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God’s Word for You

Numbers 10:1-7 Trumpets

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Silver Trumpets
10 The Lord told Moses 2 to make two trumpets of hammered silver and to use them in this way: You will use them to summon the community and to have the camp set out. 3 When they blow both trumpets, the entire community will gather to you at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 4 If they blow just one trumpet, then the tribal chiefs, the heads of the Israelite clans, will gather to you.

There are two kinds of trumpets in the Bible: the ram’s horn (shofar) and the metal trumpet (hatsotsarah). If certain statues from Palestine are accurate, there were some bell-trumpets that were very short and therefore high-pitched, shorter than a man’s arm (2 cubits). Other ancient trumpets are depicted as being about a head shorter than a man’s height: 3 cubits, or about 4½ feet. Those trumpets (I will refer to them as “straight trumpets”) had many things in common with modern bugles, cornets and trumpets. For one thing, all of them, including the long Biblical straight trumpet, are the same length with a tube of 4½ feet. In bugles, cornets and modern trumpets, this tube is wound in a loop, but the length is the same. They all end in a bell-shape. They all have some sort of mouth piece, either fixed permanently or an interchangeable mouthpiece, and they all have the same general range. Bugles have no valves, so they are the easiest connection we have to the range and sound of the Biblical straight trumpet. To achieve a variety of notes, the buzzing of the lips is increased. Almost anyone with a little practice can turn out the tunes of “Revielle” (“First Call”) or “Taps” (“Lights Out”). The basic notes of the valveless straight trumpet (or bugle) are written G, C, E, and G, although most modern trumpets, cornets and bugles are tuned to Bᵇ (B-flat), so those notes are F, B-flat, D and F. If a player is enough of a virtuoso, other notes can be achieved in the higher range since the intervals are shorter.

Moses was commanded to turn out two silver trumpets, and the sound, one trumpet or two, would be part of the signal as to what was happening: For a certain tune, one trumpet meant that just the leaders should come for a meeting, but if both horns blew, then everybody had to come.

5 When you blow the signal on the trumpets, the camps that are on the east side will set out. 6 When you blow the signal a second time, the camps that are on the south side will set out. This will be the signal to set out. 7 When the community is to gather, you will blow the trumpets, but you will not sound the signal for setting out.

Another signal on the silver straight trumpets was the order to march. For the first blow, the three eastern tribes (Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun) were to march with the priests carrying the Ark out in front. The second blow would tell the southern tribes (Reuben, Simeon, and Gad) were to march, following the Levites from Gershom and Merari, carrying the tabernacle tent curtains, ropes, poles, and bases. After this, either it goes as a matter of course that the trumpets would sound a third and fourth time, or else the remaining tribes did not need a signal. The tribes that followed the next were the western group (Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin), and they were followed by the rearguard (Naphtali, Asher, and Dan).

From later times, there are directions about the trumpets and what they were to do at various times. The minimum number of trumpets to perform was always two (in accord with this passage); the maximum was 120, so as not to exceed the number used at the dedication of the first temple (2 Chronicles 5:12).

These silver straight trumpets “were not used in the instrumental accompaniment of the music of the [worship] service but primarily for signaling” (Brug, A Commentary on the Psalms, Vol. I p. 80). For worship music, the ram’s horn was used (Psalm 98:6).

Of course, this passage is part of the ceremonial law, and therefore it is clearly a law passage about what they were to do with silver straight trumpets to make signals to the nation during their years in the wilderness. But these verses can also be applied generally to us as a reminder to speak clearly so as to be understood. Paul asks, “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). We should take this to heart as we express our faith to one another. Pastors, preach in the pulpit in such a way that you cannot be taken two ways or misunderstood. Lay people, when you share Jesus, get right to the cross, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead and eternal life as the creed’s third article teaches us, because that’s what people need to hear. A novice or a new believer isn’t going to be very interested in trivial things like the kinds of fish Peter caught in the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 17:27), whether or not one of the prophets was black, since he is called a Cushite (Zephaniah 1:1), or how the demons fell into sin (Jude 1:6). He’s going to want to know why he is so sinful (Romans 5:12), that he can’t do anything about his sin by himself (Ephesians 2:8-9), and what Jesus has done (Romans 6:22-23). And, what heaven is like!

Maybe you and I can take a little comfort as we remember that these Old Testament straight trumpets were made of “hammered silver.” Silver is lovely, and carries a lovely note. But to make a useful trumpet, some hammering is required. So it is with God’s speakers, you and me. He gives us a lovely, beautiful tune to play, but we need some hammering, some fashioning, before we’re ready. So God’s law and gospel work in our hearts. We set aside sin and turn away from temptation, we clear out the cobwebs from our minds and focus on the clear, simple, and beautiful message of Christ crucified, and we make that the tune we play, think, and speak. What a blessing and a privilege to be God’s instrument to carry the gospel to people who need to hear it!

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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