Numbers Chapter 9:1-11, 15-19 Antique Commentary Quotes

John Calvin
Numbers 9:1
1.And the Lord spake unto Moses. We may infer how great was the carelessness, nay, even the ingratitude of the people, from the fact that God recalls to their recollection the celebration of the passover, before a year had elapsed. For what would they do fifty years hence, if there was any danger of their falling into forgetfulness of it in so short a time? If they had been voluntarily assiduous in their duty, it would have been unnecessary to repeat what had been so severely enjoined even with threats. But now God, as the year came to a close, reminds them that the day approaches on which He had fixed the passover to be held; that the Israelites might more surely learn that this solemn sacrifice is of yearly recurrence, and thus that it was sinful to omit it. He then commands that all the ceremonies should be diligently observed, and that they should not corrupt the pure institution with any strange leaven. Finally, their obedience is praised, because they had neither added anything to, nor diminished anything from, God’s command.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 9:1-14
THE PASSOVER AT SINAI (verses Num_7:1) There was, however, an obvious reason for mentioning together the two passovers, the second of which immediately preceded the departure from Sinai.

Vers. 1-14. The paschal feast.
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. (Joh_6:56 Act_2:42 1Co_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! (Luk_22:15 1Co_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, (Jos_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. 1Ki_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. 1Co_10:21 1Co_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; (Mar_1:41 Luk_15:20 Jam_4:8) only the cleansing and the returning must be in due time, and not too late. (Mat_25:10 b; Luk_13:25 2Co_6:2)


(1) compulsory absence or

(2) unworthiness to approach, will avail any one who willfully neglects the invitation of Christ to his feast. (Luk_14:24 Luk_22:19 1Co_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, (1Co_10:17) and therefore the manner of it is especially declared. (1Co_11:23, and the three Gospels)

HOMILIES BY E.S. PROUT Vers. 1-14. The letter and the spirit of the law of the passover.
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 (verse 5), at fixed times (verse 3), and with prescribed rites (verse 3). No trifling allowed (verse 13). Neglect of any one law may be fatal. (Jam_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 (verse 8), or condone for its literal non-observance. (e.g., 2Ch_30:15-20) Provision was made for disabilities arising from

(1) uncleanness, contracted unavoidably, or in the path of duty; (cf. Psa_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 (verses 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. (Joh_13:1-10)

2. Precepts that are called “positive” must not be neglected because moral precepts are observed. Illustrate from Mat_5:23, Mat_5:24. (cf. Mat_23:23 Deu_4:2 Psa_119:128) Christ having redeemed us unto God by his blood, his law extends to every department of our life. P.

HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG Vers. 1-5. A needed reminder.
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) 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). 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. (1Co_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.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 9:2
Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season. Septuagint, poieitwsan to pasca . Cf. Mat_26:18, poiw to pasca , and Luk_22:19, touto poieite eiv thmnhsin . 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 Jos_5:5, Jos_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. (Exo_12:24, 25 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.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 9:3
At even. See on Exo_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, (2Ch_30:16) but no command is on record which expressly authorized the change. In Lev 17:8-6 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 Deu_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, (Jos_5:10 2Ki_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.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 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 Exo_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. Exo_12:44, Exo_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”, (2Ch_30:16)

(1) because this passover took place before the Levites were formally separated for the service of God and of the priests; (see Num_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 Lev_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.

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Numbers 9:2-5
Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season, etc. — The date of this command to keep the passover in the wilderness was given shortly after the erection and consecration of the tabernacle and preceded the numbering of the people by a month. (Compare Num_9:1 with Num_1:1, Num_1:2). But it is narrated after that transaction in order to introduce the notice of a particular case, for which a law was provided to meet the occasion. This was the first observance of the passover since the exodus; and without a positive injunction, the Israelites were under no obligation to keep it till their settlement in the land of Canaan (Exo_12:25). The anniversary was kept on the exact day of the year on which they, twelve months before, had departed from Egypt; and it was marked by all the peculiar rites – the he lamb and the unleavened bread. The materials would be easily procured – the lambs from their numerous flocks and the meal for the unleavened bread, by the aid of Jethro, from the land of Midian, which was adjoining their camp (Exo_3:1). But their girded loins, their sandaled feet, and their staff in their hand, being mere circumstances attending a hurried departure and not essential to the rite, were not repeated. It is supposed to have been the only observance of the feast during their forty years’ wandering; and Jewish writers say that, as none could eat the passover except they were circumcised (Exo_12:43, Exo_12:44, Exo_12:48), and circumcision was not practised in the wilderness [Jos_5:4-7], there could be no renewal of the paschal solemnity.

Fausset Bible Dictionary
In Num_9:1-14 God repeats the command for the Passover, in the second year after the Exodus; those disqualified in the first month were to keep it in the second month. Talmudists call this “the little Passover,” and say it lasted but one day instead of seven, and the Hallel was not sung during the meal but only when the lamb was slain, and leaven was not put away. In Num_28:16-25 the offering for each day is prescribed. In Deu_16:1-6 directions are given as to its observance in the promised land, with allusion to the voluntary peace offerings (chagigah, “festivity”) or else public offerings (Num_28:17-24; 2Ch_30:22-24; 2Ch_35:7-13). The chadigah might not be slain on the Sabbath, though the Passover lamb might. The chagigah might be boiled, but the Passover lamb only roasted. This was needed as the Passover had only once been kept in the wilderness (Numbers 9), and for 38 years had been intermitted. Joshua (Jos_5:10) celebrated the Passover after circumcising the people at Gilgal.

Smith’s Bible Dictionary
Pass’over. The first of the three great annual festivals of the Israelites, celebrated in the month Nisan, (March-April) from the 14th to the 21st. (Strictly speaking the Passover only applied to the Paschal Supper, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread followed, which was celebrated to the 21st). (For the corresponding dates in our month, see the Jewish Calendar, at the end of this volume). The following are the principal passages, in the Pentateuch, relating to the Passover : Exo_12:1-51; Exo_13:3-10; Exo_23:14-19; Exo_34:18-26; Lev_23:4-14; Num_9:1-14; Num_28:16-25; Deu_16:1-6.

Why instituted. — This feast was instituted by God, to commemorate the deliverance of the Israelites, from Egyptian bondage, and the sparing of their firstborn, when the destroying angel smote the first-born of the Egyptians. The deliverance from Egypt was regarded, as the starting-point of the Hebrew nation. The Israelites were, then, raised from the condition of bondmen under a foreign tyrant, to that of a free people owing allegiance to no one, but Jehovah. The prophet, in a later age, spoke of the event as a creation and a redemption of the nation.
God declares himself to be “the Creator of Israel.” The Exodus was, thus, looked upon as the birth of the nation; the Passover was its annual birthday feast. It was the yearly memorial, of the dedication of the people to him, who had saved their first-born from the destroyer, in order that they might be made holy to himself.

First celebration of the Passover. — On the tenth day of the month, the head of each family was to select from the flock, either a lamb or a kid, a male of the first year, without blemish. If his family was too small to eat the whole of the lamb, he was permitted to invite his nearest neighbor to join the party.

On the fourteenth day of the month, he was to kill his lamb, while the sun was setting. He was then to take blood in a basin, and with a sprig of hyssop, to sprinkle it on the two side-posts, and the lintel of the door of the house. The lamb was then thoroughly roasted, whole. It was expressly forbidden that it should be boiled, or that a bone of it should be broken. Unleavened bread and bitter herbs were to be eaten with the flesh.

No male who was uncircumcised was to join the company. Each one was to have his loins girt, to hold a staff in his hand, and to have shoes on his feet. He was to eat in haste, and it would seem that, he was to stand during the meal. The number of the party was to be calculated as nearly as possible, so that all the flesh of the lamb might be eaten; but if any portion of it happened to remain, it was to be burned in the morning. No morsel of it was to be carried out of the house.

The lambs were selected, on the fourteenth, they were slain, and the blood sprinkled, and in the following evening, after the fifteenth day of the Passover had commenced, the first Paschal Meal was eaten. At midnight, the firstborn of the Egyptians were smitten. The king and his people were now urgent that the Israelites should start immediately, and readily bestowed on them supplies for the journey. In such haste did the Israelites depart, on that very day, Num_33:3, that they packed up their kneading troughs, containing the dough prepared, for the morrow’s provisions, which was not yet leavened.

Observance of the Passover in later times. — As the original institution of the Passover in Egypt, preceded the establishment of the priesthood, and the regulation of the service of the Tabernacle, it necessarily fell short, in several particulars, of the observance of the festival , according to the fully-developed ceremonial law. The head of the family slew the lamb in his own house, not in the Holy Place; the blood was sprinkled on the doorway, not on the altar.

But when the law was perfected, certain particulars were altered, in order to assimilate the Passover, to the accustomed order of religious service. In the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of Exodus, there are not only distinct references, to the observance of the festival in future ages, for example, Exo_12:2; Exo_12:14; Exo_12:17; Exo_12:24-27; Exo_12:42; Exo_13:2; Exo_13:5; Exo_13:8-10, but there are several injunctions, which were evidently not intended for the first Passover, and which, indeed, could not possibly have been observed.

Besides the private family festival, there were public and national sacrifices offered, each of the seven days of unleavened bread.

Num_28:19. On the second day, also, the first-fruits of the barley harvest were offered in the Temple. Lev_23:10. In the latter notices of the festival in the books of the law, there are particulars added, which appear as modifications of the original institution. Lev_23:10-14;

Num_28:16-25; Deu_16:1-6. Hence, it is not without reason that the Jewish writers have laid great stress on the distinction between “the Egyptian Passover, ” and “the perpetual Passover.”

Mode and order of the Paschal Meal. — All work, except that belonging to a few trades, connected with daily life was suspended, for some hours before the evening of the 14th Nisan. It was not lawful to eat any ordinary food after midday. No male was admitted to the table unless he was circumcised, even if he were of the seed of Israel. Exo_12:48. It was customary for the number of a party to be not less than ten.

When the meal was prepared, the family was placed round the table, the paterfamilias taking a place of honor, probably, somewhat raised above the rest. When the party was arranged, the first cup of wine was filled, and a blessing was asked by the head of the family on the feast, as well as a special one, on the cup. The bitter herbs were then placed on the table, and a portion of them eaten, either with or without the sauce. The unleavened bread was handed round next, and afterward, the lamb was placed on the table, in front of the head of the family.
The Paschal Lamb could be legally slain, and the blood and fat offered only in the national sanctuary. Deu_16:2. Before the lamb was eaten, the second cup of wine was filled, and the son, in accordance with Exo_12:26, asked his father, the meaning of the feast. In reply, an account was given of the sufferings of the Israelites in Egypt , and of their deliverance, with a particular explanation of Deu_26:5, and the first part of the Hallel, (a contraction from Hallelujah), Psalms 113; Psalms 114, was sung.

This being gone through, the lamb was carved and eaten. The third cup of wine was poured out and drunk, and soon afterward the fourth. The second part of the Hallel, Psalms 115 to Psalms 118, was then sung. A fifth wine-cup appears to have been occasionally produced, but perhaps, only in later times. What was termed the greater Hallel, Psalms 120 to Psalms 138, was sung on such occasions.

The Israelites, who lived in the country, appear to have been accommodated at the feast, by the inhabitants of Jerusalem, in their houses, so far if there was room for them. Mat_26:18; Luk_22:10-12 Those who could not be received into the city, encamped without the walls in tents, as the pilgrims now do at Mecca.

The Passover as a type. — The Passover was not only commemorative, but also typical. “The deliverance which it commemorated was a type of the great salvation it foretold.” — No other shadow of things to come contained in the law can vie with the festival of the Passover, in expressiveness and completeness.

(1) The Paschal Lamb must of course be regarded, as the leading feature, in the ceremonial of the festival. The lamb slain typified Christ, the “Lamb of God,” slain for the sins of the world. Christ, “our Passover, is sacrificed for us.” 1Co_5:7.
According to the divine purpose, the true Lamb of God was slain, at nearly the same time as, “the Lord’s Passover,” at the same season of the year; and at the same time of the day, as the daily sacrifice at the Temple, the crucifixion beginning at the hour of the morning sacrifice, and ending at the hour of the evening sacrifice. That the lamb was to be roasted and not boiled, has been supposed to commemorate the haste of the departure of the Israelites. It is not difficult to determine the reason of the command, “not a bone of him shall be broken.” The lamb was to be a symbol of unity — the unity of the family, the unity of the nation, the unity of God with his people, whom he had taken into covenant with himself.

(2) The unleavened bread ranks, next in importance to the Paschal Lamb. We are warranted in concluding that, unleavened bread had a peculiar sacrificial character, according to the law. It seems more reasonable to accept St, Paul’s reference to the subject, 1Co_5:6-8, as furnishing the true meaning of the symbol. Fermentation is decomposition, a dissolution of unity. The pure dry biscuit would be an apt emblem of unchanged duration, and, in its freedom from foreign mixture, of purity also.

(3) The offering of the omer, or first sheaf of the harvest, Lev_23:10-14, signified deliverance from winter: the bondage of Egypt being well considered, as a winter in the history of the nation.

(4) The consecration of the first-fruits, the firstborn of the soil, is an easy type of the consecration of the first born of the Israelites, and of our own best selves, to God. Further than this…

(1) the Passover is a type of deliverance from the slavery of sin.

(2) It is the passing over of the doom we deserve for your sins, because the blood of Christ has been applied to us by faith.

(3) The sprinkling of the blood upon the door-posts was a symbol of open confession of our allegiance and love.

(4) The Passover was useless unless eaten; so we live upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

(5) It was eaten with bitter herbs, as we must eat our Passover with the bitter herbs of repentance and confession, which yet, like the bitter herbs of the Passover, are a fitting and natural accompaniment.

(6) As the Israelites ate the Passover all prepared for the journey, so do we with a readiness and desire to enter the active service of Christ, and to go on the journey toward heaven. — Editor).

John Calvin
Numbers 9:6
6.And there were certain men. A question is here introduced incidentally, viz., what must be done, if any sudden defilement should prevent any persons from celebrating the passover with the rest; since God would expunge from amongst His people whosoever should not observe this memorial of their redemption? Although the history is here touched upon, yet because the doctrine as to the just and pure observance of the passover is its main subject, nay, because this passage is a kind of supplement to the general command, I have thought it proper to connect them here. Moses says that certain men were found defiled over the soul of a man, viz., either because they had touched a dead body, or had gone into a house of mourning, or had been present at the funeral of a dead man; for the Law accounted such to be polluted, as will be seen elsewhere. Hence arose a kind of discrepancy; because, whilst the unclean were not permitted to approach the sacred feast, it was sinful to neglect this exercise of religion. Even Moses confessed that he was perplexed as to this matter, since he sought for time to inquire of God. The extraordinary modesty of the Prophet here displays itself, in not daring to pronounce on a doubtful matter, although he was their lawgiver. But he thus more clearly shewed that he by no means gave the Law out of his own head, since he did not dare even to interpret it, except after receiving a new command. God, therefore, by laying down a special exception, takes away the contradiction ( ἀντινομίαν). For to those, whom just necessity excused, He assigns the second month, that they too might be partakers of the passover, though they might not change the day at their own option. By this privilege He not only relieves the unclean, but also those who might be at a distance from the society of their fellows, concerning whom the same question might be raised. For it was not suitable that any one should eat the passover by himself; and even if a family were too small, the neighbors were called in, that the number might be sufficient to eat the whole lamb; and therefore, the traveler abroad, or even at home, if he was far from his friends, had need of some remedy to preserve him from punishment. Moreover, we must remember that this was not a concession to despisers, nor was profane carelessness encouraged by this indulgence; but it was only a provision for the necessity of those who had inadvertently contracted defilement, or who could not escape it, or who were unexpectedly delayed on their journey. For they are said to have complained of their own accord to Moses that, on account of their uncleanness, they were prevented from eating the paschal lamb; and hence we infer their pious solicitude. For such, then, another passover is permitted; that, in the second month, they might recover what they had lost without their fault. Meanwhile it is strictly enjoined on them that they should change nothing in the whole ceremony; and on this account, what we have already seen is again repeated, viz., that they should eat it with bitter herbs, that they should not break a bone of it, and the like. But, that the permission might not be extended too far, the penalty is again denounced, if any, except for these two causes, should have neglected to celebrate the passover. For we know how men, unless they are restrained, permit themselves too great license in searching out excuses. It is more clearly expressed here than before, that the paschal lamb was a victim; for it is said in Num_9:7, “wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering?” and in Num_9:13, “because he brought not the offering of the Lord.” I call attention to this, because there are some who think that the paschal lamb was so slain as not to be the offering of a sacrifice; whereas Paul distinctly teaches that a victim was offered in it, and then the feast annexed to it; for such is the meaning of his words, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast,” etc ( 1Co_5:7.) Whenever the word “soul” is used for a dead body, I take it to be a tolerably common metaphor of the Hebrew language.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 9:6-14
There were certain men. It has been supposed by many that these men must have been Mishael and Elizaphan, who had recently (cf. Exo_40:17 Lev_9:1 Lev_10:4) been defiled by burying their cousins Nadab and Abihu. This, however, is based upon the assumption that the totals given in Exo_38:26 and in Num_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 Num_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 Num_5:2 Num_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 quch here.

HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE Vers. 6-14. A communicant in Israel, disabled by some mischance from eating the passover on the right day, may eat it a month after.

The law here laid down is supplementary to the law of the passover set forth at large in Exodus 12. 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 Exo_12:25 and Exo_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 verses 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. (Exo_12:48, Exo_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 (verse 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 (verses 11, 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 2Ch 30.

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.

Vers. 6-13. A difficulty removed.
I THE DIFFICULTY STATED. Certain men, ceremonially unclean, could not partake of the passover. (Num_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. (Mat_12:1-8 Mat_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”. (Mat_15:18-20 1Co_11:28 2Co_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.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 9:7
Wherefore are we kept back. The direction to remove from the camp all that were defiled by the dead (Num_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 Lev_7:20 may probably refer only to such uncleannesses as are mentioned in Lev_15:3; but that men were in fact considered as defiled by contact with the dead is clear from Lev_21:1. The men, therefore, had reason for asking why they were excommunicated, and Moses for referring the matter to the Divine decision.

Keil and Delitzsch
Numbers 9:9-14
Jehovah gave these general instructions: “Every one who is defiled by a corpse or upon a distant (Note: The רְחֹקָהֹ is marked as suspicious by puncta extraordinaria, probably first of all simply on the ground that the more exact definition is not found in Num_9:13. The Rabbins suppose the marks to indicate that rechokah is not to be taken here in its literal sense, but denotes merely distance from Jerusalem, or from the threshold of the outer court of the temple. See Mishnah Pesach ix. 2, with the commentaries of Bartenora and Maimonides, and the conjectures of the Pesikta on the ten passages in the Pentateuch with punctis extraordinariis, in Drusii notae uberiores ad h. v.)

journey, of you and your future families, shall keep the Passover in the second month on the fourteenth, between the two evenings,” and that in all respects according to the statute of this feast, the three leading points of which – viz., eating the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, leaving nothing till the next day, and not breaking a bone (Exo_12:8, Exo_12:10, Exo_12:46), – are repeated here. But lest any one should pervert this permission, to celebrate the Passover a month later in case of insuperable difficulties, which had only been given for the purpose of enforcing the obligation to keep the covenant meal upon every member of the nation, into an excuse for postponing it without any necessity and merely from indifference, on the ground that he could make it up afterwards, the threat is held out in Num_9:13, that whoever should omit to keep the feast at the legal time, if he was neither unclean nor upon a journey, should be cut off; and in Num_9:14 the command is repeated with reference to foreigners, that they were also to keep the law and ordinance with the greatest minuteness when they observed the Passover: cf. Exo_12:48-49, according to which the stranger was required first of all to let himself be circumcised. In Num_9:14, יִהְיֶה stands for תִּהְיֶה, as in Exo_12:49; cf. Ewald, §295, d. וְ…ו et…et, both…and.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 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 Lev_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, hqjro, 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.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 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. (2Ch_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.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 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 Num_10:11)

Pulpit Commentary
Num 9:15-23
THE SIGNALS OF GOD (verses Exo_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 Num_10:11 Num_18:2) The exact meaning of the words jdueh lhaol zKvmi is disputed, or the rather significance of the l 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 l 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 Exo_40:34) seems in favour of the first interpretation, and so apparently the Septuagint and the Targums.

Vers. 15-23. Divine guidance.
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. (Psa_27:1 Psa_36:9 Psa_121:5 Isa_25:4 Mat_11:29 Joh_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. (Joh_14:15, 23 Heb_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. (Psa_48:14 Luk_1:79 Joh_21:22 1Th_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: (Joh_13:7) what need of

(1) patience, and

(2) preparedness. (Luk_9:59 Luk_12:36 Luk_21:19 Eph_6:15 Rev_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. (Joh_6:68 Joh_10:4 Joh_13:37 Joh_14:6)

VI THAT WHEN ONCE, AND ONLY ONCE, THEY PRESUMED TO GO ON WHEN THE CLOUD BID THEM NOT, THEY MET DISASTROUS DEFEAT. (Num_14:44, Num_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. Luk_22:55, sq.; 1Co_7:5)

HOMILIES BY W. BINNIE Vers. 15-23. The guiding pillar of cloud and flame.
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. (Neh_9:12, 19 Psa_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. (Act_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. (Psa_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 1Co_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.

Alexander MacLaren
Numbers 9:16

The children of Israel in the wilderness, surrounded by miracle, had nothing which we do not possess. They had some things in an inferior form; their sustenance came by manna, ours comes by God’s blessing on our daily work, which is better. Their guidance came by this supernatural pillar; ours comes by the reality of which that pillar was nothing but a picture. And so, instead of fancying that men thus led were in advance of us, we should learn that these, the supernatural manifestations, visible and palpable, of God’s presence and guidance were the beggarly elements: ‘God having provided some better thing for us that they without us should not be made perfect.’
With this explanation of the relation between the miracle and symbol of the Old, and the reality and standing miracle of the New, Covenants, let us look at the eternal truths, which are set before us in a transitory form, in this cloud by day and fiery pillar by night.

I. Note, first, the double form of the guiding pillar.

The fire was the centre, the cloud was wrapped around it. The former was the symbol, making visible to a generation who had to be taught through their senses, the inaccessible holiness and flashing brightness and purity of the divine nature; the latter tempered and veiled the too great brightness for feeble eyes.

The same double element is found in all God’s manifestations of Himself to men. In every form of revelation are present both the heart and core of light, which no eye can look upon, and the merciful veil which, because it veils, unveils; because it hides, reveals; makes visible because it conceals; and shows God because it is ‘the hiding of His power.’ So, through all the history of His dealings with men, there has ever been what is called in Scripture language the ‘face,’ or the ‘name of God’; the aspect of the divine nature on which the eye can look; and manifested through it, there has always been the depth and inaccessible abyss of that Infinite Being. We have to be thankful that in the cloud is the fire, and that round the fire is the cloud. For only so can our eyes behold and our hands grasp the else invisible and remote central Sun of the universe. God hides to make better known the glories of His character. His revelation is the flashing of the uncreated and intolerable light of His infinite Being through the encircling clouds of human conceptions and words, or of deeds which each show forth, in forms fitted to our apprehension, some fragment of His lustre. After all revelation, He remains unrevealed. After ages of showing forth His glory, He is still ‘the King invisible, whom no man hath seen at any time nor can see.’ The revelation which He makes of Himself is ‘truth and is no lie.’ The recognition of the presence in it of both the fire and the cloud does not cast any doubt on the reality of our imperfect knowledge, or of the authentic participation in the nature of the central light, of the sparkles of it which reach us. We know with a real knowledge what we know of Him. What He shows us is Himself, though not His whole self.

This double aspect of all possible revelation of God, which was symbolised in comparatively gross external form in the pillar that led Israel on its march, and lay stretched out and quiescent, a guarding covering above the Tabernacle when the weary march was still, recurs all through the history of Old Testament revelation by type and prophecy and ceremony, in which the encompassing cloud was comparatively dense, and the light which pierced it relatively faint. It reappears in both elements in Christ, but combined in new proportions, so as that ‘the veil, that is to say, His flesh,’ is thinned to transparency and all aglow with the indwelling lustre of manifest Deity. So a light, set in some fair alabaster vase, shines through its translucent walls, bringing out every delicate tint and meandering vein of colour, while itself diffused and softened by the enwrapping medium which it beautifies by passing through its purity. Both are made visible and attractive to dull eyes by the conjunction. ‘He that hath seen Christ hath seen the Father,’ and he that hath seen the Father in Christ hath seen the man Christ, as none see Him who are blind to the incarnate deity which illuminates the manhood in which it dwells.

But we have to note also the varying appearance of the pillar according to need. There was a double change in the pillar according to the hour, and according as the congregation was on the march or encamped. By day it was a cloud, by night it glowed in the darkness. On the march it moved before them, an upright pillar, as gathered together for energetic movement; when the camp rested it ‘returned to the many thousands of Israel’ and lay quietly stretched above the Tabernacle like one of the long-drawn, motionless clouds above the setting summer sun, glowing through all its substance with unflashing radiance reflected from unseen light, and ‘on all the glory’ {shrined in the Holy Place beneath} was ‘a defence.’

Both these changes of aspect symbolise for us the reality of the Protean capacity of change according to our ever-varying needs, which for our blessing we may find in that ever-changing, unchanging, divine Presence which will be our companion, if we will.
It was not only by a natural process that, as daylight declined, what had seemed but a column of smoke in the fervid desert sunlight, brightened into a column of fire, blazing amid the clear stars. But we may well believe in an actual admeasurement of the degree of light, correspondent to the darkness and to the need for certitude and cheering sense of God’s protection, which the defenceless camp would feel as they lay down to rest.

When the deceitful brightness of earth glistens and dazzles around us, our vision of Him may be ‘a cloudy screen to temper the deceitful ray’; and when ‘there stoops on our path, in storm and shade, the frequent night,’ as earth grows darker, and life becomes greyer and more sombre, and verges to its eventide, the pillar blazes brighter before the weeping eye, and draws nearer to the lonely heart. We have a God who manifests Himself in the pillar of cloud by day, and in flaming fire by night.

II. Note the guidance of the pillar.

When it lifts the camp marches; when it glides down and lies motionless the march is stopped, and the tents are pitched. The main point which is dwelt upon in this description of the God-guided pilgrimage of the wandering people is the absolute uncertainty in which they were kept as to the duration of their encampment, and as to the time and circumstances of their march. Sometimes the cloud tarried upon the Tabernacle many days; sometimes for a night only; sometimes it lifted in the night. ‘Whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. 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.’ So never, from moment to moment, did they know when the moving cloud might settle, or the resting cloud might soar. Therefore, absolute uncertainty as to the next stage was visibly represented before them by that hovering guide which determined everything, and concerning whose next movement they knew absolutely nothing.

Is not that all true about us? We have no guiding cloud like this. So much the better. Have we not a more real guide? God guides us by circumstances, God guides us by His word, God guides us by His Spirit, speaking through our common-sense and in our understandings, and, most of all, God guides us by that dear Son of His, in whom is the fire and round whom is the cloud. And perhaps we may even suppose that our Lord implies some allusion to this very symbol in His own great words, ‘I am the Light of the world. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ For the conception of ‘following’ the light seems to make it plain that our Lord’s image is not that of the sun in the heavens, or any such supernal light, but that of some light which comes near enough to a man to move before him, and behind which he can march. So, I think, that Christ Himself laid His hand upon this ancient symbol, and in these great words said in effect, ‘I am that which it only shadowed and foretold.’ At all events, whether in them He was pointing to our text or no, we must feel that He is the reality which was expressed by this outward symbol. And no man who can say, ‘Jesus Christ is the Captain of my salvation, and after His pattern I march; at the pointing of His guiding finger I move; and in His footsteps, He being my helper, I try to tread,’ need feel or fancy that any possible pillar, floating before the dullest eye, was a better, surer, or diviner guide than he possesses. They whom Christ guides want none other for leader, pattern, counsellor, companion, reward. This Christ is our Christ ‘for ever and ever, He will be our guide even unto death’ and beyond it. The pillar that we follow, which will glow with the ruddy flame of love in the darkest hours of life-blessed be His name!-will glide in front of us through the ‘valley of the shadow of death,’ brightest then when the murky midnight is blackest. Nor will the pillar which guides us cease to blaze, as did the guide of the desert march, when Jordan has been crossed. It will still move before us on paths of continuous and ever-increasing approach to infinite perfection. They who here follow Christ afar off and with faltering steps shall there ‘follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.’

In like manner, the same absolute uncertainty which was intended to keep the Israelites {though it failed often to do so} in the attitude of constant dependence, is the condition in which we all have to live, though we mask it from ourselves. That we do not know what lies before us is a commonplace. The same long tracts of monotonous continuance in the same place and doing the same duties befall us that befell these men. Years pass, and the pillar spreads itself out, a defence above the unmoving sanctuary. And then, all in a flash, when we are least thinking of change, it gathers itself together, is a pillar again, shoots upwards, and moves forwards; and it is for us to go after it. And so our lives are shuttlecocked between uniform sameness which may become mechanical monotony, and agitation by change which may make us lose our hold of fixed principles and calm faith, unless we recognise that the continuance and the change are alike the will of the guiding God, whose will is signified by the stationary or moving pillar.

III. That leads me to the last thing that I would note-viz. the docile following of the Guide.

In the context, the writer does not seem to be able to get away from the thought that whatever the pillar indicated, immediate prompt obedience followed. He says so over and over and over again. ‘As long as the cloud abode they rested, and when the cloud tarried long they journeyed not’; and ‘when the cloud was a few days on the Tabernacle they abode’; and ‘according to the commandment they journeyed’; and ‘when the cloud abode until the morning they journeyed’; and ‘whether it were two days, or a month, or a year that the cloud tarried they journeyed not, but abode in their tents.’ So, after he has reiterated the thing half a dozen times or more, he finishes by putting it all again in one verse, as the last impression which he would leave from the whole narrative-’at the commandment of the Lord they rested in their tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.’ Obedience was prompt; whensoever and for whatsoever the signal was given, the men were ready. In the night, after they had had their tents pitched for a long period, when only the watchers’ eyes were open, the pillar lifts, and in an instant the alarm is given, and all the camp is in a bustle. That is what we have to set before us as the type of our lives. We are to be as ready for every indication of God’s will as they were. The peace and blessedness of our lives largely depend on our being eager to obey, and therefore quick to perceive, the slightest sign of motion in the resting, or of rest in the moving, pillar which regulates our march and our encamping.

What do we need in order to cultivate and keep such a disposition? We need perpetual watchfulness lest the pillar should lift unnoticed. When Nelson was second in command at Copenhagen, the admiral in command of the fleet hoisted the signal for recall, and Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye and said, ‘I do not see it.’ That is very like what we are tempted to do. When the signal for unpleasant duties that we would gladly get out of is hoisted, we are very apt to put the telescope to the blind eye, and pretend to ourselves that we do not see the fluttering flags. We need still more to keep our wills in absolute suspense, if His will has not declared itself. Do not let us be in a hurry to run before God. When the Israelites were crossing the Jordan, they were told to leave a great space between themselves and the guiding ark, that they might know how to go, because they had ‘not passed that way heretofore.’ Impatient hurrying at God’s heels is apt to lead us astray. Let Him get well in front, that you may be quite sure which way He desires you to go, before you go. And if you are not sure which way He desires you to go, be sure that He does not at that moment desire you to go anywhere.

We need to hold the present with a slack hand, so as to be ready to fold our tents and take to the road, if God will. We must not reckon on continuance, nor strike our roots so deep that it needs a hurricane to remove us. To those who set their gaze on Christ, no present, from which He wishes them to remove, can be so good for them as the new conditions into which He would have them pass. It is hard to leave the spot, though it be in the desert, where we have so long encamped that it has come to feel like home. We may look with regret on the circle of black ashes on the sand where our little fire glinted cheerily, and our feet may ache, and our hearts ache more, as we begin our tramp once again, but we must set ourselves to meet the God-appointed change cheerfully, in the confidence that nothing will be left behind which it is not good to lose, nor anything met which does not bring a blessing, however its first aspect may be harsh or sad.

We need, too, to cultivate the habit of prompt obedience. It is usually reluctance which puts the drag on. Slow obedience is often the germ of incipient disobedience. In matters of prudence and of intellect, second thoughts are better than first, and third thoughts, which often come back to first ones, better than second; but in matters of duty, first thoughts are generally best. They are the instinctive response of conscience to the voice of God, while second thoughts are too often the objections of disinclination, or sloth, or cowardice. It is easiest to do our duty when we are at first sure of it. It then comes with an impelling power which carries us over obstacles as on the crest of a wave, while hesitation and delay leave us stranded in shoal water. If we would follow the pillar, we must follow it at once.

A heart that waits and watches for God’s direction, that uses common-sense as well as faith to unravel small and great perplexities, and is willing to sit loose to the present, however pleasant, in order that it may not miss the indications which say, ‘Arise, this is not your rest,’ fulfils the conditions on which, if we keep them, we may be sure that He will guide us by the right way, and bring us at last to ‘the city of habitation.’

Pulpit Commentary
Num 9:16
So it was alway. This supernatural phenomenon was not transitory, like the glory-cloud within the tabernacle, (Exo_40:35; cf. 1Ki_8:10) but permanent, as long at least as the Israelites were in the wilderness.

John Calvin
Numbers 9:17
17.And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle. Moses before informed us that the tabernacle was so distinguished by a visible miracle, that God made it manifest that He dwelt there: not that He left heaven and removed to that earthly house, but in order to be nigh to His people by the presence of His power and grace, whenever He was invoked by them. He now reports another miracle, that God, by uplifting the cloud, gave a sign, as it were, by which He commanded them to strike the camp; and when the cloud rested on the tabernacle, it was a sign that they should abide where they were. Here, however, a question arises; since it has been already said that, immediately after their departure from Egypt, the cloud was like a banner to direct the march of the people, it follows that they were not now for the first time admonished by its being lifted up to collect their baggage, and ordered as it were to advance. The answer is easy, that the people were indeed previously directed by the sight of the cloud, as we have seen; but that here a new fact is related, viz., that since the tabernacle was set up, the cloud, which hitherto was suspended in the air and went before the camp, now settled on the sanctuary: for a fresh acquisition of grace is here proclaimed by the more certain and conspicuous sign, as if God showed himself more closely and familiarly as the leader of the people. Although, therefore, the cloud had been the director of their march from its very commencement, yet it more fully illustrated the glory of the tabernacle when it proceeded from thence.

Pulpit Commentary
Num 9:17
When the cloud was taken up. This verse and the following to the end of the chapter are an amplification of Exo_40:36-38. (cf. Exo_13:21, 22 Neh_9:12 Psa_78:14) It would appear from Exo_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.” zkv. 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.

John Calvin
Numbers 9:18
18.At the commandment of the Lord. The mouth is here used by metonymy for the speech; nor does there appear to me to be so much harshness in the Hebraism, but that it may be appropriately retained. But it is asked whether God actually spoke or not; for the word mouth is often repeated. It is indeed likely that Moses was instructed but once what was meant by the removal or remaining of the cloud; yet I doubt not but that the name of word, or commandment, was given to the sign, inasmuch as God speaks as much to the eyes by outward signs as He does to the ears by His voice. Still, from this mode of expression we may gather that the use of signs is perverted and nullified, unless they are taken to be visible doctrine, as Augustin writes. The repetition, which certainly has no little force, shows how worthy this is of observation.

John Calvin
Numbers 9:19
19.Then the children kept the charge of the Lord. Some, in my opinion, extend this too far, thinking that when the cloud tarried, the children of Israel, being as it were at leisure, employed themselves in the worship of God; but I restrict it rather to that heedfulness which is then praised at some length. To keep the charge (custodiam,) then, is equivalent to regarding the will of God with the greatest earnestness and care. For, when the cloud had begun to rest in any place, the people knew that they were to remain there; but if on the next day they were not attentive, the cloud might vanish, and thus their neglect and carelessness might deprive them of this incomparable advantage.
To this end it is said immediately afterwards that, If for one day, or more, or even for a month, or a year, the cloud stood still, the people was, as it were, tied to the spot. The old interpreter has not badly rendered it, “The children of Israel were upon the watch;” since day and night they anxiously expected the time when God would command them to move forward. The last verse of the chapter confirms this sense, where it is again added, that “they kept the charge of the Lord at His mouth by the hand of Moses:” whence it appears that Moses was God’s interpreter, so that they might set forth on their march whenever the cloud being lifted up pointed out to them the way. Nor can it be doubted but that it preceded them; so that they might know in what direction God would have them proceed, and whither they were to go. Moreover, it must be observed that in both respects it is counted worthy of praise in the people, that they should either journey, or continue where they were, at God’s command. Thus is that absurd activity condemned which engages itself in endless work; as if men could only obey God by turmoil. Whereas it is sometimes no less a virtue to rest, when it so pleases God.


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