Bible Commentary: Numbers 10-11

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Numbers 10-11

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Two Silver Trumpets 

The two silver trumpets (Hebrew chatsotserah) are not to be confused with the more traditional trumpet (Hebrew shofar), an animal's horn that was also blown on the Feast of Trumpets. The two silver trumpets were used to signal the entire encampment. We can imagine their use as similar to modern army buglers sounding an assembly or charge. The sound must have carried over the heads of the Israelites for miles. The new month and feast days were marked, various assemblies could be called, alarms sounded to move forward, or even to go to war, depending on the signal given, not unlike the system still used on naval vessels today. One trumpet blown (Hebrew teru'ah) a prolonged blowing, called the leaders of Israel to Moses (verse 4).

Eleazar and Ithamar, sons of Aaron, were to blow the two silver trumpets as an ordinance forever (verse 8). Of course, there is no functioning Levitical priesthood today to carry out this ordinance. These trumpets were a type or a picture of the heavenly trumpets that will sound at the return of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 [13] But I would not have you to be ignorant, brothers, concerning them which are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. [14] For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. [15] For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. [16] For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: [17] Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
American King James Version×
). During the time of Solomon (whose peaceful kingdom pictured the coming Kingdom of God), the Levites created a beautiful choir and orchestra with an astonishing 120 priests playing trumpets! (2 Chronicles 5:12 2 Chronicles 5:12Also the Levites which were the singers, all of them of Asaph, of Heman, of Jeduthun, with their sons and their brothers, being arrayed in white linen, having cymbals and psalteries and harps, stood at the east end of the altar, and with them an hundred and twenty priests sounding with trumpets:)
American King James Version×
).

Graves of Lust

The second part of chapter 10 sees Israel departing from Mount Sinai in great drama and pageantry—just a month and a half after first setting up the tabernacle. Preparing to leave, Moses appeals to his brother-in-law Hobab to go with them. Hobab declines because he wants to return to his native land and people. But Moses persists, and it appears that Hobab continued with the Israelites (see Judges 1:16 Judges 1:16And the children of the Kenite, Moses' father in law, went up out of the city of palm trees with the children of Judah into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the south of Arad; and they went and dwelled among the people.
American King James Version×
).

The people were setting out for the Promised Land with high hopes and expectations. It is interesting to compare this episode with the departure of the Israelites from their great deliverance from Egypt at the Red Sea. Only three days' journey into the wilderness from that point, the people turned to murmuring against God for lack of water (Exodus 15:22-24 Exodus 15:22-24 [22] So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. [23] And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. [24] And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink?
American King James Version×
). And here, too, it is only three days from leaving Mount Sinai (Numbers 10:33 Numbers 10:33And they departed from the mount of the LORD three days' journey: and the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them in the three days' journey, to search out a resting place for them.
American King James Version×
) that the people again turn to complaining (Numbers 11:1-3 Numbers 11:1-3 [1] And when the people complained, it displeased the LORD: and the LORD heard it; and his anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp. [2] And the people cried to Moses; and when Moses prayed to the LORD, the fire was quenched. [3] And he called the name of the place Taberah: because the fire of the LORD burnt among them.
American King James Version×
).

Again we see just how wrong it is to be ungrateful. After all God had done for them, they griped and complained. To teach them how sorely displeased He was, God struck the outskirts of the camp with fire, possibly lightning, as a lesson to those who would be unappreciative. That lesson was meant for us today as well, for God hasn't changed the way He views things like ingratitude and rebellion. But despite the warning, ingratitude increased—to the point of the people weeping for what they didn't have (thus showing little regard for the extent to which God had incredibly blessed them). Amazingly, they even said they wanted to be back in Egypt, where they had been whipped and beaten as slave laborers!

The insanely needless moaning and crying takes its toll on Moses. Not only is he helpless to deal with the situation himself, but the people hold him personally responsible for the predicament they are in. It all gets to be more than Moses can deal with, so he pleads to God. He didn't father all these people; he doesn't have food for them; why does he have all the responsibility? Just to get a feel for the burden Moses thought he was carrying, consider the size of this encampment of people. For Moses to give every Israelite a quarter-pounder, just one hamburger each, it would have required 375 tons of fresh ground meat! Moses asked to be put out of his misery.

Indeed, Moses was so upset that he was actually blaming God of evildoing. The King James and New King James Versions, however, give only a hint of this—in verse 11, where Moses asks God, "Why have you afflicted your servant?," and in the first words of verse 15, "If you treat me like this...." This shows that Moses considered God responsible for His plight but not that Moses actually thought God morally wrong because of it. Yet of great interest in this regard are the last words of Moses in verse 15—"my wretchedness." This should literally be translated "my evil" (J.P. Green, The Interlinear Bible). Yet Moses is certainly not confessing His own faults in this passage. Rather, what he must be saying is, "the evil of my situation" or "the evil that has come upon me," which, in either case, by direct implication, means "the evil that You [God] are doing to me." To see this more clearly, notice how The New English Bible translates verse 15: "But if I have won thy favour, let me suffer this trouble at thy hands no longer." And even more poignantly, notice the same verse in the Good News Bible: "If you are going to treat me like this, have pity on me and kill me, so that I won't have to endure your cruelty any longer." So Moses was actually accusing God of evil—of deliberate cruelty.

Yet God, who knows the heart, was merciful to Moses. Remember always that God has promised that He will put no burden on us we can't bear (compare 1 Corinthians 10:13 1 Corinthians 10:13There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
American King James Version×
). In His lovingkindness, God responded to Moses' plea by calling for the appointment of 70 elders to help carry the burden of the people—men who would be helped by God's Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, God was sorely displeased with the ungrateful attitude of the people who were saying it was better back in Egypt. Did they consider it a small thing that God was giving them manna enough for all their needs? Evidently. And rather than be content with that—or at least pray to God to supply the desires of their hearts—the people just moaned and bellyached for the meat they didn't have. Moses had doubted whether it was possible to find enough meat for the whole congregation. To carry the previous analogy a little further, two Big Macs a day, for a month, would come to more than 30,000 tons of meat altogether! We can't imagine that much meat—and neither could Moses. Are there that many fish in the sea? Yet God was able to provide—and did. But angered by the voracious lust of such rebellious ingrates, God smote the people with a great plague, killing many. The place where this happened, now named Kibroth Hataavah or "Graves of Lust," was a vast graveyard of needlessly ravenous, ungrateful people.


For more information about this miracle, see "Archaeology and the Book of Exodus: Exit From Egypt," The Good News, March-April 1997, pp. 22-24.

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