a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

The Silver Trumpets


The L ord spoke to Moses, saying: 2Make two silver trumpets; you shall make them of hammered work; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation, and for breaking camp. 3When both are blown, the whole congregation shall assemble before you at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 4But if only one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the tribes of Israel, shall assemble before you. 5When you blow an alarm, the camps on the east side shall set out; 6when you blow a second alarm, the camps on the south side shall set out. An alarm is to be blown whenever they are to set out. 7But when the assembly is to be gathered, you shall blow, but you shall not sound an alarm. 8The sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets; this shall be a perpetual institution for you throughout your generations. 9When you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, so that you may be remembered before the L ord your God and be saved from your enemies. 10Also on your days of rejoicing, at your appointed festivals, and at the beginnings of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your sacrifices of well-being; they shall serve as a reminder on your behalf before the L ord your God: I am the L ord your God.

Departure from Sinai

11 In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the covenant. 12Then the Israelites set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai, and the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. 13They set out for the first time at the command of the L ord by Moses. 14The standard of the camp of Judah set out first, company by company, and over the whole company was Nahshon son of Amminadab. 15Over the company of the tribe of Issachar was Nethanel son of Zuar; 16and over the company of the tribe of Zebulun was Eliab son of Helon.

17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and the Merarites, who carried the tabernacle, set out. 18Next the standard of the camp of Reuben set out, company by company; and over the whole company was Elizur son of Shedeur. 19Over the company of the tribe of Simeon was Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai, 20and over the company of the tribe of Gad was Eliasaph son of Deuel.

21 Then the Kohathites, who carried the holy things, set out; and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival. 22Next the standard of the Ephraimite camp set out, company by company, and over the whole company was Elishama son of Ammihud. 23Over the company of the tribe of Manasseh was Gamaliel son of Pedahzur, 24and over the company of the tribe of Benjamin was Abidan son of Gideoni.

25 Then the standard of the camp of Dan, acting as the rear guard of all the camps, set out, company by company, and over the whole company was Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. 26Over the company of the tribe of Asher was Pagiel son of Ochran, 27and over the company of the tribe of Naphtali was Ahira son of Enan. 28This was the order of march of the Israelites, company by company, when they set out.

29 Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which the L ord said, ‘I will give it to you’; come with us, and we will treat you well; for the L ord has promised good to Israel.” 30But he said to him, “I will not go, but I will go back to my own land and to my kindred.” 31He said, “Do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. 32Moreover, if you go with us, whatever good the L ord does for us, the same we will do for you.”

33 So they set out from the mount of the L ord three days’ journey with the ark of the covenant of the L ord going before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them, 34the cloud of the L ord being over them by day when they set out from the camp.

35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say,

“Arise, O L ord, let your enemies be scattered,

and your foes flee before you.”

36 And whenever it came to rest, he would say,

“Return, O L ord of the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”

2 Make thee two trumpets of silver. This passage respecting the silver trumpets, which gave the gathering-signal, so that the people should always be attentive to the voice and will of God, is properly annexed to the First Commandment. For God would have the Israelites set in motion by their sound, whithersoever they were to go, so that they should not dare to commence anything either in war or in peace, except under His guidance and auspices, as it were. But their use was threefold, viz., to gather the people or the rulers to public assemblies; to arm them against their enemies; and, thirdly, to announce the sacrifices and festivals. It might seem absurd, and somewhat indecorous, to appoint the priests to be trumpeters, since there was no splendor or dignity in this office; but God would in this way awaken greater reverence in the minds of the people, that the authority of the priests should precede all their actions. For this office, to which they were appointed, was no servile one, as that they should blow the trumpets at the command of others; but rather did God thus set them over public affairs, that the people might not tumultuously call their assemblies in the blindness and precipitation of passion, but rather that modesty, gravity, and moderation should be observed in them. We know how often in earthly affairs God is not regarded, but counsels are confidently discussed without reference to His word. He testified, therefore, by this employment of the priests, that all assemblies, except those in which He should preside, were accursed. Profane nations also had their ceremonies, such as auguries, supplications, soothsayings, victims, 7575     “Comme d’espier le vol des oiseaux, ou de regarder les entrailles des sacrifices, et meme sacrifier, et faire prieres solennelles;” such as observing the flight of birds or examining the entrails of sacrifices, and even sacrificing and offering solemn prayers. — Fr. because natural reason dictated that nothing could be engaged in successfully without Divine assistance; but God would have His people bound to Him in another way, so that, when called by the sound of the sacred trumpets as by a voice from heaven, they should assemble to holy and pious deliberations. The circumstance of the place also has the same object. The door of the Tabernacle was to them, as if they placed themselves in the sight; of God. We will speak of the wordמועד , mogned 7676     “Le mot Hebrieu, que nons avons translate convenance.” — Fr. An heemantic from יעד, to give previous notice, to summon together. W. elsewhere. Although it signifies an appointed time, or place, and also an assembly of the people, I prefer translating it convention, because God there in a solemn manner, as if before His sacred tribunal, called the people to witness, or, according to appointment, proceeded to make a covenant with them.

He was also unwilling that wars should be undertaken precipitately, or with the desire of vengeance, but that the priests should perform the office of heralds, (feciales,) in order that he might be the originator of them himself. But it was honorable for the priests to be the proclaimers of the festivals, and to cite the people to the sanctuary. Now, since we understand the intention of the Legislator, let us briefly touch upon the words. We have said that the priests, when they sounded, were, as it were, the organs or interpreters of God, that the Israelites might depend upon His voice and commandment. If the princes or heads of thousands only were to be called, they sounded only once; if it was a convocation of the whole people, they doubled the sound. A similar distinction was observed in war, that a different signal should be given, according as the camps of either side were to advance. Some use the fictitious word taratantara, 7777     Thus Malvenda in Poole’s Syn., “et clangetis taratantara ” The word is used by Ennius “At tuba terribili sonitu taratantara dixit.” — Serv. in, AEn, 4. A.V., “an alarm." in place of what I have translated “with jubilation:” it is probable that it was a louder and more protracted sound, but blown with intervals. We must, however, observe the promise, which is inserted, that the Israelites “should be remembered before the Lord,” that He should put their enemies to flight; not as if the safety or deliverance of the people was attached to the trumpets, but because they did not go to the battle except in reliance on God’s aid. For the reality itself is conjoined with the external symbol, viz., that they should fight under God, should follow Him as their Leader, and should account all their strength to be in His grace. And that all the saints were guided by this rule appears from Psalm 20:7, —

"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God:"

and again, “There is no king saved by the multitude of an host; a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy.” (Psalm 33:16-18)

10. Also in the day of your gladness. This was as if God should make it manifest that He approved of no festivals, and that no sacrifices pleased Him, except His command should go before them; for it was not lawful for the people to choose this or that day, but the authority for prescribing them was in the hands of the ministers of sacred things. And, indeed, God Himself had appointed the New-moons (Neomenias, vel novilunia) and the other solemnities; but, lest any change should occur, since men are ever daring in their innovations, He would have their lawful observation sanctioned by the sound of the trumpets; as if, by the mouth of the priests, He Himself published the holy assemblies. The sacrifices, which others have translated “of your peace-offerings,” 7878     So A.V שלמיכם, Pacificorum vestrorum, is the rendering of SM. To justify rendering this form of the word your prosperities, the vowel-points should be different. Your sacrifices of thanksgiving, is the ordinary interpretation of the lexicographers. — W I translate, and not without reason, “of your prosperities.” For this is what שלמיכם, shalmecem, properly means; and it was the name they gave to their supplications and testimonies of thanksgiving, when they had been delivered from some great danger, or were visited by some extraordinary blessing from God. But Moses says that the trumpets were to be “for a memorial before their God;” because when they should have assembled at His command, He would look upon them, and honor them with His paternal favor.

11. And it came to pass on the twentieth day Moses records that after leaving Mount Sinai, the camp was first pitched in the wilderness of Paran; and although the distance was not great, — being, as we shall soon see, a three days’ journey, — still the fatigue was sufficient to harass and weary the people. It is mentioned in praise of their obedience that they were expeditious in setting forth “according to the commandment of God;” but presently, through failure of the spirit of perseverance, their levity and inconstancy betrayed itself.

When it is said that “they journeyed by their journeyings,” (profectos esse per suas profectiones,) it refers to their whole progress through the desert. As to the word, I know not why Jerome translated it turmas, (troops,) for its root; is the verb נסע nasang, which is used with it; and according to its constant use in Scripture, it plainly means stations, 427427     “Stationibus, vel auspiciis;” the latter being evidently a misprint for hospitiis.Lat. “Gistum, hospitium, susceptio; Gall, giste; jus, quod dominis feudalibus competebat in vassallorum suorum praediis, qui staffs ae condietis vicibus eos in domibus suis hospitio, et conviviis excipere tenebantur. Quod quidem jus Mansionaticum sub prima et secunda Regum Francorum stirpe, sub tertia vero Gistum, Procuratio, Coenaticum, Comestio, Pastus, Prandium dictum suis locis observamus.” — Adelung’s Du Cange.
or halting-places. We say in Frealch journees, or gistes.

14. In the first place went the standard of the camp The actual order of march is here described. The whole people, with the exception of the Levites, is divided into four hosts, or parts, since four of the tribes were set over the others, so as to have two under the command of each. And this was the mode of proceeding, that whenever they halted anywhere, the four standards encompassed the sanctuary and the Ark of the Covenant from the four quarters of the world; whilst on the march, the Levites carrying the tabernacle, according to the burdens respectively imposed upon them, were mixed with the several bands. The Ark, borne upon the shoulders of the Levites, preceded the whole army, in order that all might more confidently follow, God thus manifestly shewing them the way. Nahshon, of the tribe of Judah, led the first host; Elizur, of the tribe of Reuben, the second; Elishama, of the tribe of Ephraim, the third; and Ahiezer, of the tribe of Dan, the fourth. It is obvious that in the precedency given to the tribe of Judah, God in some degree afforded an anticipation of the prophecy of Jacob; for the Reubenites, being descended from the first-born, would not have willingly abandoned their position, unless that right had been transferred to the tribe of Judah by God’s decree, pronounced through the mouth of Jacob. Not that the sovereignty and royal power was actually his before the time of David, but because God would have a single spark to shine in the midst of the thick darkness, whereby He might cherish the hope of the promised salvation in every heart; and that thus the dignity of this tribe might at length more readily reduce all to obedience. Herein, however, it appeared how perverse and intractable was the spirit of that greater portion of them who strove against the divine decree in their rejection of David.

Reuben occupied the second place, as an alleviation of his disgrace. Again, by the subjection of the tribe of Manasseh to the posterity of Ephraim, in this respect, too, the prophecy of the same patriarch was fulfilled. Nor does there seem to be any other reason why the fourth standard should have been given to the tribe of Dan, except because Jacob had declared, “Dan shall judge his people.” (Genesis 49:16,) by which expression his pre-eminence was denoted.

Although it may be that the four standard-bearing tribes were chosen from their strength and the numbers of their people, still, unless the children of Reuben and Manasseh had been thoroughly persuaded that their degradation was in accordance with the command of God, their jealousy would never have suffered them calmly to submit themselves to others, whose superiors they were by the ordinary rules of nature. Their self-restraint, therefore, was praiseworthy, in that voluntary subjection kept them within bounds, without the application of any power of compulsion; and at the end, Moses records that it was not once only that they thus advanced, but that they observed the same order and regulations during the whole course of their travel, and that their camp was always so arranged that no contention arose to disturb them.

19. Then the children kept the charge of the Lord. Some, 44     Dathe agrees with Malvenda and other ancient commentators in adopting the opinion here rejected by C. “The sense of the passage (he says) is, that the Israelites set up the holy tabernacle, and observed the holy rites, if they were detained for many days in one place; but if for a short time only, the tabernacle was not set up. Whether this was to be the case or not was indicated to them by Moses, according to ver. 23.” in my opinion, extend this too far, thinking that when the cloud tarried, the children of Israel, being as it were at leisure, employed themselves in the worship of God; but I restrict it rather to that heedfulness which is then praised at some length. To keep the charge (custodiam,) then, is equivalent to regarding the will of God with the greatest earnestness and care. For, when the cloud had begun to rest in any place, the people knew that they were to remain there; but if on the next day they were not attentive, the cloud might vanish, and thus their neglect and carelessness might deprive them of this incomparable advantage.

To this end it is said immediately afterwards that, If for one day, or more, or even for a month, or a year, the cloud stood still, the people was, as it were, tied to the spot. The old interpreter 55     I.e., the Vulgate: “Erant filii Israel in excubiis Domini.” has not badly rendered it, “The children of Israel were upon the watch;” since day and night they anxiously expected the time when God would command them to move forward. The last verse of the chapter confirms this sense, where it is again added, that “they kept the charge of the Lord at His mouth by the hand of Moses:” whence it appears that Moses was God’s interpreter, so that they might set forth on their march whenever the cloud being lifted up pointed out to them the way. Nor can it be doubted but that it preceded them; so that they might know in what direction God would have them proceed, and whither they were to go. Moreover, it must be observed that in both respects it is counted worthy of praise in the people, that they should either journey, or continue where they were, at God’s command. Thus is that absurd activity condemned which engages itself in endless work; as if men could only obey God by turmoil. Whereas it is sometimes no less a virtue to rest, when it so pleases God. 66     “They also serve, who only stand, and wait.” — Milton; Sonnet on his blindness.

29. And Moses said unto Hobab the son of Raguel. Very grossly are those mistaken who have supposed Hobab 77     So De Lyra, S.M., Fagius, Tostatus, the 70, etc. See note on Exodus 2:18, ante, vol. 1, p. 54. to be Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, whom we have already seen to have returned a few days after he had come to see him. Now, old age almost in a state of decrepitude would have been but little suited for, or equal to, such difficult labors. Moses was now eighty years old, and still far short of the age of his father-in-law. But all doubt is removed by the fourth chapter of Judges, where we read that the descendants of Hobab were still surviving in the land of Canaan. When, therefore, the good old man went home, he left Hobab his son — still in the vigor of life, and to whom on account of his neighborhood, the desert-country was well known — as a companion for his son-in-law, that might be useful to him in the performance of many services. Here, however, whether wearied by delay and difficulties, or offended by the malignant and perverse spirit of the people, or preferring his home and a stationary life to those protracted wanderings, he desired to follow his father. In order, however, that we might know that he had not sought his dismissal as a mere feint, (as is often the case,) 88     “(Comme il adviendra souventes fois que les hommes font des rencheris);” as it will often happen that people want to be pressed to stay. — Fr. Moses expressly states that he could not immediately prevail upon him to stay by his prayers; nay, that he was not attracted by the promises whereby Moses endeavored to tempt him, until he had been perseveringly entreated. Although the expectation of the promised land is set before him, yet, since mention is only made of temporal and transient prosperity, it may thence be probably conjectured that he had not profited by his advantages as he should. He had seen and heard the tokens of God’s awful power when the Law was given; yet Moses urges him to come on by no other argument than that he would enjoy the riches of the land. Unless perhaps Moses desired to give him some taste of the graciousness and fatherly love of God as manifested in the temporal blessing, in order to lift up his mind to higher things. Still he merely refers to the promise of God, and then engages that he shall share in all their good things. Nevertheless, this alone is no trifle, that he should be attracted by no uncertain hope, but by the sure enjoyment of those good things which God, who cannot lie, had promised: for deceptive allurements often invite men to undergo labors, and to encounter perils; but Moses brings forward God, as it were, as his surety, inasmuch as tie had promised that He would give the people a fertile land, full of an abundance of all good things. At any rate, Hobab represents to us, as in a mirror, the innate disposition of the whole human race, to long for that which it apprehends by the carnal sense. It is natural to prefer our country, however barren and wretched, to other lands the most fertile and delightful: thus the Ithaca of Ulysses has passed into a proverb. 99     “Comme l’isle en laquelle Ulysses estoit ne, n’estant qu’une poure isle, voire quasi semblable a un rocher, est venue en un proverbe;” thus the island in which Ulysses was born, being but a poor island, indeed almost like a rock, has passed into a proverb. — Fr. See Cicero De Orat., 1:44, and De Legg., 2:1. But let me now reprove another fault, viz., that, generally speaking, all set their affections on this present life: thus Hobab despises the promise of God, and holds fast to the love of his native land.

31. And he said, Leave us not, I pray thee. Moses perseveres and urges what he had just said, that Hobab should be a sharer in the prosperity which God had given his people reason to expect. “To this end” (he says) “thou hast known all our stations in the desert,” which words commentators do not appear to have observed or understood; for they translate them simply, “for thou hast known,” as if Moses desired to retain Hobab to be of use to himself, whereas there is more than one causal particle here; 1010     כי על-כן. Translated in A. V., Genesis 18:5, for therefore; Judges 6:22, for because; Jeremiah 38:4, for thus; and here, forasmuch as. and thus it is literally, “Since, for this cause, thou hast known all our resting-places,” etc. Its meaning, then, is as follows, that Hobab was ill-advised for his own interest; for he had borne many inconveniences, for this reason, that he might at sonic time or other receive his recompense; as if it were said, Wherefore hast thou hitherto endured so many inconveniences whilst directing our course, unless that thou mightest enjoy with us the blessings of our repose? In a word, Moses signifies that the labors of Hobab would be vain and fruitless, unless he should endure them a little while longer, until, together with the children of Israel, he should enjoy the promised inheritance. What is here said, then, does not relate to the future, as if Moses had said, Be to us instead of eyes, as thou hast been heretofore; but by reminding him that the reward of his labors was at hand, he urges and encourages him to proceed.

33. And they departed from the mount of the Lord. He calls Sinai “the mount of the Lord,” because in no other place had God’s glory been so conspicuously manifested. This, I admit, it had been called by anticipation (κατὰ πρόληψιν) before the promulgation of the law; but this name was imposed upon it afterwards to inspire eternal reverence for the law. By “three days’ journey,” we must understand a continuous march of three days, for they did not pitch their tents until they reached the desert of Paran, but slept in the. open air. When it is said that the ark went before them in the three days’ journey, there is no reference to its distance, as if it was sent forward three days ahead; but that it was so placed in their van that, when the cloud settled upon it, they halted as at a station prescribed to them by God. This was the searching for a resting-place of which he speaks.

35. And it came to pass, when the ark set forward. Since their journey was by no means a peaceful one, but the attack of enemies was constantly to be dreaded, it was needful to beseech God that He would go forth as if prepared for battle. Thus, too, did Moses support their courage, lest any more immediate cause for terror should render them sluggish and inert. It is, then, as if he had prayed thus: O Lord, not only show us the way, but open it to us also by the power of thy hand in the destruction of the enemies. He calls them not the enemies of the people but of God, in order that the Israelites might be assured that they fought under His auspices; for thus might both a more certain victory be expected, since the righteous God, who avenges iniquity, was defending His own cause; and also, it was no slight matter of consolation and rejoicing, when the people heard, that whosoever should arise to harass them unjustly were also the enemies of God, since He will protect his people as the apple of His eye. Therefore has the Prophet borrowed this passage, in order to arm the Church with confidence, and to maintain it in cheerfulness under the violent assaults of its enemies. (Psalm 68:1.) Further, the analogy and similitude between the visible sign, and the thing signified, must be observed; for Moses was not so foolish as to address the Ark in these words; he only asked God to prove effectually that the Ark was a lively image of His power and glory.

36. And when it rested, he said, Return, O Lord. By thus praying he also exhorts the people to be patient, lest the weariness which arose from the delay should beget indignation. Otherwise it would have been annoying that the time of their journeying should be protracted, so that they would arrive the later at their rest. And we see, indeed, how their minds were exasperated, as if a slower progress was a kind of disappointment. In order, therefore, to correct this impatience, Moses reminds them that their halts were advantageous to them, so that God, dwelling at home like the father of a family, might manifest His care of them; for the allusion is to men who Lake advantage of a time of repose and release from other business, to occupy themselves more un-restrainedly in paying attention to their own family.

VIEWNAME is study