Moses and Hobab – A Lesson in Trust

Numbers 10:29–32 (ESV)
"And Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the Lord has promised good to Israel.” But he said to him, “I will not go. I will depart to my own land and to my kindred.” 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. And if you do go with us, whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same will we do to you.”

This passage of Scripture can be seen either as a moment of distrust for Moses or as a moment of evangelism and common sense.

Hobab was the brother-in-law of Moses and was from the tribe of the Midianites. As Moses was preparing to lead the Israelites through the wilderness towards the Promised Land, he sought the counsel of his brother-in-law to serve as a guide in return for a share of the blessings bestowed upon Israel from their covenant with God.

Earlier in Numbers (Numbers 9:15-23), the presence of Yahweh was represented by a cloud that would tell them when to start moving and where to go. We must also recognize that Moses had direct access to the Lord and could certainly receive any guidance and direction necessary for their journey. So does the act of asking Hobab to serve as a guide indicate a lack of faith on the part of Moses in God’s guidance? By seeking the counsel of Hobab to help them determine where to camp (v. 31), it seems clear that Moses is at the very least forgetting about the ability of God to care for His chosen people.

One must also wonder if this was the seed of doubt in Moses that led to him striking the rock twice (Numbers 20:11-15), which ultimately lost him the ability to bring Israel personally into the Promised Land. Perhaps a series of events such as the shifting of order of the clans (Numbers 10:17-21), combined with this incident with Hobab was just a spark to the chain of events that ultimately led to full-scale rebellion of the Israelite people discussed in the 11th chapter.

Perhaps this was a backup plan for Moses. He had God’s guidance, but maybe thought having eyes on the ground might also be beneficial and serve to augment God’s direction. It certainly makes you wonder if this incident is also somehow responsible for the future negative influence and enmity the Midianites would have with Israel, described later in Numbers.

A final way to look at this would be from an evangelical point of view. Perhaps Moses was inviting Hobab to share in the blessings of Israel by walking alongside them in their covenantal journey. As an outreach to his family, Moses might have just been wishing to share the blessing he was experiencing with his kin and perhaps invite them to worship the One True God. Yet we see in Hobab's response, a response much different than that of an Abraham. Hobab was content to stay with his own kindred in his own homeland.

That’s the wonderful part of studying God’s Word. We will never have every question answered on this side of eternity, but it is so beneficial to meditate on what we read and ponder these things in our heart. This could be seen as a moment of distrust on the part of Moses (and Hobab) or an evangelical effort on the part of Moses that did not produce fruit.