Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Passover at Sinai, and Instructions for a Supplementary Passover. - Num 9:1-5. On the first institution of the Passover, before the exodus from Egypt, God had appointed the observance of this feast as an everlasting statute for all future generations (Exo 12:13, Exo 12:24-25). In the first month of the second year after the exodus, that is to say, immediately after the erection of the tabernacle (Exo 40:2, Exo 40:17), this command was renewed, and the people were commanded "to keep the Passover in its appointed season, according to all its statutes and rights;" not to postpone it, that is, according to an interpretation that might possibly have been put upon Exo 12:24-25, until they came to Canaan, but to keep it there at Sinai. And Israel kept it in the wilderness of Sinai, in exact accordance with the commands which God had given before (Ex 12). There is no express command, it is true, that the blood of the paschal lambs, instead of being smeared upon the lintel and posts of the house-doors (or the entrances to the tents), was to be sprinkled upon the altar of burnt-offering; nor is it recorded that this was actually done; but it followed of itself from the altered circumstances, inasmuch as there was not destroying angel to pass through the camp at Sinai and smite the enemies of Israel, whilst there was an altar in existence now upon which all the sacrificial blood was to be poured out, and therefore the blood of the paschal sacrifice also.
(Note: If we take into consideration still further, the fact that the law had already been issued that the blood of all the animals slain for food, whether inside or outside the camp, was to be sprinkled upon the altar (Lev 17:3-6), there can be no doubt that the blood of the paschal lambs would also have to be sprinkled upon the altar, notwithstanding the difficulties referred to by Kurtz, arising from the small number of priests to perform the task, viz., Aaron, Eleazar, and Ithamar, as Nadab and Abihu were now dead. But (1) Kurtz estimates the number of paschal lambs much too high, viz., at 100,000 to 140,000; for when he reckons the whole number of the people at about two millions, and gives one lamb upon an average to every fifteen or twenty persons, he includes infants and sucklings among those who partook of the Passover. But as there were only 603,550 males of twenty years old and upwards in the twelve tribes, we cannot reckon more than about 700,000 males as participants in the paschal meal, since the children under ten or twelve years of age would not come into the calculation, even if those who were between eight and twelve partook of the meal, since there would be many adults who could not eat the Passover, because they were unclean. Now if, as Josephus affirms (de bell. jud. vi. 9, 3), there were never less than ten, and often as many as twenty, who joined together in the time of Christ (οὐκ ἔλασσον ἀνδρῶν δέκα...πολλοί δέ καὶ σὺν εἴκοσιν ἀθροίζονται), we need not assume that there were more than 50,000 lambs required for the feast of Passover at Sinai; because even if all the women who were clean took part in the feast, they would confine themselves as much as possible to the quantity actually needed, and one whole sheep of a year old would furnish flesh enough for one supper for fifteen males and fifteen females. (2) The slaughtering of all these lambs need not have taken place in the narrow space afforded by the court, even if it was afterwards performed in the more roomy courts of the later temple, as has been inferred from Ch2 30:16 and Ch2 35:11. Lastly, the sprinkling of the blood was no doubt the business of the priests. But the Levites assisted them, so that they sprinkled the blood upon the altar "out of the hand of the Levites" (Ch2 30:16). Moreover, we are by no means in a condition to pronounce positively whether three priests were sufficient or not at Sinai, because we have no precise information respecting the course pursued. The altar, no doubt, would appear too small for the performance of the whole within the short time of hardly three hours (from the ninth hour of the day to the eleventh). But if it was possible, in the time of the Emperor Nero, to sprinkle the blood of 256,500 paschal lambs (for that number was actually counted under Cestius; see Josephus, l. c.) upon the altar of the temple of that time, which was six, or eight, or even ten times larger, it must have been also possible, in Moses' time, for the blood of 50,000 lambs to be sprinkled upon the altar of the tabernacle, which was five cubits in length, and the same in breadth.)
There were certain men who were defiled by human corpses (see Lev 19:28), and could not eat the Passover on the day appointed. These men came to Moses, and asked, "Why are we diminished (prevented) from offering the sacrificial gift of Jehovah at its season in the midst of the children of Israel (i.e., in common with the rest of the Israelites)?" The exclusion of persons defiled from offering the Passover followed from the law, that only clean persons were to participate in a sacrificial meal (Lev 7:21), and that no one could offer any sacrifice in an unclean state.
Moses told them to wait (stand), and he would hear what the Lord, of whom he would inquire, would command.
Jehovah gave these general instructions: "Every one who is defiled by a corpse or upon a distant
(Note: The רחקה 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, יהיה stands for תּהיה, as in Exo 12:49; cf. Ewald, 295, d. ו...ו et...et, both...and.
Signs for Removing and Encamping. - On their way through the desert from the border of Egypt to Sinai, Jehovah Himself had undertaken to guide His people by a cloud, as the visible sign and vehicle of His gracious presence (Exo 13:21-22). This cloud had come down upon the dwelling when the tabernacle was erected, whilst the glory of the Lord filled the holy of holies (Exo 40:34-38). In Num 9:15 the historian refers to this fact, and then describes more fully what had been already briefly alluded to in Exo 40:36-37, namely, that when the cloud rose up from the dwelling of the tabernacle it was a sign for removing, and when it came down upon the dwelling, a sign for encamping. In Num 9:15, "on the day of the setting up of the dwelling," Exo 40:34-35, is resumed; and in Num 9:15 the appearance of the cloud during the night, from evening till morning, is described in accordance with Exo 40:38. (On the fact itself, see the exposition of Exo 13:21-22). העדת לאהל משׁכּן, "the dwelling of the tent of witness" (ל used for the genitive to avoid a double construct state: Ewald, 292, a). In the place of ohel mod, "tent of the meeting of Jehovah with His people," we have here "tent of witness" (or "testimony"), i.e., of the tables with the decalogue which were laid up in the ark of the covenant (Exo 25:16), because the decalogue formed the basis of the covenant of Jehovah with Israel, and the pledge of the gracious presence of the Lord in the tabernacle. In the place of "dwellings of the tent of witness," we have "dwelling of witness" (testimony) in Num 10:11, and "tent of witness" in Num 18:2; Num 17:8, to denote the whole dwelling, as divided into the holy place and the holy of holies, and not the holy of holies alone. This is unmistakeably evident from a comparison of the verse before us with Exo 40:34, according to which the cloud covered not merely one portion of the tabernacle, but the whole of the tent of meeting (ohel mod). The rendering, "the cloud covered the dwelling at the tent of witness," i.e., at that part of it in which the witness (or "testimony") was kept, viz., the holy of holies, which Rosenmller and Knobel adopt, cannot be sustained, inasmuch as ל has no such meaning, but simply conveys the idea of motion and passage into a place or condition (cf. Ewald, 217, d); and the dwelling or tabernacle was not first made into the tent of witness through the cloud which covered it.
The covering of the dwelling, with the cloud which shone by night as a fiery look, was constant, and not merely a phenomenon which appeared when the tabernacle was first erected, and then vanished away again.
"In accordance with the rising of the cloud from the tent, then afterwards the children of Israel broke up," i.e., whenever the cloud ascended up from the tent, they always broke up immediately afterwards; "and at the place where the cloud came down, there they encamped." The שׁכן, or settling down of the cloud, sc., upon the tabernacle, we can only understand in the following manner, as the tabernacle was all taken to pieces during the march: viz., that the cloud visibly descended from the height at which it ordinarily soared above the ark of the covenant, as it was carried in front of the army, for a signal that the tabernacle was to be set up there; and then this had been done, it settled down upon it.
As Jehovah was with His people in the cloud, the rising and falling of the cloud was "the command of the Lord" to the Israelites to break up or to pitch the camp. As long, therefore, as the cloud rested upon the dwelling, i.e., remained stationary, they continued their encampment.
Whether it might rest many days long (האריך, to lengthen out the resting), or only a few days (Gen 34:30), or only from evening till morning, and then rise up again in the morning, or for a day and a night, or for two days, or for a month, or for days (yamim), i.e., a space of time not precisely determined (cf. Gen 4:3; Gen 40:4), they encamped without departing. "Kept the charge of the Lord" (Num 9:19 and Num 9:23), i.e., observed what was to be observed towards Jehovah (see Lev 8:35). With אשׁר וישׁ, "was it that," or "did it happen that," two other possible cases are introduced. After Num 9:20, the apodosis, "they kept the charge of the Lord," is to be repeated in thought from Num 9:19. The elaboration of the account (Num 9:15-23), which abounds with repetitions, is intended to bring out the importance of the fact, and to awaken the consciousness not only of the absolute dependence of Israel upon the guidance of Jehovah, but also of the gracious care of their God, which was thereby displayed to the Israelites throughout all their journeyings.