Numbers 10:17
And the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari set forward, bearing the tabernacle.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) And the tabernacle was taken down . . . —The order of precedence as regards the twelve tribes which were encamped on the four sides of the Tabernacle is clearly laid down in Numbers 2, where it is ordered that the camp of the Lervites should set forward “in the midst of the camps” (Numbers 10:17). The precise position which the three bodies of Levites were to occupy in the marches is defined in this chapter. The Gershonites, who had the charge of the curtains and hangings of the Tabernacle and the court (Numbers 4:25-26), with their two wagons, and the Merarites, who had the charge of the heavier and more bulky materials (Numbers 4:31-32), with their four wagons, were to set forward after the first or eastern camp, which was composed of the tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon, in order that they might have time to erect the Tabernacle before the arrival of the Kohathites, “bearing the sanctuary” (or sacred things). Next in order after the Gershonites and Merarites followed the southern camp, consisting of the three tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. Then followed the Kohathites in the centre of the procession, “bearing the sanctuary.” After them marched the three tribes of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin, who formed the western camp, and as the rereward, the three tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali, which formed the northern camp. This arrangement serves to throw light upon Psalm 80:2 : “Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh stir up thy strength, and come and save us.

10:11-28 After the Israelites had continued nearly a year at mount Sinai, and all was settled respecting their future worship, they began their march to Canaan. True religion begins with the knowledge of the holy law of God, and humiliation for sin, but we must go on towards perfection, in acquaintance with Christ and his gospel, and those effectual encouragements, motives, and assistances to holiness, which it proposes. They took their journey according to the commandment of the Lord, De 1:6-8, and as the cloud led them. Those who give themselves to the direction of God's word and Spirit, steer a steady course, even when they seem bewildered. While they are sure they cannot lose their God and Guide, they need not fear losing their way. They went out of the wilderness of Sinai, and rested in the wilderness of Paran. All our removes in this world are but from one wilderness to another. The changes we think will be for the better do not always prove so. We shall never be at rest, never at home, till we come to heaven, but all will be well there.A more precise determination of the method of executing the order given in Numbers 2:17. The appointed place of the tabernacle, in the midst of the host, was represented during the march by the ark, the holy vessels, etc. carried by the Kohathites. The actual structure of the tabernacle was borne in advance by the Gershonites and Merarites, immediately behind the camp of Judah; so as to be set up ready against the arrival of the sacred utensils borne by the Kohathites. Compare Numbers 2; 4, 13-27. the children of Israel took their journey … by the hand of Moses—It is probable that Moses, on the breaking up of the encampment, stationed himself on some eminence to see the ranks defile in order through the embouchure of the mountains. The marching order is described (Nu 2:1-34); but, as the vast horde is represented here in actual migration, let us notice the extraordinary care that was taken for ensuring the safe conveyance of the holy things. In the rear of Judah, which, with the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, led the van, followed the Gershonites and Merarites with the heavy and coarser materials of the tabernacle. Next in order were set in motion the flank divisions of Reuben and Ephraim. Then came the Kohathites, who occupied the center of the moving mass, bearing the sacred utensils on their shoulder. They were so far behind the other portions of the Levitical body that these would have time at the new encampment to rear the framework of the tabernacle before the Kohathites arrived. Last of all, Dan, with the associated tribes, brought up the rear of the immense caravan. Each tribe was marshalled under its prince or chief and in all their movements rallied around its own standard. No text from Poole on this verse. And the tabernacle was taken down,.... By the Levites, as Aben Ezra, and which appears to be their work, from Numbers 1:51; this began to be done by them as soon as the cloud was perceived to move upwards, and the camp of Judah was preparing to march; and after Aaron and his sons had taken the holy vessels out of the holy and most holy place, and had packed up and covered them as directed, Numbers 4:5; this was an emblem of the taking down of the Jewish church state, the abolition of the service of the sanctuary, as well as of the changeable condition of the Gospel church in the wilderness, which is not always in one and the same place, but is moved from place to place, and that by the ministers of the word, signified by the Levites, who are sent and carry the Gospel here and there:

and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari set forward, bearing the tabernacle; the former, the hangings and vail, and the latter the boards, pillars, sockets, &c. each of them having wagons for their assistance: these followed immediately after the camp of Judah.

And the tabernacle was taken down; and the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari set forward, bearing {g} the tabernacle.

(g) With all the belongings of it.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
17. The verbs in this and the following verse, and in 21 f., 25, are perfects with Vav. This use, to describe consecutive actions in the past, though not unexampled in late literature, is rare. And it is probable that the writer intended them to be frequentative. The order of the host in the first march was that which was observed throughout the journeys.Verse 17. - And the tabernacle was taken down. That is, the fabric of it; the boards, curtains, and other heavy portions which were packed upon the six wagons provided for the purpose (Numbers 7:5-9). And the sons of Gershon and the sons of Merari set forward. Between the first and second divisions of the host. In chapter 2 it had been directed in general terms that "the tabernacle" should set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the host, between the second and third divisions. At that time the duties of the several Levitical families had not been specified, and the orders for the taking down and transport of the tabernacle and its furniture had not been given in detail. It would be historically an error, and theologically a superstition, to imagine that Divine commands such as these had no elasticity, and left no room for adaptation, under the teaching of experience, or for the sake of obvious convenience. Whether the present modification was directly commanded by God himself, or whether it was made on the authority of Moses, does not here appear. There can be no question that subsequent theocratic rulers of Israel claimed and used a large liberty in modifying the Divinely-originated ritual and order. Compare the case of the passover, the arrangements of Solomon's temple as corresponding with those of the tabernacle, and even the use of the silver trumpets. The Septuagint has the future tense here, καθελοῦσι τὴν σκηνήν κ.τ.λ. as if to mark it as a fresh command. After all the preparations were completed for the journey of the Israelites from Sinai to Canaan, on the 20th day of the second month, in the second year, the cloud rose up from the tent of witness, and the children of Israel broke up out of the desert of Sinai, למסעיהם, "according to their journeys" (lit., breaking up; see at Genesis 13:3 and Exodus 40:36, Exodus 40:38), i.e., in the order prescribed in Numbers 2:9, Numbers 2:16, Numbers 2:24, Numbers 2:31, and described in Numbers 10:14. of this chapter. "And the cloud rested in the desert of Paran." In these words, the whole journey from the desert of Sinai to the desert of Paran is given summarily, or as a heading; and the more minute description follows from Numbers 10:14 to Numbers 12:16. The "desert of Paran" was not the first station, but the third; and the Israelites did not arrive at it till after they had left Hazeroth (Numbers 12:16). The desert of Sinai is mentioned as the starting-point of the journey through the desert, in contrast with the desert of Paran, in the neighbourhood of Kadesh, whence the spies were sent out to Canaan (Numbers 13:2, Numbers 13:21), the goal and termination of their journey through the desert. That the words, "the cloud rested in the desert of Paran" (Numbers 10:12), contain a preliminary statement (like Genesis 27:23; Genesis 37:5, as compared with Numbers 10:8, and 1 Kings 6:9 as compared with Numbers 10:14, etc.), is unmistakeably apparent, from the fact that Moses' negotiations with Hobab, respecting his accompanying the Israelites to Canaan, as a guide who knew the road, are noticed for the first time in Numbers 10:29., although they took place before the departure from Sinai, and that after this the account of the breaking-up is resumed in Numbers 10:33, and the journey itself described, Hence, although Kurtz (iii. 220) rejects this explanation of Numbers 10:12 as "forced," and regards the desert of Paran as a place of encampment between Tabeerah and Kibroth-hattaavah, even he cannot help identifying the breaking-up described in Numbers 10:33 with that mentioned in Numbers 10:12; that is to say, regarding Numbers 10:12 as a summary of the events which are afterwards more fully described.

The desert of Paran is the large desert plateau which is bounded on the east by the Arabah, the deep valley running from the southern point of the Dead Sea to the Elanitic Gulf, and stretches westwards to the desert of Shur (Jifar; see Genesis 16:7; Exodus 15:22), that separates Egypt from Philistia: it reaches southwards to Jebel et Tih, the foremost spur of the Horeb mountains, and northwards to the mountains of the Amorites, the southern border of Canaan. The origin and etymology of the name are obscure. The opinion that it was derived from פאר, to open wide, and originally denoted the broad valley of Wady Murreh, between the Hebrew Negeb and the desert of Tih, and was then transferred to the whole district, has very little probability in it (Knobel). All that can be regarded as certain is, that the El-paran of Genesis 14:6 is a proof that in the very earliest times the name was applied to the whole of the desert of Tih down to the Elanitic Gulf, and that the Paran of the Bible had no historical connection either with the ́ ̀ and tribe of Φαρανῖται mentioned by Ptol. (v. 17, i. 3), or with the town of Φαράν, of which the remains are still to be seen in the Wady Feiran at Serbal, or with the tower of Faran Ahrun of Edrisi, the modern Hammn Faraun, on the Red Sea, to the south of the Wady Gharandel. By the Arabian geographers, Isztachri, Kazwini, and others, and also by the Bedouins, it is called et Tih, i.e., the wandering of the children of Israel, as being the ground upon which the children of Israel wandered about in the wilderness for forty years (or more accurately, thirty-eight). This desert plateau, which is thirty German miles (150 English) long from south to north, and almost as broad, consists, according to Arabian geographers, partly of sand and partly of firm soil, and is intersected through almost its entire length by the Wady el Arish, which commences at a short distance from the northern extremity of the southern border mountains of et Tih, and runs in nearly a straight line from south to north, only turning in a north-westerly direction towards the Mediterranean Sea, on the north-east of the Jebel el Helal. This wady divides the desert of Paran into a western and an eastern half. The western half lies lower than the eastern, and slopes off gradually, without any perceptible natural boundary, into the flat desert of Shur (Jifar), on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The eastern half (between the Arabah and the Wady el Arish) consists throughout of a lofty mountainous country, intersected by larger and smaller wadys, and with extensive table-land between the loftier ranges, which slopes off somewhat in a northerly direction, its southern edge being formed by the eastern spurs of the Jebel et Tih. It is intersected by the Wady el Jerafeh, which commences at the foot of the northern slope of the mountains of Tih, and after proceeding at first in a northerly direction, turns higher up in a north-easterly direction towards the Arabah, but rises in its northern portion to a strong mountain fortress, which is called, from its present inhabitants, the highlands of the Azazimeh, and is bounded on both south and north by steep and lofty mountain ranges. The southern boundary is formed by the range which connects the Araif en Nakba with the Jebel el Mukrah on the east; the northern boundary, by the mountain barrier which stretches along the Wady Murreh from west to east, and rises precipitously from it, and of which the following description has been given by Rowland and Williams, the first of modern travellers to visit this district, who entered the terra incognita by proceeding directly south from Hebron, past Arara or Aror, and surveyed it from the border of the Rachmah plateau, i.e., of the mountains of the Amorites (Deuteronomy 1:7, Deuteronomy 1:20, Deuteronomy 1:44), or the southernmost plateau of the mountains of Judah (see at Numbers 14:45): - "A gigantic mountain towered above us in savage grandeur, with masses of naked rock, resembling the bastions of some Cyclopean architecture, the end of which it was impossible for the eye to reach, towards either the west or the east. It extended also a long way towards the south; and with its rugged, broken, and dazzling masses of chalk, which reflected the burning rays of the sun, it looked like an unapproachable furnace, a most fearful desert, without the slightest trace of vegetation. A broad defile, called Wady Murreh, ran at the foot of this bulwark, towards the east; and after a course of several miles, on reaching the strangely formed mountain of Moddera (Madurah), it is divided into two parts, the southern branch still retaining the same name, and running eastwards to the Arabah, whilst the other was called Wady Fikreh, and ran in a north-easterly direction to the Dead Sea. This mountain barrier proved to us beyond a doubt that we were now standing on the southern boundary of the promised land; and we were confirmed in this opinion by the statement of the guide, that Kadesh was only a few hours distant from the point where we were standing" (Ritter, xiv. p. 1084). The place of encampment in the desert of Paran is to be sought for at the north-west corner of this lofty mountain range (see at Numbers 12:16).

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