. - Y.

Here are two petitions - one as the cloud rose to point the way, the other as it settled down again to indicate the time for rest. The morning and the evening prayer cannot be the same; there is one set of needs to be supplied during the day, and another during the night. THE FIRST PETITION. It was fixed on the one thing needed, as the Israelites journeyed on into unknown territory. Moses needed not to pray for guidance. They were being guided, and had nothing to do but follow. Behind the ark and the cloud there was the evident duty of obedience, but what was there in front? Moses could make some guess from what he had already experienced. Before the Israelites had been three months out of Egypt, they were met by Amalek at Rephidim, blocking the way to Sinai. Moses, therefore, recognizes the great likelihood of more enemies in front, now they have left Sinai. The great bulk of his followers doubtless thought more of the present than the future, and both present and future they wanted to be like the past in Egypt, full of good things for their sinful cravings. But Moses, with a different spirit, felt there were enemies in the way. Getting into Canaan meant not only journeying but fighting. It is a serious defect in us that we do not think enough of the spiritual enemies in front. There are examples to warn: Peter overrating natural courage; Demas, overcome by the allurements of the present age. Notice that, in its own way, the New Testament is every whit as warlike in its spirit as the old (Matthew 10:34; Romans 7:23: 2 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 6:10-17; 1 Timothy 1:18; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16: indeed the Revelation is full of spiritual war and conquest). These enemies in front are considered also as God's enemies. "Thine enemies." As men attack one another through their property, so God's enemies attack him through his people. God in the blessedness and security of his own nature is unassailable, but in the workings of his manifold creation the powers of evil may attack him, maintaining a long and bitter struggle ('Paradise Lost,' B. 2:310-370). Do not think of these powers as aiming simply at our destruction. This is but a means to an end. There is a far sublimer and more encouraging view, that they are aiming to destroy the government of God. We never find out the purpose of a battle by looking at the conflicts of the private soldiers and inferior officers. We must come to the supreme authorities. It is they who inspire and direct everything. So there may be a struggle going on in the universe of which we, with our little horizon, can form but a feeble conception. Lastly, it is prayed that these enemies should be decisively dealt with. It is an awful thing to think of, but we must not shut our eyes to plain and solemn facts, that as we look backwards from this point to the beginning of the Scriptures, we find the Almighty, in three instances, acting against the iniquity of the world in a most decisive and comprehensive way. The deluge was a scattering, so was the destruction of Sodom, so was the overwhelming of Pharaoh and his hosts, which last great punitive act of God, Moses had seen with his own eyes, and celebrated with his own laps. There is enough to assure his people that he will make a final scattering in his own time. THE SECOND PETITION.

1. It was a welcome to the conqueror. God was doing something for his people in conquest every day. We may be sure there was no day in all these long forty years but something was done to undermine the huge and threatening' powers that opposed advancing Israel. As the huge tree is slowly hollowed and eaten away, leaving a mere shell to come down at last with a crash, so the strongholds of iniquity are effectually sapped, little by little. Jericho seemed to fall as in a day before the trumpet blasts of Israel; in reality it had been nodding to its fall for years. So we may be constantly welcoming Jesus as the Captain of our salvation (Exodus 15:2; Luke 4:14, 15; Acts 14:26-28).

2. It indicated the use to be made of the victory. The enemies of God were scattered and dispossessed in order that his own people may come in and exercise a faithful stewardship for him. His victories open up regions which could not otherwise be attained. E.g., the risen Saviour, having triumphed over sin, death, and the grave, returned to his disciples in Galilee, telling them that all power was given to him in heaven and on earth, and thence he drew this consequence in the way of duty for them, that they were to go and disciple all nations, etc. (Matthew 28:18-20). If the risen Lord be indeed with us, then, because he is risen, we, having still our fight with sin and death to accomplish, are nevertheless assured of ultimate victory. - Y.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Bible Hub
Numbers 9
Top of Page
Top of Page