Introduction: After a long wait, God’s people finally began their journey from Mount Sinai / Horeb to the Promised Land. God expected order, discipline, patience, and obedience as He guided His people moved forward. The same is true today. From the example of God’s people, Numbers 10 reveals important lessons for your journey to the eternal Promised Land.
The Jews’ journey to the Promised Land1
God will wait until you are ready before He uses you. The Jews waited at Mount Horeb for almost a year before they began their journey. They arrived at Mount Horeb at the start of the third month of the first year of their journey (Ex. 19:1). They left on the 20th day of the second month of the second year: “11 Now in the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth of the month, the cloud was lifted from above the tabernacle of the testimony; 12 and the sons of Israel set out on their journeys from the wilderness of Sinai. Then the cloud settled in the wilderness of Paran.” (Nu. 10:11-12). They spent an entire year receiving the instructions for the Tabernacle at the end of Exodus and the laws of Leviticus. They spent an additional 20 days receiving the final instructions on how to organize themselves at the beginning of the book of Numbers. You can imagine that the people were anxious to move on to the Promised Land and escape the barren desert with its temperature extremes. Yet, they needed to wait and receive God’s instruction. Why would God force the people to wait and first learn His Law? They needed to know how to live in the world without falling victim to sin. The same lesson applies to us.
God brings you into the wilderness to get your attention. God’s Law offered the Jews protection from the snare of sin. The Jews were meant to teach His Law as a light to the nations trapped in sin (Is. 49:6). They would not, however, be much of a light for God if they did not first stop and learn His Law. They also would not have paid much attention to His Law if they were living in the green lands of Israel as opposed to the desert at Mount Horeb. God also sometimes needs to pull you into the wilderness before you will listen to Him: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Bring her into the wilderness And speak kindly to her.” (Hos. 2:14). Have you made yourself so busy that you cannot hear Him? Do you have time devoted to prayer and reading the Word?
God can only use you for limited things if you don’t study His Word. If you never learn God’s Word, you cannot educate other believers. If you are a parent, you also cannot fulfill your calling to be a teacher of His Word to your kids and grandkids. “. . . but make them known [God’s statutes] to your sons and your grandsons.” (Dt. 4:9; 6:7). “You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Dt. 11:19). “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6; Ps. 78:4-6; Eph. 6:4). To help teach and guide others, you must also devote a period of your life studying His Word. What kind of a light are you if you don’t learn God’s word? If you only study the New Testament but never the Law of the Old Testament, how much will Jesus’ mercy and grace mean to you?
If you don’t learn God’s Word, you won’t be able to cope in the wilderness. After leaving Mount Horeb, the first place the Jews went to was the wilderness of Paran (Nu. 10:12). After nearly a year of waiting in a wilderness, the last place people would want to enter into was another wilderness. Moreover, as we will see in the next chapter, this led to more murmuring and complaining. If you know God’s Word and stay close to Him, it will not bother you to be in the wilderness. When you are forced to trust God for everything in the wilderness, He will show you that He is always there for you. Do you stray from God when times are good and only return to Him in times of trouble?
Let God’s Word be a light unto your path. The Jews moved out following God’s cloud only after He commanded them to do so: “13 So they moved on for the first time in accordance with the command of the Lord through Moses.” (Nu. 10:13). He guided them with a pillar of light both day and night: “21 The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. 22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.” (Ex. 13:21-22). This foreshadowed the role of both God’s Word and the Holy Spirit in guiding believers.
If you submit to God’s will, He will guide your path2
Let His Spirit interpret the Word to guide you in your walk. Instead of a pillar of light, God has left you with His Word to guide you and protect you: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). Before Jesus left, He also promised that He would leave us with “a helper” – the Holy Spirit – to teach us His will (Jo. 14:26). But we cannot see Him directly. We need to trust God and know that He is there. Jesus explained that many see without seeing and hear without hearing (Matt. 13:13; Mk. 4:12; Lk. 8:10). The Holy Spirit guides you through prayer and when you read the Word: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26). Yet, in order for the Holy Spirit to bring you into “remembrance of all that [Christ] said to you” you need to know God’s Word. Have you given the Spirit a lot of verses to work with? Can He remind you of much with only a few memorized verses?
Let the Cross represent what you stand for. The army of the tribe of Judah set out first with its standard or flag for all to see: “14 The flag of the camp of the sons of Judah, by their armies, set out first, with Nahshon the son of Amminadab, over its army,” (Nu. 10:14). The cross is the symbol of what believers should stand for. Yet, don’t let people see the cross as a piece of jewelry for you. Instead, let them see it by your actions. His light in you should be visible to others if you are led by the Spirit in all that you do. This includes: (1) faith, (2) prayer, (3) reading the Word, (4) love, (5) joy, (6) obedience, and (7) helping those in need.
The lion of the tribe of Judah3
Submit to God’s appointed leaders. Each tribe submitted to one leader. God likewise commands that we submit to His appointed leaders. First, we submit to Him through his Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14), His Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and His church leadership (Matt. 18:17-20; Heb. 13:17). Second, we submit to our civil authorities (1 Pet. 2:13-14; Rom. 13:1-2). Third, we submit to His family order (Eph. 5:22-25; 6:10). Only when our authorities refuse to follow His Word can we ignore them (Acts. 4:19). Satan’s goal has always been to break down authority through rebellion. His goal is to create chaos and misery. His first rebellion led a third of the angels in rebellion against God’s rule (Rev. 12:3-9). He then led Eve to rebel against God’s rules (Gen. 3:1-4). He then led Adam and Eve to rebel against each other (Gen. 3:16). All of Satan’s 12 rebellions in the wilderness sought to depose Moses as the leader of the Jews. Jesus once quoted a prophecy: “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” (Mk. 14:23). Are you submitting to your leaders? Or, do you gossip and murmur about them?
Judah. From the tribe of Judah, the first leader was Nashon, “the discerner.” He was the son of Amminibad, “the people of a liberal giver.” “14 The flag of the camp of the sons of Judah, by their armies, set out first, with Nahshon the son of Amminadab, over its army,” (Nu. 10:14). For these names, God reveals that He gives liberally to those who seek to discern His will (Jam 1:5). Are you seeking His will as you seek to serve Him?
Issachar. From the tribe of Issachar, the second leader was Nethanel, “a gift of God”. He was the son of Zuar “little.” “15 and Nethanel the son of Zuar, over the tribal army of the sons of Issachar;” (Nu. 10:15). From these names, God reveals that those who are meek in His presence will receive His blessings and provision (Matt. 5:5). Are you humbly serving God? Or, are you serving Him in a way to promote yourself?
Zebulun. From the tribe of Zebulun, the third leader was Eliab, “God is Father.” He was the son of Helon “brave or strong.” “16 and Eliab the son of Helon over the tribal army of the sons of Zebulun.” (Nu. 10:16). “Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.” (Prov. 30:5; 2 Sam. 22:31). From these names, God reveals that those who are sons of God will never need to fear any evil (Ps. 23:4; 112:7). Are you giving your battles over to Him so that He can defeat your enemies and protect you?
Gershon / Merari. In between the tribes of Zebulun and Reuben, the clans from the tribe of Levi marched with the parts for the Tabernacle: “17 Then the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari, who were carrying the tabernacle, set out.” (Nu. 10:17). The various groups marched in stages. The clans of Gershon and Merari marched near the front to set up the Tabernacle when all the tribes arrived at their location. This shows that God is a God of order.
Reuben. From the tribe of Reuben, the fourth leader was Eilzur, “God is a Rock.” He was the son of Shedur “the Almighty fire.” “18 Next the flag of the camp of Reuben, by their armies, set out with Elizur the son of Shedeur, over its army,” (Nu. 10:18). From these names, God reveals that He is both your rock of protection and the one who will purify you (Ex. 24:17; Dt. 4:24). Again, He will also be a protection against your enemies (Ps. 18:30; 2 Sam 22:3, 31). Are you turning to Him when you face hardships? Are you also letting Him purify you?
Simeon. From the tribe of Simeon, the fifth leader was Shelumiel, “at peace with God.” He was the son of Zurishaddai “My rock is the Almighty.” “19 and Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai over the tribal army of the sons of Simeon,” (Nu. 10:19). From these names, God reveals that those who take refuge in Him as their rock will find peace. If you are troubled and lacking peace, are you turning to Him?
Gad. From the tribe of Gad, the sixth leader was Eliasaph, “God has added.” He was the son of Deul, “known of God.” “20 and Eliasaph the son of Deuel was over the tribal army of the sons of Gad.” (Nu. 10:20). From these names, God reveals that He has added all that a person needs to know when they seek Him out. If you feel that you are missing direction or don’t know what to do, are you seeking Him out in prayer? (Jam. 1:5).
Kohathites. In between the tribes of Gad and Ephraim were the Kohathites. This clan of Levi was responsible for carrying the holy objects: “21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy objects; and the tabernacle was set up before their arrival.” (Nu. 10:21). Yet, this did not include the ark. The ark marched at the front of the armies (Nu. 10:33). God included the Kohathites here to show His order and His concern that the people protect His holy things. Today, the Holy temple is within your body (1 Cor. 6:19). Are you protecting your body from evil?
Ephraim. From the tribe of Ephraim, the seventh leader was Elishama, “God has heard.” He was the son of Ammihud, “the people of majesty.” “22 Next the flag of the camp of the sons of Ephraim, by their armies, set out, with Elishama the son of Ammihud over its army,” (Nu. 10:22). From these names, God reveals that if you act righteously for Him, He will hear your prayers (Ps. 34:17). Are you living free from sin so that your prayers will not be “hindered”? (1 Pet. 3:7).
Manasseh. From the tribe of Manasseh, the eighth leader was Gamaliel, “God is a rewarder.” He was the son of Pedahzur, “the rock has redeemed.” “23 and Gamaliel the son of Pedahzur over the tribal army of the sons of Manasseh;” (Nu. 10:23). From these names, God reveals that those who are redeemed by faith in Christ’s blood and diligently seek Him out will be rewarded for their faith: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6; Ro. 6:5). Are you diligently seeking Christ out in faith?
Benjamin. From the tribe of Benjamin, the ninth leader was Abidan, “my father is judge.” He was the son of Gideoni, “the cutter down.” “24 and Abidan the son of Gideoni over the tribal army of the sons of Benjamin.” (Nu. 10:24). From these names, God reveals that those who trust in Him do not need to take vengeance into their own hands. They can trust God to avenge all wrongs (Is. 11:4; Ecc. 3:17; 1 Ki. 8:32). Are you giving over your battles and concerns to God? Have you forgiven those who have hurt you?
Dan. From the tribe of Dan, the tenth leader was Ahiezer, “brother of help.” He was the son of Ammishaddai, “the people of the Almighty.” “25 Then the flag of the camp of the sons of Dan, by their armies, which formed the rear guard for all the camps, set out, with Ahiezer the son of Ammishaddai over its army,” (Nu. 10:25). From these names, God reveals that if you want to trust in Him for your needs, you should help your brothers and sisters in need (Eph. 4:2-3; Gal. 6:2). Are you helping others or just yourself?
Asher. From the tribe of Asher, the eleventh leader was Pagiel, “event of God.” He was the son of Ocran, “afflicted.” “26 and Pagiel the son of Ochran over the tribal army of the sons of Asher;” (Nu. 10:26). “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Prov. 31:9). God repeatedly tells us to practice “justice” for those in need (Prov. 28:5; Jer. 22:3; Eze. 18:21; Zeck. 7:9; Matt. 23:23). Jesus also encourages that we serve the poor, the sick, and the hungry (Matt. 25:31-46). When you devote your free time to helping the persons in need, you are serving Christ: “I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matt. 25:40). Part of “true religion” also involves helping those in need (Jam. 1:27). If you do nothing to help those around you, your faith is “dead” (Jam. 2:17-20). Are you giving of your time and treasure to help the poor and the powerless?
Naphtali. From the tribe of Naphtali, the twelfth leader was Ahira, “brother of evil.” He was the son of Enan, “having eyes.” “27 and Ahira the son of Enan over the tribal army of the sons of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of marching for the sons of Israel by their armies as they set out”. (Nu. 10:27-28). From these names, God reveals that you should always be on the lookout for misguided brothers or sisters who seek to pull His sheep astray. A good shepherd is always looking for dangers to the flock. Are you seeking to protect your children and others from evil influences in society?
God sometimes speaks to us through other people. Before departing, Moses asked Hobab, the brother of his wife Zipporah, to help guide them. “Then Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, ‘We are setting out to the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you’; come with us and we will do you good, for the Lord has promised good concerning Israel.’ 30 But he said to him, ‘I will not come, but rather will go to my own land and relatives.’ 31 Then he said, ‘Please do not leave us, inasmuch as you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will be as eyes for us. 32 So it will be, if you go with us, that whatever good the Lord does for us, we will do for you.”’ (Nu. 10:29-32). Moses’ request for help from a foreigner might come as a surprise to some. He could have simply trusted God’s cloud to guide them. But the cloud would have given them general guidance as it traveled as the crow flies. Moses needed to be humble to ask others for help to navigate the specific terrain of the land. Similarly, he let his father-in-law Jethro advise him on delegating authority (Ex. 18:17-27). The lesson is that God may give you general advice through the Spirit and the Word. But you must sometimes look to others for specific advice in life. In addition to the Spirit, are you seeking counsel from brothers or sisters who are mature in their walk?
Moses asked Hobab to help guide God’s people4
The Jews’ initial journey lasted only three days. The Jews only had a three-day journey (18-20 miles) before they stopped for rest: “Thus they set out from the mount of the LORD three days' journey, with the ark of the covenant of the LORD journeying in front of them for the three days, to seek out a resting place for them.” (Nu. 10:33). God has also prepared a place of rest for all believers in Christ: “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. 10 For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” (Heb. 4:9-10). When we follow Christ, His yoke will also be easy: “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt. 11:30). Are you trying to live the simple life according to His will? Or, do you carry a heavy burden trying to pursue after your own will?
The ark traveled in front of the people. The ark went in front of the people as they marched through the wilderness: “33 . . . the ark of the covenant of the Lord going on in front of them . . . 34 And the cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.” (Nu. 10:33-34). It was a symbol for what the people stood for. It also symbolized that God led the way on their journey. His cloud also led them as the Jews marched forward: “The cloud of the LORD was over them by day when they set out from the camp.” (Nu. 10:34). He also must lead you on your journey. Is the light of Christ the first thing that people see in your actions?
The ark traveling in front, symbolically showed that God was in control5
Moses’ prayer for the enemies of God to scatter. Moses prayed that God’s enemies would be scattered as they approached the Promised Land: “Then it came about when the ark set out that Moses said, ‘Rise up, O LORD! And let Your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate You flee before You.’ When it came to rest, he said, ‘Return, O LORD, to the myriad thousands of Israel.”’ (Nu. 10:35-36). If the Jews followed God’s Covenant, He promised victory over their enemies: “7 But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; 8 five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.” (Lev. 26:7-8; Ex. 23:22; Nu 10:9, 35; Isa. 54:17; Gen. 22:17). “The Lord shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways.” (Dt. 28:7). With God’s help, Jonathon killed 20 enemy soldiers (1 Sam. 14:14). Likewise, it was God’s blessing that allowed David to kill Goliath (1 Sam. 17:50-58). God also used Gideon’s small army of only 300 soldiers to kill 120,000 enemy Midianites (Jdgs. 7:16-22; 8:10). If you need God’s protection, does your faith show the fruit of obedience?