An Old Testament Illustration

Gospel Invitations found in the New Testament, on this side of the cross, are forshadowed and illustrated in the Old. For example, there is an incident in the Old Testament that is a bit puzzling in itself, but it does provide a lovely illustration of the gospel call to sinners today.

Delivered from Egypt, the Israelites spent time at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses was given God's Law. Then, the time came to move on. It is then we read, "Now Moses said to Hobab the son of Ruel 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 treat you well; for the Lord has promised good things to Israel'" (Num. 10:29). The purpose of this request is later explained: "You know how we are to camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes" (vs. 31).

The silence of God on this decision of Moses leaves us unsure of its propriety. For Hobab to be invited to join the company was one thing. Other non-Israelites had done that. (And Hobab's family seems to have remained with God's people, Jud. 1:16; 4:11.) But was not the Lord Himself the "eyes of Israel"--communicating through His mouthpiece Moses (cf. II Chron. 16:9; Ps. 121:1-8; I Pet. 3:12)? Once before, Moses had gotten into difficulty by refusing to be the mouthpiece of God (Exod. 4:1-13). Is he now refusing to be their eyes?

Arno C. Gaebelein strongly criticizes Moses here, as does Harry Ironside. What need had the people for a human guide, with the Lord to direct them? The pillar of cloud and fire was a manifestation of God's presence, and they followed wherever it led them Exod. 13:21-22; 40:36-38). Notice in Numbers 10, vs. 33, "The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them...to search out a resting place for them." Is that not enough?

Jamieson, Faussett and Brown's commentary takes another point of view. They assert that while the ark pointed out the general direction Israel was to take, knowledge of watering holes and so on would be useful. Warren Wiersbe concurs, saying that just because the Lord has promised to guide us, that does not mean we are to ignore the advice of experienced people. Hobab, Moses' brother-in-law (the brother of his wife, Zipporah) knew the wilderness, and would be able to advise the people about day-to-day matters.

It is not entirely clear from the passage whether Hobab, after initially refusing to go along (vs. 30), changed his mind later and went. But the "so they departed" of vs. 33 seems to imply that he did. The later references in Judges to members of the family among the Israelites strengthens that possibility.

But Moses' appeal to his brother-in-law has a secondary application to the kind of gospel invitations found in the New Testament that is instructive. How is it that sinners are called to Christ?

1) A Personal Testimony. Christians are able to declare "we are setting out for the place of which the Lord said, 'I will give it to you.'" The Lord Jesus has gone to prepare a place where He will one day take us to dwell with Him (Jn. 14:2-3). Meantime, we are on a pilgrimage. When we witness, we tell others about this, and how they may join with us.

2) A Biblical Foundation. Our pilgrimage is not a self-directed one. We are traveling through the wilderness of this world, according to the Word and will of God, and confident in His promise--"the Lord said." We do not call people to believe in us, or to join some human organization. We appeal to them on the authority of God's holy Word to follow Him.

3) A Sincere Invitation. "Come with us." Here is the gospel invitation. In turning to Christ we each joined a great company of the saints. Some have already gone on before us. Others are still on the journey (cf. Eph. 3:14-15). In calling others to put their faith in Christ for salvation, we are also calling them to become part of the company of the committed.

4) A Pledge of Support. "We will treat you well" At the human level, response to gospel invitations requires follow-up. There needs to be a foundation of doctrine and practical help with such things as prayer and Bible study, if the new believer is to go on with the Lord. We read of those who turned to Christ, on the Day of Pentecost, that they were baptized (Acts 2:41), and "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread [likely a reference to the Lord's Supper], and in prayers" (Acts 2:42).

5) The Promises of God. The assurance Moses gave Hobab we are able to give new converts--that "the Lord has promised good things." Along with the human support previously mentioned, the new believer must be encouraged to keep on feeding on the Word for himself, in order to grow (I Pet. 2:2). With Paul, we say, "I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).