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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 9

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-14


THE PASSOVER AT SINAI (Numbers 9:1-14).

Numbers 9:1

In the first month of the second year. Before the census, and all the other events recorded in this hook, except in part the offerings of the princes (see Numbers 7:1). There was, however, an obvious reason for mentioning together the two passovers, the second of which immediately preceded the departure from Sinai.

Numbers 9:2

Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season. Septuagint, ποιείτωσαν τὸ πάσχα. Cf. Matthew 26:18, ποιῶ τὸ πάσχα, and Luke 22:19, τοῦτο ποιεῖτε εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν. They may have been in doubt as to whether they were to keep it in the wilderness, and indeed they do not seem to have attempted to keep it again until they reached the promised land (see on Joshua 5:5, Joshua 5:6). The passover had indeed been made an "ordinance for ever," but only when they were come to the land which the Lord should give them (Exodus 12:24, Exodus 12:25; Exodus 13:5). Apart, therefore, from express command, it would have been doubtful whether the feast should not at least he postponed. Inasmuch, however, as they had been detained at Sinai by Divine direction (albeit partly in consequence of their own idolatry, but for which they might already have been "at home"), it pleased God that they should not lack the blessing and support of the passover at its proper season.

Numbers 9:3

At even. See on Exodus 12:6. According to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof. This must be understood only of the essential rites and ceremonies of the passover, as mentioned below (Exodus 12:11, Exodus 12:12). It is singular that no mention is made of the considerable departure which circumstances necessitated from the original institution. It was not possible, e.g; to strike the blood of the lamb upon the lintel and the side-posts of the doors, because in the wilderness they had no doors. In after ages this rite (which was of the essence of the institution) was represented by the sprinkling of the blood of the lambs on the altar (2 Chronicles 30:16), but no command is on record which expressly authorized the change. In Le Exodus 17:3-6 there is indeed a general direction, applying apparently to all domestic animals slain for food, that they be brought to the tabernacle to be slain, and that the priest sprinkle the blood upon the altar; and in Deuteronomy 16:5-7 there is an order that in future times the passover was only to he slain at the place which the Lord should choose. The actual practice in later ages seems to have been founded partly upon the command in Deuteronomy, which restricted the killing of the passover to Jerusalem (not, however, to the temple), and partly on the command in Leviticus, which really applied (at any rate in the letter) to the time of wandering only. As the celebration of the paschal feast had apparently been neglected from the time of Joshua until that of the later kings (Joshua 5:10; 2 Kings 23:22), they were no doubt guided in the observance of it by the analogy of other sacrifices in the absence of express commands. It would, however, be an obvious source of error to assume that the practice of the age of Josiah or Hezekiah was the practice of the earliest passovers; so far as these necessarily differed from the original institution, it is absolutely uncertain how the difficulty was solved. Nothing perhaps better illustrates the mingled rigidity and elasticity of the Divine ordinances than the observance of the passover, in which so much of changed detail was united with so real and so unvarying a uniformity.

Numbers 9:5

And they kept the passover. It is a question which inevitably arises here, how they obtained a sufficient number of lambs for the requirement of so many people, and how they were slain sacrificially within the appointed time. The first difficulty does not seem serious when we consider,

(1) that kids were available as well as lambs (see on Exodus 12:3);

(2) that the desert tribes would have abundance of lambs and kids for sale at this season, and that the Israelites certainly had money;

(3) that in view of their speedy departure they would be disposed to kill off the young of their own flocks. The second difficulty is more serious, and would be insurmountable if we had to believe that the ritual of this passover was the same which afterwards prevailed. Josephus tells us (‘Bell. Jud.,' 6.9, 3) that in his day 256,000 Iambs were slain and their blood sprinkled upon the altar within the three hours "between the evenings." At that time, according to the same authority, a lamb was shared by ten, and often by as many as twenty people. The number of males who would partake of the paschal meal in the wilderness may be set down as not more than 800,000. If the women partook of it at all (which is very doubtful; cf. Exodus 12:44, Exodus 12:48), they would doubtless content themselves with the scraps left by the men. Allowing twenty souls to each lamb, the number required would be not more than 40,000. It is obvious at once that the three priests could not possibly kill 40,000 lambs in three hours, much less sprinkle their blood upon the altar; indeed the same may be said for 10,000, or even 5000, especially as they could not have acquired the extreme dexterity and dispatch which long practice taught to the later priests. Nor is it satisfactory to reply that the priests did the work "out of the hand of the Levites ‘ (2 Chronicles 30:16),

(1) because this passover took place before the Levites were formally separated for the service of God and of the priests (see Numbers 8:22);

(2) because the smallness of the space about the altar would not allow of many people assisting;

(3) because the actual slaying and sprinkling, which was restricted to the priests (being distinctively sacrificial in nature), are the very things which we find impossible in the time. There are but two alternative conclusions, from one or other of which there is no honest escape: either

(a) the numbers of the people are greatly exaggerated, or

(b) the ritual of after days was not observed on this occasion.

As to (a), see what is said on the whole question of numbers in the Introduction. As to (b), it must be borne in mind that no direction whatever had been given, as far as we know, either that the lambs must be slain by the priests only, or that their blood must be poured upon the altar. If the Jews were left to follow the original institution as nearly as possible, they would have killed the lambs themselves, and sprinkled the blood around the doors of their tents. It is true that according to the Levitical ritual, now recently put into use, all other animals slain in sacrifice (or indeed for food) must be slain at the tabernacle by the priest, and the blood sprinkled on the altar; and it is true that this general rule was afterwards held especially binding in the case of the passover. But there is nothing to show that it was held binding then: the passover had been ordained before the establishment of the Levitical priesthood and law of sacrifice; and it might very well have been considered that it retained its primal character unaffected by subsequent legislation, and that the priesthood of the people (in other rites transferred to Aaron and his sons) was recalled and revived in the case of this special rite. If this was the case both at this passover and at that under Joshua, it is easy enough to understand why the later practice was so entirely different; the neglect or disuse of centuries obliterated the tradition of the passover, and when it was revived by the later kings, they naturally followed the analogy of all other sacrifices, and the apparently express command of Le Joshua 17:3-6. They could not indeed obey this command in their daily life, but they could and did obey it in the striking and typical case of the paschal feast.

Numbers 9:6

There were certain men. It has been supposed by many that these men must have been Mishael and Elizaphan, who had recently (cf. Exodus 40:17; Le Exodus 9:1; Exodus 10:4) been defiled by burying their cousins Nadab and Abihu. This, however, is based upon the assumption that the totals given in Exodus 38:26 and in Numbers 1:46 are really independent, and that therefore no one belonging to any other tribe than that of Levi had died in the interval. As that assumption is untenable (see above on Numbers 1:46), so this "coincidence" falls to the ground. We know indeed that Mishael and Elizaphan were defiled at this time, and we do not know that any one else was; but, on the other hand, the words "the dead body of a man" seem to point to a single corpse only. Dead body. Hebrew, nephesh, as in Numbers 5:2; Numbers 6:11, and other places. It is inexplicable how this word, which properly means "soul," should have come to be used of a corpse; perhaps it is an additional testimony to the complete absence from Jewish teaching of any doctrine of an immortal spirit. The Septuagint uses ψύχη here.

Numbers 9:7

Wherefore are we kept back. The direction to remove from the camp all that were defiled by the dead (Numbers 5:2) had not apparently been given at this time, nor was there any express command that such should not partake of the passover, for Le Numbers 7:20 may probably refer only to such uncleannesses as are mentioned in Le Numbers 15:3; but that men were in fact considered as defiled by contact with the dead is clear from Le Numbers 21:1. The men, therefore, had reason for asking why they were excommunicated, and Moses for referring the matter to the Divine decision.

Numbers 9:10

If any man of you or of your posterity. The particular case of these men is made the occasion for a general provision for all succeeding times. Shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey. It is somewhat strange that these two cases only were provided for: a man otherwise unclean (as, e.g; in the case described Le Numbers 15:13), even if actually recovered, was unable to take advantage of the little passover. Probably the real reason of it is to be found in this, that both the far journey and' the burial of the dead would presumably be works of charity. Afar off. This word, hsilgnE:egaugnaLרְחֹקָה}, is one of ten in the Pentateuch distinguished in the Hebrew Bibles with puncta extraordinaria, for some unknown and probably trifling reasons. The Rabbins ruled that it meant a distance of fifteen miles or more from the temple at sunrise of the fourteenth of Abib.

Numbers 9:11

The fourteenth day of the second month. The interval gave ample time to return from any ordinary journey, or to be purified from pollution of death. It was in the spirit of this command, though not in the letter of it, that Hezekiah acted (2 Chronicles 30:2). And possibly it was in the spirit of this command that our Lord acted when he ate the passover by anticipation with his disciples twenty-four hours before the proper time—at which time he was himself to be the Lamb slain. With unleavened bread and bitter herbs. These and the following directions are expressly added for fear lest any should think that the little passover might be celebrated with less solemnity and with less carefulness than the great passover.

Numbers 9:12

According to all the ordinances of the passover. The later Jews held that this passover need only be kept for one day, and that leaven need not be put away from the house. But this was a clear departure from the original rule, for it was evidently intended that it should be in all respects a true passover, and in this case six clear days were allowed for the keeping of it (see on Numbers 10:11).

Numbers 9:13

But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey. This threat was added no doubt in order to prevent men from taking advantage of the permission to keep a supplemental passover in order to suit their own convenience or interest. Only two reasons could absolve a man from the absolute necessity of keeping the passover at the due season, and these reasons must be bona fide, and not pretended. Because he brought not the offering of the Lord. In the original institution the paschal lamb did not appear distinctly in the character of an offering made to God, although undoubtedly it was such. It was rather the eating of the lamb that was insisted upon, as placing the partaker in communion with the God and Church of Israel, and so in a state of salvation. But after the law of sacrifices had been elaborated, then the paschal lamb, though prior to them all, naturally took its place amongst them as the greatest of them all, and as uniting in itself the special beauties of all.

Numbers 9:14

Ye shall have one ordinance. This is repeated from Exodus 12:49 as a further warning not to tamper more than absolute necessity required with the unity, either in time or in circumstance, of the great national rite.


Numbers 9:1-14


In the keeping of the passover we have, under the law, what the celebrating of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is under the gospel; for it was the nature and use of that to show the Lord's death until he came the first time, as of this to show the Lord's death until he come the second time. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT IT WAS THE WILL OF GOD, SPECIALLY DECLARED, THAT ALL ISRAEL SHOULD BE PARTAKERS THEREOF ERE THEY LEFT THE HOLY MOUNT OF CONSECRATION AND PLUNGED INTO THE DESERT OF WANDERINGS. Even so it is the will of God that all his people, when they have been taught of him, should be partakers of "that one bread," and thereby be brought into closer union with one another and with him for the journey of life (John 6:56; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 10:17).

II. THAT THE ISRAELITES KEPT THAT PASSOVER UNDER DIFFICULTIES, LITTLE DREAMING THAT IT WAS TO BE THEIR LAST; for only Caleb and Joshua survived to take part in the next. How often have faithful people made special effort to join in keeping the Christian passover, and it has proved to be their last! (Luke 22:15; 1 Corinthians 5:7).

III. THAT THE PASSOVER WAS KEPT "ACCORDING TO ALL THE RITES OF IT," AND YET THERE WERE SOME RITES AND CEREMONIES WHICH MUST OF NECESSITY HAVE BEEN ALTERED; but this did not mar the Divinely-ordered uniformity. Even so there be things in the Christian passover which have been altered, yet if the alteration have not been willfully nor needlessly made, it leaves the religious identity of the rite untouched.

IV. THAT THE PASSOVER WAS EATEN IN THE WILDERNESS, AS IN EGYPT BEFORE, AND IN CANAAN AFTERWARDS (Joshua 5:10), ON THE EVE OF GREAT JOURNEYS AND BATTLES. Even so is the Christian made partaker of heavenly food that he may be stronger and braver for the journey and the conflict of life (cf. 1 Kings 19:7).

V. THAT ONE DEFILED BY THE DEAD COULD NOT JOIN IN THE PASSOVER. So he that bath suffered in soul by contact with the spiritually dead cannot be partaker of the Lord's Table until he be recovered from that contagion (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:21; 1 Corinthians 11:27-30).

VI. THAT THE UNCLEAN, AND THEY THAT WERE AFAR OFF, WERE NEVERTHELESS ADMITTED TO THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE PASSOVER AS SOON AS THEY WERE CLEANSED AND RETURNED. Even so none need be banished from the communion of the body of Christ because he is unclean, for time is given him to be cleansed; nor because he is afar off, for time is given him to return (Mark 1:41; Luke 15:20; James 4:8); only the cleansing and the returning must be in due time, and not too late (Matthew 25:10 b; Luke 13:25; 2 Corinthians 6:2).


(1) compulsory absence or

(2) unworthiness to approach, will avail any one who willfully neglects the invitation of Christ to his feast (Luke 14:24; Luke 22:19 b; 1 Corinthians 11:25).

VIII. THAT IT WAS AGAIN AND AGAIN DECLARED THAT THERE SHOULD BE "ONE ORDINANCE" ONLY FOR ALL FROM ALL QUARTERS AS CONCERNED THE PASSOVER; for it was the ordinance of unity. Even so the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is above all things the sacrament of unity (1 Corinthians 10:17), and therefore the manner of it is especially declared (1 Corinthians 11:23, and the three Gospels).


Numbers 9:6-14


The law here laid down is supplementary to the law of the passover set forth at large in Exodus 12:1-51. The supplement, beside being of some interest in itself, is specially important on account of certain general principles relative to God's worship which come into view in it.

I. THE OCCASION WHICH LED TO THIS SUPPLEMENTARY DIRECTION. From Exodus 12:25 and Exodus 13:5 it may be inferred that the passover was not intended to be statedly observed till the tribes should have received their inheritance in Canaan; and the inference is confirmed by the circumstance that there seems to have been no celebration of the passover during the thirty-eight years between the departure from Sinai and the crossing of the Jordan. For reasons not difficult to understand, the first anniversary of the night of deliverance, since it found the people still encamped at Sinai, was commanded to be observed. Hence the charge Exodus 13:1-5. This, since it was, in some sense, the first of all the regular passovers, was ordained to be kept with great solemnity. All the greater was the chagrin felt by certain men of Israel who, on account of a mischance which had befallen them, were disabled from taking part in the general solemnity. A relative or neighbour had died on the eve of the feast. They had not shirked the duty of laying out and burying the dead. Thus they were ceremonially unclean, and might not eat the passover. It seemed hard to be debarred from the joyous rite, especially since no blame attached to themselves in the matter. Was there no remedy? They brought the matter before Moses and Aaron; Moses brought it before the Lord, with the result to be presently described.


1. The person disabled by uncleanness at the full moon of the first month might keep the feast at the full moon of the second. This was not a perfect remedy. The passover was a national solemnity. It was a witness to the religious unity of the tribes. It was designed at once to express and to foster the communion of the whole people in the faith and worship of the God of Abraham. These very attractive aspects of the ordinance failed to come into view when the passover was observed only by a few individuals, and on another than the appointed day. However, there were other and more private aspects of the ordinance to which this did not apply, so that the permission to keep the passover in the second month was a valuable concession.

2. The concession was extended not only to persons defiled by the dead, but to all who might be defiled from any cause beyond their own control For example, if a man happened unavoidably to be on a distant journey on the fourteenth day of the first month, he might keep the passover at the next full moon.

3. The concession was expressly extended to the foreigner as well as to the born Israelite. It ought never to be forgotten that, although the passover was so emphatically a national feast, provision was carefully made, from the first, for the admission of foreigners to it (Exodus 12:48, Exodus 12:49). Let the foreigner accept circumcision, "he and all his," and he is entitled to sit down at the paschal table, as a communicant in the Hebrew Church, just as if he had been born in the land. The Old Testament Church was not a missionary Church. It was not enjoined to preach to the Gentiles and compel them to come in. But if a Gentile desired to come in, he was to be made welcome. The law before us, besides presupposing the right of the proselyte to be admitted, emphatically declares the parity of right which was to be accorded him on his admission.

4. Care was to be taken not to abuse the concession. Liberty is one thing; license is another and very different thing; yet history and daily experience bear witness that the two are apt to be confounded. Many, when they hear liberty proclaimed, think that license is to reign. See how carefully this is guarded against in the present instance. In two ways:—

(1) Willful neglect to observe the passover in its appointed season was still to be deemed presumptuous sift (Exodus 13:13)—a warning which the habitual neglecters of the Lord's Supper would do well to lay to heart. We, as evangelical Protestants, believe that participation in the Lord's Supper is not the indispensable means of communion in the body and blood of the Lord; nevertheless, we hold that no man can habitually withdraw himself from the Lord's Supper without sin and loss.

(2) The supplementary passover was not, because supplementary, to be a passover of maimed rites (Exodus 13:11, Exodus 13:12). It was to be observed with all the rites ordained for the great festival of the first month. With this law compare the history of Hezekiah's passover in 2 Chronicles 30:1-27.

III. THE PRINCIPLE WHICH LIES AT THE BOOT OF THIS LAW is this, namely, that rigid exactness in points of external order ought to be waived when adherence to it would hinder the edification of souls. The same principle was laid down by our Lord in reference to the observance of the day of rest when he said, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." The principle must, of course, be used with discretion. It was dutiful and expedient that the passover should be observed, not by every man when he pleased, but on the anniversary of the exodus, and by the whole congregation at once. Nevertheless, this good rule was not to defraud of the passover those disabled from keeping it on the right day. If this principle was so carefully recognized under the comparatively servile dispensation, much more ought it to prevail under the dispensation of evangelical liberty. Points of external order are not to be despised, especially when they are such as have express warrant of Holy Scripture. The willful contempt of them may amount to presumptuous sin. Nevertheless, the edification of souls must ever be treated as the paramount consideration to which all else must yield.—B.


Numbers 9:1-14


We learn from this narrative certain lessons which may illustrate the relation of the letter to the spirit of Divine precepts on other subjects beside the passover.

I. THE LETTER OF THE LAW WAS STRINGENT. The observance of the feast was binding, even under inconvenient circumstances (Numbers 9:5), at fixed times (Numbers 9:3), and with prescribed rites (Numbers 9:3). No trifling allowed (Numbers 9:13). Neglect of any one law may be fatal (James 2:10). Yet this stringent law could be modified. It was flexible, because God was a paternal King, and not a despotic martinet. But God alone could modify the law (Numbers 9:8), or condone for its literal non-observance (e.g; 2 Chronicles 30:15-20). Provision was made for disabilities arising from

(1) uncleanness, contracted unavoidably, or in the path of duty (cf. Psalms 103:14); or

(2) absence from home, for such journeys were not prohibited because the passover was near. To meet such cases—

II. THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW WAS BENEFICENT. Neglect was not sanctioned; it never is. Great care needed lest, while claiming liberty to set aside the letter of the law in favour of the spirit, we neglect the spirit also (apply, e.g; to the sanctification of the Lord's day). But God provided a substitute for the literal observance (Numbers 9:9-12).


1. The laws of Christ are not "grievous," but may not be trifled with. A difficulty in the way of observing some law may arise from circumstances, or character. Illustrate, the Lord's Supper. In the early history of some of the Polynesian missions, where no bread or "fruit of the vine" was to be had, the service was not neglected on account of these circumstances, but bread fruit and water, or other beverage, was used. If the hindrance to our observance should arise from any "uncleanness," we need not wait for a lengthened process of purification, but may apply to our cleansing High Priest at once (John 13:1-10).

2. Precepts that are called "positive" must not be neglected because moral precepts are observed. Illustrate from Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24 (cf. Matthew 23:23; Deuteronomy 4:2; Psalms 119:128). Christ having redeemed us unto God by his blood, his law extends to every department of our life.—P.

Numbers 9:14


Judaism, according to the "law given by Moses," was not the exclusive and repulsive system that many have imagined. The gate into Judaism, through circumcision, etc; may seem strait to us; but a thorough separation from the corrupt heathen world was a necessity and a blessing, just as the utter renunciation of Hinduism by breaking caste is now. Laws relating to strangers occupy no inconsiderable place in the legislation of Moses. These laws have a most beneficent aspect, which may suggest lessons regarding our duties as Christians towards aliens, whether of blood or creed. We find precepts recognizing for the strangers—

I. EQUALITY BEFORE THE LAW. This is taught in our text and in several other passages (Exodus 12:49; Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:15, Numbers 15:16, Numbers 15:29). This is especially noticeable in regard to the laws of the sabbath (Exodus 20:10; Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14), and of the cities of refuge (Numbers 35:15). Hence the Israelites were repeatedly warned against oppressing the stranger (Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9), though he might be a hired servant, at the mercy of his employer (Deuteronomy 24:14, Deuteronomy 24:15), or an Egyptian (Deuteronomy 23:7). In administering these laws strict impartiality is demanded of the judges (Deuteronomy 1:16; Deuteronomy 24:17). Such equality is recognized under the laws of Christian England, but needs to be most carefully guarded. E.g; in our treatment of coolies or other coloured people in our colonies, foreign sailors in our ports, etc. Oppression of strangers one great crime before the fail of the Jewish monarchy (Ezekiel 22:7, Ezekiel 22:29). Ill-treatment of non-Christian races outside its borders one of England's national crimes (Chinese opium traffic; some of our colonial wars, etc.).

II. A CLAIM ON BENEVOLENCE. Strangers were not only guarded from oppression, but commended to the love of the Israelites.—See precepts in Leviticus 19:33, Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 10:19; Leviticus 25:35, blossoming into the beautiful flower, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," which our Lord plucks from its hiding-place in Leviticus and exhibits and enforces on the whole world. Hence follow the precepts requiring that gleanings be left for the strangers (Le Leviticus 19:10; Leviticus 23:22), and that they should be allowed to share "in every good thing" God bestowed on Israel (Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11, Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 26:11). God be praised for all the philanthropic agencies of England on behalf of foreigners. Let us see that our personal beneficence is not limited by race or creed (Isaiah 58:6-11, etc.).

III. INVITATIONS TO NATIONAL AND PERSONAL BLESSINGS, Gentiles were welcomed to all privileges of Judaism through conformity to its laws. They could enter into the covenant (Deuteronomy 29:10-13), offer sacrifices (Le Leviticus 22:18), and keep the passover (Exodus 12:43-49; Numbers 9:14). And it was required that they be instructed in the law of God (Deuteronomy 31:10-13, read in the light of Joshua 8:33-35). Having all these privileges, they were liable to the same punishments as the Israelites (Le Leviticus 17:8, Leviticus 17:12, Leviticus 17:15; Leviticus 24:16, etc.). We need not wonder that the adhesion and conversion of strangers was anticipated (1 Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 56:3, etc.). Apply to the missionary work of the Church, which can speak to strangers of "a better covenant," "Christ our passover," "grace and truth by Jesus Christ."—P.


Numbers 9:1-5


When Jehovah ordered Moses to prepare the Israelites against the visit in which he smote the firstborn, he also said the day was to be kept as a feast through all their generations by an ordinance for ever. And now it was nearly twelve months since the great deliverance by which in haste and pressure Israel departed out of Egypt. The instructions (Exodus 12:1-51) are plain enough; but God deemed it needful, as the anniversary time drew near, to give his people a special reminder. Why was it needed?

1. Because much had happened in the interval. At the time, many of the Israelites would say, "Surely we shall never forget this wonderful and terrible night!" But since then there had been the crossing of the Red Sea, and all the impressive dealings of God with his people at Sinai. One event retreats as another comes on. Men march forward into the future, and great events are soon lost to view, even as great mountains are upon a journey.

2. Because the trials of the wilderness made many long for the comforts of Egypt. They soon forgot the hardships of bondage. Less than two months was enough to make them wish they had died in Egypt, by the flesh-pots, where they had bread to the full (Exodus 16:1-36). What then of forgetting might not happen in twelve months? Thus, by all the details of the memorial celebration, God would have them bring back to mind distinctly the extraordinary mercy of that night in which they left Egypt.

3. Because an emphatic reminder helped to distinguish the passover from other great events. The smiting of the firstborn was the decisive blow to Pharaoh. It liberated the Israelites from their thraldom. All previous chastisements led up to it, and the wonders of the Red Sea were the inevitable sequence. Above all, there was the great typical import of the passover. Christ our passover is slain for us (1 Corinthians 5:7). What the passover was to the Israelites, the atoning death of Jesus is to us, an event which there is a solemn obligation on us to recollect and commemorate in a peculiar way.

4. Because there was need of preparation and care in the celebration. It was on the fourteenth day of the month at even that it was to be kept. It was in the first month of the second year that the Lord spoke to Moses. Hence we may suppose that he saw no signs of preparation, nothing to indicate that the people were being stirred by the thought of the glorious deliverance. This admonition of the Lord to Moses may be applied to such as, admitting the permanent obligation of the Lord's Supper, yet are negligent and irregular in practicing the obligation. If the passover and the sprinkled blood of the lamb demanded a yearly memorial from Israel, even more does the sprinkled blood of Christ demand a regular commemoration. He seems to have provided for our naturally forgetful ways in saying, "Do this in remembrance of me."—Y.

Numbers 9:6-13


I. THE DIFFICULTY STATED. Certain men, ceremonially unclean, could not partake of the passover (Numbers 5:1-4). One ceremonial observance, therefore, might clash with another. No one could with certainty be clean at the passover time. Hence we see how all ceremonial is purely subordinate to higher considerations. If one ceremonial obligation could interfere with another, how clear that the claims of justice, mercy, and necessity, rise above ceremony altogether (Matthew 12:1-8; Matthew 15:1-6). The very existence of such a difficulty showed that rites and ceremonies were only for a time. The distinction of clean and unclean is gone now. There is no more uncleanness in the leper, in the mother with her newborn offspring, in the attendant on the dead. We have to guard against a deeper than ceremonial uncleanness. "Let a man examine himself, and so Jet him eat of that bread and drink of that cup" (Matthew 15:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 7:1).

II. HOW THE DIFFICULTY WAS REMOVED. Moses is consulted, and he consults God. The example of Moses in this matter needs our study and imitation. God will leave none of his servants in doubt if they only truly seek to him, and lean not to their own understanding. In God's answer notice—

1. His appreciation of the difficulty. Ceremonial uncleanness was a very serious thing, as being the type of the unclean heart. To keep these men back from the passover was not the act of ecclesiastical martinets, God himself being witness.

2. The duty that cannot be done today may be done tomorrow. We should take care that what has to be deferred is only deferred. Just because the passover was too sacred to be touched by unclean hands, it was too sacred to be passed over altogether.

3. The removal of one difficulty gives an opportunity for removing another. Ceremonial observances were regulated with regard to the claims of ordinary life. "If a man be in a journey afar off." He did not say that every man was bound to be home that day, at whatever cost. God makes allowance for the urgency of a man's private affairs.

4. God's consideration for these real difficulties made the observance all the more important where such difficulties did not exist. God listens to reasons; he will see them, even when they are not expressed; but mere excuses, in which men's lips are so fruitful, he cannot tolerate. If we are prevented from joining' the assembly for worship, or approaching the Lord's table, let us be quite sure that our reason is sound, based in conscience and not in self-will, not a mere pretext for indolence and unspirituality. Where the heart is right towards God, and an obedient spirit towards all his commandments, he will take every difficulty away.—Y.

Verses 15-23


THE SIGNALS OF GOD (Numbers 9:15-23).

Numbers 9:15

On the day that the tabernacle was reared up. Here we are sent back again to the great day of Israel's sojourn at Sinai, when God took visible possession of his dwelling in the midst of them (Exodus 40:34). Everything after that was but preparatory to the approaching departure, and therefore is narrated not in any order of time, but either as it referred back to the first day of the first month, or forward to the twentieth day of the second month. The cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony. The testimony was the decalogue written on the two tables of stone, and enshrined within the ark, the moral law which lay at the heart of Judaism. The tent of the testimony was the holy of holies in which the ark dwelt (see on Numbers 10:11; Numbers 18:2). The exact meaning of the words מִשְׁכָּז לְאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻח is disputed, or the rather significance of the לְ with which the phrase "tent of the testimony" is appended to the word "tabernacle" (dwelling). Some take it as equivalent in construction to the genitive, "the dwelling of the tent of the testimony;" in which case it would simply mean that the cloud covered the whole tabernacle, the mishcan which enveloped and enclosed the ohel, which again enshrined the ark and the testimony. Others take לְ here in the sense of "at" or "towards," and read, "covered the dwelling, towards the tent of the testimony," i.e; over that part of it in which the testimony was kept. Apart from the strict grammatical question, the comparison of other passages cited (especially Exodus 40:34) seems in favour of the first interpretation, and so apparently the Septuagint and the Targums.

Numbers 9:16

So it was alway. This supernatural phenomenon was not transitory, like the glory-cloud within the tabernacle (Exodus 40:35; cf. 1 Kings 8:10), but permanent, as long at least as the Israelites were in the wilderness.

Numbers 9:17

When the cloud was taken up. This verse and the following to the end of the chapter are an amplification of Exodus 40:36-38 (cf. Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22; Nehemiah 9:12; Psalms 78:14). It would appear from Exodus 13:21 that there was nothing new in the fact of the cloudy fiery pillar directing the movements of the host, but only in the fact of its resting on the tabernacle when in repose. In the place where the cloud abode, or "came down." שָׁכַז. As the tabernacle was taken all to pieces, and its portions widely separated on the march, the cloud could not rest upon it as a signal for halting. We must probably picture to ourselves the cloud rising to some considerable height when it was "taken up," so as to be visible for a great distance, and as settling down again over the spot where the tabernacle was to be set up. In this way the signals given by the cloud would be immediately perceived by a vast multitude.

Numbers 9:19

Tarried long. Hebrew, אָרַךְ, "to prolong," i.e; the resting. The Septuagint has ἐφέλκηται ἡμέρας πλείους.

Numbers 9:20

And so it was. Rather, "did it happen that." וְיֵשׁ אֲשֶׁר hypothetical clause introducing several other cases which actually occurred, and by which their perfect obedience was proved.

Numbers 9:21

From even unto the morning. Allowing but a single night's rest.

Numbers 9:22

Or a year. Rather, "days" (yamin): an undefined period (Genesis 4:3; Genesis 40:4), often equivalent to a year (Leviticus 25:29). It is not known whether or on what occasion the Israelites actually remained in camp for a year. But it is evident that this passage must have been written after the wanderings were over, because it is a kind of retrospect of the whole period as regards one important feature of it. It may of course have been added here by the hand of Moses on the eve of entry upon the promised land: or it may have been added by a later hand, perhaps that of Ezra when he revised these books (see the Introduction).


Numbers 9:15-23


In this section we have, spiritually, the Divine guidance of the faithful through the wilderness of this life. Consider, therefore—

I. THAT THE THEOPHANY, OR DIVINE APPEARANCE UPON THE TABERNACLE, WAS AS A CLOUD BY DAY AND AS FIRE BY NIGHT. Even so is the Lord unto his people both shelter and illumination,—shade that they faint not, light that they wander not astray (Psalms 27:1; Psalms 36:9; Psalms 121:5; Isaiah 25:4; Matthew 11:29; John 8:12).

II. THAT THE CLOUD WAS UPON THE TABERNACLE OF WITNESS, WITHOUT, AND-YET IN A MANNER CONNECTED WITH THE "TESTIMONY" ENGRAVEN UPON THE TABLES OF STONE. Even so the comfort and illumination of the faithful, albeit not of themselves but of God, are yet vitally connected with the law of holiness which is enshrined in their hearts (John 14:15, John 14:23; Hebrews 12:14).

III. THAT THIS THEOPHANY WAS THE INFALLIBLE GUIDE TO THEIR MOVEMENTS, WHETHER TO REST OR TO ADVANCE. Even so the Lord himself, even God made manifest in Christ, is our only guide along the way to heaven (Psalms 48:14; Luke 1:79; John 21:22; 1 Thessalonians 3:11).

IV. THAT THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE CLOUD WAS APPARENTLY ARBITRARY, SOMETIMES LINGERING LONG AS THOUGH IT HAD FORGOTTEN HOW TO MOVE, SOMETIMES HASTENING ON WITHOUT REST. Even so the Divine guidance, whether of the Church or of the individual, is often unintelligible and sometimes apparently perverse: how unequal are the advances of the Church, or of the soul, towards perfection (John 13:7): what need of

(1) patience, and

(2) preparedness (Luke 9:59, sq.; Luke 12:36; Luke 21:19; Ephesians 6:15; Revelation 13:10).

V. THAT THE PEOPLE WERE STRICTLY OBEDIENT IN THIS, THAT THEY JOURNEYED NOT EXCEPT BY THE DIRECTION OF THE CLOUD, BECAUSE THEY FEARED TO BE WITHOUT IT. Even so the faithful will follow him that leadeth them as obediently as they can, because away from him and his guidance they would neither be able to endure, nor to progress (John 6:68; John 10:4; John 13:37; John 14:6).

VI. THAT WHEN ONCE, AND ONLY ONCE, THEY PRESUMED TO GO ON WHEN THE CLOUD BID THEM NOT, THEY MET DISASTROUS DEFEAT (Numbers 14:44, Numbers 14:45). Even so if any will presume to go beyond the command and permission of his Lord (even in zeal) he will be overthrown of Satan (cf. Luke 22:55 b, sq.; 1 Corinthians 7:5 b).


Numbers 9:15-23


This pillar served more purposes than one; but without doubt the purpose noted here by Moses himself was that principally intended. It was the signal by which the Lord guided the march of the tribes (Nehemiah 9:12, Nehemiah 9:19; Psalms 78:14). Some such signal was absolutely necessary. To direct the march of a nation through the wilderness was no easy matter. When Alexander the Great led his army across the wide levels of Babylonia he caused a grating filled with a blazing fire to be borne aloft on a long pole, that its smoke might guide the march by day, and its fire by night. A similar device is constantly made use of by the caravans which make the pilgrimage to Mecca. The march of the tribes from Egypt had the Lord himself for its Guide, and the cloud of his presence showed the way. No feature of the long march has more deeply impressed itself on the imagination of the Church than this guiding pillar. It has been instinctively accepted as a sign in which we too may claim an interest. For are not we also, as truly as the Church in the wilderness, making the journey from the land of bondage to the promised rest? Is not our life a wilderness journey; a march along a path we never trod before? The forty years' wanderings being thus a parable of our life on earth, may we not warrantably see in the pillar of the cloud a token of certain happy conditions of the journey which it is the business of faith to apprehend?

I. Observe that the children of Israel had THEIR ROUTE DETERMINED FOR THEM. It was the hand of God which chalked out the strangely circuitous line of their march; which measured the several stages; which fixed upon the halting-places; and determined the length of the stay at each. "At the commandment of the Lord they rested, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed." No doubt there still remained large scope for the exercise of judgment on the part of leaders so familiar with the desert as Moses and Hobab. There were a thousand details to care for. But the general fact remains, and is noted with extreme care in the history, that—so far as regards the line of march and the successive stages—the ordering of the journey from first to last was by the Lord. It would not be difficult to prove that our route also is determined for us. God has determined our appointed times, and the bounds of our habitation (Acts 17:26). The mapping out of our lives is his doing. This, I say, is capable of proof. Yet I should imagine that, to such as have been reasonably careful to observe their own course, no formal array of evidence will be needed. They know how often their own plans and those of friends have been upset, and the whole circumstances of their lives arranged quite otherwise than they ever contemplated, and yet with a most wise and considerate regard for their good. What then?

(1) Do not forget to give God the glory. Acknowledge his overruling hand (Psalms 107:43). Many forget to do this; and accordingly they learn nothing of his mind, even when his providence speaks most plainly. A thing dishonouring to God and entailing great less to them.

(2) Thankfully commit your way to him for the time to come.

II. The Lord not only determined the route of the tribes but gave them A VISIBLE SIGN of his guidance. Here, it may be supposed, the parallel fails, and we must resign ourselves to a more uncertain and precarious guidance than the tribes enjoyed. But it is not so. For the guiding pillar in the wilderness was meant for the comfort of the Church in all times. Remember the principle laid down by the apostle in 1 Corinthians 10:11. The moving cloud was an "ensample" or type which did not cease to speak when it disappeared from view as the tribes entered the land. To faith it continues still to attest the Lord's presence and guiding wisdom. The Divine guidance was not more patent in the desert to the sight of the tribes than it is this day to the faith of the Church. "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Patent to faith! That saying lays bare the difficulty of which we complain. A visible guide—every one can appreciate that. An invisible guide, discerned only by the mind, or rather by faith alone—that is too shadowy, intangible, precarious. So men are apt to judge. But without reason. Arduous our faith certainly is. But precarious, barren, impotent to sustain and comfort, it certainly is not. God's presence visible to the eye availed to guide and cheer the tribes in the wilderness; but God's presence seen by faith has availed much more to guide and cheer the Church of Christ these nineteen centuries. To walk by faith is the achievement of the Church's maturity. To walk by sight belonged to the Church's childhood. And we can trace all through the Scripture a gradual weaning of the Church from the one, and a gradual training of it to the other. In the wilderness the Church's weakness was comforted with the pillar of cloud and fire towering high in the sight of the whole camp: during the time of the first temple the cloud was seen only within the holy place: during the period of the second temple it was quite withdrawn. Yet Ezra and his company made the journey as safely as Moses and the tribes; and the glory of the latter house was greater than of the former. "He hath said, I will never leave thee; so that we may boldly say, I will not fear."—B.


Numbers 9:23


God's presence with Israel was perpetual (Exodus 3:12; Exodus 13:17-18). The sign of it in the cloud was given as soon, and was continued as long, as it was needed (Exodus 13:21, Exodus 13:22; Exodus 40:38). God's active, providential presence was—


II. A GROUND OF FAITH; and therefore,


I. The cloud

(1) led them the safest way (Exodus 13:17).

(2) Ensured protection from foes when near at hand (Exodus 14:19, Exodus 14:20, Exodus 14:24).

(3) Gave light on the camp in moonless nights (Nehemiah 9:19).

(4) Was a pledge of safety to sinners, as it rested on the mercy-seat (Le Numbers 16:2). This visible cloud a symbol of protection by an invisible God (Isaiah 4:5). Illustrations, bird and young (Ruth 2:12; Psalms 17:8; Psalms 91:4). Father carrying his child by day (Deuteronomy 1:31), and watching by him at night (Psalms 121:1-8). There is safety for sinners not away from God but in God (Psalms 143:2, Psalms 143:9).

II. God showed himself in the cloud for the very purpose of guiding. He took the responsibility out of the hands of the people and Moses that they might have the privilege of trusting (Exodus 33:9-17; Deuteronomy 1:33). Such a guiding presence we may enjoy by the aid of God's written counsels, providential acts, and inward monitions (Psalms 25:4, Psalms 25:5, Psalms 25:9, Psalms 25:14). See how these three are combined in the narrative (Acts 8:26-35).

III. Num 9:23 is very emphatic. They obeyed even if at times the journey was very arduous (Numbers 21:4), or the halt very tedious (Numbers 9:22), or the start was sudden, as when a midnight alarm of the trumpets was a sign that the cloud had begun to move (Numbers 9:21). Hence we learn

(1) not to take for granted that any place is our rest (Job 29:18; Micah 2:10).

(2) To be willing to go to the wilderness with God, rather than to stay in the choicest paradise without God.

(3) To be willing to endure, at God's bidding, protracted toil or enforced inactivity.

(4) To be ready at any time to strike our tent and go home. Thus waiting on God and waiting for God, we arc safely led, and have the rest of trustful obedience (Psalms 5:11, Psalms 5:12; Psalms 48:14; Psalms 84:11, Psalms 84:12).—P.


Numbers 9:15-23


There is a fuller account of the rearing of the tabernacle and the descent of the cloud upon it in Exodus 40:1-38. Note—

I. THE CONNECTION OF THIS CLOUD WITH PAST EXPERIENCES. It is spoken of as "the cloud"—something, therefore, already known. It was known as associated with the glorious doings of Jehovah in the midst of the people. A remembrancer of the perilous march, with the Red Sea before and the Egyptians behind, when he who made his presence known by the pillar of cloud so gloriously delivered his people and overwhelmed their enemies (Exodus 14:19). A remembrancer of the provided manna, when, after God had promised it, the people looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud (Exodus 16:10). A remembrancer, again, of the solemn waiting upon Jehovah's will at Sinai (Exodus 19:9; Exodus 24:15-18). Compare with these experiences under the law the great and abiding experience under the gospel. "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). He who afterwards tabernacled in the flesh, made his glory to rest on the tabernacle in the wilderness. When Jesus came, God showed his favour resting not only on the Israelites, but on all mankind.

II. THE CONNECTION OF THIS CLOUD WITH OBEYED COMMANDMENTS. The cloud that had hitherto rested on Sinai now came down on the tabernacle. This showed Jehovah's approval of the tabernacle. All had been fashioned according to the pattern in the mount. The tabernacle and the holy place, themselves made of perishable materials, were nevertheless typically perfect. They were not inspired by the invention of men, but by the revelation of God. God will give indubitable signs of approval when we are doing things according to his will. This tabernacle and its contents were the types of the truths, duties, and privileges of the gospel, and only as we receive the truths, practice the duties, and employ the privileges, shall we have the glory of God resting upon us. Until that time we come short of the glory of God. We may talk as we like about the glorious achievements of human thought, making our little clouds and fires about the earth, and calling them immortal and imperishable, but God will approve no man until his life is ordered in all things by the requirements of the gospel.

III. THE CLOUD SO APPEARING WAS A PROOF OF GOD'S FAVOUR, VISIBLE TO ALL AND APPRECIABLE BY THEM. All Israel could see the tabernacle and the cloud. God had told his people they were not to make any graven image, or likeness of any created thing, but they found the first and second commandments very hard to obey. They hankered after something they could see. The idolatries of Egypt had infected them, and even within sight of Sinai they made a golden calf, for which gross transgression the Lord terribly plagued them. Nevertheless, though there is no material or shape on earth fit to indicate Jehovah, he will minister to human weakness, remembering that we are dust, and he gives the glory-cloud for all to see. What a help to faith! What a warning to unbelief! What mercy amid severity! So God, whom no man hath seen or can see, becomes God manifest in the flesh. He who has seen the Son has seen the Father.

IV. THE CLOUD SO APPEARING, VARIED IN ITS APPEARANCE, ACCORDING TO HUMAN NECESSITY. There was a cloud by day, and the appearance of fire by night. We need not suppose any change in the cloud itself as day slipped into night, and night back again into day. As darkness fell upon the scene the fiery element in the cloud became more noticeable and valuable. So there is encouragement for wandering and bewildered souls. The darker life becomes, and the more perplexing our path, the more manifest becomes the presence of God. During the days of a man's content with natural possessions and resources, when the sunshine of nature is falling on his life, then the cloud of God's providence appears, but let the night of spiritual distress, the great difficulties of sin, and death, and eternity darken the soul, then the bright, conspicuous fires of grace at once appear.

V. THE CLOUD BY ITS MOVEMENTS BECAME AN INFALLIBLE GUIDE. Thus Jehovah showed that he, the invisible one, was the leader of the people. The resting and the moving cloud meant the resting and the moving people. It was ever with them to point the way. God's goodness does not pass away as the morning cloud and the early dew. The cloud said plainly, "Follow me." So Jesus says, "Follow me," reiterating, emphasizing, and illustrating the command. If we are ever to reach the rest that remaineth for the people of God, it must be by acting towards Jesus as the Israelites did towards the cloud in the wilderness (Deu 32:10-12; 2 Chronicles 5:13; Psalms 43:3; Isaiah 4:5; Isaiah 49:10).—Y.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Numbers 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/numbers-9.html. 1897.
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