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Thursday, May 30th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 9

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries


This chapter deals with the Second Passover celebrated by Israel, and with the problem concerning those unqualified through uncleanness to partake of it (Numbers 9:1-8). It outlines the rules for an exceptional Passover for those not able to partake at the regular time (Numbers 9:9-14), and describes the function of the “cloud by day, and the fiery pillar by night” which symbolized the presence of God and His guidance of Israel during their journeys (Numbers 9:15-23).

Verses 1-3

“And Jehovah spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Moreover let the children of Israel keep the Passover in its appointed season. In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in its appointed season: according to all the statutes of it, and according to all the ordinances thereof, shall ye keep it.”

“In the first month of the second year… in the fourteenth day of this month” (Numbers 9:1; Numbers 9:3). In this passage, we are exposed to the usual “fembu” from the liberal scholars that this place is, “Secondary… and certainly comes from the post-exilic period.”(F1) This passage, however, cannot be identified in any manner with the post-exilic period, because any writer in that period would have used the month Nisan as the time of the Passover. The words “in its appointed season” refer back to Exodus 12 and the designation of Abib as the month in which Passover was kept. Furthermore, there was not nor could there even be supposed any motivation whatever in the post-exilic period that could have been served by such an insertion as this into the sacred record. It was not the post-exilic period that needed these instructions, but the generation of Israel at Sinai. There is also the fact that, “In early Hebrew history, the Jews referred (as in this passage) to their months by number instead of naming them; there is also an absence from this passage of any cultic terminology (as in post-exilic times).”(F2) “There is no before or after in the Torah; the book has to be seen as a whole; sequence or placement cannot be judged by ordinary measure; it is Divine.”(F3)

“The date given here is before the census, and before all the other events mentioned thus far in Numbers”;(F4) and, again we have evidence that indicates Numbers is somewhat of a Mosaic diary in which no exact chronological sequence is observed. The reason why this passage occurs just here is not certain, nor is the question of any great importance.

The reason that it was necessary to repeat the commandment to observe the Passover in the wilderness came out of the fact that the first institution of that ordinance did not contemplate Israel’s long sojourn in the wilderness, a thing that developed later, due to the sin of Israel. “It was necessary because the law in Exodus (Exodus 12:25) did not contemplate the possibility of a Passover in the wilderness.”(F5)

“In the first month” (Numbers 9:1) Some versions and translations render this, “at the first new moon,” but as Gray noted, “It is illegitimate to interpret `in the first month,’ as meaning, `at the first new moon’.”(F6)

Because of the rebellion of Israel and their frequent disobedience, it does not appear likely that they observed the Passover any more at all during the wilderness period. Unger notes that, “The next recorded celebration of the Passover took place in Canaan” (Joshua 5:10-11).”(F7)

“According to all the statutes… and all the ordinances” (Numbers 9:3). It is clear that, due to changed conditions, it would be impossible to do some of the things commanded in the first

Passover, for example, to sprinkle the blood on the posts of the doors of their houses. “The regulations of Exodus 12:7 could not have been carried out by people dwelling in tents.”(F8) Nevertheless, all of the principal regulations were required to be observed. (See under Numbers 9:11.)

Verses 4-8

“And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, that they should keep the Passover. And they kept the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at even, in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that Jehovah commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel. And there were certain men, who were unclean by reason of the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day: and those men said unto him, We are unclean by reason of the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer the oblation of Jehovah in its appointed season among the children of Israel? And Moses said unto them, Stay ye, that I may hear what Jehovah will command concerning you.”

“At even” (Numbers 9:5). “This is literally `between the two evenings’,”(F9) and was understood differently in different ages. About the first century A.D., it meant, “the time between three and five o’clock in the evening.”(F10) Since our Lord died at 3:00 p.m., this fact regarding the True Lamb makes it likely that this was the intended hour from the first.

As frequently observed in Numbers, additional instruction regarding some previous regulation resulted from some emergency need for further clarification; and, in these verses, a similar instance arose. Certain men came to Moses and presented the problem caused by their uncleanness from touching a dead body, with a result that they were ceremonially forbidden to take the Passover at the proper time. Moses did not presume to answer this “from his experience,” or from his own conclusions. He promptly commanded the men to wait until GOD would speak concerning their problem. “These men were probably Mishael and Elizaphan, who buried their cousins, Nadab and Abihu, within a week of when this Passover was held (Leviticus 10:4-5).”(F11)

Verses 9-14

“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man of you or of your generation shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be on a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the Passover unto Jehovah. In the second month on the fourteenth day at even shall they keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs: they shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break a bone thereof: according to all the statute of the Passover they shall keep it. But the man that is clean, and is not on a journey, and forbeareth to keep the Passover, that soul shall be cut off from his people; because he offered not the oblation of Jehovah in its appointed season, that man shall bear his sin. And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the Passover unto Jehovah; according to the statute of the Passover, and according to the ordinance thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one statute, both for the sojourner, and for him that is born in the land.”

The instructions God gave covered more than the case that occasioned them, including also the case of strangers who wished to participate, and the instance of a traveler on a long journey. The word strangers, as used here, does not refer to itinerant strangers, but to a sojourner who was already a member of the community. The very term “stranger” in time came to mean “proselyte,” reflecting the invariable condition of circumcision from which no participant in the Passover could be exempted.

Although, as we have seen, there may have been some of the original conditions that Israel observed in the first Passover that did not apply in subsequent observances of it, it is of significance that here a number of the prime requirements are enumerated again. “Four of the chief regulations governing the ordinance are here specified as governing also this supplementary Passover:

(1) observe it on the fourteenth day of the month (Numbers 9:11)

(2) eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Numbers 9:12)

(3) leave none of it until morning (Numbers 9:12) and

(4) nor break a bone thereof.”(F12)

Added to this was the requirement that “all of the statute and all of the ordinance of the Passover” were to be observed. (For the magnificent symbolism of all of this, see a full discussion of it in Exodus 12 in this series.)

This mention of an Israelite on a far journey affords another incidental proof that the “times of the exile” had no connection with the writing of this passage. “Note that it is assumed that the absentee would return, so that the exile is not in view.”(F13)

“Nor break a bone thereof” (Numbers 9:12). The Jews no doubt considered this a very minor part of the regulations, for it is mentioned nowhere else in the O.T. (except in Exodus 12:46). “The very insignificance of this rule gives force to its fulfillment as an evidence that Christ was truly the Passover Lamb of God.”(F14)

Verses 15-17

“And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, even the tent of the testimony: and at even it was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until morning. So it was alway: the cloud covered it, and the appearance of fire by night. And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped.”

Plaut stated that, “The reason for this detailed passage containing previously stated information is not clear.”(F15) To us it seems quite logical that at this very moment when Israel was to depart from Sinai on an extended series of journeys that would cover a period of almost forty years and involve no less than forty-two stations for their encampment, it was appropriate indeed that there should have been just such a recapitulation as we find here.

The use of both expressions, “the Tent,” and “the tabernacle” here indicates that they were used interchangeably forbidding the notion that the cloud covered only the “Holy of Holies.” Gray noted that, “The cloud is spoken of indifferently as resting or being either on the tent, or on the tabernacle.”(F16) This whole passage is parallel to Exodus 40:34-38. “This manifestation in the cloud of God’s presence and guidance of Israel was miraculous, as is his leading us by the Holy Spirit through his word.”(F17) Orlinsky rendered the phrase, “and the appearance of fire,” thus: “The cloud rested in the likeness of fire.”(F18)

Verses 18-23

“At the commandment of Jehovah the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of Jehovah they encamped: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle, they remained encamped. And when the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of Jehovah, and journeyed not. And sometimes the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; then according to the commandment of Jehovah they remained encamped, and according to the commandment of Jehovah they journeyed. And sometimes the cloud was from evening until morning; and when the cloud was taken up in the morning, they journeyed: or if it continued by day and by night, when the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. Whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, abiding thereon, the children of Israel remained encamped, and journeyed not; but when it was taken up, they journeyed. At the commandment of Jehovah they encamped, and at the commandment of Jehovah they journeyed: they kept the charge of Jehovah, at the commandment of Jehovah by Moses.”

“At the commandment of Jehovah” This phrase occurs no less than seven times in this paragraph, stressing the important truth that God directed and controlled the movements of Israel in the wilderness.

“Two days, or a month, or a year” (Numbers 9:22). The word here rendered “year” does not have exactly that meaning. “It indicates a period of time not precisely indicated.”(F19) The use of “year” in our version (ASV) and in the KJV is a translator’s interpretation, “Because the word is literally days of indeterminate number.”(F20)Genesis 24:55 shows that this word means a number of days, possibly ten, but usually, it means more than a month.”(F21) Cook pointed out that it was used idiomatically for a year (Leviticus 25:29), and that “It is an expression equivalent to `a full period,’ though not necessarily the period of a year.”(F22)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Numbers 9". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/numbers-9.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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