Here is, I. An account of what passed between Moses and Hobab, now upon this advance which the camp of Israel made towards Canaan. Some think that Hobab was the same with Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, and that the story, Exod. 18:1-27, should come in here; it seems more probable that Hobab was the son of Jethro, alias Reuel, or Raguel (Exod. 2:18), and that when the father, being aged, went to his own land (Exod. 18:27), he left his son Hobab with Moses, as Barzillai left Chimham with David; and the same word signifies both a father-in-law and a brother-in-law. Now this Hobab staid contentedly with Israel while they encamped at mount Sinai, near his own country; but, now that they were removing, he was for going back to his own country and kindred, and his father’s house. Here is, 1. The kind invitation Moses gives him to go forward with them to Canaan, Num. 10:29. He tempts him with a promise that they would certainly be kind to him, and puts God’s word in for security: The Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel. As if he had said, “Come, cast in thy lot among us, and thou shalt fare as we fare; and we have the promise of God that we shall fare well.” Note, Those that are bound for the heavenly Canaan should invite and encourage all their friends to go along with them, for we shall have never the less of the treasures of the covenant, and the joys of heaven, for others coming in to share with us. And what argument can be more powerful with us to take God’s people for our people than this, that God hath spoken good concerning them? It is good having fellowship with those that have fellowship with God (1 John 1:3), and going with those with whom God is, Zech. 8:23. 2. Hobab’s inclination, and present resolution, to go back to his own country, Num. 10:30. One would have thought that he who had seen so much of the special presence of God with Israel, and such surprising tokens of his favour to them, would not have needed much invitation to embark with them. But his refusal must be imputed to the affection he had for his native air and soil, which was not overpowered, as it ought to have been, by a believing regard to the promise of God and a value for covenant blessings. He was indeed a son of Abraham’s loins (for the Midianites descended from Abraham by Keturah), but not an heir of Abraham’s faith (Heb. 11:8), else he would not have given Moses this answer. Note, The things of this world, which are seen, draw strongly from the pursuit of the things of the other world, which are not seen. The magnetic virtue of this earth prevails with most people above the attractives of heaven itself. 3. The great importunity Moses used with him to alter his resolution, Num. 10:31; 32. He urges, (1.) That he might be serviceable to them: “We are to encamp in the wilderness” (a country well known to Hobab), “and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes, not to show us where we must encamp, nor what way we must march” (which the cloud was to direct), “but to show us the conveniences and inconveniences of the place we march through and encamp in, that we may make the best use we can of the conveniences, and the best fence we can against the inconveniences.” Note, It will very well consist with our trust in God’s providence to make use of the help of our friends in those things wherein they are capable of being serviceable to us. Even those that were led by miracle must not slight the ordinary means of direction. Some think that Moses suggests this to Hobab, not because he expected much benefit from his information, but to please him with the thought of being some way useful to so great a body, and so to draw him on with them, by inspiring him with an ambition to obtain that honour. Calvin gives quite another sense of this place, very agreeably with the original, which yet I do not find taken notice of by any since. “Leave us not, I pray thee, but come along, to share with us in the promised land, for therefore hast thou known our encampment in the wilderness, and hast been to us instead of eyes; and we cannot make thee amends for sharing with us in our hardships, and doing us so many good offices, unless thou go with us to Canaan. Surely for this reason thou didst set out with us that thou mightest go on with us.” Note, Those that have begun well should use that as a reason for their persevering, because otherwise they lose the benefit and recompence of all they have done and suffered. (2.) That they would be kind to him: What goodness the Lord shall do to us, the same we will do to thee, Num. 10:32. Note, [1.] We can give only what we receive. We can do no more service and kindness to our friends than God is pleased to put it into the power of our hand to do. This is all we dare promise, to do good as God shall enable us. [2.] Those that share with God’s Israel in their labours and hardships shall share with them in their comforts and honours. Those that are willing to take their lot with them in the wilderness shall have their lot with them in Canaan; if we suffer with them we shall reign with them, 2 Tim. 2:12; Luke 22:28, 29.
We do not find any reply that Hobab here made to Moses, and therefore we hope that his silence gave consent, and he did not leave them, but that, when he perceived he might be useful, he preferred that before the gratifying of his own inclination; in this case he left us a good example. And we find (Jdg. 1:16; 1 Sam. 15:6) that his family was no loser by it.
II. An account of the communion between God and Israel in this removal. They left the mount of the Lord (Num. 10:33), that Mount Sinai where they had seen his glory and heard his voice, and had been taken into covenant with him (they must not expect that such appearances of God to them as they had there been blessed with should be constant); they departed from that celebrated mountain, which we never read of in scripture any more, unless with reference to these past stories; now farewell, Sinai; Zion is the mountain of which God has said. This is my rest for ever (Ps. 132:14), and of which we must say so. But when they left the mount of the Lord they took with them the ark of the covenant of the Lord, by which their stated communion with God was to be kept up. For,
1. By it God did direct their paths. The ark of the covenant went before them, some think in place, at least in this removal; others think only in influence; though it was carried in the midst of the camp, yet the cloud that hovered over it directed all their motions. The ark (that is, the God of the ark) is said to search out a resting place for them; not that God’s infinite wisdom and knowledge need to make searches, but every place they were directed to was as convenient for them as if the wisest man they had among them had been employed to go before them, and mark out their camp to the best advantage. thus Canaan is said to be a land which God spied out, Ezek. 20:6.
2. By it they did in all their ways acknowledge God, looking upon it as a token of God’s presence; when that moved, or rested, they had their eye up unto God. Moses, as the mouth of the congregation, lifted up a prayer, both at the removing and at the resting of the ark; thus their going out and coming in were sanctified by prayer, and it is an example to us to begin and end every day’s journey, and every day’s work, with prayer.
(1.) Here is his prayer when the ark set forward: Rise up, Lord, and let thy enemies be scattered, Num. 10:35. They were now in a desolate country, but they were marc f4e hing towards an enemy’s country, and their dependence was upon God for success and victory in their wars, as well as for direction and supply in the wilderness. David used this prayer long after (Ps. 68:1), for he also fought the Lords’ battles. Note, [1.] There are those in the world that are enemies to God, and haters of him: secret and open enemies; enemies to his truths, his laws, his ordinances, his people. [2.] The scattering and defeating of God’s enemies is a thing to be earnestly desired, and believingly expected, by all the Lord’s people. This prayer is a prophecy. Those that persist in rebellion against God are hasting towards their own ruin. [3.] For the scattering and defeating of God’s enemies, there needs no more but God’s arising. When God arose to judgment, the work was soon done, Ps. 76:8; 9. “Rise, Lord, as the sun riseth to scatter the shadows of the night.” Christ’s rising from the dead scattered his enemies, Ps. 68:18.
(2.) His prayer when the ark rested, Num. 10:36. [1.] That God would cause his people to rest. So some read it, “Return, O Lord, the many thousands of Israel, return them to their rest again after this fatigue.” Thus it is said (Isa. 63:14), The Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest. Thus he prays that God would give Israel success and victory abroad, and peace and tranquillity at home. [2.] That God himself would take up his rest among them. So we read it: Return to the thousands of Israel, the ten thousand thousand, so the word is. Note, First, The church of God is a great body; there are many thousands belonging to God’s Israel. Secondly, We ought in our prayers to concern ourselves for this body. Thirdly, The welfare and happiness of the Israel of God consist in the continual presence of God among them. Their safety consists not in their numbers, though they are thousands, many thousands, but in the favour of God, and his gracious return to them and residence with them. These thousands are cyphers; he is the figure: and upon this account, Happy art thou, O Israel! who is like unto thee, O people!