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B'Midbar/Numbers 10:8 And the sons of Aharon, the priests, shall sound the trumpets and it shall be a permanent statute for you, for your generations.
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The first ten verses of B'Midbar chapter ten are given over to the silver trumpets. First, Moshe is told, "Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community and to set the divisions in motion" (B'Midbar 10:2, NJPS). In verses 3-4, they are to be used to summon the people or the elders to the Tabernacle; in verses 5-6 they are the signals for different sections of the camp to start moving. Verse 9 anticipates being "at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you" (v. 9, NJPS), while verse 10 speaks of rejoicing at "joyous occasions -- your fixed festivals and new moon days" (v. 10, NJPS). I think the NJPS translation is too restrictive here, taking the festivals and new moons as the prescriptive list of times to rejoice. The ESV translation is better - "On the day of your gladness also, and at your appointed feasts and at the beginnings of your months" - reflecting the 'and' conjunction connecting the three sorts of times: certainly, the mo'edim, the appointed days listed in Vayikra 23; clearly, also, the new moon celebrations each month; but also days or times of family rejoicing such as weddings, births and circumcisions, hiring, promotion and retirement, birthdays. In fact, whenever you rejoice, rejoice beforeHaShem; bring a fellowship or peace offering and include the community that all may rejoice with you - and have the trumpets blown as a witness that HaShem is good and we have something to celebrate!
However, our text, verse 8, assigns the role of blowing the trumpet specifically and exclusively to the priests, the sons of Aharon. Here is a specific difference between the shofar, the ram's horn, and the , the trumpet made of silver: anyone may blow the shofar; only the priests may blow the trumpet. RabbiHirsch goes further and explains that the priests had to be those who were fit for service in the Sanctuary. This is carried, he says, by the phrase , "the sons of Aharon, the priests", because whenever that phrase is used - for example, "The bull shall be slaughtered before the L-RD; and Aharon's sons, the priests, shall offer the blood ..." (Vayikra 1:5, NJPS) - being eligible for service is always essential. This stresses the importance and significance of whatever message the trumpets convey, that it could only be blown by a ritually clean and fit priest. Based on the verse from the dedication of Solomon's Temple, "all the Levite singers, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, their sons and their brothers, dressed in fine linen, holding cymbals, harps, and lyres, were standing to the east of the altar, and with them were 120 priests who blew trumpets" (2 Chronicles 5:12, NJPS), Jewish tradition maintains that there were never less than two trumpets and never more than 120. Thomas Dozeman says that "the total Aaronide priests who blow the trumpet are numbered at 120."1 Both, however, are too literal a deduction. Many more priests could (and did!) blow the trumpet - if only because they could and so that there was someone on duty who was available - but perhaps only a maximum of 120 were allowed to do so at any one time.
In practice, we might ask, when and how often were the trumpets blown? How have the Jewish people traditionally interpreted this command?Rashi limits it to just "at these summonings and journeys" described in the verses before our text. The Gur Aryeh2 comments that "this is not introducing a new category of sounding trumpets; it refers to those above: alarms and summons." This seems strange, since the following two verses specifically provide for the trumpets to be blown on other occasions. It also contradicts Sefer HaChinuch who reports that "[#384 It is a positive commandment] to sound trumpets in the Sanctuary every day when every offering was sacrificed." This is based on the record of the Talmud that "Every day the priests blew in the Temple ... at the opening of the gates, at the morning sacrifice and at the evening sacrifice; they blew more at the additional sacrifices for Shabbat and the festivals, and on the eve of Shabbat they blew as a sign for the people to cease from work and to distinguish between the secular weekdays and the holy day of Shabbat" (b. Sukkah 53b).
In the ANE, Jacob Milgrom tells us, "priests were an integral part of a military force." We can see this later on the book of B'Midbar, in the battle against the Midianites: "Moshe dispatched them on the campaign, a thousand from each tribe, with Phinehas son of Eleazar serving as a priest on the campaign, equipped with the sacred utensils and the trumpets for sounding the blasts" (B'Midbar 31:6, NJPS). Whenever there is to be a battle, the priest steps forward to encourage the soldiers and remind them that "the L-RD your G-d who marches with you to do battle for you against your enemy, to bring you victory" (D'varim 20:4, NJPS. The Tanakh also records that David has the priest Abiathar as part of his entourage during his wilderness years (e.g., 1 Samuel 23:9, 30:7).
Dennis Olson writes that "the trumpet's call to gather the people of G-d and to announce a new beginning continues throughout much of the [Scriptures] ... It becomes especially prominent in apocalyptic literature, in which the trumpet calls together the elect, announces the beginning of a new age and signals the beginning of the cosmic battle between G-d and G-d's enemies."3 Dennis Cole adds that "in the Dead Sea War Scroll, a major role of the Levites and priests in the great eschatological battle was to sound the trumpets."4 The silver trumpets, Gordon Wenham points out, "declare that Israel is the army of the King of kings preparing for a holy war of conquest."5 This is why, Hirsch explains, it is significant that it is only the priests who can blow the trumpets: "The people who, in the name of the Torah, in the Sanctuary of the Torah," carry out the worship of the nation, are the same ones who "call the people, or their heads, to learn what is to be done in the name of the Law of G-d. Here as there they were the heralds of the Law to the nation."
We know that G-d appoints watchmen in many places and situations. Isaiah announces, "Hark! Your watchmen raise their voices, as one they shout for joy; for every eye shall behold the L-RD's return to Zion. Raise a shout together, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the L-RD will comfort His people, will redeem Jerusalem. The L-RD will bare His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, and the very ends of earth shall see the victory of our G-d" (Isaiah 52:8-10, NJPS). This speaks of the L-rd's return to Jerusalem, not yet fully accomplished, when Jerusalem becomes the city of peace, "the city of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matthew 5:35). Later on, Isaiah proclaims, "On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the L-RD in remembrance, take no rest, and give Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth" (Isaiah 62:6-7, ESV); a task still being undertaken by faithful watchmen - worshipers and intercessors - today, both in Israel and around the world.
Who sounds the trumpet in your community today - and what for? Who is it that acts as priest before G-d and faithfully brings you warning of what G-d is doing or expects of you? Leaders have a special responsibility for their people - "they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account" (Hebrews 13:17, ESV) - but Yeshua calls us all to "watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Mark 14:38, ESV). We all have to be involved in this activity, watching out for each other and our community, keeping our eyes on the horizon and being ready to warn each other should we see or hear something that is a threat to our expression of the kingdom. Note that watchmen have no place of authority; they sound the alarm and pass what they see or hear to the leadership who have the responsibility before G-d to decide what action should be taken. Most particularly, of course, the watchmen look for signs of the return of Yeshua, so that the community may be ready to greet Him, as Yeshua charged the disciples: "Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks" (Luke 12:36, ESV).
Pray for your watchmen, that they may stay alert and not hesitate to sound the alarm when signs of the enemy are seen, and they will be! If you don't have a watchman in your community or congregation, pray that the L-rd will raise up someone to take that on that critical role in these days. Pray also for your leaders and your community that they are not distracted by folk who are not watchmen but are pursuing their own agenda, attempting to recruit you to their cause. We live in an increasingly noisy world and lots of people are blowing trumpets to attract our attention to themselves and, usually, what they are trying to sell! As we look for the end of the age, the return of Yeshua and the new beginning that G-d has promised, we need to hear the silver trumpets ringing loud and clear throughout the land, breaking through the background chatter and everyday busyness so that all G-d's people know what is happening and what the Spirit is saying to the churches at this time.
1. - Thomas B. Dozeman, "Numbers" in The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Vol I, edited by Leander E. Keck, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2015), page 721.
2. - The Gur Aryeh (lit. 'Young Lion') is a super-commentary on Rashi's Torah Commentary, written by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1520-1609), widely known as the Maharal of Prague.
3. - Dennis T. Olson, Numbers, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), page 54.
4. - R. Dennis Cole, Numbers, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2000), page 162.
5. - Gordon J. Wenham, Numbers, TOTC, (Nottingham, IVP, 1981), page 115.
Further Study: Ezekiel 33:2-7; Matthew 25:1-13; Romans 16:17-19
Application: Has G-d appointed you to be a watchmen over His people in these days? Could you stand in prayer and faith to watch and bring warning of the enemy to your community? Make a point of asking the Head of the Watch whether He is recruiting you to that role and what He wants you to do. It is a solemn charge and responsibility, but He will give you both vision and discernment to serve as a faithful watchmen in His kingdom.
Comment - 23May21 01:10 Bonnie: This was so encouraging to hear! Thank you - a blessing.
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© Jonathan Allen, 2021
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