THE INVITATION TO HOBAB (Numbers 10:29-32).
Hobab, the son of Raguel, Moses' father-in-law. It is not quite certain who this "Hobab" was. The name occurs only here and in 4:11. The older opinion, followed by the A.V identified Hobab with Jethro, and Jethro with Reuel the "priest of Midian," and father of Zipporah, Moses' wife. It is, of course, no real objection to this opinion that Hobab is here called the "son of Reuel;" for the name may quite well have been an hereditary one, like Abimelech and so many others. Nor need the multiplicity of names given to one individual astonish us, for it is of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament, and not infrequent in the New. The father-in-law of Moses was a priest, holding (probably by right of birth) the patriarchal dignity of tribal priest, as Job did on a smaller, and Melchizedec on a larger, scale. He may very well, therefore, have had one or more "official" names in addition to his personal name. If this is accepted, then it may serve as one instance amongst many to remind us how extremely careless the inspired writers are about names—"careless" not in the sense of not caring whether they are right or wrong, but in the sense of not betraying and not feeling the least anxiety to avoid the appearance and suspicion of inaccuracy. Even in the lists of the twelve apostles we arc forced to believe that "Judas the brother of James" is the same person as "Lebbaeus" and "Thaddaeus;" and it is a matter of endless discussion whether or no "Bartholomew" was the same as "Nathanael." On the face of it Scripture proclaims that it uses no arts, that it takes no pains to preserve an appearance of accuracy—that appearance which is so easily simulated for the purposes of falsehood. Holy Scripture may therefore fairly claim to be read without that captiousness, without that demand for minute carefulness and obvious consistency, which we rightly apply to one of our own histories. The modem historian avowedly tells his story as a witness does in the presence of a hostile counsel; the sacred historian tells his as a man does to the children round his knee. Surely such an obvious fact should disarm a good deal of the petty criticism which carps at the sacred narrative.
Many, however, will think that the balance of probability is against the older opinion. It is certain that the word translated "father-in-law" has no such definiteness either in the Hebrew or in the Septuagint. It means simply a "marriage relation," and is even used by Zipporah of Moses himself. It ,is just as likely to mean "brother-in-law" when applied to Hobab. As Moses was already eighty years old when Jethro is first mentioned (Exodus 3:1), it may seem probable that his father-in-law was by that time dead, and succeeded in his priestly office by his eldest son. In that case Hobab would be a younger son of Reuel, and as such free to leave the home of his ancestors and to join himself to his sister's people.
Forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be to us instead of eyes. It is an obvious conclusion, from the reasons here urged by Moses, that the many and wonderful promises of Divine guidance and Divine direction did not supersede in his eyes the use of all available human aids. It is not indeed easy to say where any room was left for the good offices and experience of Hobab; the cloud of the Divine Presence seemed to control absolutely the journeying and encamping of the people; yet if we really knew in detail the actual ordering of that wondrous march, we should doubtless find that the heavenly guidance did but give unity and certainty to all the wisdom, caution, and endeavour of its earthly leaders. Indeed if we recall to mind that the host is calculated at more than two millions of people, it is quite evident that even during the march to Kadesh (and much more in the long wanderings which followed) it must have been extremely difficult to keep the various divisions together. In the broken and difficult country which they were to traverse, which had been familiar to Hobab from his youth, there would be scope enough for all his ability as a guide. And it would seem that it was just this prospect of being really useful to the people of Israel that prevailed with Hobab. He must indeed have felt assured that a wonderful future awaited a nation whose past and present were, even within his own knowledge, so wonderful. But that alone could not move him to leave his own land and his own kindred, a firing so unspeakably repugnant to the feelings and traditions of his age and country. Doubtless to the child of the desert, whose life was a never-ending struggle with the dangers and vicissitudes of the wilderness, the land of promise, flowing with milk and honey, watered with the rain of heaven, seemed like the garden of Eden. Yet the offer of an heritage within that land moved him not so much, it would appear, as the claim upon his own good offices in helping the chosen people to reach their own abode. The Septuagint translation, or rather paraphrase, of this verse is, "Leave us not, forasmuch as thou wast with us in the wilderness, and thou shalt be an elder among us." This seems, on the one hand, to identify Hobab with Jethro; on the other, to imply that he was shortly afterwards one of the seventy elders upon whom the spirit came. This, however, is not likely. Hobab does indeed seem to have gone with the people, but his descendants were not incorporated into Israel; they were with them, but not of them.
If thou go with us. From 1:16 we learn that the sons of Hobab joined themselves to the sons of Judah, and dwelt amongst them on the southern border of the land. Here is an "undesigned coincidence," albeit a slight one. Judah led the way on the march from Sinai to Canaan, and Hobab's duties as guide and scout would bring him more into contact with that tribe than with any other.
THE FRIENDLY INVITATION
Spiritually, we have here the voice of the saints calling to the wavering and undecided to cast in their lot with them, and to be partakers with them in those good things which God hath prepared for them that love him. Thereupon we have the voice of the wavering and undecided urging the ties and affections of this world as supreme. Then again the voice of the saints holding up the prospect at once of greater usefulness and of higher reward in the service of God. Finally (in the subsequent history), we have the assurance that these persuasions prevailed, and that these promises were made good. Consider—
I. THAT THE INVITATION WAS ADDRESSED TO HOBAB. This Hobab was—
1. A child of the desert, a "Kenite," whose home was in the wild country outside the promised land: a country which had a certain wild freedom and a precarious abundance, but withal full of dangers, of drought, and of the shadow of death.
2. A child of a patriarchal family; his father, "the priest of Midian," and a worshipper of the true God according to tradition.
3. A child of Reuel, "Moses' father-in-law," and therefore connected by family ties with Israel, and moreover an eye-witness to some extent of the power and mercy of the God of Israel. Hobab is the child of this world, whose home is amidst the precarious beauties and fading hopes of time; who has a knowledge of God by tradition, and a knowledge of religion by observation, yet of both rather as belonging to others than to himself.
II. THAT THE INVITATION CAME FROM THE ISRAEL OF GOD. "Come with us." From a people redeemed and separated, and sanctified, a "holy nation, a royal priesthood," whom God had chosen to be the peculiar instruments of his glory, the peculiar recipients of his bounty. The Israel of God are we who are indeed in this world, but not of it, having our true and certain home beyond the reach of chance and change. Note, that countless individuals amongst the tribes of Israel never reached that land, and never tried to—but the people, as a people, reached it; even so, countless numbers of professing Christians will never get to heaven, and do not try to, but the Church of God, as a Church, will attain to eternal life. Therefore, "come with us."
III. THAT THE INVITATION WAS TO GO WITH THEM, i.e.,
1. To be partner and partaker in their pilgrimage, their toils, and trials;
2. To be partner and partaker in their promised home to which they were journeying-, in the blessings unto which they were called. As God "would have all men to be saved," so is it the chiefest desire of our hearts that all around us (and especially those connected with us) should share our blessings and our hopes, should be partakers with us (if need be) of that "light affliction" which worketh an "eternal weight of glory" (cf. Romans 9:3 and Romans 10:2).
IV. THAT THE INDUCEMENT WAS, "WE WILL DO THEE GOOD." Not of their own ability, or of their own abundance, but by communicating unto him the good things which God should bestow on them. We may fearlessly say to the child of this world, "we will do thee good." Christianity is not individualism, but we are called "in one body," and spiritual blessings flow chiefly in one way or another through human channels. As a fact men find peace, support, sympathy, consolation here—heaven hereafter—in the society of the faithful, not out of it.
V. THAT THE HINDRANCE TO HIS GOING WAS THE PRIOR CLAIM OF AN EARTHLY HOME AND KINDRED. "To mine own land, and to my kindred." His own land, although not half so good as the promised land, was familiar and accustomed. So were his relations, although they could not do half so much for him as Moses and the elders of Israel. Even so the great hindrance to a really religious walk are to be found in the habits of life which are so familiar, and in the associates who have so much influence. Many find an insuperable difficulty in breaking with the evil or vain traditions of their home, their education, their "set" or class: they would go—but the bondage of custom is too strong for them (cf. Luke 9:59-62; Luke 14:25, Luke 14:26).
VI. THAT THE FURTHER AND (AS IT SEEMS) THE PREVAILING INDUCEMENT WITH HIM TO GO WAS THE HELP HE MIGHT AFFORD, THE GOOD HE MIGHT DO. Perhaps it was after all as much for Hobab's sake as for the people's, that Moses suggested to him of how much use he might be; but no doubt his training and qualifications did fit him for this service, and he felt that it was so. Even so there is a nobler, and often more potent, incentive to a religious life than even the glory which is to come. The prospect of being really useful to others, of making the utmost of all their gifts and acquirements—and that in the service of the Most High—is the great ambition which we ought to set before the eyes of men. A worldly life is a wasted life; a religious life is a life of unselfish activity; and this, of all prospects and attractions, has the strongest charm for each nobler soul (cf. Matthew 4:19; Luke 19:31, Luke 19:34; Acts 9:16; Acts 26:16-18). Consider, also—
VII. THAT HOBAB'S WORK AND SERVICE ON THE MARCH WERE NOT SUPERFLUOUS IF RENDERED, NOR YET ESSENTIAL IF DENIED. The supernatural guidance vouchsafed to Israel left plenty of room for his human skill and experience; but if Israel had been deprived of them, no doubt the supernatural guidance would somehow have sufficed. Even so there is room in the work of salvation of souls for all human effort and wisdom, however Divine a matter it appears; and yet if any man withhold his co-operation the work shall not therefore be really injured (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Corinthians 1:28; 1 Corinthians 2:7, 1 Corinthians 2:9).
HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE
HOBAB INVITED OR, THE CHURCH'S CALL TO THEM THAT ARE WITHOUT
This incident carries one back in thought to the day, one and forty years ago, when Moses, a fugitive from Egypt, arrived at the well in Midian, and there met with the daughter of Jethro. At the expiry of forty years the call of the Lord constrained Moses to forsake Midian, that he might be the leader of Israel; but it did not finally sever him from all connection with the house of his Midianite father-in-law. When Israel, on the march from Egypt, arrived at the border of the wilderness of Sinai, Jethro came out to meet him, and to welcome him. This done, he returned to his own house and sheep-walks. But his son Hobab stayed behind, and witnessed the giving of the law. When the march was about to be resumed, Hobab proposed to bid farewell to his sister and Moses. But Moses would not hear of it. Reminding Hobab of the inheritance awaiting Israel in the land of the Canaanites, be, in his own name, and in the name of the whole people, invited him to join himself to their company, and share in all the goodness which the Lord was about to do to them in fulfillment of his promise. This invitation, addressed by Moses and the congregation to one who did not belong to the seed of Jacob, is of no small interest historically. And its practical interest is still greater; for it exhibits a bright example of a desire which ought always to find place in the hearts of the faithful—the desire to allure into their fellowship "them that are without," whether these are the heathen abroad, or the careless and vicious at home. Viewing the text in this light, it presents three topics which claim consideration.
I. THE CHURCH'S PROFESSION OF FAITH AND HOPE. "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you The Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." On the lips of Moses and the congregation this was really a profession and utterance of faith. From the day that God called Abraham, he and his seed were taught to expect Canaan as their inheritance; and it was faith's business to embrace the promise and look for its accomplishment. In the faith of this promise Abraham and Isaac and Jacob lived and died. In the faith of it Joseph, when he died, gave commandment concerning his bones. In the faith of it Moses forsook Pharaoh's house. In the faith of it he refused to cast in his lot with Jethro's Midianites, and called the son born to him in Midian Gershom, "a stranger there." In the faith of the same promise Israel was now resuming the march towards Canaan. It is no idle fancy which sees in all this a parable of the Christian faith and the Christian profession. We also look for an inheritance and rest. "We believe that we shall be saved." We have been begotten to a living hope by the resurrection of Christ. As truly as the tribes in the wilderness, we (unless we have believed in vain) have turned our backs upon Egypt, and have set our faces towards the better country. We are journeying. We are strangers and pilgrims. I admit that among professing Christians there are many who have no real hope of the kind described; many, also, whose hope is anything but bright and strong'. Nevertheless, the world is certainly mistaken when it persuades itself that the Christian hope is an empty boast. There are tens of thousands whose lives are sustained and controlled by it continually.
II. THE CHURCH'S INVITATION TO THEM THAT ARE WITHOUT. "Come thou with us." The words remind us of a truth too often forgotten, namely, that even under the Old Testament the Church was by no means the exclusive body which some take it to have been. It had an open door and a welcome for all who desired to enter. In point of fact, a considerable proportion of those who constituted the Hebrew commonwealth at any given time were of Gentile descent. Moses did not act without warrant when he invited Hobab to come in—he and all his. At the same time it is to be remembered that the gospel Church is not to be contented with simply maintaining the attitude of the Old Testament Church towards them that are without. We are not only to keep an open door and make applicants welcome, we are to go forth and compel them to come in. Christ's Church is a missionary Church. A religious society which neglects this function—which refuses to obey the command to go and preach the gospel to every creature—lacks one of the notes of the Christian Church. We are to charge ourselves with the duty of sending the gospel to the far-off heathen. As for the careless and ungodly who are our neighbours, we are not only to send to them the word, but ought personally to invite them to come with us.
III. THE ARGUMENTS WITH WHICH THE INVITATION IS FORTIFIED. I refer especially to those urged by Moses and the congregation here.
1. It will be well for Hobab and his house if he will come (Numbers 10:32). No doubt the man who follows Christ must be prepared to take up the cross—must be ready to suffer reproach, to encounter tribulation, to take in hand self-denying work. These things are not pleasant to flesh and blood. Yet after all, Wisdom's ways are the ways of pleasantness. Compared with the devil's yoke, the yoke of Christ is easy. Godliness has the promise of both worlds. Those who have given Christ's service a fair trial would not for the world change masters.
2. Hobab is to come, for the Lord hath need of him (Numbers 10:30, Numbers 10:31). It seems that Moses' brother-in-law feared he might be an intruder and a burden. No such thing. A son of the desert would be of manifold service to the congregation in the desert. There is great wisdom in this argument. It is a great mistake to suppose that people seriously inquiring after salvation will attach themselves most readily to the Church which will give them nothing to do. The nobler sort will be attracted rather by the prospect of being serviceable. To sum up—the argument which will carry the greatest weight with unbelievers and despisers of God is that which utters itself in the Church's profession of its own faith and hope. A Church whose faith is weak and whose hope is dim will be found to have little power to rouse the careless and draw them into its fellowship. Men are most likely to be gained to Christ and the way of salvation by the Church whose members manifest by their words and lives the presence in theist hearts of a bright and living hope of eternal life.—B.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
MOSES AND HOBAB
I. THE WONDERFUL CHANGES GOD MAKES IN HUMAN LIFE. What men do themselves, the history of self-made men, is often very astonishing, yet nothing to the history of God-made men. For forty years Moses had been a shepherd in this wilderness; as we may conjecture, an oft companion with Hobab in these very scenes, Suddenly he goes away to Egypt to visit his brethren, and in the course of a few months returns to the wilderness with over 600,000 fighting men, beside women and children. So in the Scriptures we find many other wonderful God-made changes in human life. Joseph leaving his brethren a slave—his brethren finding him again prime minister to Pharaoh. The lad David brought from the recluse pastoral scene to stand before armies and slay the dreaded foe of Israel. Jesus visiting Nazareth to be a wonderment and stumbling-block to those who had known him from infancy. Saul among the persecutors when he left Jerusalem—among the persecuted when he returns.
II. THESE WONDERFUL CHANGES MAY BE EXHIBITED SO AS TO MAKE OTHERS THE SUBJECTS OF THEM. Hobab had probably been much with Moses, for old acquaintance' sake, while the people of God were round about Sinai. The recollections of the past were comparatively fresh, and Moses had a natural interest in a kinsman. But now the time has come to move, and what must Hobab do? The necessities of God's kingdom bring a separation sooner or later in all friendship, unless both parties are in the kingdom. It is the critical moment of Hobab's life, and he must decide at once. Not but what he might change his mind, and follow afterwards, only the chances were that it was now or never. Thus Hobab is the illustration of all who are asked and pressed to join the people of God. To such persons every narration of God's experienced grace to others brings a cordial invitation in the very telling of it. It is our own fault if we be mere spectators of the cloud, hearers of the trumpet. God had made most gracious provision for the stranger to come into Israel. No word could be more cordial and pressing than that of Moses here. It was not hatred of outsiders as outsiders, but as abominably wicked, that brought God's vengeance on them.
III. THESE WONDERFUL CHANGES MAY BE EXHIBITED WITHOUT PRODUCING SYMPATHY AND APPRECIATION. The reply of Hobab illustrates the natural man in his want of sympathy with spiritual struggles. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." How many there have been of such spectators in every age, those who have seen some old companion suddenly borne away, come under the influence of new powers, and turn what is called fanatic and enthusiast! The old ties are all broken, or, if any remain, there is no substance in them. Believer and unbeliever may continue to meet in the commerce of the world, but in closer relations they can meet no longer. When Pitt was told of the great religious change that had passed over Wilberforce, he suggested to his friend that he was out of spirits, and that company and conversation would be the best way of dissipating his impressions. Hobab was quite contented with his sheep in the desert. He did not want to be circumcised, and held in with such rigorous restrictions. Doubtless he had a warm place in his heart for Moses, but he could not say as Buxton once signed himself in a letter to J.J. Gurney, "Yours, in the threefold cord of taste, affection, and religion."—Y.
A RIGHT FEELING AND A CHRISTIAN INVITATION
I. THE FEELING WHICH SHOULD BE IN ALL CHRISTIAN HEARTS. "We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you." Thus our view of the future should be regulated as a future not of our achieving, but of God's giving. The end is definite and assured, however devious and tedious the way may be. The end is one not to be reached immediately; the place which God will give us must be at a secure distance from spiritual Egypt, with its bondage and tyranny. The feeling which we entertain with respect to this place must be a confident one, and expressed in a manner corresponding. The feeling thus entertained and expressed must have all our actions in harmony with it. Our closest connections with earth should be as nothing more than the pegs of the Israelite tents, here to-day and gone to-morrow (John 14:1-3; John 17:24; 2 Corinthians 5:1-9; Hebrews 4:11; Hebrews 11:13-16; Hebrews 12:27; 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 1:4).
II. THE INVITATION WHICH SHOULD COME FROM ALL CHRISTIAN LIPS. "Come thou with us, and we will do thee good." Addressed to those who may think they have a true home among things seen and temporal, but who are as really without a home as is the Christian. If Christians are sure they are going onward to the true home chosen, secured, and enriched by God, what is more Christ-like than that they should ask their Hobab-neighbours to join their well-protected, well-provisioned caravan? If even now sweet influences from the rest that remaineth for the people of God possess our souls, these should be used to win others from the illusions of this passing scene. What a blessed occupation to be drawing human spirits into that sphere of the unseen and eternal which alone gives them a fitting service here, and a true rest and reward hereafter! The invitation must be a loving and constraining one. To promise good to others, we must feel and show that we have got good ourselves. The invitation can only come when we ourselves feel that we are m the right Way to the desired end.
III. THE REASON BY WHICH THE INVITATION IS ENFORCED. "The Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel." Concerning Israel. Concerning other nations he had spoken ill for their idolatries and abominations. Sodom was a witness to his consuming wrath, and his hand had been laid heavily on Egypt. But concerning Israel he had spoken good in a large and loving way (Exodus 3:6-8; Exodus 6:6-8; Exodus 23:20-33). The stranger then must cease to be a stranger, and enter by circumcision of the heart into the spiritual Israel. The force of the invitations does not depend on our sanguine anticipations. Others are as well able to consider what the Lord has spoken as we are. His word is the guarantee. If even the Jewish nation, the typical Israel, has still to have prophecies fulfilled, how much more its antitype, the spiritual Israel, those who are Jews inwardly! Consider for yourselves then all the good that God has spoken concerning Israel.—Y.
A FRESH APPEAL
Moses has failed in appealing to Hobab by a regard for his own best interests, but he has a second arrow in his quiver. He will touch Hobab's sense of friendship, his manliness, anything that was chivalrous in him; he will put him on his honour to render just the one service he was able to render. Note—
I. THE SERVICES WHICH THE WORLD CAN RENDER TO THE CHURCH. We may fairly assume, considering 1:16, that Hobab went with Moses after all (Matthew 21:29). He will help Moses the man, when he cares nothing for Moses the prophet of God. There may be a certain sense of duty even when there is none of sin and spiritual need, a certain power to help, even though the highest power be utterly lacking. The peculiar strength of the Church is in God; when it does spiritual work with spiritual instruments; but the world may also be tributary in its own way. The wealth of the world is not a spiritual thing, but it has been helpful to the Church. Men of the world have neither the Christ-like love nor the self-denial to initiate enterprises, which, nevertheless, they will generously support. In person they will do nothing; in purse they will do much. The printer who cares nothing for Christ, who to-day prints the scoffs and quibbles of an atheist, or some frivolous fiction, may to-morrow print a Bible, or a precious biography of some departed saint. Places of worship have been built by men who had no religion in them. Fishers' boats ferried Jesus across the lake of Galilee; trading ships took Paul on his missionary journey; and soldiers of Caesar conveyed him to Rome, where for so long a time he had panted to preach the gospel.
II. THE HOLD WHICH THE CHURCH KEEPS ON THIS WORLD. Hobab said very bluntly he would not go with Moses; but he had not thought of all the considerations that might be brought to bear upon him. The grasp of Moses was firmer than he thought. Let no worldly man despise what he deems the dreams and delusions of the Christian. They may have a greater power on him in the end than at present he has any conception of. Human friendships and old associations are part of the bait with which Christ furnishes his fishers of men. Those who will not read the Scriptures for salvation, and who laugh at the schemes of doctrine draw,, from them yet find in the same Scriptures too much of poetry and interest to be slightingly passed by. What a strange thing, too, to hear men, even in all their vehement denials of the supernatural, extolling Jesus of Nazareth, admiring his spirit, and recommending his ethics. However they try, they cannot get away from him. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me." We must not despair of unbelievers, even after many refusals (Luke 13:6-9). In connection with Moses and Hobab, a reference-to Tennyson's ‘In Memoriam,' 63, "Dost thou look back on what hath been?" etc; may be found homiletically helpful.—Y.