Numbers 9 – Keeping the Passover; the Cloud by Day and Fire by Night
A. Keeping the Passover.
1. (1-5) The first Passover in the wilderness.
Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: “Let the children of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it.” So Moses told the children of Israel that they should keep the Passover. And they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, at twilight, in the Wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did.
a. Let the children of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time: Israel celebrated Passover as they were leaving Egypt (Exodus 12). The Passover here marked the one-year point of their journey out of slavery and into the Promised Land.
b. According to all its rites and ceremonies you shall keep it: Passover was meant to be a reminder of God’s “passing over” Israel in the judgment of the firstborn at the Exodus from Egypt.
i. The blood of the lamb, applied to the door posts of the home, would be seen by the angel of God’s judgment – and seeing the blood, the angel would “pass over” and spare the home covered by the blood. Passover was meant to be a continual reminder of this occasion of being spared judgment, and of the deliverance that followed in the Exodus.
ii. Jesus fulfilled the Passover sacrifice by His death on the cross (1 Corinthians 5:7); the covering of His blood causes the judgment of God to “pass over” us. We are commanded to continually remember our occasion of being spared judgment and the deliverance that followed, by remembering Jesus’ work on the cross through the Lord’s Supper.
2. (6-14) The case of the unclean men: Should they keep Passover?
Now there were certain men who were defiled by a human corpse, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day; and they came before Moses and Aaron that day. And those men said to him, “We became defiled by a human corpse. Why are we kept from presenting the offering of the Lord at its appointed time among the children of Israel?” And Moses said to them, “Stand still, that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you.” Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘If anyone of you or your posterity is unclean because of a corpse, or is far away on a journey, he may still keep the Lord’s Passover. On the fourteenth day of the second month, at twilight, they may keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break one of its bones. According to all the ordinances of the Passover they shall keep it. But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and ceases to keep the Passover, that same person shall be cut off from among his people, because he did not bring the offering of the Lord at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin. And if a stranger dwells among you, and would keep the Lord’s Passover, he must do so according to the rite of the Passover and according to its ceremony; you shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger and the native of the land.'”
a. There were certain men who were defiled by a human corpse, so that they could not keep the Passover: In response to this matter, it was determined that the unclean must not neglect to keep Passover. Since Passover was a reminder and identification with spared judgment and deliverance, it must always be remembered. However, the unclean had to wait one month and keep Passover on the fourteenth day of the second month.
i. These were probably not the only two in Israel who had defiled themselves on the Passover. Perhaps others who became unclean did not come forward because they saw it as an excuse to not partake. They could have a day off without any obligation to God. But these two wanted to partake of Passover, and are bold enough to ask Moses (and to ask God through Moses) for an exception to the previous command (as Leviticus 7:20 and 22:3).
ii. Thus, provision was made for the unclean to remember God’s spared judgment and deliverance – and the unclean needed most to remember it.
b. But the man who is clean and is not on a journey: However, those among Israel who were clean and not traveling must keep Passover, or be cut off from among his people. The punishment for not keeping Passover was severe: That man shall bear his sin, instead of having it borne by the Passover lamb.
i. In the same pattern, we must partake of Jesus, or bear our own sin. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. . . . He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:53, 56)
c. And if a stranger dwells among you: Additionally, it didn’t matter what bloodline or ethnic group the person came from: Even the stranger could and must partake of Passover, or be cut off. A Jew with the purest bloodlines would be cut off if they neglected Passover; the most mongrel gentile would be accepted if they participated in God’s Passover.
d. He must do so according to the rite of the Passover and according to its ceremony: Before Israel could enter into the Promised Land, they must remember what got them there. It was the sparing of God’s judgment, and His glorious, miraculous deliverance. Promised land people must always live in remembrance of God’s deliverance, and it all flows from the work of Jesus on the cross.
B. The cloud and the fire guide Israel.
1. (15) The presence of God with Israel is displayed by the cloud and fire.
Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire.
a. Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up: When the tabernacle was originally built (raised up), God blessed it by showing His presence in the form of the cloud by day and the fire by night (Exodus 40:34-38).
b. The cloud covered the tabernacle: This cloud of God’s Shekinah glory was evident at different times in Israel’s history; when Solomon built the temple, the cloud of glory filled the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11); but when Israel apostatized, and before the temple was destroyed by conquering Babylonians, the cloud of glory departed (Ezekiel 10:3-4, 18-19).
i. Which would be worse – to have never seen such an amazing visual emblem of God’s presence and glory, or to have seen it – and then watch it depart? This is why God so sparingly appeals to our physical senses with the emblems of His glory; we will be (perhaps rightly) devastated when the emblem is gone.
ii. In 1992, some prophets within the Vineyard movement claimed to have discovered a sensory evidence of God’s presence: They said they learned God smells like roses or honeysuckle. When then do you do when the smell stops – or you smell what they said sin smells like, sulfur.
c. From evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire: Additionally, this was more than proof of God’s presence. The cloud by day and the fire by night were actual helps and comforts to Israel. The fire at night was obviously a comfort to Israel in the midst of a dark wilderness, and the cloud by day would be a shade from the hot wilderness sun.
i. For You have been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat (Isaiah 25:4) The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day (Psalm 121:5). In the Lord, we genuinely have it “made in the shade”!
2. (16-23) Guidance by the cloud by day and the fire by night.
So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey; and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would pitch their tents. At the command of the Lord the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the Lord they would camp; as long as the cloud stayed above the tabernacle they remained encamped. Even when the cloud continued long, many days above the tabernacle, the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not journey. So it was, when the cloud was above the tabernacle a few days: according to the command of the Lord they would remain encamped, and according to the command of the Lord they would journey. So it was, when the cloud remained only from evening until morning: when the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they would journey; whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud was taken up, they would journey. Whether it was two days, a month, or a year that the cloud remained above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would remain encamped and not journey; but when it was taken up, they would journey. At the command of the Lord they remained encamped, and at the command of the Lord they journeyed; they kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by the hand of Moses.
a. So it was always: Though Israel had been organized and ordered by God; though they had been cleansed, and set apart, and blessed, and giving, and walking in their priesthood, they still had to be guided by God each step of the way to make it to the Promised Land. God had not done all those previous things to make them able to start towards the Promised Land on their own, but to make every step in constant dependence on Him.
b. Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, after that the children of Israel would journey: So, when the cloud moved, Israel moved; when the cloud stayed, Israel stayed. They only went where the presence of God led them, and they only stayed where the presence of God stayed.
i. Believers today must, in the same way, be led by the presence of God; when Paul says let the peace of God rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15) he means the presence of God’s peace is to be an umpire or a judge in our hearts.
© 2004 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission