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The Passover at Sinai

 9

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, saying: 2Let the Israelites keep the passover at its appointed time. 3On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its regulations you shall keep it. 4So Moses told the Israelites that they should keep the passover. 5They kept the passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai. Just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so the Israelites did. 6Now there were certain people who were unclean through touching a corpse, so that they could not keep the passover on that day. They came before Moses and Aaron on that day, 7and said to him, “Although we are unclean through touching a corpse, why must we be kept from presenting the Lord’s offering at its appointed time among the Israelites?” 8Moses spoke to them, “Wait, so that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you.”

9 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 10Speak to the Israelites, saying: Anyone of you or your descendants who is unclean through touching a corpse, or is away on a journey, shall still keep the passover to the Lord. 11In the second month on the fourteenth day, at twilight, they shall keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute for the passover they shall keep it. 13But anyone who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet refrains from keeping the passover, shall be cut off from the people for not presenting the Lord’s offering at its appointed time; such a one shall bear the consequences for the sin. 14Any alien residing among you who wishes to keep the passover to the Lord shall do so according to the statute of the passover and according to its regulation; you shall have one statute for both the resident alien and the native.

The Cloud and the Fire

15 On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant; and from evening until morning it was over the tabernacle, having the appearance of fire. 16It was always so: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. 17Whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, then the Israelites would set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the Israelites would camp. 18At the command of the Lord the Israelites would set out, and at the command of the Lord they would camp. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they would remain in camp. 19Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites would keep the charge of the Lord, and would not set out. 20Sometimes the cloud would remain a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they would remain in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they would set out. 21Sometimes the cloud would remain from evening until morning; and when the cloud lifted in the morning, they would set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they would set out. 22Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, resting upon it, the Israelites would remain in camp and would not set out; but when it lifted they would set out. 23At the command of the Lord they would camp, and at the command of the Lord they would set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses.


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1. And the Lord spake unto Moses. We may infer how great was the carelessness, nay, even the ingratitude of the people, from the fact that God recalls to their recollection the celebration of the passover, before a year had elapsed. For what would they do fifty years hence, if there was any danger of their falling into forgetfulness of it in so short a time? If they had been voluntarily assiduous in their duty, it would have been unnecessary to repeat what had been so severely enjoined even with threats. But now God, as the year came to a close, reminds them that the day approaches on which He had fixed the passover to be held; that the Israelites might more surely learn that this solemn sacrifice is of yearly recurrence, and thus that it was sinful to omit it. He then commands that all the ceremonies should be diligently observed, and that they should not corrupt the pure institution with any strange leaven. Finally, their obedience is praised, because they had neither added anything to, nor diminished anything from, God’s command.

6. And there were certain men. A question is here introduced incidentally, viz., what must be done, if any sudden defilement should prevent any persons from celebrating the passover with the rest; since God would expunge from amongst His people whosoever should not observe this memorial of their redemption? Although the history is here touched upon, yet because the doctrine as to the just and pure observance of the passover is its main subject, nay, because this passage is a kind of supplement to the general command, I have thought it proper to connect them here. Moses says that certain men were found defiled over the soul of a man,324324     “By occasion of the soul of a man.” — Douay Version. “Ex funere.” — Dathe. viz., either because they had touched a dead body, or had gone into a house of mourning, or had been present at the funeral of a dead man; for the Law accounted such to be polluted, as will be seen elsewhere. Hence arose a kind of discrepancy; because, whilst the unclean were not permitted to approach the sacred feast, it was sinful to neglect this exercise of religion. Even Moses confessed that he was perplexed as to this matter, since he sought for time to inquire of God. The extraordinary modesty of the Prophet here displays itself, in not daring to pronounce on a doubtful matter, although he was their lawgiver. But he thus more clearly shewed that he by no means gave the Law out of his own head, since he did not dare even to interpret it, except after receiving a new command. God, therefore, by laying down a special exception, takes away the contradiction (ἀντινομίαν). For to those, whom just necessity excused, He assigns the second month, that they too might be partakers of the passover, though they might not change the day at their own option. By this privilege He not only relieves the unclean, but also those who might be at a distance325325     Hors leurs maisons et pays. — Fr. from the society of their fellows, concerning whom the same question might be raised. For it was not suitable that any one should eat the passover by himself; and even if a family were too small, the neighbors were called in, that the number might be sufficient to eat the whole lamb; and therefore, the traveler abroad, or even at home, if he was far from his friends, had need of some remedy to preserve him from punishment. Moreover, we must remember that this was not a concession to despisers, nor was profane carelessness encouraged by this indulgence; but it was only a provision for the necessity of those who had inadvertently contracted defilement, or who could not escape it, or who were unexpectedly delayed on their journey. For they are said to have complained of their own accord to Moses that, on account of their uncleanness, they were prevented from eating the paschal lamb; and hence we infer their pious solicitude. For such, then, another passover is permitted; that, in the second month, they might recover what they had lost without their fault. Meanwhile it is strictly enjoined on them that they should change nothing in the whole ceremony; and on this account, what we have already seen is again repeated, viz., that they should eat it with bitter herbs, that they should not break a bone of it, and the like. But, that the permission might not be extended too far, the penalty is again denounced, if any, except for these two causes, should have neglected to celebrate the passover. For we know how men, unless they are restrained, permit themselves too great license in searching out excuses. It is more clearly expressed here than before, that the paschal lamb was a victim;326326     Sacrifice. — FR. for it is said in verse 7, “wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering?” and in ver. 13, “because he brought not the offering of the Lord.” I call attention to this, because there are some who think that the paschal lamb was so slain as not to be the offering of a sacrifice; whereas Paul distinctly teaches that a victim was offered in it, and then the feast annexed to it; for such is the meaning of his words, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast,” etc (1 Corinthians 5:7, 8.) Whenever the word “soul”327327     “The soul is here put for the body; and that dead, as often otherwhere; see Leviticus 19:28, and Numbers 5:2. Sometime the Scripture explaineth it, calling it a ‘dead soul,’ Numbers 6:6. The Chaldee, Greek, and Latin keep the Hebrew phrase.” — Ainsworth in loco. is used for a dead body, I take it to be a tolerably common metaphor of the Hebrew language.

18. At the commandment of the Lord. 22     “At the mouth of the Lord.” — Lat. The mouth is here used by metonymy for the speech; nor does there appear to me to be so much harshness in the Hebraism, but that it may be appropriately retained. But it is asked whether God actually spoke or not; for the word mouth is often repeated. It is indeed likely that Moses was instructed but once what was meant by the removal or remaining of the cloud; yet I doubt not but that the name of word, or commandment, was given to the sign, inasmuch as God speaks as much to the eyes by outward signs as He does to the ears by His voice. Still, from this mode of expression we may gather that the use of signs 33     “Des sacremens.” — Fr. I cannot find that Augustin anywhere uses the exact words which C. here attributes to him. In his Tract. in Evang. Johan., 80. Section 3, however, he says, “Detrahe verbum, et quid est aqua nisi aqua? Accedit verbum ad elementum, et fit sacramentum, etiam ipsum tanquam visibile verbum.” (Edit. Bened. vol. 3, part. 2, p. 703.) And again, Contra Faustum, lib. 19. cap. 16: “Quid enim sunt aliud quaeque corporalia sacramenta, nisi quaedam quasi verba visibiliar? Etc. Vol. 8:32l. Both these passages are quoted by C. Inst. 4, 14. Section 6. is perverted and nullified, unless they are taken to be visible doctrine, as Augustin writes. The repetition, which certainly has no little force, shows how worthy this is of observation.

19. Then the children kept the charge of the Lord. Some, 44     Dathe agrees with Malvenda and other ancient commentators in adopting the opinion here rejected by C. “The sense of the passage (he says) is, that the Israelites set up the holy tabernacle, and observed the holy rites, if they were detained for many days in one place; but if for a short time only, the tabernacle was not set up. Whether this was to be the case or not was indicated to them by Moses, according to ver. 23.” in my opinion, extend this too far, thinking that when the cloud tarried, the children of Israel, being as it were at leisure, employed themselves in the worship of God; but I restrict it rather to that heedfulness which is then praised at some length. To keep the charge (custodiam,) then, is equivalent to regarding the will of God with the greatest earnestness and care. For, when the cloud had begun to rest in any place, the people knew that they were to remain there; but if on the next day they were not attentive, the cloud might vanish, and thus their neglect and carelessness might deprive them of this incomparable advantage.

To this end it is said immediately afterwards that, If for one day, or more, or even for a month, or a year, the cloud stood still, the people was, as it were, tied to the spot. The old interpreter 55     I.e., the Vulgate: “Erant filii Israel in excubiis Domini.” has not badly rendered it, “The children of Israel were upon the watch;” since day and night they anxiously expected the time when God would command them to move forward. The last verse of the chapter confirms this sense, where it is again added, that “they kept the charge of the Lord at His mouth by the hand of Moses:” whence it appears that Moses was God’s interpreter, so that they might set forth on their march whenever the cloud being lifted up pointed out to them the way. Nor can it be doubted but that it preceded them; so that they might know in what direction God would have them proceed, and whither they were to go. Moreover, it must be observed that in both respects it is counted worthy of praise in the people, that they should either journey, or continue where they were, at God’s command. Thus is that absurd activity condemned which engages itself in endless work; as if men could only obey God by turmoil. Whereas it is sometimes no less a virtue to rest, when it so pleases God. 66     “They also serve, who only stand, and wait.” — Milton; Sonnet on his blindness.




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