Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,IX.
(1) In the first month of the second year.—The celebration of the Passover, as recorded in this chapter, preceded in order of time the numbering of the people recorded in Numbers 1, and the other events which were connected with it. No provision had hitherto been made for the celebration of the Passover in the wilderness. A special injunction was, therefore, required for this purpose. Had it not been for the rebellion of the people, the next Passover after the original Egyptian Passover would have been celebrated in the land of Canaan, and it was for that one only that provision had been made (Exodus 12:25).
In the fourteenth day of this month, at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall ye keep it.(3) At even.—Hebrew, between the two evenings. (See Note on Exodus 12:6.)
According to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof.—Better, according to all the statutes and ordinances thereof. It is obvious that some of the directions concerning the Egyptian Passover could not be observed in the wilderness. The reference must, therefore, be to those statutes and ordinances respecting the Passover which were of permanent obligation. (Comp. Numbers 9:12, where the ordinance respecting the time of observance is necessarily excluded.) Some of these are found in Exodus 12, whilst others of a later date are recorded in Leviticus 17 and Deuteronomy 16. It has been objected that three priests (for Nadab and Abihu were dead) could not sprinkle the blood of the large number of lambs which must have been slain. It must be remembered, however, (1) that there is no express injunction respecting the sprinkling of the blood on this occasion; and (2) that the priests were probably assisted at this time in the performance of some of their duties—as we are expressly informed that they were at the Passovers celebrated by Hezekiah and by Josiah (2Chronicles 30:16; 2Chronicles 35:11)—by the Levites.
And they kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at even in the wilderness of Sinai: according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel.(5) And they kept the passover on the fourteenth day . . . —There is no mention here of the observance of the feast of unleavened bread for seven days, as it was enjoined in Exodus 12:18. It might not have been practicable to obtain a sufficient quantity of flour to last so large a number of people for seven days, though it may have been easy to procure from Midian or elsewhere a sufficient quantity for one meal.
And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day:(6) And there were certain men . . . —It has been supposed that the reference is to Mishael and Elzaphan, who appear to have buried their cousins, Nadab and Abihu, about this time (Blunt’s “Script. Coincidences,” pp. 66, 67,1850). If the consecration of Aaron and his sons began on the first day of the first month (Exodus 40:2; Exodus 40:12), and the death of Nadab and Abihu could not have taken place until the eighth day (Leviticus 9:1; Leviticus 9:12; Leviticus 10:19), inasmuch as the defilement caused by contact with the dead lasted for seven days (Numbers 19:11), it will follow, if this law was already in force, that those who buried Nadab and Abihu must have been unclean on the fourteenth day of the first month. Independently, then, of the doubtful inference which Professor Blunt draws from the identity of the numbers of the other tribes at the two numberings taken, the one before and the other after this time, from which he concludes that the deaths must have occurred amongst those who belonged to the tribe of Levi, which was not included in the census, this circumstance may fairly be adduced as one of the numerous undesigned coincidences with which Holy Scripture abounds. It may be observed further that, whilst reference would naturally be made to Moses on all doubtful occasions, none would be so likely to have recourse to him with the inquiry contained in Numbers 9:7 as those who had been employed by his direction (Leviticus 10:4) in the burial of Nadab and Abihu. The law contained in Leviticus 7:21 appears to have been understood to refer to all sacrificial meals. The legal uncleanness which disqualified the Israelites for participation in the Passover may be regarded as typical of the moral and spiritual disqualifications which render men unfit for participation in the Lord’s Supper.
And those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in his appointed season among the children of Israel?(7) An offering.—Better, the offering, or oblation.
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD.(10) In a journey afar off.—Or, on a distant journey. This is one of the ten passages in the Pentateuch in which one or more words are marked with certain dots, known as puncta extraordinaria. In this case these dots stand over the word rehokah, distant. The Rabbinical explanation is that the word is either spurious, as not being found in Numbers 9:13, or is not to be interpreted in its literal signification, but in a qualified sense.
They shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break any bone of it: according to all the ordinances of the passover they shall keep it.(12) According to all the ordinances.—The word rendered ordinances is in the singular number: according to all the ordinance (or statute). The primary reference is probably to the law respecting the Paschal Lamb. According to Jewish tradition the feast was only observed for one day instead of seven, and it was not necessary to put away leaven.
But the man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people: because he brought not the offering of the LORD in his appointed season, that man shall bear his sin.(13) Shall bear his sin—i.e., shall be put to death. (Comp. Leviticus 24:15; Numbers 18:22.)
And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.(14) And if a stranger . . . —The law respecting the stranger is contained in Exodus 12:48-49.
And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning.(15) The cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony.—Better, the tabernacle of (or, belonging to) the tent of the testimony. It is stated in Exodus 40:34, after the account of the erection of the Tabernacle, that the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and that the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. There is, therefore, no sufficient ground for the supposition that the cloud rested on that part of the Tabernacle exclusively in which the two tables of the testimony were kept, i.e., the Holy or Holies. On the contrary, it is stated in Exodus 40:35 that Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, where there is no reference to any particular part of the erection. It is true, however, that it was from above the mercy-seat that the presence of Jehovah was specially manifested, and that it was in the most holy place, in which the ark of the testimony was kept, that He met with Moses and communed with him (Exodus 25:21-23). The account of the cloud covering the Tabernacle is repeated in this place, inasmuch as the history which follows relates the removal of the Tabernacle under the guidance of the same cloud which covered it at its erection.
And at even.—The dark side of the cloud afforded a grateful shade by day, and the bright side of the cloud served to supply light by night. Comp. Psalm 78:14 : “In the day-time also He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire;” and Nehemiah 9:12 : “Thou leddest them in the day by a cloudy pillar, and in the night by a pillar of fire, to give them light in the way wherein they should go;” also Isaiah 4:5 : “And the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night.”
So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.(16) The cloud covered it by day.—There is no need for the insertion of the words in italics. It was the same cloud which was “alway” over the Tabernacle during the continuance of the journeyings through the wilderness.
And the appearance of fire by night.—Better, and there was the appearance of fire by night. (Comp. Exodus 13:21-22.)
And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.(17) And when the cloud was taken up. . . —Only one instance is recorded of disregard of the Divine direction thus miraculously vouchsafed, viz., in Numbers 14:40-42. It was necessary that the hosts of Israel should be always in a watchful state, and ready to obey at once the intimations given to them of the Divine will, thus affording a striking type and pattern to the Christian Church, and teaching it both collectively and individually to seek and to follow the guidance of its Divine Head, whose promise is “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the LORD, and journeyed not.(19) Kept the charge of the Lord.—The same expression is used of Aaron and his sons in Leviticus 8:35, and also in respect to the office of the Levites in Numbers 3:7, as keeping the charge of Aaron and of the congregation. It is also used of the people generally in 2Chronicles 23:6, in regard to the charge or “watch” of the Lord. It may imply that the people were to engage in acts of religious worship, or it may denote adherence to the Divine commands and ordinances generally, as in Ezekiel 48:11.
And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the LORD they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the LORD they journeyed.(20) And so it was . . . —Better, And sometimes, &c., i.e., there were times or occasions in which, &c. So in Numbers 9:21.
And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.(21) By day or by night.—It is obvious from this verse that there must have been sentinels constantly watching by night as well as by day, whose office it was to give notice when the cloud was removed. (Comp. Psalm 134:1.)
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.(22) Or a year.—Literally, days (comp. Genesis 4:3; Genesis 40:4, and Notes). If the rendering of the Authorised Version, “a year,” is correct, as it probably is, it will follow that these words could not have been written until after the first arrival at Kadesh (Numbers 13:26), and probably not until after the end of the wanderings in the wilderness. The elaborate manner in which the statement is made and repeated in almost identical terms shows the great importance which the writer ascribed to the Divine guardianship which was exercised over the Israelites, and to their submission to the miraculous guidance which was given to them.