Numbers 9
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD 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,
Verse 1. - In the first month of the second year. Before the census, and all the other events recorded in this book, 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.
Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season.
Verse 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, 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, 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.
In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it.
Verse 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 (verses 11, 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 Leviticus 17:8-16 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 be 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 23:21-22.), 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.
And Moses spake unto the children of Israel, that they should keep the passover.
And they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel.
Verse 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.,' 6:09, 3) that in his day 256,000 lambs 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, 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 Leviticus 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.
And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day:
Verse 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; Leviticus 9:1; Leviticus 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 chapter 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.
And those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in his appointed season among the children of Israel?
Verse 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 Leviticus 7:20 may probably refer only to such uncleannesses as are mentioned in Leviticus 15:3; but that men were in fact considered as defiled by contact with the dead is clear from Leviticus 21:1. The men, therefore, had reason for asking why they were excommunicated, and Moses for referring the matter to the Divine decision.
And Moses said unto them, Stand still, and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you.
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD.
Verse 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 Leviticus 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, רְחֹקָה, 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.
The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it, and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.
Verse 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.
They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the passover they shall keep it.
Verse 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).
But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.
Verse 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.
And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.
Verse 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.

CHAPTER 9:15-23 THE SIGNALS OF GOD (verses 15-23).
And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning.
Verse 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; 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.
So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.
Verse 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.
And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.
Verse 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, 22; Nehemiah 9:12; Psalm 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.
At the commandment of the LORD the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the LORD they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents.
And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the LORD, and journeyed not.
Verse 19. - Tarried long. Hebrew, אָרַך, "to prolong," i.e., the resting. The Septuagint has ἐφέλκηται... ἡμέρας πλείους.
And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the LORD they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the LORD they journeyed.
Verse 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.
And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.
Verse 21. - From even unto the morning. Allowing but a single night's rest.
Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed.
Verse 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).

At the commandment of the LORD they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the LORD they journeyed: they kept the charge of the LORD, at the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

Bible Hub
Numbers 8
Top of Page
Top of Page