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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 11–28
Verses 11–28

Here is, I. A general account of the removal of the camp of Israel from mount Sinai, before which mountain it had lain now about a year, in which time and place a great deal of memorable business was done. Of this removal, it should seem, God gave them notice some time before (Deut. 1:6; 7): You have dwelt long enough in this mountain, turn you and take your journey towards the land of promise. The apostle tells us that mount Sinai genders to bondage (Gal. 4:24), and signifies the law there given, which is of use indeed as a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, yet we must not rest in it, but advance towards the joys and liberties of the children of God, for our happiness is conferred not by the law, but by promise. Observe, 1. The signal given (Num. 10:11): The cloud was taken up, and we may suppose it stood for some time, till they were ready to march; and a great deal of work it was to take down all those tents, and pack up all those goods that they had there; but every family being employed about its own, and all at the same time, many hands made quick work of it. 2. The march began: They took their journey according to the commandment of the Lord, and just as the cloud led them, Num. 10:13. Some think that mention is thus frequently made in this and the foregoing chapter of the commandment of the Lord, guiding and governing them in all their travels, to obviate the calumny and reproach which were afterwards thrown upon Israel, that they tarried so long in the wilderness, because they had lost themselves there, and could not find the way out. No, the matter was not so; in every stage, in every step, they were under divine direction; and, if they knew not where they were, yet he that led them knew. Note, Those that have given up themselves to the direction of God’s word and Spirit steer a steady course, even when they seem to be bewildered. While they are sure they cannot lose their God and guide, they need not fear losing their way. 3. The place they rested in, after three days’ march: They went out of the wilderness of Sinai, and rested in the wilderness of Paran. Note, All our removals in this world are but from one wilderness to another. The changes which we think will be for the better do not always prove so; while we carry about with us, wherever we go, the common infirmities of human nature, we must expect, wherever we go, to meet with its common calamities; we shall never be at rest, never at home, till we come to heaven, and all will be well there.

II. A particular draught of the order of their march, according to the late model. 1. Judah’s squadron marched first, Num. 10:14-16. The leading standard, now lodged with that tribe, was an earnest of the sceptre which in David’s time should be committed to it, and looked further to the captain of our salvation, of whom it was likewise foretold that unto him should the gathering of the people be. 2. Then came those two families of the Levites which were entrusted to carry the tabernacle. As soon as ever the cloud was taken up, the tabernacle was taken down, and packed up for removing, Num. 10:17. And here the six wagons came laden with the more bulky part of the tabernacle. This frequent removing of the tabernacle in all their journeys signified the movableness of that ceremonial dispensation. That which was so often shifted would at length vanish away, Heb. 8:13. 3. Reuben’s squadron marched forward next, taking place after Judah, according to the commandment of the Lord, Num. 10:18-20. 4. Then the Kohathites followed with their charge, the sacred furniture of the tabernacle, in the midst of the camp, the safest and most honourable place, Num. 10:21. And they (that is, says the margin, the Gershonites and Merarites) did set up the tabernacle against they came; and perhaps it is expressed thus generally because, if there was occasion, not those Levites only, but the other Israelites that were in the first squadron, lent a hand to the tabernacle to hasten the rearing of it up, even before they set up their own tents. 5. Ephraim’s squadron followed next after the ark (Num. 10:22-24), to which some think the psalmist alludes when he prays (Ps. 80:2), Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, the three tribes that composed this squadron, stir up thy strength (and the ark is called his strength, Ps. 78:61), and come and save us. 6. Dan’s squadron followed last, Num. 10:25-27. It is called the rearward, or gathering host, of all the camps, because it gathered up all that were left behind; not the women and children (these we may suppose were taken care of by the heads of their families in their respective tribes), but all the unclean, the mixed multitude, and all that were weak and feeble, and cast behind in their march. Note, He that leadeth Joseph like a flock has a tender regard to the hindmost (Ezek. 34:16), that cannot keep pace with the rest, and of all that are given him he will lose none, John 17:11.