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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, (324) 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 (
(324) “By occasion of the soul of a man.” —Douay Version. “Ex funere.” —Dathe.
(325) Hors leurs maisons et pays. — Fr.
(326) Sacrifice. — FR.
(327) “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.
17.And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle. Moses before informed us that the tabernacle was so distinguished by a visible miracle, that God made it manifest that He dwelt there: not that He left heaven and removed to that earthly house, but in order to be nigh to His people by the presence of His power and grace, whenever He was invoked by them. He now reports another miracle, that God, by uplifting the cloud, gave a sign, as it were, by which He commanded them to strike the camp; and when the cloud rested on the tabernacle, it was a sign that they should abide where they were. Here, however, a question arises; since it has been already said that, immediately after their departure from Egypt, the cloud was like a banner to direct the march of the people, it follows that they were not now for the first time admonished by its being lifted up to collect their baggage, and ordered as it were to advance. The answer is easy, that the people were indeed previously directed by the sight of the cloud, as we have seen; but that here a new fact is related, viz., that since the tabernacle was set up, the cloud, which hitherto was suspended in the air and went before the camp, now settled on the sanctuary: for a fresh acquisition of grace is here proclaimed by the more certain and conspicuous sign, as if God showed himself more closely and familiarly as the leader of the people. Although, therefore, the cloud had been the director of their march from its very commencement, yet it more fully illustrated the glory of the tabernacle when it proceeded from thence.
18.At the commandment of the Lord. (2) 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 (3) 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.
(2) “At the mouth of the Lord.” — Lat.
(3) “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.
19.Then the children kept the charge of the Lord. Some, (4) 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 (5) 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. (6)
(4) 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 Numbers 9:23.”
(5) I.e., the Vulgate: “Erant filii Israel in excubiis Domini.”
(6) “They also serve, who only stand, and wait.” — Milton; Sonnet on his blindness.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 9". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20