Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Numbers 10

Numbers 10: The silver trumpets; the Israelites break camp


In Numbers 2, the LORD had outlined how the Israelites were to arrange themselves, when the LORD brought them to a new location. This chapter is the opposite of that, as it is the first time the Israelites are leaving a camp, to go somewhere else.

But first, the LORD gives Moses instructions for making two trumpets, out of silver, to be used for “calling the community together and for having the camps set out” (verse 2). He also outlines some rules, as to how the trumpets are to be used:

When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. If only one is sounded, the leaders—the heads of the clans of Israel—are to assemble before you. When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out. The blast will be the signal for setting out. To gather the assembly, blow the trumpets, but not with the same signal.

The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies. Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed feasts and New Moon festivals—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the LORD your God.

(verses 3–10)

After having given these instructions, God instructs the Israelites to leave their camp, by lifting the cloud of His presence from the Tabernacle. So the Israelites break camp, and set out, as instructed. (The text doesn’t specifically mention it, but I assume that Aaron’s sons blew the trumpets, as instructed.) Verses 14–28 list the order in which people set out.

As they are leaving, Moses asks his father-in-law, Hobab, whether he’d like to accompany the Israelites. Hobab initially says no, but Moses tries to talk him into it:
But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the desert, and you can be our eyes. If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the LORD gives us.” (verses 31–32)
It seems odd to me that Moses would be worried about Hobab telling the Israelites where to camp; wasn’t that God’s job? In any event, the text leaves the discussion there, implying that Hobab agrees to go with Moses. (I’m almost positive that he doesn’t, though; if I remember correctly—which I may not—he’ll accompany them for a while, and then go back home.)

The chapter ends with some ceremony:

Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,
  “Rise up, O LORD!
  May your enemies be scattered;
  may your foes flee before you.”

Whenever it came to rest, he said,
  “Return, O LORD,
  to the countless thousands of Israel.”

(verses 35–36)


Verse 9 presents an interesting choice of words, by the LORD:
When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the LORD your God and rescued from your enemies. (emphasis added)
What does God mean, when He says that He will “remember” the Israelites? Was there ever a chance that He would forget them? I looked the verse up in other translations (I just randomly picked NASB, KJV, ESV, and ASV), and they all phrased it similar to “so that you may be remembered before the LORD.”

Unfortunately, I don’t have any learning in ancient Hebrew, so I can’t look into the original text, and find the nuances of meaning. Surely, what it can’t mean, is that God would occasionally forget about His people, and have to be reminded about them. My guess is that this is something similar to prayer; aside from the language being used, and the word “remember,” I think the trumpets are like a form of prayer. “If you’re going into battle,” God says to the Israelites, “blow on the trumpets to ask for my help.” When I see it being phrased as being “remembered by the LORD,” I get a sense of the Israelites being brought to “the front of God’s mind,” if I may phrase it like that.

By the way, I keep using the phrase “the cloud of God’s presence” to refer to the pillar of cloud/fire that rested over the Tabernacle, but that’s a phrase that I coined, not one from the text. I suppose I could probably just say “the cloud,” and you would know what I meant, but I’ve chosen to be more explicit about it.

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