The Passover and the Cloud

Numbers 9.

At the end of chapter 6, we find that the camp having been arranged according to God, and the true position of Israel as the Nazarite having been depicted, God puts His blessing and His name upon the people. In chapter 7, the princes of Israel, who "were over them that were numbered," brought their offerings for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; and, moreover, they offered, each prince in his day, as representing the twelve tribes, for the dedication of the altar, after that it was anointed. Following upon it, the position of Moses as the mediator is given: he had access into the holiest, and received divine communications from off the mercy-seat that was upon the ark of the testimony, from between the two cherubims. Next, the candlestick is introduced; and the lamps lighted by Aaron were to give light over against the candlestick. The vessel of the Spirit is ever beautified with the light of its own testimony. Then the Levites, cleansed and purified, were offered before the Lord for an offering of the children of Israel to "execute the service of the Lord."

Such is the moral order of these striking chapters, and so far everything is perfect according to God's own thoughts; that is to say, everything is viewed from His own side, and hence imperfections on His people's side are not taken into account. With chapter 9 we enter upon a new phase; though everything is still marked by the perfection of grace and of government. For if defilement is seen to be existing, it is only mentioned as bringing out more fully the provisions of God's grace for His people in wilderness circumstances. Leaving this for the moment, it may be noted that the chapter is occupied with two subjects - the Passover and the cloud. And it will help us in the consideration of these, if attention is given to the date of verse 1: "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." Now from Exodus 40:17, and verse 15 of this chapter, we learn that this was the very time when the tabernacle was "reared up," and when the cloud "covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." It was thus at the time when God definitely took possession of His sanctuary that He might dwell among them - the sign and fruit of accomplished redemption.

In prescribing the observance of the Passover* at this particular moment, we learn, therefore, that God would have His people always in remembrance of the redemption-ground on which in grace He had placed them. In Egypt, the Passover was associated in their thoughts with shelter from judgment; with the means of their safety when God passed over them when He smote the land of Egypt. In the wilderness they celebrated it as the ground of their deliverance from Pharaoh's bondage and servitude; of their passage through the Red Sea; in a word, of Jehovah's salvation. As they themselves had sung, "Jehovah is my strength and song, and He is become my salvation." The blood of the Passover lamb had, in fact, secured everything for them which they now enjoyed. Estimated at its own proper infinite value by God Himself, He could gratify His own heart, and act righteously, in bringing them through death and judgment (the Red Sea), and in surrounding Himself with them as His redeemed people. "Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation." If the children of Israel, therefore, were now God's pilgrim host in the wilderness, they were to be in fellowship with God's thoughts concerning the work which had brought them into this blessed position. They were thus to keep the Passover in its appointed season.

*It is remarkable that before the kingdom we have only the celebration of the Passover three times - in Egypt, in the wilderness, and in the land.

But there were certain men who were defiled by the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the passover on that day. Surely many a Christian might learn a lesson from these Israelites; for they were not only conscious of their uncleanness, but they also painfully felt their deprivation of the privilege of celebrating the memorial of their redemption. For the Passover, indeed, was a symbol of the unity of God's people as His redeemed; and these defiled saints were excluded by their state from participation in it. And they keenly felt it; and they came to Moses and Aaron to inquire why they might not offer an offering of the Lord in His appointed season among the children of Israel. Their action brought out another valuable lesson. Moses could only refer the matter to the Lord; and hence we gather that the word of the Lord alone must govern the observance of the Passover. These children of Israel had a perfect title to the Passover feast; but they now understand that the title, in and by itself, was not sufficient, but there must also be a state suited to the title; and, moreover, that Jehovah alone could order the manner of its celebration. These instructions are valuable for all time for the people of God, and, if heeded, would preserve them from confusion and corruption.

God tenderly regarded the desire of His people. Longing for full identification with His own, and for the enjoyment of the privileges He Himself has bestowed, is always the indication of a right state of soul; and He thus directed that exceptional provision should be made for the case. Such saints, as well as any who might be on a journey, should not be debarred from their place at the Passover table; but they should keep the feast on the fourteenth day of the second month,* but careful, at the same time, to keep it according to all the ordinances thereof. If, however, anyone who was clean, and not on a journey, forbore to keep the Passover, "that 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." It is thus a very solemn thing - and many Christians might well lay the warning to heart - to neglect the memorial of our redemption, and the remembrance of Him whose death and resurrection have secured it, in His own appointed way, in the breaking of the bread, and in drinking the cup. Grace now reigns through righteousness; but this should only make us more sensible of the unspeakable love which lays upon our hearts the remembrance of Himself.

*It may be remembered that Hezekiah kept the Passover under similar circumstances in the second month - availing himself of the gracious provision of our chapter.

Occasion is taken, in connection with these regulations, to make provision for the stranger - for those who were not Israelites, but who were found sojourning amongst the children of Israel. God is God in all dispensations, and His heart, not yet set free in righteousness, was ever yearning to bless. If, therefore, one with no title, an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, and a stranger from the covenants of promise, desired to keep the Passover unto the Lord, he might do so, provided he did it according to the ordinance and the manner thereof. There was to be one ordinance both for the stranger and for him that was born in the land; and, according to this ordinance, no uncircumcised person could partake of it - whether an Israelite or a stranger. (See Exodus 12:48-49.) This is one of the striking pre-intimations of grace which are continually found even in the legal dispensation; and they proclaim very distinctly that God was ever looking onward to the time when His grace could travel out in the gospel to all the world: "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." And notice, as a foreshadowing of this blessed time, that here there was no command to the stranger to keep the feast: if he desired to do so the way was open; only he must have the qualification for it, equally with the children of Israel. He must be a circumcised person - a lesson vocal with admonition for many in this day.

The Passover having been celebrated, our attention is directed, in the next place, to the cloud which covered the tabernacle from the day of its erection. The cloud always covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. "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." In this way the Lord placed Himself at the head of His redeemed people, and in His patient grace led them in the various stages of their wilderness journey. And the movement of the cloud was identified with the Lord's word: if it rose from off the tabernacle, it was equivalent to His command; and so if it tarried upon the tabernacle. We thus read: "At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed; and at the commandment of the Lord they pitched"; and again, "At the commandment of the Lord they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed." The Lord thus undertook the guidance of His people through all their pilgrim path; and He made His presence known to them through the cloud, and His will by the movements of the cloud. Moses could thus say of Jacob, that the Lord "found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead him." (Deut. 32:10-12.)

On the people's part, their responsibility was two-fold: to keep their eye upon the cloud - the symbol of Jehovah's presence - and to be guided alone by its movements. The Lord's will, as thus expressed, was to be their only law; and, consequently, unquestioning obedience was their sole responsibility. If the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle they remained in their tents and journeyed not; if it were taken up, even the next morning after they had pitched their tents, they were again to march forward; and so also if it were taken up, whether by day or by night. When they should recommence their travels, or where they should next pitch their encampment, was absolutely not their concern. Everything was undertaken for them by the One who had redeemed them out of Egypt; and knowing this they might have rested in His infinite love and wisdom without a single care or anxiety. May we, on whom the full light has shone, learn the lesson, that we may only concern ourselves with the path of the Lord's will; and that, keeping our eye upon the Lord, we may be enabled to hold ourselves entirely at His disposal!