Picking up through the whole Bible, Numbers continues to belie its reputation as a dull book of just a census and presents more of the narrative during the Exodus. There is a two-part story in Numbers 9, the first regarding the Passover observance, the second demonstrating God’s approval of the Tabernacle.
Let’s break it down into those two parts.
First, the Passover. I think it is impossible to overstate the importance of the Passover in the Jewish Faith, and that goes all the way back to the Exodus and the night of their deliverance from slavery. You think Canada matters up north, eh? You think Fourth of July is a big deal in the USA? These days are set us up to understand how important the Passover was. Except you have to combine not only the national aspects but the religious ones. Imagine if Independence Day fell on Easter. You’re closer—but we’re not all Christians in the US.
However, because it was a religious holiday, there were specific ceremonial requirements for its observance. One of those was ceremonial cleanliness, which one could lose from being in the presence of someone who died. And people do not die on schedule or hold off past inconvenient times.This meant there were various people who found themselves unable to participate in the Passover—even though they had done nothing but go through normal life. Or, perhaps, they had deliberately been showing compassion to ailing individuals and had become ceremonially unclean.
Anyway that it happened, these were going to be excluded from the Passover. It was troubling to them that they could not take part, and so they asked why they should be left out?
Moses does the right thing here and seeks the Word of the YHWH (that’s what you have here, the Covenant Name of God) for these people. I particularly like his answer in Numbers 9:8:
“Wait, and I will listen to what YHWH will command concerning you.”
God’s response is gracious. Rather than rebuking the people for ending up unclean or give a list of extra sacrifices to perform, God gives them an alternate date for the Passover. It is set for a month later, and they are to observe the Passover in its fullness. This also applies to an individual who is on a distant journey, allowing for the possibility of worship among the people rather than alone on the road.
There is a big “however,” though. It is this: the one who simply skips the Passover? He is to be cast out from the community. End of story for him, for he has willfully rejected what God has granted in grace. The epitaph is frightening: “He will bear his sin.”
Practically speaking, the grace of God is marvelous, glorious, excessive, and not to be treated casually. The grace of God is enough for all and the heart that has known grace will strive to follow as best possible. It is the selfish heart that is incompatible, but there is grace even for that.
Moving to the second half of the chapter, we see God’s acceptance of the Tabernacle. How do we know it is accepted?
The Glory of God descends on the Tabernacle to the point that no one could miss His presence. When the cloud of fire would rise up, the people would pack and follow, and when the cloud stopped, there they stopped.
This picture shows us the beauty of the grace of God. He remains with His people and they follow Him. His presence, in itself, is enough to stay in one place or to chase off across the wilderness.
Do we see His grace and presence the same way?
Nerd Note: Take a look back at the calendar allowance on the Passover. What do you think this says about “individual worship” or “solo Communion” if we assume that God is the same God now that He was then?