Moses and company hit the trail
Moses orders two silver trumpets1 The LORD told Moses. 2 I want you to have two signal trumpets made from hammered silver. You’ll use them when you call the people together. And you’ll use them to direct the movement of your tribal armies. 3 Here are the signals I want you to use. When both trumpets blow long blasts, all the people should meet you at the entrance into the tent sanctuary. 4 But at the blast of a single horn, only the 12 tribal army commanders need to come to you. 5 Short blasts will direct the tribes to break camp and get going. The first round of short blasts will signal tribes on the east side of the camp to leave first and take the point. 6 A second set of short blasts will let the tribes on the south know it’s time for them to get moving. 7 But when you’re calling a meeting of the people, use long blasts on the trumpet instead of short ones. 8 I want Aaron's sons, the priests, to blow these trumpets. This is a job for priests. So, I’m making it a rule for now on. 9 When you reach the land I have for you and you go to war with your enemies, I want you to give directions to your army by blowing short blasts from the trumpets. The sound of these trumpets will remind you that the LORD your God will make sure you win the battle. 10 Blow the trumpets on happy occasions, too. Play them when you celebrate religious festivals or to announce the arrival of the new moon. The sound of the trumpets will link heaven and earth by reminding you and God of each other. I am the LORD your God.
Leaving Mount Sinai11 About one year and two months after the Israelites left Egypt, the cloud lifted from the tent of the law. 12 The Israelites left their camp in the Sinai badlands and followed the cloud until it stopped in the Paran Desert. 13 When they first broke camp in the Sinai, it was at the LORD’s command, through Moses.
Judah’s tribe takes point14 Judah’s tribal army led the way. They marched under their own banner. Their commander led the way, Nahshon. He was Amminadab’s son. 15 Next came the tribal army of Issachar, led by Nethanel, Zuar’s son. 16 Then came Zebulun’s army, led by Eliab, who was Helon’s son. 17 By this time, the Levites were breaking down the tent worship center and packing it up for the trip. The Gershon and Merari families carried most of the worship center. They were the next groups to leave. 18 After that, Reuben’s tribe moved out, with their army led by Elizur, Shedeur’s son. 19 Then came Simeon’s tribe and their army led by Shelumiel, Zurishaddai’s son. 20 Gad’s tribe came next, with their army led by Eliasaph, Deuel’s son.
Armies protect Levites front and back21 With half of the Israelite armies ahead of them, the Kohath family was ready to carry the Israelites’ most sacred objects from the tent sanctuary. They followed far behind the other Levites. This gave the Levites carrying the tent time to set it up before the Kohath family arrived with the furnishings for the tent. 22 Ephraim’s tribe left the Sinai camp next, with their army led by Elishama, Ammihud’s son. 23 Then came Manasseh’s tribe and their army led by Gamaliel, Pedahzur’s son. 24 Benjamin’s tribe followed, with their army led by Abidan, Gideoni’s son.
Rear guard25 The last three tribes formed a rear guard. Dan’s tribe left the Sinai camp, along with their army led by Ahiezer, Ammishaddai’s son. 26 Asher’s tribe followed, with their army led by Pagiel, Ochran’s son. 27 The last tribe out was Naphtali, with its army led by Ahira, Enan’s son. 28 This is how the tribes left, one tribe at a time, traveling in this same order.
Moses invites his father-in-law29 Moses gave an invitation to his father-in-law, Hobab, son of Reuel from the land of Midian. He said, “We’re off to a place the LORD has given us. Come with us. The LORD has promised us good things. You can get in on it if you come along.” 30 Hobab said, “No, I’ll pass on that. I’m headed back home to my family.” 31 Moses said, “Come on now, don’t leave. You’re the perfect guide for us. You know this territory and the best places to camp. 32 If you go with us, you’ll get in on all the good things the LORD has in store for us.” 33 The Israelites left the LORD’s Mountain. They traveled three days, with the Box of the Law on point, ahead of everyone else. Along the way, Israelites looked for a good spot to rest. 34 The LORD’s cloud traveled with them out of the camp. 35 Whenever it was time to leave, and time for the Box of the Law to take point, Moses cried out:
“Rise and shine, LORD!
Clear your enemies out of our way.
If they hate you, send them running.”
“Come back home to us LORD,
To the thousands of Israelites here.”
The cloud lifting was a signal that it was time to break camp and move on. It was late in the spring. The month is called Iyar, and it usually falls between April and May. In the time of Moses, the Israelites followed a lunar calendar, with every month starting at the first tiny crescent after the new moon. A new moon is when the moon is hidden behind earth’s shadow for one day. The sun, moon, and earth are aligned, with earth in the middle.
Wherever the Paran Desert was, it seems to have been no more than a few days away from Mount Sinai. The Israelites got there during a single excursion. Scholars generally say the desert was north of Mount Sinai and south of Israel’s Negev badlands. Some scholars say its eastern border was the rift valley, which is a huge rip in the earth’s crust, from the Dead Sea southward to the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba.
See Numbers 4:1-16.
It’s uncertain who Hobab was. Bible writers seem to offer three names for the father-in-law of Moses. He’s Jethro in Exodus 3:1; 18:2 and elsewhere. He’s Hobab here. And he’s Reuel in Exodus 2:18, 21. Scholars try to solve the mystery with theories. For example: Reuel may have been the name of Jethro’s tribe. And Hobab may have been a brother-in-law of Moses. The phrasing is vague enough to make that a possibility. But if Hobab is the brother-in-law, he’s suddenly and only momentarily popping up out of nowhere just in time to get this invitation. On the other hand, the father-in-law is on the record as visiting Moses at the Sinai camp (Exodus 18). Some scholars say the source of the confusion may have been the work of an editor pulling together stories from different sources. One theory is that an early source called the man Jethro sometimes and Hobab other times. And they speculate that Reuel came later because of the confused way that name shows up here. In other words, an editor picked it up here and presumed the “Reuel” referred to the father-in-law. Educated guesses are the best solution to this mystery so far. Sorry about that.
Midian was a nation along the northeast bank of the Red Sea, in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia.
The writer never tells us if Hobab accepted the invitation. But many scholars say they presume he did, since the next verse says they all left and the writer never mentions Hobab peeling off in another direction. Yet, that’s another uncertain presumption.
Mount Sinai, also known as Horeb. This is where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-13).
Also known as the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-plated box that held the Ten Commandments. It represented the presence of God among the Israelites, traveling with them and, in this case, ahead of them.
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