God’s Word for You
Numbers 10:29-32 Moses’ brother-in-law
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, August 2, 2021
29 Moses said to Hobab, the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out to the place about which the LORD promised, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will treat you well, for the LORD has promised good concerning Israel.” 30 Hobab said to him, “I will not go, but I will go to my own land and to my own relatives.” 31 Moses said, “Please do not leave us, because you know where we should camp in the wilderness. You can be our eyes. 32 If you will go with us, whatever good the LORD does for us, we will do for you.”
This is a curious passage for at least three reasons. Here is a case where the Holy Spirit may have had more of a hand in including this account than Moses did.
First, Hobab’s identity has confused some commentators. It’s perfectly clear from the text that his man was Moses’ brother-in-law, the brother of Zipporah (Exodus 2:21). Their father Reuel (his title was “Jethro”) had come to visit Moses earlier and had given him good advice. When Moses sent his wife and sons away for a while (during his time before Pharaoh? Exodus 4:20-28), he sent them to her family (Exodus 18:15). Then Jethro brought them back to him so that they could complete the exodus with him (Exodus 18:6-7). Later, Jethro left them and returned home again (Exodus 18:27), but now the brother-in-law, Hobab, appears. We don’t know if he had arrived recently, or if he had come with his dad and then never left. But his identity at least is clear enough. This isn’t Moses’ father-in-law, but his brother-in-law.
Second, Why would Moses ask this man to be a guide about where they should camp? Didn’t they receive this information from the LORD directly when the cloud of the Glory of the LORD settled in a place? Well, there we can point out that things aren’t always as easy as they might seem. Hobab’s knowledge of the desert was desirable. The settling of the cloud would always tell Moses where the Ark was to be set down and where the tabernacle was to be set up. The Lord had given them a general plan of where the tribes would then camp. But Hobab’s advice might help when it came to just how far the tribes might be able to extend in any one direction, whether or not there were certain features of the desert to watch out for such as sink holes, hidden ravines, or other dangers, and also whether or not there might be villages or trade routes to be concerned about, enemies to watch for, and other things. As our Seminary notes assert: “That Hobab was requested in addition to God’s supernatural guidance need not conflict” (chap. 20, p. 122). He could also point out, as Keil says, “the springs, oases, and plots of pasture which are often buried quite out of sight in the mountains and valleys that overspread the desert” (Fourth Book of Moses, p. 61).
Third, Hobab’s final answer is not given. Moses records Hobab’s objection, and Moses’ counter-plea, but no answer. We have to wait for the book of Judges to find out that Hobab decided to stay: “The descendants of Moses’ father-in-law, the Kenite, went up from the City of Palms with the men of Judah in the Negev near Arad” (Judges 1:16). These Kenites are also called “the descendants of Hobab, Moses’ brother-in-law” in Judges 4:11).
While Moses may not have foreseen the role the Kenites would later play in Israel, the Holy Spirit certainly did. This passage explains how the Kenites came to live among the Israelites. It was the wife of a Kenite, Jael, who drove the tent-peg through the skull of Sisera and saved Israel in the days of Deborah the Judge (Judges 4:21, 5:24). There would also be an incident, unique in the reign of King Saul, involving this family. When Samuel gave Saul the Lord’s command to attack the Amalekites, Saul saw the Kenites living near the city of Amalek and told them to get out of the way, because “you showed kindness to all the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt” (1 Samuel 15:6). It was the one time Saul remembered something from the Scriptures and put it into practice correctly. It was also just before the Lord rejected Saul as king for an unrelated cause (1 Samuel 15:11). Later we will see that the Kenites even received a mention in one of the oracles of the pagan false prophet Balaam (Numbers 24:21-22).
Moses promised his brother-in-law: “If you will go with us, whatever good the LORD does for us, we will do for you.” This would not only mean a general kindness (Job 24:21), nor a preference as if they were part of Israel (1 Samuel 2:32), but a far more important good. The Kenites of Hobab and his family would hear the word of the Lord, have their faith in the true God strengthened, and they would receive the eternally good things that come from having continued faith in the coming of Christ. Jethro himself had faith and made acceptable sacrifices to God in the presence of Moses and Aaron (Exodus 18:12). But by traveling with Moses and by receiving an allotment of the Promised Land, Hobab kept his own family close to the Word of the Lord. Sometimes a parent will forget that their children do not share the same childhood memories with them. A child whose father went to church every week as a boy doesn’t receive that good example or habit if his father stops going to church in his twenties. “Train a child in the way he should go” (Proverbs 22:6) requires an effort from parents, to “bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Small Catechism, Table of Duties).
What Luther says to conclude the Catechism applies to regular household duties such as washing dishes, doing the laundry, sweeping, gardening, cooking, baking, and so on. But it was included especially to be a reminder about the basic lessons of our faith. It deserves to be memorized and repeated often:
“Let each his lesson learn with care, And all the household well shall fare.”
Pastor Timothy Smith