|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
9:1-14 God gave particular orders for the keeping of this passover, and, for aught that appears, after this, they kept no passover till they came to Canaan, Jos 5:10. It early showed that the ceremonial institutions were not to continue always, as so soon after they were appointed, some were suffered to sleep for many years. But the ordinance of the Lord's Supper was not thus set aside in the first days of the Christian church, although those were days of greater difficulty and distress than Israel knew in the wilderness; nay, in the times of persecution, the Lord's Supper was celebrated more frequently than afterward. Israelites in the wilderness could not forget the deliverance out of Egypt. There was danger of this when they came to Canaan. Instructions were given concerning those who were ceremonially unclean, when they were to eat the passover. Those whose minds and consciences are defiled by sin, are unfit for communion with God, and cannot partake with comfort of the gospel passover, till they are cleansed by true repentance and faith. Observe with what trouble and concern these men complained that they were kept back from offering to the Lord. It should be a trouble to us, when by any occasion we are kept back from the solemnities of a sabbath or a sacrament. Observe the deliberation of Moses in resolving this case. Ministers must ask counsel of God's mouth, not determine according to their own fancy or affection, but according to the word of God to the best of their knowledge. And if, in difficult cases, time is taken to spread the matter before God by humble, believing prayer, the Holy Spirit assuredly will direct in the good and right way. God gave directions in this case, and in other similar cases, explanatory of the law of the passover. As those who, against their minds, are forced to absent themselves from God's ordinances, may expect the favours of God's grace under their affliction, so those who, of choice, absent themselves, may expect God's wrath for their sin. Be not deceived: God is not mocked.
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.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And they kept the passover on the fourteenth, day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai,.... No mention is made of keeping the feast of unleavened bread seven days, only of the passover, which indeed was only enjoined at this time, though the feast of unleavened bread used to follow it, and did in later times; but perhaps it would not have been an easy matter to have got the flour to make it of, sufficient for so large a body of people, for seven days together in the wilderness; though they might be able to furnish themselves with what was enough for one meal from the neighbouring countries, and especially from Midian, where Jethro, Moses's father, lived, and which was not very far from Sinai, where the Israelites now were:
according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel; which is observed to their honour; though Jarchi gives this as a reason why this book does not begin with this account, as the order of things seems to require, because it was to the reproach of the Israelites, that all the forty years they were in the wilderness they kept but this passover only; the reason of which was, because of the omission of circumcision during that time, through the inconveniences of travelling, and the danger of circumcision in it, without which their children could not eat of the passover, Exodus 12:48.
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