In the wilderness, the Israelites were guided by a cloud, spelt out with great emphasis in Numbers 9:

17And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. 18At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. 19Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not set out. 20Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they remained in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they set out. 21And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. 22Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. 23At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses.ESV

In that light, how is Moses' plea to Hobab the son of Reuel in Numbers 10:31 to be understood - what need (if any) did Moses have of a guide other then the cloud:

And he said, “Please do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us.ESV

  • 1
    There was this huge church. And the pastor said to the maintenance foreman who had been at he job for 20 years, Please do not leave us for you know where the nooks and corners are, where the warm or cold air flows, why certain pews are warmer. And when we go camping, and whenever we stop at a certain place, you seem to know better which spots are comfy and warm and which spots are damp and which plants/mushrooms could be used or eaten. Some people know the forest - they are leaders. Some people know the trees - they are the vital team members.
    – Cynthia
    Jul 24, 2012 at 4:17
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    @Blessed Geek: We just lost our facilities guy at church (who, by the way, is an ordained pastor). I'm not looking forward to the next few months as we break in a new guy. Your comment is spot on. Jul 24, 2012 at 20:37

1 Answer 1


The first answer:

Numbers 9:15 states: "On the day that the Tabernacle was set up, a cloud covered the Tabernacle, the Ten of Meeting, and in the evening the Tabernacle appeared to be lit by the brightness of fire until morning..."

That is, the cloud/fire miracle started when the Tabernacle was set up. In Exodus 40:18 we have "And it was in the first month of the second year [since the exodus] on the first day of the month, the Tabernacle was set up."

That is, the cloud/fire miracle did not start until two weeks before the end of the second year of the sojourn in the wilderness. From the exodus until then Hovav was their guide and we read verse 31 as simple past tense and not "avar mehupach" future tense as translated in the ESV.

This answer assumes that Numbers 9 is a different tradition than that of Exodus 13:21, which indicates that the cloud and fire were there from the beginning of the exodus.

The second answer:

We assume the tradition of Exodus 13:21. Then the cloud and fire of Numbers 9:15 is a not the same cloud and fire of Exodus 13:21. Either there were two sets, or the latter replaced the former when the Tabernacle was set up. In either case, the latter set is specifically associated with the Tabernacle whereas the former set was generally associated with the Israelites. In this case we read verse 31 as "avar mehupach" future tense as translated by the ESV. The answer is then that although the cloud indicated where to go, the Israelites had no idea where they were or the nature of way or the place where they camped without Hovav's knowledge. That is, they followed the cloud blindly and Hovav was their eyes to tell them where they were.

The third answer:

We assume tradition of Exodus 13:21 and that there was no need for Hovav to be a GIS in the literal sense. Furthermore we follow the tradition of assuming the identity of Hovav with Jethro of Exodus 18. In this case the answer is that Hovav could see things that Moses could not, as shown by the incident in Exodus 18:17, and we assume other cases as well in which Hovav provided insight and guidance in administration. That is, the seeing eyes are allegorical.

  • I just was reading this portion of scripture today. I don't recall if the cloud was supposed to be right above, or a little elevated,which would allow some manual positioning at settlement based on the layout of the land and advice of a scout. What do you think? Your answers sort of lead me to this question.
    – Mike
    Aug 22, 2012 at 8:26
  • @Mike Ok, that could be the fourth answer. Aug 22, 2012 at 19:16

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