Commentary on Numbers 9:1-14

Notes (NET Translation)

1 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: 2 “The Israelites are to observe the Passover at its appointed time. 3 In the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you are to observe it at its appointed time; you must keep it in accordance with all its statutes and all its customs.”

The date in 9:1 takes us back to one month before the census in 1:1. This passage concludes the digression begun in 7:1. This is the second Passover (Ex 12:2-11, 21-27, 43-49; Lev 23:4-8) the Israelites celebrate and marks a year since the Exodus from Egypt. Passover is observed on the fourteenth day of the first month (Abib). The Hebrew phrase translated “twilight” literally means “between the evenings”, a period of time between sunset and nightfall (cf. Deut 16:6: “you must sacrifice [the Passover] in the evening in the place where he chooses to locate his name, at sunset, the time of day you came out of Egypt”).

4 So Moses instructed the Israelites to observe the Passover. 5 And they observed the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight in the wilderness of Sinai; in accordance with all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the Israelites did.

As usual in the early chapters of Numbers, the Israelites faithfully follow God’s command.

6 It happened that some men who were ceremonially defiled by the dead body of a man could not keep the Passover on that day, so they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day. 7 And those men said to him, “We are ceremonially defiled by the dead body of a man; why are we kept back from offering the LORD’s offering at its appointed time among the Israelites?”

Sacrifices could only be eaten by the ceremonially clean. Since failure to observe Passover would be a breach of the covenant (v 13) these men ask Moses what to do.

8 So Moses said to them, “Remain here and I will hear what the LORD will command concerning you.”

9 The LORD spoke to Moses:

10 “Tell the Israelites, ‘If any of you or of your posterity become ceremonially defiled by touching a dead body, or are on a journey far away, then he may observe the Passover to the LORD.

The unclean would normally be separated from the camp. “Interestingly, in contrast to other ancient Near Eastern cults that regard being on a journey as inexcusable and subject to divine punishment, the Bible renders it a legitimate excuse by divine decree.”1 The additional provision about being on a journey would seem to have little application to the wilderness period. It would apply to a later period, when the Israelites were settled in the land.

The person who is away on a distant journey, i.e., a journey that takes him or her outside the covenant community of Israel, is also in the realm of the unclean, separated from the community. In this way the two regulations are similar–both deal with people who are outside the covenant community, at least temporarily. Such people are eligible to observe the Passover one month late. Whether the phrases concerning the traveler are later additions to the text or not, both regulations have the same basis.2

11 They may observe it on the fourteenth day of the second month at twilight; they are to eat it with bread made without yeast and with bitter herbs.

The first Passover was followed by the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. Since the Israelites begin to march on the 20th day of the second month, which would have fallen during the second Feast of Unleavened Bread, it can be inferred that a second Feast of Unleavened Bread was not observed after the second Passover. The second Passover applies to the paschal sacrifice. The ritually impure could partake of the first Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 12:15-20).

12 They must not leave any of it until morning, nor break any of its bones; they must observe it in accordance with every statute of the Passover.

Historically, the application of this second month alternative Passover occurred during the reign of Hezekiah (2 Chr 30:1–27). After the reestablishment of service in the Temple, emissaries were sent throughout Judah and the Israelite territories to the North inviting the Israelites of all tribal origins to celebrate the Passover. Matters of purification and distance are both cited in the text as the reason the people were unable to celebrate these festivals in the first month. An adequate number of ritually pure priests was not available to carry out the ritual activity, and many people were so remote when the invitation was sent out that they were yet unable to assemble in Jerusalem. Thousands of celebrants gathered in Jerusalem, and the Levites were enlisted to carry out the obligation for those who were not ritually pure. Hezekiah prayed that the Lord would be merciful to those who ate the Passover in a state of impurity, and God responded positively.3

13 But the man who is ceremonially clean, and was not on a journey, and fails to keep the Passover, that person must be cut off from his people. Because he did not bring the LORD’s offering at its appointed time, that man must bear his sin.

The concession for the unclean and those on a journey is not a license for laxity in keeping the Passover for the rest of the Israelites.

14 If a resident foreigner lives among you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, he must do so according to the statute of the Passover, and according to its custom. You must have the same statute for the resident foreigner and for the one who was born in the land.'”

A resident foreigner (ger) is one who lived among the Israelite community but was not a native-born Israelite. They could observe Passover if they satisified the requirements given in Ex 12:43-49.

Bibliography

Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Kindle Edition. The New American Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah. First Edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2001.

Levine, Baruch A. Numbers 1-20. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers. Kindle Edition. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2015.


  1. Milgrom 1990, 69 
  2. Ashley 1993, 180 
  3. Cole 2000, Kindle Locations 4504-4510 
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