The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD said, 2“Moses, have two trumpets made of beaten silver. Use them to call the people together, and to signal breaking camp. 3Sound both trumpets to gather all the people at the meeting tent entrance. 4Sound one trumpet for the leaders, the tribal heads, to gather before you. 5At the sound of a trumpet blast, the tribes on the east are to set out. 6The second blast will signal the tribes on the south to head out. A trumpet blast will be the signal for each of the tribes to move out. 7To gather the people together have the trumpets blown, but not with a blast, because that is the signal for moving out.
8“Aaron’s sons, the priests, are to blow the trumpets, and this is a permanent arrangement throughout the generations. 9When you must go to war against a oppressing enemy, sound the trumpet blast, and the LORD your God will remember you and save you from your enemies. 10At your celebrations — annual gatherings and monthly new moon feasts – blow the trumpets for your burnt offerings and thanksgiving sacrifices, and your God will remember you; I am the LORD your God.”
11On the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year of their journey, the cloud rose from over the sanctuary of the covenant, 12and the Israelites set out from their camp in the Sinai Desert and moved place to place until the cloud settled in the Paran Desert. 13This first move, the trumpets not yet available, was at the LORD’s command through Moses.
14The camp of Judah moved under their banner, led by Nahshon son of Amminadab. 15Nethanel son of Zuar led Issachar out. 16Eliab son of Helon was over Zebulun.
17Then the meeting tent was taken down and carried by the Gershonites and Merarites.
18Reuben went next under their banner, led by Elizur son of Shedeur. 19Then Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai led Simeon. 20Eliasaph son of Deuel was over Gad. 21Then came the Kohathites who carried the sacred items from the sanctuary, so that the sanctuary would be erected before they arrived at the next camp.
22Ephraim then headed out under their banner, led by Elishama son of Ammihud. 23Gamaliel son of Pedahzur led the tribe of Manasseh. 24Abidan son of Gideoni led the tribe of Benjamin.
25Last, the tribes camped with Dan moved out under their banner, led by Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. 26Pagiel son of Okran was over the tribe of Asher. 27Ahira son of Enan was over the tribe of Naphtali. 28This completed the order in which the tribes moved from camp to camp.
29Moses said to his brother-in-law Hobab, son of his father-in-law Reuel the Midianite, “We are traveling now to the land the LORD is giving us. Come with us. We will treat you well; the LORD has promised to reward us.”
30But Hobab refused. “I’m going back to my own land and my own people,” he said.
31“Plaase don’t go,” Moses said. “You are the one who knows the best places to camp, and we need your foresight. 32If you stay with us you will have an equal share in whatever the LORD gives us.”
33So they set out from the LORD’s mountain. They traveled for three days to find a place to camp, led by the chest that contained the LORD’s commandments. 34The LORD’s cloud was over them each day of their journey.
35Whenever the sacred chest moved out, Moses said, “Rise up, LORD! Scatter your enemies! Sweep away your foes!”
36Whenever the sacred chest was set down, he said, “Return, LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel!”
1-10: A system of summoning is put in place. Two silver trumpets are fashioned to use in calling the people to the tabernacle, much like church bells in 19th century American villages. The trumpets are used for summoning all the people or just the leaders; they are used to blow “alarms” to alert the people that camp is being broken; they are used to summon troops to battle; and they are used to signal the beginning of festivals. The idea of the trumpet blast to signal the end of the world likely comes from these verses.
11-36: After having camped for nine months at Mt. Sinai they set out across the wilderness. Their arrival there is recorded in Exodus 19:1. The nine months at Mt. Sinai take up nearly 59 chapters of the Bible — about one chapter for every 5 days. Aren’t you glad they didn’t stay there 5 years! Their movement is reported in some detail:
The cloud lifts from over the tabernacle (vs. 11). This is on the 20th of Nisan — the “unclean” folks are permitted to celebrate the Passover a month later.
They set out in stages — first the tribes that are camped on the east, then the Gershon and Merari divisions of the Levites carrying the tabernacle; then the tribes on the south; then the Kohathites carrying the most holy things (they are at the center of the entourage, the place which gives them the most protection); then the tribes on the north, then the tribes on the west.
Moses makes a contract with Hobab, his brother-in-law, to journey with them (verses 25-32). Hobab is familiar with the territory and will provide invaluable guidance. But wait, wasn’t the cloud and the fire to do that? Yes, but God often provides layers of help to those whom God calls to particular service.
They journey for three days (sound familiar?) and camp in the wilderness of Paran a bit north and east of Mt. Sinai.
The chapter ends with the prayers Moses is to utter when they start out, inviting God to go before them, and when they camp again, inviting God to return to the tabernacle.
They are finally on the move. The next 39 years will take 60 chapters to record; about one chapter for every 237 days. Clearly their experiences at Mt. Sinai are the formative stage of Israel’s development as a faith community.
Again, I don’t think God requires all the details; God will not fall away from us if we don’t observe every instruction about rituals. But we need such detailed instructions to keep us from falling away from God.