Notes (NET Translation)
1 The LORD spoke to Moses: 2 “Make two trumpets of silver; you are to make them from a single hammered piece. You will use them for assembling the community and for directing the traveling of the camps.
Although the commentators make some similar comments, it may be worthwhile to quote them at length. Timothy Ashley:
This term [trumpet] refers to a different instrument from the šôp̄ār, which the AV sometimes translated “trumpet,” but which was made from a ram’s horn. Later, Josephus described these instruments as slightly less than a cubit in length (i.e., between 18 and 20 in.) and constructed of a narrow tube ending in a bell. Similar instruments are known to have existed in Egypt from at least the beginning of the 15th cent. B.C. A particularly well-known example, also made of silver, was discovered in Tutankhamen’s tomb (mid-14th cent. B.C.). Thus such instruments did exist in the Mosaic age.1
R. Dennis Cole:
These trumpets likely were styled after those known from Egypt during the Late Bronze Age, examples of which were found among the remains in King Tutankamun’s tomb. These instruments were about two feet long with very narrow tubes, and when blown in certain patterns, they emitted a bright and piercing sound that would communicate clearly to the people the desired intent.
The trumpets were blown with varying tones and lengths of blast. The two likely were of slightly different size and produced varying tones, such that when two were sounded for the purpose of calling the whole community together, both could be distinguished. Two lengths of blast were also prescribed, the short blast [“alarm”] for alerting the camps to break camp and disembark on the journey (vv. 5-6) and the long blast [“blow”] for calling the assemblies together (vv. 3-4). The variant purposes of the two sounds are distinguished clearly in v. 7, in which the assembly is called together by the long blast, but not short sounds.2
To judge by the many illustrations of the ancient Egyptian trumpet and the ones portrayed on Judean coins, the trumpet was a short, slender tube with a widened mouth, and, according to Josephus (Ant. 3.291), slightly more than one foot in length. Those depicted on the Arch of Titus would be too long to fit Josephus’ measurements. In ancient Egypt, the trumpets were used in war and to summon the people to worship. In Israel, too, according to our passage, the two trumpets were used singly or together for administrative, military (cf. also 2 Chron. 13:12–14), and cultic functions. The latter, as indicated by verse 10, were solely occasions of joy, verified by the ample attestations of the trumpet in the Bible: in coronations (2 Kings 11:14; cf. Ps. 98:6); the installation of the Ark in David’s tent (1 Chron. 16:6, 42); the dedication of Solomon’s Temple (2 Chron. 5:12–13); the rededication of the altar and covenant under Asa (2 Chron. 15:8–15); the purification of Hezekiah’s Temple (2 Chron. 29:27); the laying of the foundation of the Second Temple (Ezra 3:10); consecrating the walls of Jerusalem (Neh. 12:35, 41).3
The trumpets are described by Josephus [Ant 3.12.6] and pictured on the arch of Titus in Rome. They were straight pipes, a little less than 18 in. (45cm) long with a flared opening at the end. They could be blown in various ways to give different signals. What distinguished blowing and sounding an alarm is uncertain. But if we follow Jewish tradition, long blasts (Hebrew tāqa‘, RSV blow) were used to assemble people to Moses, to the tent of meeting and for worship (3-4, 10). Short staccato blasts (Hebrew tāqa‘ lĕrû‘â, RSV blow an alarm) were used in battle and to order the camps to move off. Each time an alarm was sounded a group of tribes moved off. At the first alarm the tribes to the east of the tabernacle moved off, at the second alarm those on the south, at subsequent blasts those on the west and north (5-6; cf. 2:1-31). It is significant that, as in ancient Egypt, the trumpets were used in war and to summon people to worship.4
The silver trumpets complement the guidance of the fire-cloud (9:15-23).
3 When they blow them both, all the community must come to you to the entrance of the tent of meeting.
4 “But if they blow with one trumpet, then the leaders, the heads of the thousands of Israel, must come to you.
5 When you blow an alarm, then the camps that are located on the east side must begin to travel. 6 And when you blow an alarm the second time, then the camps that are located on the south side must begin to travel. An alarm must be sounded for their journeys.
The “alarm” was created through a different manner of blowing the trumpets. “In Jewish liturgy, where the shofar is still used, terûʿāh is defined as a rapid staccato of nine shofar blasts (Mishna, Taʿanît 2:5).”5 In verses 5-6 it is used as a signal for setting out on a march. The LXX adds a third and fourth alarm to move the western and northern camps. Their alarms and movement are assumed in the MT.
7 But when you assemble the community, you must blow, but you must not sound an alarm.
8 The sons of Aaron, the priests, must blow the trumpets; and they will be to you for an eternal ordinance throughout your generations.
Only the Aaronic priests may blow the trumpets. This ordinance is a permanent feature of the cult, not simply an ordinance for the wilderness period.
9 If you go to war in your land against an adversary who opposes you, then you must sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the LORD your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.
The phrase “in your land” indicates this verse is looking towards the future, when the Israelites are in the promised land.
In the ancient Near East, priests were an integral part of a military force, as attested in Ugarit and Alalakh and later in biblical Israel (Deut. 20:2–4; 1 Sam. 23:9; 30:7), the Neo-Babylonian empire (Ezek. 21:26), and classical Greece. Basing themselves on Deuteronomy 20:2, the rabbis speak of a special priest “anointed for war.” The War Scroll of the Dead Sea sectarians goes into great detail concerning the part that the “head (= high) priest,” the “priest chosen for the day of revenge,” and the six priestly trumpeters assume in battle (7:8–11; 15:4ff.).6
10 “Also in the time when you rejoice, such as on your appointed festivals or at the beginnings of your months, you must blow with your trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings, so that they may become a memorial for you before your God: I am the LORD your God.”
The difference between the trumpet and the shofar is clearly indicated by the Septuagint on Psalms 98:6 where the ḥatsotserah is called a “metal trumpet” (salpinx) and the shofar is called a “horn trumpet” (keratinēs), that is, made from the horn of an animal. In Scripture the shofar is used as follows: to muster an army (Judg. 3:27; 6:34); to frighten the enemy (Judg. 7:8, 16–22); to proclaim victory (1 Sam. 13:3); to terminate a battle (2 Sam. 18:16; 20:22); to proclaim rebellion (2 Sam. 20:1); to warn of an approaching enemy (Jer. 4:21; Hos. 5:8; Neh. 4:12–14); to install the Ark in David’s tent (2 Sam. 6:15); and to proclaim the coronation of kings (2 Sam. 15:10; 2 Kings 9:13; cf. Pss. 47:6; 98:6). When the function of the shofar is compared with that of the trumpet, it is clear that they often overlap. This does not mean, however, as claimed by many critics, that since the trumpet occurs mainly in late sources (the priestly texts in Numbers, according to these critics, are late), the shofar, the original instrument, was replaced by the trumpet in Second Temple times. This theory must be rejected because a number of attestations of the trumpet are clearly preexilic (e.g., 2 Kings 11:14; 12:14; Hosea 5:8). It is more likely that the two instruments were used at the same time and they were distinguished not by their use but by their users: The trumpets were sounded exclusively by the priests. Thus Chronicles deliberately adds to the account in Samuel that a corps of trumpeter priests participated in the celebration when David brought the Ark up to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:15; 1 Chron. 15:24, 28). Moreover, it is likely that the nonpriestly sources did not distinguish between the two instruments, calling both of them by the name shofar. This phenomenon is paralleled in another cultic area: The only expiatory sacrifice known in nonpriestly sources (except for 2 Kings 12:17) is the ʿolah, whereas the priestly texts also speak of the ḥattaʾt and ʾasham. Thus the masses may not have been aware of the technical name for the wind instrument blown by the priests. This possibility is supported by the account of the battle of Jericho in which the shofar plays a central role. But whereas the people blow the shofar (Josh. 6:9, 13b, 20), the priests blow the shoferot hayovelim (Josh. 6:4, 6, 8, 13a). Thus this nonpriestly source recognizes that the priests resort to a special kind of shofar; only the priestly tradition identifies it with the ḥatsotserah, the trumpet. The rabbis escape this textual dilemma by positing that the trumpet was only used during the time of Moses but not by Joshua and later generations (Sif. Num. 75). Certainly by the time of the rabbis of the Gemara, the amoraim, the distinction between the shofar and trumpet was no longer known (Shab. 36a, Sot. 43a; cf. Mish. Kin. 3:6).7
Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.
Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.
Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Kindle Edition. The New American Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.
Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah. First Edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2001.
Levine, Baruch A. Numbers 1-20. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.
Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.
Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.
Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers. Kindle Edition. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2015.