SynopsisIn previous chapters, the LORD had given Moses and the people rules for celebrating the Passover. This chapter documents one such celebration. Verse 1 says that this is taking place in “the second year after [the Israelites] came out of Egypt,” and yet it seems to be the first celebration of the Passover.
In any event, since they already have the rules and regulations for how to celebrate the Passover, the LORD simply tells Moses to have the Israelites celebrate it “at the appointed time” (verse 2)—there is no need to go into any details. Moses so commands the Israelites, and they celebrate the Passover, as instructed.
Unfortunately, some of the Israelites are not allowed to celebrate the Passover, because they’re ceremonially unclean (because of a dead body). So they ask Moses what they should do. Actually, they seem a bit demanding, to me, but it might be because of the translation:
So they came to Moses and Aaron that same day and said to Moses, “We have become unclean because of a dead body, but why should we be kept from presenting the LORD’s offering with the other Israelites at the appointed time?” (verses 6b–7)
In any event, whatever their tone might have been, Moses gives a wise answer:
Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the LORD commands concerning you.” (verse 8)
The LORD’s answer to Moses is this: Whenever Israelites are not able to celebrate the Passover, because of ceremonial uncleanness, they are to wait one month, and then celebrate it. Normally, Passover was to start on the fourteenth day of the first month, but if Israelites were unclean on that day, they would wait until the fourteenth day of the second month. The same rule would apply if an Israelite was unable to celebrate the Passover because he was travelling on the first month; when he got back, he would celebrate Passover on the second month. Other than the time, all other rules for celebrating the Passover still applied.
The LORD also reiterates the punishment for someone who is able to celebrate the Passover, but doesn’t:
But if a man who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people because he did not present the LORD’s offering at the appointed time. That man will bear the consequences of his sin. (verse 13)
Aliens living among the Israelites who wanted to celebrate the Passover would be allowed to do so, but they had to follow all of the same rules that the Israelites followed.
After this, the rest of the chapter talks about the cloud—the presence of the LORD—which covered the Tabernacle day and night. I’ll simply quote this part (even though it’s long):
On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the LORD’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out. They obeyed the LORD’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses. (verses 15–23)
This passage always fascinated me; the LORD is showing physical evidence of His presence with the Israelites: a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.
ThoughtsThe theme of this chapter seems to be “the Israelites do as the LORD commands them.” He instructs them to celebrate the Passover, and they do; He leads them around the desert, and they follow, as they’re supposed to.
The Israelites had problems obeying the LORD, throughout the years, but at this point in their history, one thing they didn’t have a problem with was believing that there was a God. They knew there was, because they could see Him—or, at least, a manifestation of Him.