Hobab, or, Divine Guidance
God’s ways with Israel, on their way to Canaan, are full of deepest instruction for our souls. Redemption through the blood of the Passover Lamb gave them righteous title to all He proposed for them, and enabled Him to gratify the wish of His own heart—to dwell among them. They seized His thought, as they sang, “I will prepare him an habitation” (Ex. 15:2), and He fully declared it, as He said, “They shall know that I am the Lord their God, that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them: I am the Lord their God” (Ex. 29:46).
But between Egypt and Canaan lay the wilderness, with all its windings and pitfalls, who should be their guide? God Himself. They started well, led by the pillar of cloud and of fire, according to His design, for we read, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night” (Ex. 13:21-22). Guidance and light both came from God. Happy people! we might well exclaim. Nor are we, in our wilderness journeyings, worse off than they, thank God, but alas! we are very like them in desiring a human guide.
They got on well till they reached Sinai. A year and a month had elapsed (See Num. 1:1). The Tabernacle, God’s dwelling-place, had been prepared and set up on the first day of the first month of the second year (See Exodus 40:1-2). “And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony, and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. So it was alway; the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed” (Num. 9:15-17). Hence it is the Psalmist could say, “In the day time also He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire” (Ps. 78:14). Again, “He spread a cloud for a covering, and fire to give light in the night” (Ps. 105:39).
Could they have wished better guidance than that? They did, as we shall see. God’s way for them was this, He Himself, dwelling on the ark of the tabernacle, was to be in their midst, while they rested, and when they moved. Instruction as to the place of each tribe you find given in Numbers 2, and in the course of this narrative occur these striking words, “Then the tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp; as they encamp, so shall they set forward, every man in his place by their standards” (v. 17). Arranged all round the tabernacle and the ark, the hosts of Israel were to be, so to say, Jehovah’s bodyguard. The Levites, the caretakers of the Ark—precious symbol of Christ in the glory of His Person and the majesty of His Being—were to go in the midst, while the pillar of cloud was to guide, or the pillar of fire show the road.
How precious is this thought and desire of God to have His own around Him, in closest contiguity, even on a desert journey, and this thought, for once (probably once only) was carried out, for, we read, “And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony. And the children of Israel took their journey out of the wilderness of Sinai; and the cloud rested in the wilderness of Paran. And they FIRST took their journey ACCORDING TO THE COMMANDMENT of the Lord by the hand of Moses” (Num. 10:11-13). The Ark was in its appointed place, in their very midst, for that journey at any rate. The tribes walked in their own order, and “The Kohathites set forward, bearing the Sanctuary” (v. 21).
Could that Divine order be improved upon? It really tested faith, and that soon broke down, for, sad to say, Moses, the man of God, desired a human guide and spoilt God’s design. Notice the insidious way it came about. “Moses said unto Hobab, the son of Raguel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, We are journeying unto the place of which the Lord said, I will give it you: come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel” (Num. 10:29). That sounded very pretty. It looked like great interest in Hobab’s blessing. Whether he read Moses’ heart I cannot say, but God did, and Hobab’s refusal revealed what was at the bottom of it. “I will not go, but I will depart to mine own land, and to my kindred,” said Hobab (v. 30). Then the truth comes out, as Moses replies to his brother-in-law, “Leave us not, I pray thee: forasmuch as thou knowest how we are to encamp in the wilderness, and thou mayest be unto us instead of eyes” (v. 31). True, Moses adds, “And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the Lord shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee” (v. 32).
What hearts of unbelief we have! How we all like to have a Hobab to guide us. To be cast on God only is just what nature abhors! Beware of Hobabs! I believe this is the Spirit’s warning to us today. To desire and count on such is to lose the chief blessing of the moment, the enjoyed realization of the truth of the Lord in the midst. That lurking desire of Moses for a human guide led to what follows. Read it, my fellow-believer, and learn its weighty lesson “And they departed from the mount of the Lord three days’ journey: and the ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them in the three days’ journey, to search out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the Lord was upon them by day, when they went out of the camp” (vv. 33-34). This action on God’s part, of removing the ark from the centre to the van, was doubtless tender consideration for Moses’ want of faith, and consequent desire regarding Hobab, and He therefore let the ark lead the van. But was there gain or loss in this? True, God became Israel’s vanguard, and they were relieved of the necessity of keeping their eyes constantly upon the moving cloud, but at the same time, as the ark left their midst, they lost the sense of being its bodyguard and having God in their very midst, as was the case on their first journey. This, I judge, was an immense loss.
Has this no lesson for us in this day? The spiritual mind will easily discern it. To have the Lord “in the midst” of His people, whether resting or journeying, for worship or walk, is the highest blessing. It will be such also in the day of Israel’s future blessing. When restored to their own land, and everything as to worship and fruitfulness fully according to God, the statements, “The Lord is there” (Ezek. 48:35); “Ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel” (Joel 2:27); “The King of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee, thou shalt not see evil any more . . . The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love; He will joy over thee with singing” (Zeph. 3:15-17), unfold what deep blessedness is secured by His abiding presence in the midst.
Today the very charter of the Assembly’s position upon earth is “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20). And the effort of the enemy is to get the saints to lose sight of this charter. If this great truth be let slip, in its practical application to all that is connected with the life of the Assembly, nothing but disaster can follow. To disregard the Lord’s voice in the midst of the Assembly is fatal. Constant exercise of faith in His presence is needed. In the midst of His gathered people He loves to manifest Himself, to make His voice heard, and to give them guidance for the moment. In moments of difficulty the tendency of our hearts is to look round for some Hobab, who may be “unto us instead of eyes.” This Hobab may be a blood-relation, a prominent leader, or a gifted saint who may have ministered the word of the Lord to us profitably in days gone by. Of blindly leaning on such I am persuaded we have need to beware.
The Lord in the midst of His own is the truest guide in any moment during our wilderness journeys. This being so, one can easily understand how Satan would attack such a truth in either a subtle or an open manner, and lead the saints to look round for Hobabs rather than be found in real dependence on the Lord Himself. May He give us in future to be more than ever faithful to Him in the recognition of His place in the Assembly, and teach us to know the meaning of His precious words, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye” (Ps. 32:8). One has, however, need to be very near Him to see the turn of His eye. If we perceive it we shall not miss our way.
Words of Grace and Encouragement 1909