Bible Study with Jairus – Numbers 10- Moses’ Extended Family, God’s Presence in Battle, and Preparing for War

Numbers 10 covers many topics: how to blow the trumpets (vs. 1-10); how to set out (vs. 11-13); marching order as they set out (vs 14-28); Moses pleading with Hobab (vs. 29-32); and the leading of the ark (vs. 33-36). What is the relationship of these to each other?

I believe that the pieces are closely linked. The theme of this connection is the relationship between God’s presence and doing battle for God. Let’s look at some of the background before connecting all the pieces.

Hobab…Father-in Law or Brother-in-Law?

When first reading Numbers 10, many people are confused about the name of Moses’ father-in-law. Numbers 10:29 says, “Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law…” This section is very confusing. The meaning in the ESV is “Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses, is the son of Reuel the Midianite,” because Judges 4:11 mentions “Hobab, the father-in-law of Moses.” But when I first read it, I  read it that Moses’ father-in-law was Reuel, and he had a son named Hobab. Someone else pointed out that this understanding was not consistent with Judges 4:11. It seemed to her that the father of Hobab, Moses’ father-in-law, was called Reuel. But I said that when Exodus 2:18 was talking about Moses helping to water the flock of the daughters of a Midianite priest in the wilderness, it was mentioned that their father’s name was “Reuel.” This proves that Reuel is not Moses’ grandfather, but rather Moses’ father-in-law himself. When Exodus 3:1 mentions Moses’ father-in-law, the name used is “Jethro.”

So what is the name of Moses’ father-in-law? There is an explanation that “Jethro” is just a title, like the title of the Midianite priest, and “Reuel” is the name of his father-in-law. In Judges 4:11, the word “father-in-law” in “Moses’ father-in-law Hobab” is the same as “brother-in-law” in the original Hebrew text. Therefore, some Bible translation scholars also advocate that the father-in-law in Judges 4:11 be translated as “brother-in-law.”

Because there are different translations in the different English Bible versions, we often find certain words translated differently. For example, NRSV, Darby Bible Translation, King James, ESV, and others have translated Judges 4:11 into “Moses’ father-in-law Hobab.” But there are also many versions, including the New Living Translation, NIV, Good News Translation, New Heart English Bible, American Standard Version, English Revised Version, World English Bible, and more which have translated it as “Moses’ brother-in-law.” It can be seen that theologians have different understandings or ideas on how to translate this verse.

My inspiration is that Hobab is Moses’ brother-in-law. Why? I will give an example to prove my guess. First, let us look at Exodus 18. Exodus 18 tells how Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of the great things God had done for Moses and for the Israelites, so he  brought Moses’ wife and two children with him to the mountain of God. Moses then testified to his father-in-law again of how God saved the Israelites. Jethro’s reaction to Moses’ news is recorded in Exodus 18:9-12 (ESV):

 “And Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.” And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.”

Looking at these verses, we can see that Jethro praised Jehovah and offered sacrifices to God. To use a common phrase among Christians, Jethro seems to have received salvation and accepted God’s salvation when he heard Moses’ testimony. Exodus 18:13-26 then records that Jethro gave Moses advice. He told him to appoint chiefs of thousands and hundreds, etc. to help him judge the people. Please note that verse 18:27 (ESV) says, “Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country.

What we should focus on here is the place and time when Jethro came. He might have come to Mount Sinai, the place where Moses set up the tabernacle, sometime in the second year after the Israelites left Egypt. Exodus 16:1 (ESV) recorded that the Israelites came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. After Moses let his father-in-law depart (Exodus 18:27), Exodus 19:1 records that the Israelites came to the wilderness of Sinai “on the third new moon” in the second year after the Israelites left Egypt. The NIV says “on the first day of the third month” instead. And Numbers 10:11-13 (ESV) mentions, “In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle of the testimony, and the people of Israel set out by stages from the wilderness of Sinai. And the cloud settled down in the wilderness of Paran. They set out for the first time at the command of the Lord by Moses.”

The book of Numbers records that they had been traveling from the wilderness of Sinai on February 20 of the second year. Perhaps they made stops along the way. Perhaps they were still in Sinai in March, when Jehovah descended on Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 records Moses going up the mountain to meet with God, where the Lord spoke to Moses for a long time and promulgated the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). Moses stayed with God on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 24:18). Then, in Exodus 31, the Lord commanded Moses to build the tabernacle. After Moses went down the mountain, he found that the Israelites broke the law by worshipping the golden calf. Later, he went again to Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights (Exodus 34:28). Chapter 35 begins to record the details of the construction of the tabernacle. In Exodus 40:2 (ESV), the Lord says to Moses: “On the first day of the first month you shall erect the tabernacle of the tent of meeting.” It can be seen that Moses was setting up the tabernacle on the first day of the first month of the second year after the Israelites left Egypt. The record of leaving Egypt ends here. It was mentioned that the clouds covering the tabernacle guided the Israelites’ movement. When the cloud was lifted from above the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out. The book of Numbers is a continuation of the records here. It continues to record the journey of the Israelites.

I guess that Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, left during the period around February 20, the second year after the Israelites left Egypt. Plus this was also recorded in chapter 16 before Jethro came in Exodus 18. The Israelites were in the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, around February 15. If this was recorded in chronological order, Moses’ father-in-law may have come to see Moses after February 15th. On February 20th, the Israelites began to “set out for the first time”. Perhaps the wilderness of Sinai was large and they had walked for quite a long time.

Although we don’t know exactly when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came, we can guess from the above verses that he may come around February 15-20. How does this prove that the Hobab recorded in Numbers 10:29 might be Moses’ brother-in-law, rather than his father-in-law? If he was his father-in-law, there would be no need for Exodus 18:27: “Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country.” In Numbers 10, if Moses had begged for his father-in-law to not leave him, why didn’t he prevent his father-in-law from leaving in Exodus 18? He encouraged it! We should also consider the distance Jethro would have had to travel to reach Moses’ camp. At that time, transportation was inconvenient. It is unlikely that Jethro would leave and come back that soon. This makes no sense!

Furthermore, we read that Moses’ father-in-law was old and he had praised and offered sacrifices to Jehovah. So Moses was also comfortable with his leaving, knowing he would have a proper burial in his own country. It is very difficult for people to leave their hometowns when they are old, so Jethro likely would not have wanted to travel further with Moses. So Moses did not think it necessary to stop his father-in-law from leaving. However, when Moses’ father-in-law came, he might have brought Moses’ brother-in-law Hobab with him and stayed with Moses for a few more days. When Moses was encamping, Hobab might have said that he hoped to go back to his own country like his father, Jethro. That’s why Moses begged him to stay. Why? My guess is that, although Hobab wanted to return to his hometown, he was still young. The Bible does not record if he knew Jehovah, so if he went back, he might not be able to enter the kingdom of God peacefully like his father. Thus Moses hoped that Hobab could embark on a difficult but promising journey with him so that Hobab’s family could be saved. Moses may have thought that he could still convince him to spend part of his time travelling with the Israelites.

Moses’ Heart for Others

Numbers 10:31-32 tells us, “Thus Moses begged Hobab and said, ‘Please do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. And if you do go with us, whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same will we do to you.’” Some people think that Moses does not trust God enough here but I disagree. Wherever Moses went, he had the presence and leading of the cloud. He did not necessarily need the help of Hobab. But if Hobab left Moses, he would not necessarily be able to enjoy the presence of God. The issue was not that Moses needed Hobab.. Rather, he was worried that Hobab would wander away from God.

The Line of Hobab

Of course, the Bible does not record in Numbers 10 whether Hobab agreed to Moses’ request, but other verses suggest that Hobab did walk with Moses. Judges 1 tells the story of Judah going up first to fight. It is especially recorded in verse 16: “The descendants of the Kenite, Moses’ father-in-law, went up with the people of Judah from the city of palms into the wilderness of Judah, which lies in the Negeb near Arad, and they went and settled with the people.” From this verse, we can see that Hobab may have agreed to Moses’ request, and thus received God’s blessing while dwelling with the tribe of Judah. Judges 4:11 says, “Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses (or brother-in-law), and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh.” The descendant of Hobab, which is Jael, killed Sisera, Israel’s enemy. Part of Hobab’s line became warriors to fight for God. Since Hobab followed Moses and took this arduous journey, he had also received great blessings.

I heard Chuck Pierce, a prophet in the United States, say that the word for “peg” in the passage where Jael hits Sisera’s head is the same word in the Hebrew text as the word “and” in Genesis 1:1 (“God created the heavens and the earth”). This tent peg is made of wood. It represents that when Christ was crucified on the cross, the heavens and the earth were linked together, and the power of God’s enemy Satan (represented by Sisera) was removed. God used the descendant of Hobab to show his power.

Directions for War: Then and Now

When I was reading Numbers 10:1-10, the Holy Spirit highlighted verse 8 to me:

The sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. The trumpets shall be to you for a perpetual statute throughout your generations.”

The two trumpets that Jehovah had Moses make had specific instructions for blowing the trumpets, and only the sons of Aaron, the priests, could blow them. What does this mean? This is signifying the presence of God. A priest is a person who serves God and gets to enter into His presence. Christians today must first be priests to draw near to God and minister to God Himself, and then enter into His presence before we can hear and release His words. The words of God are represented by the trumpets here, and these trumpets will lead us into battle.

When two trumpets were sounded, all the Israelites would come. When only one trumpet was sounded, only the leader would come. When a trumpet blast was sounded, the tribes camping on the east were to set out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south were to set out. Numbers 10:9 says, “When you go to war in your land against the adversary who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Lord your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies.” It can be seen that blowing the trumpets was indeed for war purposes.

I have made several observations about some people’s pursuit of spiritual warfare in the Pentecostal Movement. Some people I personally met have limited life and spiritual experience, but they often claimed that they engaged in spiritual warfare against enemies all day. I personally encountered these kinds of people. They would see demons in every place and under every situation. I also saw that they were deceived by the enemy in the end. I felt that they had a good heart, but their focus was misplaced. Our focus should not be centered on spiritual enemies. Rather, we need to focus on the Lord.

The secret of spiritual warfare is not to fight, but to rest and enter into God’s presence. Only by entering the presence of God and the richness and fullness of God’s life can you overcome the enemy. However, this does not mean that spiritual warfare is not real. Many evangelical brothers and sisters ignore the reality of spiritual warfare and do not dare to be in contact with the spiritual realm or pursue spiritual gifts. The purpose of our pursuit of God is not just to have His presence for the sake of having it. After we enter into God’s presence, we will naturally enter a spiritual battle.

This is also true in the second section of the chapter (vs. 11-13). The leading of the cloud is also the presence of God. In the third section (vs. 14-28), the order of the seven camps of the twelve tribes shows preparations for war. The tribes in the east set out first. After the tabernacle was taken down, the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who carried the tabernacle, carried them away. The tabernacle represented God’s presence. When there was war in the Old Testament, the people had to walk with the ark and exalt it to win. This is proved by the later experiences of Moses and the experiences of the Israelites in the book of Judges. Then the camps on the south side set out before the Kohathites, who carried the objects of the sanctuary. After they arrived, the Gershonites and Merarites would set up the tabernacle and would directly put the objects of the sanctuary and the Holy of Holies into the tabernacle. This was to bring in or maintain God’s constant presence.

Do you see the cycle? God’s presence brings in spiritual warfare. But it is with God’s presence that we see victory in war. The purpose of war is to bring in more of the presence of God. It is a circle. On the one hand, there is God’s presence. On the other hand, there is victory in wars with the help of God.

Here is where we begin to see connections between the pieces of the chapter. This is all recorded before Moses begged Hobab. My inspiration in this is also to signify the theme of God’s presence and war. The process of the Israelites leaving Egypt is a process of manifesting the power of God. Along the way, it is like testifying to the Gentiles. They let the prostitute Rahab (Joshua 6) and Gibeon (Joshua 9) etc. be able to join the army of God. This is a natural result of God’s presence. Hobab may have been heard-headed, but he was still subdued and attracted by God’s presence. Thus, in the end, he may have followed Moses embarking on a journey and a battle of leaving his home.

How can the presence of God not attract people? If we really have the presence of God, our relatives will follow us. I found this true in my own life. It was not me, but the presence of God in my family that drew my realtives to Him. Like Hobab, they joined us in the army of God. Therefore, from this perspective, Hobab could not have left Moses in this place. If he left, I believe it would have been an insult to the presence of God.

The Importance of Like-minded Friends

Of course, I do not deny that Moses had his weaknesses. We can imagine Moses’ moods. Suppose that Hobab was Moses’ brother-in-law, and may have lived with Moses for nearly 40 years. Moses might have said to Hobab, “Look, God put the burden of leading the Israelites on my shoulders. I already told God to kill me. I can’t bear it, but God still won’t listen. Although God commanded me to lead the Israelites in leaving Egypt and performing miracles for them, they complain constantly (Numbers 11 records that the Israelites were complaining about God, and God burned some of them to death). Look at my brother Aaron and sister Miriam. They are also helping me, but they are jealous of me in their hearts (Chapter 12 records this story). I have only a few like-minded people. We have lived together for 40 years. You are someone I may be able to rely on. Please help me out.”

This is only my imagination. However, the Israelites had just left Egypt and had not had much time to build trust with Moses. Moses and his brother and sister had not lived together for a long time, so they were not familiar with each other. I don’t believe that Moses needed Hobab to lead them into camping in the wilderness. For one, the cloud of God led them. Also, Moses had lived in the wilderness for forty years, so he himself may have been familiar with the wilderness. What Moses needed was a like-minded person. Picture the situation of the church today. What many pastors lack is not the presence and leading of God, but like-mindedness from fellow church members. Thus, many times God’s call cannot be fulfilled. I think Paul also had the same feeling; he repeatedly reminded brothers and sisters to be like-minded (Philippians 2:2).

In order to win the battle, we need the presence of God and support from like-minded members of the body of Christ.

Final Thoughts

In the last section (vs. 33-36), it is recorded that Moses was praying to exalt the ark. This shows even more clearly that our inspiration may be right. Wherever there is the exaltation of the ark, there is the presence of God, there will be victory in battles, and enemies will also be scattered. The result of the victory in battles will naturally bring more of the presence of God, and will also bring more people of God into His kingdom.

I will repeat the last two verses here to serve as inspiration for us all.

And whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”

I pray that in your spiritual journey, you will be filled with the presence of God and surrounded by like-minded people so that you can win the battles you face. Let the name of Jehovah be exalted! May His glory fill the whole world in order to bring more people into the kingdom that He has prepared for us.