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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Numbers 10



Verses 31-33


‘Be to us instead of eyes.… The ark … went before them.’

Numbers 10:31-33

I. Moses’ lack of faith.—When they were about to leave Sinai, Moses begged his father-in-law (or brother-in-law), Hobab, to accompany them. Moses did not like parting with him. Hobab’s help and counsel had been of invaluable service to him, and he feared to face the future without the assistance of Hobab’s wise advice. Now all this indicates a certain weakness in Moses’ character. For what need had he or the Israelites of Hobab to tell them when they should encamp when they had God Himself for guide? The Bible is never afraid of revealing the faults and weaknesses of its great men; it paints them as Oliver Cromwell desired to be painted, ‘warts and all.’ And so it paints Moses to us here as lacking in faith, clinging to the creature rather than the Creator, afraid to venture forward without Hobab, although God had promised to be always with him. Moses’ fault is our fault too. We rely too much upon earthly helpers. When Hobab—the earthly helper—leaves us, or is taken away from us, we are apt to fall into something like panic and despair. But our safety does not depend upon the presence with us of this Hobab or that; our safety is assured by the fact that we have the everlasting God for our Guardian and our Guide, and though every Hobab be removed, though every earthly friend and helper be taken away, we need not be afraid, for with the old Puritan we can say, ‘the best of all is God is with us.’ Let us have faith in God!

II. Moses’ appeal to Hobab.—While this incident indicates a certain lack of faith on Moses’ part, it throws a beautiful light upon the essential nobility of Hobab’s character. According to the story Moses made a twofold appeal to Hobab.

(1) He appealed to him on the ground of self-interest. Moses assured Hobab that by throwing in his lot with Israel, he would share in Israel’s blessing. Now this was a very fine thing for Moses to be able to say. It is a fine thing for any man to be able to say. Can we say it? Can we say that it is to a person’s interest to keep company with us?

How was it Moses was so certain that it was to Hobab’s interest to company with the Israelites? The answer is given in the first words of Moses’ appeal. ‘We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it to you.’ Moses knew that he and his people were travelling in a God-appointed way and towards a God-appointed goal. Whoever has that same confidence can afford to say, ‘Come with us, and we will do thee good.’ Are we travelling in God’s way and towards the God-appointed goal? If we are travelling the broad way, then we and those who company with us are in danger of destruction.

(2) Hobab, however, did not respond to this appeal addressed to his self-interest. He was not moved by the advantages Moses held forth. ‘I will not go,’ he said, ‘but I will depart to mine own land and to my kindred.’ And then Moses shifted his ground, and based his second appeal upon Hobab’s power to render service. And Hobab, who was not touched at all by the first appeal to his interests, responded at once to this nobler appeal to him on the ground of the service he could render. He threw in his lot with Moses and the Israelites, and the services he rendered were ever kept in grateful remembrance.

The most effective appeal we can address to men is the appeal to what is heroic and sacrificial in them. When Moses talked of what he would get, Hobab remained stolid and indifferent. But when he talked to him of what he could give and do, Hobab’s soul fired up in instantaneous response. Christ’s call to us addresses itself to what is highest and best in us. ‘Take up the Cross,’ He says, ‘deny yourself daily, and follow Me,” and following Him means, not a life of self-indulgence, but a life of self-forgetful service. The appeal is not made in vain; young men in their hundreds make a joyful sacrifice of ‘interests,’ and go forth to India and China and Africa and the islands of the seas to toil in poverty and obscurity all their days in order that they may serve their fellows and glorify their Lord. Christ wants us to follow Him, not simply for what we can get, but for what we can do and give. He appeals to us to lay life down in loving and consecrated toil. ‘Come and save,’ He cries. Shall He appeal in vain?

III. The true Guide.—So Hobab accompanied Moses and the Israelites, and put all his Bedouin skill at their disposal. But the very next verse reminds us that there was some one else on the look-out for suitable resting places for the pilgrims. ‘The ark of the Lord went before them three days’ journey to seek out a resting place for them.’ Hobab was no doubt a wise and good man, and it was a comfort to know that he was in the host; but the real security of the Israelites consisted in this, that the Ark went before them, and that God Himself from time to time prepared them rest. Does the Ark go before us?


(1) A traveller, following his guide amid the Alpine heights, reached a place where the path was narrowed by a jutting rock on one side and a terrible precipice on the other. The guide, holding on to the rock with one hand, extended his other hand over the precipice for the traveller to step upon and pass around the jutting rock. He hesitated, but the guide said, ‘That hand has never lost a man.’ He stepped upon the hand, and passed on safely. So the Hand that guides us is an unfailing Hand, that has never let a trusting one slip from its clasp.

(2) There is a mountain path in Switzerland, over which the traveller is led blindfold. He might lose his footing if he caught but one bewildering glimpse of the chasm below.

(3) General Nicholson, who fell before Delhi in the Mutiny, sent a last message to his friend, Sir Henry Edwards. ‘Tell him,’ he said, ‘I was always a better man for any time, however short, spent in his company.’ Is that the effect of our companionship? Do our friends grow better men, better women, for the time they spend in our company?


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Numbers 10:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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