Lesson 5: Chapters 9-10
The Second Passover and the Departure

Faithful Lord,
The Israelites' journey to the Promised Land after the remembrance celebration of the day of the Passover redemption can be compared to our Journey to the Promised Land of heaven after our passing over from death to new life in the Sacrament of Baptism and our life's journey toward our final destination in the eternal land of promise.  You never promised the Israelites that the journey would be easy, just as Your Son never promised His disciples that their faith journey through life was going to be without struggles.  In fact, Jesus warned His disciples that to follow Him we must be willing to take up our own crosses on the journey to salvation.  Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us, Lord, in our study of the Israelites' promising start on their journey, keeping us ever mindful that a promising start does not always end in success but requires vigilance, perseverance and faith up to the very end before reaching the goal. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

+ + +

This is the evidence of one who saw it-true evidence, and he knows that what he says is true-and he gives it so that you may believe as well.  Because all this happened to fulfil the words of scripture: not one bone of his will be broken ...
John 19:35-36 (reference to Ex 12:46 and Num 9:12 fulfilled in Jesus' death)


In Chapters 1-8 the inspired writer has been more concerned with the organization, purity, and function of the camp and maintaining the purity of the Sanctuary than in the chronological order of the events.  In Chapter 9 he turns his attention to the first commemorative celebration of the Passover event since leaving Egypt.  All the narrative that is contained in Numbers 1:1-10:28 took place in the period of about one month.

Chapter 9 is divided to two unrelated sections:

  1. Commands concerning the observance of the commemorative Passover (verses 1-14).
  2. The function of the Glory Cloud in the march out of Sinai (verses 15-23).

The events in the first part of Chapter 9 take place in the first month (Abib) of the second year. Section I of Numbers 9 is divided into three parts:

  1. Instructions for observing the first Passover in the wilderness (verses 1-5).
  2. The complaint by those who were unable to keep the commemorative feast because of ritual uncleanness through corpse contamination and Moses' submission of their petition to Yahweh (verses 6-8).
  3. God's divine decision concerning the celebration of Passover a month later and designating those who are eligible for the exception (verses 9-14).

Numbers 9:1-5 The Date of the Passover
1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, in the desert of Sinai, in the second year after the exodus from Egypt, in the first month [hodesh ha-ri'shonm], and said: 2 'The Israelites must keep the Passover at its appointed time.  3 The fourteenth day of this month, at twilight [bein ha-'arbayim = between the twilights], is the time appointed for you to keep it.  You will keep it with all the laws and customs proper to it.'  4 Moses told the Israelites to keep the Passover.  5 They kept it, in the desert of Sinai, in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight.  The Israelites did everything as Yahweh had ordered Moses. [..] = literal translation The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page xx).

Numbers 9:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, in the desert of Sinai, in the second year [hodesh ha-ri'shonm] after the exodus from Egypt, in the first month ... In the phrase hodesh ha-ri'shonm, the word hodesh can mean "new moon" as well as "month"; see the same phrase in Ex 19:1 (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 67).  Every new moon cycle signaled the beginning of next month in the lunar calendar.  However, the meaning here is probably "month" since God's instructions to Moses are probably given at the end of the first week of the month, less than a week before the 14th of Nisan (as suggested in verse 6).


Numbers 9:2-3 The Israelites must keep the Passover at its appointed time.  3 The fourteenth day of this month, at twilight [bein ha-'arbayim = between the twilights], is the time appointed for you to keep it.  You will keep it with all the laws and customs proper to it.'  See Exodus Lesson 6 for a discussion of the phrase bein ha-'arbayim, "between the twilights" (also see JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 55).  The Hebrew phrase that identified the time the sacrifice of the Passover lambs and kids was to begin is often translated as "between the two evenings," or "between the two settings" (-im is a plural ending; Brown-Driver-Briggs Lexicon, page 788).  The same phrase is used in Exodus 12:6, 16:12; 29:39, 41; 30:8; Lev 23:5; Num 9:3, 5, 11; 28:4, 8.  The phrase has generated much scholarly debate as to its precise meaning, but "between the twilights" of the day is literally high noon.  This was indeed the time that the liturgical service in which the Passover victims were slain in the Temple in the second Temple Period began (Philo, The Works of Philo, The Special Laws, II, XXVII [145], page 582).

In this passage, the time frame is still the early spring in the month of Abib, in the second year after leaving Egypt, as it was in Chapters 7 and 8. 

Question: What was God's warning to Moses?
Answer: The Israelites needed to be prepared to celebrate the commemorative celebration of the event of the sacrifice of the Passover lambs and kids that first took place in Egypt in association with the last Egyptian plague.  The commemorative feast was to take place on the fourteenth day of the month of Abib as it did in the first Passover.

This passage only mentions the Passover which was commanded to be commemorated every year on the 14th of Abib (Ex 12:6,13:4) but it is understood that they are to also commemorate the sacred meal at sundown, which was the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a feast that lasted for seven days (Lev 23:5-8).

In addition to the first Passover in Egypt (Ex Chapter 12), eight other Passovers are mentioned in Sacred Scripture. Each Passover marked an important turning point in the progress of God's plan of salvation for His covenant people. 

List of other Passovers Mentioned in the Bible Scriptures Passages
1. The observance of the Passover at Sinai before beginning the journey to Canaan. Numbers 9:1-5
2. The observance of Passover and Unleavened Bread after crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land. Joshua 5:10-12
3. The Passover and Unleavened Bread feasts after King Hezekiah of Judah instituted religious reforms. 2 Chronicles 30:1-27
4. The Passover and Unleavened Bread feasts after the religious reforms of King Josiah of Judah. 2 Kings 23:21-23;
2 Chronicles 35:1, 18-19
5. The celebration of the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread after Israel's return from the Babylonian exile. Ezra 6:19-22
6. The Passover when Jesus began His public ministry and cleansed the Jerusalem Temple. John 2:13-22
7. The Passover in the second year of Jesus' ministry when He fed the 5 thousand men traveling to Jerusalem for Passover. John 6:1-15
8. The Passover in the third year of Jesus' ministry when Jesus instituted the Eucharist during the Last Supper on the night of the sacred feast of the Passover victim, which was the first night of Unleavened Bread. Matthew 26:17-29
Mark 14:12-25
Luke 22:7-20
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Numbers 9:6-8: A Complaint within the Community
6 It happened that some men had become unclean by touching a dead body; they could not keep the Passover that day.  They came the same day to Moses and Aaron, 7 and said, 'We have become unclean by touching a dead body.  Why should we be excluded from bringing an offering to Yahweh at the proper time with the rest of the Israelites?'  8 Moses replied, 'Wait here until I hear what order Yahweh gives about you.'

This passage gives a better idea of the time frame of the command to keep the Passover.  Milgrom suggests that there were Israelites who may also have been defiled by coming in close proximity to a dead person.  He adds that the rabbis interpreted the men's defilement to include all other kinds of ritual contamination and other conditions that made attendance impossible on the prescribed date (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 68). 

Question: According to the Law, what was the purification ritual for becoming contaminated by close contact with a corpse? How does the Law concerning the length of the period of defilement help to define the time of the month the complaint was taken to Moses and Aaron?  See Lev 7:20/10-21/11; 21:1-4; Num 5:2-3; 19:14-16.
Answer: According to the Law, someone contaminated by a corpse had to submit to a seven day ritual of purification before being declared ritually cleansed and able to attend liturgical worship on the eighth day.  It is apparently less that a week before the 14th of Abib.

Question: What complaint did the men make to Moses?
Answer: They wanted to keep the Passover/Unleavened Bread remembrance celebrations but their ritual contamination prevented them for participating.  They felt it was unfair that they should be excluded.

In their exclusion from celebrating with the community of Israel, they would have been classified like the uncircumcised foreigners who were not members of the community and were barred from participating in the liturgy of the Passover sacrifice.  Resident aliens (men) who had submitted to circumcision and joined the covenant were allowed to participate in the liturgical celebrations with their families, but visiting foreigners and all men who were not circumcised were forbidden to attend (Ex 12:43-51).

Question: What did Moses propose?
Answer: He promised to take their petition to be allowed to keep the Passover despite the problem of ritual impurities to Yahweh.

Numbers 9:9-14 Yahweh permits an Alternated Date for Passover
9 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said, 10 'Speak to the Israelites and say: "Any of you or your descendants who becomes unclean by touching a dead body, or is away on a long journey, can still keep a Passover for Yahweh.  11 Such persons will keep it in the second month, on the fourteenth day, at twilight.  They will eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs; 12 nothing of it must be left over until morning, nor will they break any of its bones.  They will keep it, following the entire Passover ritual.  13 But anyone who is clean, or who is not on a journey, but fails to keep the Passover, such a person will be outlawed from his people.  For not having brought the offering to Yahweh at its appointed time, the person will bear the consequences of the sin.  14 A resident alien who keeps a Passover for Yahweh, will keep it in accordance with the ritual and customs of the Passover.  You will have one law for alien and citizen alike."'

Question: What does God's gracious acceptance of the people's petition illustrate?
Answer: It illustrates that God's Law is meant to benefit the people and not to be an unreasonable burden.  It is the spirit of the Law that is more important than rigid, blind obedience without compassion.

Question: What two exceptions does Yahweh make for this generation and future generations of Israelites who are unable to keep Passover and Unleavened Bread on the scheduled dates, allowing the observance of the festivals a month later?
Answer: Ritual impurity from contact with a corpse and unable to attend the Passover because of the necessity of being on a long journey.

The mention of descendants and a long journey are amendments to the Law that are meant to provide for the Israelites in the future.  After the Israelites occupy the Promised Land, it is understood that parts of the population will spread out to settle in other parts of the ancient world.  That Israelites are living in foreign countries does not mean those covenant people will be exempt from attending the three pilgrim feasts that are designated holy days of obligation: Unleavened Bread, Weeks (Pentecost) and Shelters (Tabernacles).

Question: What instructions for the remembrance celebration of the Passover and Unleavened Bread from Exodus 12:46 are repeated?

  1. The Israelites are to eat the meal of the Passover victim with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
  2. Nothing of it must be left over until morning.
  3. They must not break any of the bones of the Passover victim.

Question: How does St. John record that the final command was fulfilled in Jesus' death?  See Jn 19:31-36.
Answer: The Roman soldier broke the bones of the other two men crucified with Jesus, but he did not break Jesus' legs, fulfilling, as St. John wrote, the words of Scripture in Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12.

Question: In addition to the exception that allowed an alternate date for the Passover, what warning did Yahweh give the people?
Answer: They must not abuse His generosity in amending the date for the two circumstances that were beyond the control of a covenant member.  If an Israelite willfully failed in his obligation to keep the pilgrim feast, that person was to be excommunicated from the covenant community and was to bear the consequences of the sin-meaning those persons will face God's divine judgment for the sin of their abuse of the covenant.

In the Old Covenant the holy days where the covenant people were obligated to present themselves for worship and communion with God were the Sabbath and the three pilgrim feasts.(1) You will recall that under the old Law only unintentional (venial) sins were forgiven by God through the ministry of His priests in the ritual of blood sacrifice (Lev 4:2, 13, 20, 22, 26, 27, 31; 5:15, 17; Num 15:6, 13, 16, 17, 26/6:7).  We live under a superior covenant that is able to offer forgiveness for venial sins (unintentional/lesser sins) and moral/grave sins (willful wrongs against God and members of the human family) through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the unblemished Lamb of God.  However, while venial sin can be forgiven through private confession and participation in the healing powers of the Eucharist, mortal sin can only be forgiven by Christ, through His instrument, His priest, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation (CCC 1414, 1456-57, 1461, 1854).

Question: Under the covenant obligations of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus, what is the judgment for willfully neglecting to participate in worship on the Lord's Day (Sunday) and other holy days of obligation as designated by the Council of Bishops?  See CCC 2042, 2180-81.
Answer: To willful neglect to participate in the sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday or on holy days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason, is to commit a grave sin and requires forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

The celebration of the Eucharist on the Lord's Day (Sunday) is the obligation of every baptized believer.  Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension of Christ, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christi, the feast of Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, the feast of Saint Joseph, the feast of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and the feast of All Saints (CCC 2177).  In the United States, the Conference of Bishops has transferred certain holy days to a Sunday with the approval of the Apostolic See.  See the chart on the five precepts of the Catholic Church and the Holy Days of Obligation that fall on days other than Sundays in the USA: Five Precepts and Holy Days

The Glory Cloud

Section II of Chapter 9 prepares the reader for Numbers 10:11 when the Glory Cloud will arise from the Tabernacle on the 20th day of the second month in the second year after leaving Egypt.  The Israelites will then set out on their march away from Mt. Sinai and toward the Promised Land. 

Numbers 9:15-23 The Glory Cloud
15 On the day the Dwelling was erected, the cloud covered the Dwelling, the Tent of the Testimony. From nightfall until morning it remained over the Dwelling looking like fire.  16 So the cloud covered it all the time, and at night it looked like fire. 17 Whenever the cloud rose from the Tent, the Israelites broke camp, and whenever the cloud halted, there the Israelites pitched camp.  18  At Yahweh's order, the Israelites set out and, at Yahweh's order, the Israelites pitch camp.  They remained in camp as long as the cloud rested on the Dwelling19 If the cloud stayed for many days on the Dwelling, the Israelites performed their duty to Yahweh and did not set out.  20 But if the cloud happened to stay for only a few days on the Dwelling, just as they had pitched camp at Yahweh's order, at Yahweh's order they set out. 21 If the cloud happened to remain only from evening to morning, they set out when it lifted the next morning.  Or, if it stayed for a whole day and night, they set out only when it lifted.  22 Sometimes it stayed there for two days, a month, or a longer time; however long the cloud rested on the Dwelling, the Israelites remained in camp, and when it lifted they set out.    23 At Yahweh's order they pitched camp, and at Yahweh's order they set out.  They performed their duty to Yahweh, as Yahweh had ordered through Moses. (emphasis added) 

Numbers 9:15 reminds the reader of the events in Exodus chapter 40:34-38 when the Sanctuary was erected on the first day of the first month of the second year after leaving Egypt and when Yahweh, in the visible form of the the Glory Cloud, filled His Dwelling/Tabernacle.  Two sets of key Hebrew words/phrases are repeated seven times in Numbers 9:15-23:

(The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 373).


Question: These repeated words/phrases point to what main theme in this passage?
Answer: The Tabernacle where God dwelled moved when God decided it should move and came to rest when God decided and not when the people wanted to move or to camp.

Question: By what appointed sign did God lead Israel on the march?  In what way was the sign manifested, and what was was the understood signal to the people?
Answer: God led Israel on the wilderness march not by His voice but by His appointed sign-the Glory Cloud:

  1. The Glory Cloud appears as a cloud-filled pillar by day
  2. The Glory Cloud appears as a fiery pillar by night
  3. When the Glory Cloud arose from the Tabernacle and moved to the head of the camp, the Israelites broke camp and prepared for the march.  Whenever the Glory Cloud stopped, the people stopped, and whenever the Tabernacle was reassembled, the Glory Cloud descended to envelop the Tabernacle.

Question: In verses 19 and 23 the inspired writer notes that when the Glory Cloud was at rest above the Tabernacle the Israelites performed their duty to Yahweh, as Yahweh had ordered through Moses.  What was that duty?  See Ex 29:38-42.
Answer: It was the people's duty to be obedient to the sign of the Glory Cloud.


When the Sanctuary and the Israelites were on the march, the command to offer the Tamid sacrifice twice daily was suspended until the Sanctuary was reassembled.  

Chapter 10: The Beginning of the Wilderness Journey


Yahweh says this: 'I remember your faithful love (hesed)* the affection of your bridal days, when you followed me through the desert, through a land unsown.  Israel was sacred to Yahweh; the first-fruits of his harvest ...
Jeremiah 2:1-3a


Numbers Chapter 10 is divided into four parts:

  1. The instructions for making and using the silver trumpets (Num 10:1-9). 
  2. The beginning of the march away from Mt. Sinai, with the first stop in the wilderness of Paran (Num 10:11-28).
  3. The appeal to Hobab to guide the Israelites (Num 10:29-32).
  4. The details of the departure (already summarized in 10:12) and Moses' morning and afternoon/evening prayers (Num 10:33-36).

Question: What other generation covenant believers will be called the "first-fruits" of God's harvest?

* hesed is the Hebrew word that expresses the intimacy of faithful love between the Israelite community (the bride) and God (the Husband) within the bond of the Sinai Covenant.

The Israelites prepared to leave Sinai in the second month of the second year after leaving Egypt.  The alternate Passover was celebrated on the 14th day of the second month.  Unleavened Bread should have continued for the next seven days from the 15th to the 21st (Lev 23:6-8), but on the day before the final Sacred Assembly, on the 20th, the Israelites were commanded to break camp.  Like the first Passover in the Exodus out of Egypt, the Israelites began their journey after the Passover but before the end of Unleavened Bread.

Numbers 10:1-10 The Trumpets

1 Yahweh spoke to Moses and said: 2 'Make yourself two trumpets; make them of beaten silver, so that you can use them for summoning the community, and for sounding the order to break camp.  3 Whenever they are sounded, the whole community must gather round you, at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.  4 But if only one trumpet is sounded, then only the leaders, the heads of Israel's thousands, must gather round you.  5 When the trumpet blast is accompanied by a battle cry, the encampments pitched to the east will set out.  6 At the second blast accompanied by a battle cry, the encampments pitched to the south will set out.  For breaking camp, the trumpet blast will be accompanied by a battle cry, 7 but for assembling the community the trumpets will be sounded without battle cry.  8 The Aaronite priests will sound the trumpets; this is a perpetual decree for you and your descendants.  9 When in your country you go to war against an enemy who is oppressing you, you will sound trumpets with a battle cry, and Yahweh your God will remember you, and you will be delivered from your enemies.  10 At your festivals, solemnities and new-moon feasts, you will sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and communion sacrifices, so that they recall you to the remembrance of your God.  I am Yahweh your God.'

The blowing of the silver trumpets is Israel's response to the divine command given by the lifting of the Glory Cloud.

Question: Prior to this event what did the sound of a trumpet together with the sound of a voice and a cloud signify?  See Ex 13:22; 16:9-12; and 19:16-19.
Answer:  Prior to this event, the sound of a trumpet together with the sound of a voice and the pillar of cloud were the signs that accompanied a manifestation of God, but now the human voice, the sound of the trumpet and the manifestation of the Glory Cloud became the sign that announced God's plan for the orderly movement of the camp. 

Before the giving of the Law at Sinai, the Israelite camp was in chaos in the disorderly exodus out of Egypt and in way the people were shouting and disorderly in the sin of the Golden Calf.  At Mt. Sinai, the Law of God brought order and justice to the Israelites.  The arrangement for the encampment, the duties of the priests and Levites, and the orderly movement from the encampment to the march illustrate the order God's Divine Law brought to the newly formed nation of the children of Israel.

Numbers 10:6 At the second blast accompanied by a battle cry, the encampments pitched to the south will set out.  In the Septuagint translation this line is followed by "At the third blast of the trumpet accompanied by a battle cry, the camps on the west side will set out.  At the fourth blast of the trumpet accompanied by a battle cry, the camps on the north side will set out."(2)

Question: Who had the responsibility for giving the trumpet signals?  How were the silver trumpets used to maintain order?
Answer: The chief priests blew the silver trumpets:

The silver trumpets could only be blown by the priests (Num 10:8; 31:6) and are not the same as the trumpets blown on the Feast of Trumpets/Acclamations in Leviticus 23:23-25 and Numbers 29:1-6 or the Feast of Jubilee trumpets in Leviticus 25:9.  Those trumpets were the ram's horn (shofar) trumpets. According to Josephus, the silver trumpets were slightly longer than twelve inches: In length it was little less than a cubit.  It was composed of a narrow tube, somewhat thicker than a flute, but with so much breadth as was sufficient for admission of the breath of a man's mouth: it ended in the form of a bell, like common trumpets (The Antiquities of the Jews, 3.12.6 [291]).  The silver trumpets that were used to call the covenant community to worship in the desert Sanctuary were used later the Jerusalem Temple.  Josephus wrote: They also made use of these trumpets in their sacred ministrations, when they were bringing their sacrifices to the altar, as well on the Sabbaths as on the rest of the [festival] days ... (The Antiquities of the Jews, 3.12.6 [294]).

Paterius, the sixth century AD priest and disciple of St. Gregory the Great compared the silver trumpets to the voice of the homilist:  Scripture bids them to be made of silver, so that the words of the preachers may shine with gleaming light and not confuse the minds of the hearers with any darkness of their own.  They are to be hammered, because those who preach the life to come grow through the blows of the present tribulations.  Scripture says well, "When the short signal sounds, the camps will move."  When the preacher's word is subtle and concise, the hearers are aroused more ardently for the struggle against temptation (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament vol. III, Paterius, Exposition of the Old and New Testament, page 214).

Numbers 10:11-28: The Order of the March
11 In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud rose from where the Dwelling of the Testimony was, 12 and the Israelites set out in marching order, from the desert of Sinai.  The cloud came to rest in the desert of Paran.  13 These were the men who set out in the vanguard, at Yahweh's order through Moses: 14 first went the standard of the camp of the Judahites and their units, with Nahshon son Amminadab commanding that company; 15 Nethanel son of Zuar commanding the tribal company of the Issacharites; 16 and Eliab son of Helon commanding the tribal company of the Zebulunites.  17 The dwelling was then dismantled and the Gershonites and Merarites set out, carrying the Dwelling.  18 Then came the standard of the camp of the Reubenites and their units, with Elizur son of Shedeur commanding that company; 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai commanding the tribal company of the Simeonites; 20 and Eliasaph son of Reuel commanding the tribal company of the Gadites.  21 Then came the Kohathites, carrying the sanctuary (the Dwelling was erected before they arrived).  22 Then came the standard of the camp of the Ephraimites and their units, with Elishama son of Ammihud commanding that company; 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur commanding the tribal company of the Manassehites; 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni commanding the tribal company of the Benjaminites.  25 Last of all, the rearguard of all the camps, came the standard of the camp of the Danites and their units, with Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai commanding that company; 26 Pagiel son of Ochran commanding the tribal company of the Asherites; 27 and Ahira son of Enan commanding the tribal company of the Naphtalites.  28 Such was the order of march for the Israelites, unite by unit.  So they set out.

These are the same tribal chieftains/princes named in Chapters 1 and 2.

Question: Draw a plan of the order of the march. Which tribe led the vanguard and which tribe brought up the rear guard?  How many fighting men are listed for each tribe?  See chart Numbers Lesson #1, handout 2 and also Numbers 10:33.  Compare your diagram with handout 2 for this lesson.


(the rear guard)

53,400 fighting men
41,500 fighting men
62,700 fighting men
35,400 fighting men
32,200 fighting men
40,500 fighting men


45,650 fighting men
59,300 fighting men
46,500 fighting men


57,400 fighting men
54,400 fighting men
74,600 fighting men
(leading tribe)

The Ark of the Covenant led the way
three days ahead of the Israelites (Num 10:33; Dt 1:33).
Sometimes the Levites carried the Ark (Num 3:31; 4:15; Dt 10:8; 31:9, 25),
while at other times the chief priests carried the Ark (Josh 3:6, 11-17)

Numbers 10:21: Then came the Kohathites, carrying the sanctuary (the Dwelling was erected before they arrived).

Question: Why would the Tabernacle be set up by the time the Kohathites arrived at the stopping point in each part of the journey?
Answer: The men of the Gershonites and Merarites clans who carried the textiles and framework for the Sanctuary and its Tabernacle were ahead of the Kohathites in the line of the march.  The three tribes commanded by Nahshon would be the first to receive the signal from the Glory Cloud that a place to camp had been selected.  When the Gershonites and Merarites caught up with them, they immediately began to assemble the Sanctuary and the Tabernacle.  Next came the three tribes lead by Elizur of Reuben and after those tribes the Kohathites.  Therefore, when they came up to the stopping point, the Sanctuary was already erected and ready to receive the sacred furniture. 

Numbers 10:29-32 The Invitation Extended to Hobab
 29 Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, his father-in-law [hoten], 'We are setting out for the country of which Yahweh has said: I shall give it to you. Come with us, and we will treat you well, for Yahweh has promised good things for Israel.'  30 'I will not come with you,' he replied, 'but shall go to my own country and kin.'  31 'Do not leave us,' Moses said, 'for you know where we can camp in the desert, and so you will be our eyes.  32 If you come with us, we shall share with you whatever blessings Yahweh gives us.'

Moses made two appeals to Hobab:

  1. The first invitation was refused (Num 10:29).
  2. Moses then made a second invitation (Num 10:31).

The unanswered questions that remain are:

  1. Was the second invitation accepted?
  2. If God was guiding the march, why did they need Hobab?

Descendants of Hobab were living in the Promised Land during the era of the judges (Judg 4:11), but scholars are divided as to whether this means Hobab went with them or that some of his sons joined the Israelites and that their descendants settled in the land of Canaan as resident aliens.

The other problem associated with this passage is the name of Moses' father-in-law who is also known as Reuel and Jethro in other passages.  The name Reuel appears in Scripture as the name of various tribes and persons and has also been found in Edomite inscriptions.(3)  In the genealogical list of the descendants of Esau son of Jacob, Reuel was Esau's second son whose mother was Basemath, daughter of Ishmael (Gen 36:3-4, 10, 13, 17; 1 Chr 1:35, 37).  The descendants of Reuel formed one of three major Edomite tribes.  The tribe of Reuel was composed of four sub-tribes whose members lived in the mountainous region of Seir (Gen 36:9-14).  Reuel is named as a priest of Midian and the father/grandfather of the Midianite maidens rescued by Moses (Ex 2:16, 17). Reuel is also the name of the father of the Gadite tribal leader, Eliasaph (Num 2:14), and is listed in the genealogies of Chronicles as the name of a family inhabiting Jerusalem from the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chr 9:8).  The Septuagint (LXX) adds the name Reuel to the list of Keturah's sons by Abraham (LXX Gen 25:3) who settled in Arabia.

The Names for the Midianite Chieftain Associated with Moses
Reuel Jethro* Hobab*
Ex 2:15 Ex 3:1 Num 10:29
  Ex 4:18 Judg 1:16
  Ex 18:1 Judg 4:11

* Specifically named as Moses' father-in-law

Several solutions have been offered to solve this first dilemma:

The second problem arises in the book of Judges where Hobab is called a Kenite and not a Midianite.  There were tribal intermarriages.  For example Moses sons were both Israelites and Midianites, and Joseph's sons were both Israelites and Egyptians.  Perhaps the clan leader Hobab was a Midianite on his father's side who was also accepted as a kinsman of the Kenites on his mother's side.  Duel citizenship was as common in ancient times as it is today. Some of his Kenite kinsmen could have been allied with Hobab and subsequently joined the Israelites.(4)

Question: Why did Moses ask Hobab to guide them when Yahweh's Glory Cloud was their guide?
Answer: Perhaps Moses asked Hobab to accompany them not so much because he knew the best watering holes, but because the Israelites would have assurance that the Midianites would not be inclined to attack then as they traveled through Midianite territory so long as a Midianite priest/chieftain was traveling with them.  The Midianites were fierce warriors and later battled with the Israelites in the wilderness journey and during the period of the Judges (Num 25:16-18; 31:3-12; Josh 13:21; Judg 6:1-6). 

Numbers 10:33-36 The Departure and Moses' Morning and Evening/Afternoon Prayers
33 They set out from Yahweh's mountain and travelled for three days, while the ark of the covenant of Yahweh preceded them on the three-day journey, searching out a place for them to halt.  34 In the daytime, Yahweh's cloud was over them, once they had broken camp.  Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say: 'Rise, Yahweh, may your enemies be scattered and those who hate you flee at your approach!'  And when it halted, he would say: 'Come back, Yahweh, to the countless thousands of Israel [or "You who are Israel's myriads of thousands*]!' *Tanakh translation

Question: Do you see any significance to the Ark progressing three days in advance of the march of the Israelites?
Answer: It recalls the three day journey Abraham made to Mt. Moriah when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22:1 and the request to Pharaoh to make a three day journey into the wilderness to worship Yahweh in Exodus 5:3.

Three is the number of importance and completeness in Scripture.  It is one of the four "perfect numbers" which also include seven, ten, and twelve.  Three of anything points to something important in the progress of God's plan for man's salvation.  See the document "The Significance of the Third Day" in the Documents/Scripture Study section of the website and the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture" in the Documents/Scripture study section.

Question: If Hobab did accompany the Israelites, by what three sources were the Israelites guided on their march?
Answer: By the Glory Cloud, by Hobab and by the Ark. 

The Ark would have been first (three days ahead), either accompanied by or followed by Hobab, and finally the Glory Cloud within sight of the tribes in the head of the line of march.

Numbers 10: 34 Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say: 'Rise, Yahweh, may your enemies be scattered and those who hate you flee at your approach!'  And when it halted, he would say: 'Come back, Yahweh, to the countless thousands of Israel!'

Question: When did Moses offer up these prayers?
Answer: In the morning when the set out on the march and in the late afternoon/evening before sunset when they camped.

Question: What two petitions does Moses make to Yahweh in his morning and afternoon/evening prayers?
Answer: Moses asks for:

  1. Divine protection by day
  2. Divine presence by night

The Israelites would not have traveled on the Sabbath, but would have observed the Sabbath obligation, which was a "sign" of the covenant (Ex 31:16-17).  Moses' morning and afternoon/evening prayers, also called "the Song of the Ark" (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 81), may be a fragment of a larger song/prayer.  It may also be offered in place of the Tamid morning and afternoon liturgies that must be suspended on the march.  Moses' Morning Prayer is repeated almost verbatim in the first verse of David's 68th Psalm that begins: Let God arise, let his enemies scatter, let his opponents flee before him.  And ends with:  Acknowledge the power of God.  Over Israel his splendour, in the clouds his power.  Awesome is God in his sanctuary.  He, the God of Israel, gives strength and power to his people (Ps 68:1, 34-35). Moses' couplet seems to be condensed in Psalm 132:8: Advance (arise), O LORD [YHWH], to Your resting-place, You and Your mighty Ark! (Jewish Study Bible Tanakh translation).  It is understood that Yahweh will only "rest" after Israel's victory is assured.

Questions for group discussion:

For the Jews, the celebration of the Passover recalls the history of their people in remembering a past redemption and in looking forward to a future redemption in the coming of the Messiah.  For Christians, the remembrance of the Passover is a reminder of Christ's fulfillment of the Old Covenant Passover and sacred meal of Unleavened Bread in His death and Resurrection and the giving of the gift of His Body and Blood in the first Eucharistic feast that we call "the Last Supper".  The command to keep the remembrance feast of the Passover in Exodus Chapters 12-13 and Numbers Chapter 10 is similar to Jesus' command for us to remember His actions on the night of the Last Supper, celebrated on the first night of Unleavened Bread when the Old Covenant people ate the Passover victim in a sacred meal.  Jesus commanded the disciples to "do this in remembrance of Me" (Lk 22:19). 

Question: How are these two remembrance feasts of the Old Covenant Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread and the feast of the Last Supper celebrated in the Eucharis similar?  See CCC 1340, 1362-66.
Answer: The Passover was a memory of a past historical event in the history of the Old Covenant people in which a sacrifice became a sacred meal on a day of redemption.  It was a realization of that past event and the commitment to the covenant of every present generation.  It also anticipated the future promised redemption of the Redeemer-Messiah.  The celebration of the Lord's Supper in the Eucharistic banquet is the same:

  1. It is the memory of a past historical event in the history of the New Covenant people in which Jesus Christ transformed His coming sacrifice into a sacred meal prior to the day of redemption in which He offered up His life for the sins of man.
  2. In reliving the events of the Last Supper in the Eucharist, every New Covenant member reaffirms their commitment to the New Covenant in every generation.
  3. The celebration of the Eucharist also looks forward to the future when those of us who accept Jesus' gift of eternal salvation will dine with our Lord in the heavenly banquet.

Evening prayer in Numbers 10:36 And when it halted, he would say: 'Come back, Yahweh, to the countless thousands of Israel!' The Tanakh translates this part of the afternoon/evening prayer: "Return, O LORD, You who are Israel's myriads of thousands!"  The word written LORD, in all capital letters in Scripture represents the divine name YHWH, which most scholars translates as "Yahweh."  In the Hebrew text, this last line could be translated either way. 

Question: What does the Jewish translation of this last part of Moses prayer suggest about the relationship between Yahweh and Israel's military force?
Answer: What is attractive about the Jewish translation is that a parallel is made between Israel's myriads of thousands of troops on earth which are the counterpart of Yahweh's hosts of angels in heaven.  Yahweh commands the armies of Israel as He rules over the heavenly host.

The JPS Commentary notes: One striking rabbinic statement indeed understands it in this way: "This verse states that the divine Presence rules above with thousands of myriads, as it is written: 'God's chariots are myriads upon myriads, thousands upon thousands' (Ps 68:18).  Just as the divine Presence rules above with thousands of myriads so the divine Presence rules below with thousands of myriads" (JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers, page 81).  This same incomprehensible number "thousands of myriads" , or translated a little less dramatically as "thousands and tens of thousands", is also found in Genesis 24:60 in the blessing Rachel's kinsmen gave her in the number of children that would claim her as "mother" in future generations of her husband's people (See Gen 24:59-60).  Note: The prophets Elijah and Elisha are called Israel's chariots and horsemen" in 2 Kings 2:12 and 13:14, and Yahweh is called "the God of the ranks of Israel in 1 Samuel 17:45.  It is, therefore, not unreasonable for Yahweh to be called Israel's myriads of thousands" as an indication of God's great power and the heavenly host who serve at His command. 


1. For the holy day obligation of the Sabbath see Ex 20:8-11; 31:12-17; 35:1-3; Lev 19:3; 23:3; Dt 5:12-15.  See Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; and Dt 16:5-17 for the holy day obligations of the three pilgrim feasts.  King Hezekiah invited the nation to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem on the alternate dates after the liturgy of Yahweh's Temple was restored.  The alternate date was necessary because the priests had not purified themselves in sufficient number to keep the celebration at the appointed time of the 14th of the first month of Abib and there was not enough time for the people to make the journey to Jerusalem (2 Chr 29:36-30:3).

2. In ancient Egypt, trumpets were also used to both summon the people to worship and for war.  For other Scripture passages that refer to the trumpets and the sacred battle cry see Num 31:6; Josh 6:5, 20; Jer 4:19; 49:2; Amos 1:14; 2:2; and Zeph 1:16, which prophesies the coming of the Day of the Lord: The great Day of Yahweh is near ... That Day is a day of retribution, a day of distress and tribulation, a day of ruin and of devastation, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of cloud and thick fog, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry ... (Zeph 1:14-16). The "great day of Yahweh" is the Day of the Resurrection at the end of time when the trumpet and a battle cry announce the return of Christ the King to declare the final victory (1 Thes 4:16).  For trumpets/ram's horns heralding the manifestations of God see Ex 19:13, 16; Ps 47:5; Is 27:13; Zec 9:14; Zeph 1:16; Joel 2:1; Mt 24:31; 1 Cor 15:52; Rev 1:10; 4:1.  Trumpets were also used for in the coronations of Israelite kings (2 Kng 11:14; Ps 98:6); to install the Ark of the Covenant in King David's tent (1 Chr 16:6, 42); in the dedication of Solomon's Temple (2 Chr 5:12-13); for the rededication of the altar and renewing of the covenant under King Asa (2 Chr 15:8-15); in the purification of the Temple in the time of King Hezekiah (2 Chr 29:27); when the foundation of the Second Temple was laid after the exile (Ezra 3:10); and when the walls of Jerusalem were consecrated (Neh 12:35, 41).  Rabbinic tradition teaches that God will use a trumpet to raise the dead (Vincent's Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. IV, page 42), as St. Paul affirms in 1 Thes 4:16.

3. Edomite ruins at Tell el-Kheleifeh, Ostracon # 6043.  As a personal name, Reuel means "friend of god" or "god's friend".  The Canaanite and Hebrew word el is the word for "god" (Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, "Reuel", page 693).

4. The Kenites settled among the people of the tribe of Judah at Negeb-Arad (Judg 1:16 Septuagint [LXX]), and also at Kedesh in Naphtali territory (Judg 4:11).  It would appear that members of the Reuelite clan of the Midianites allied themselves with the Israelites and joined them in the wilderness journey, eventually settling among the Israelites in the Promised Land.  This interpretation is supported by the record of good relations that prevailed between the Kenites and the Israelites during the reigns of King Saul and King David (1 Sam 15:6; 30:29).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2010 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references:

Numbers 9:1-5: CCC 1096, 1340, 1362-66.

Mortal and venial sins: CCC 1414, 1456-57, 1461, 1854.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation: CCC 1414, 1456-57, 1461, 1854.

The obligation to keep the holy days of obligation: CCC 2042, 2177, 2180-81.