Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, February 25th, 2024
the Second Sunday of Lent
There are 35 days til Easter!
Take your personal ministry to the Next Level by helping StudyLight build churches and supporting pastors in Uganda.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Commentaries
Numbers 9

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-23

Critical and explanatory notes

Numbers 9:1-5. This Passover, having been kept in the first month of the second year, preceded the numbering and the other events recorded in this book. For this reason some writers have said that Numbers 9:1-14 should be transposed to an earlier portion of the narrative. But the observance of the supplementary Passover (Numbers 9:6-14) was one of the last events before the departure from Sinai; and the ordinance of it is very properly placed here; and the account of the observance of the ordinary Passover which gave rise to it is not unnaturally placed before it.

From Exodus 12:24-25, the Israelites might have concluded that they were not to keep the Passover until they came to Canaan; but, inasmuch as the Anniversary of the Feast occurred while they were still in the desert of Sinai, a special command is given to them to keep it. And had it not been for the subsequent unbelief and rebellion of the people, before the anniversary returned again they would have been possessors of the land promised unto them.

Numbers 9:3. According to all the rights of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof. See Exodus 12:3-28; Exodus 12:43-51, Exodus 13:3-11.

Numbers 9:6. There were certain men, etc. “Probably Mishael and Elizaphan, who buried their cousins, Nadab and Abihu, within a week of this Passover (Leviticus 10:4-5). None would be more likely to make this inquiry of Moses than his kinsmen, who had defiled themselves by his express direction.”—Speaker’s Commentary.

Numbers 9:15. The tent of the testimony, or, witness, denotes the whole of the tabernacle, comprising the holy of holies and the holy place, and not merely the holy of holies. The phrase seems to indicate the same portion of the structure as ohel moëd, “tent of meeting.”

Numbers 9:20. And so it was, when, etc. Rather, “And there was also when,” etc.

Numbers 9:21. And so it was, when, etc. Rather, “And there was also when the cloud abode from even unto morning, and the cloud was taken up in the morning, and they journeyed.”

Numbers 9:22. A year. Heb., “days,” i.e., a space of time not precisely determined.

As long as the cloud rested upon the tabernacle, whether it was for one day, a few days, or many days, they continued their encampment; and when it arose from the tabernacle they broke up their encampment and resumed their march. The movements of the cloud were to them the commands of the Lord God. For the numerous Homiletic suggestions connected with the institution and observation of the Passover we must refer the reader to The Homiletical Commentary on Exodus 12:13 where the directions for keeping the ordinance are given in detail. To attempt anything like an exhaustive treatment of the ordinance would be out of place here.


(Numbers 9:1-5.)

The Passover, the celebration of which is here commanded by God, was—

I. A Memorial of a great Deliverance.

1. Deliverance from the most terrible evils.

(1) From a miserable slavery. The Israelites in Egypt were held in most degrading and cruel bondage.

(2) From a terrible visitation of Divine judgment. When the firstborn of the Egyptians, both of man and of beast, were all destroyed, the firstborn of the Israelites were exempted from the destruction. Primarily and essentially the Passover was a memorial of this great historical fact. Exodus 12:26-27. (a)

2. Deliverance from the most terrible evils associated with the sacrifice of life. A lamb of the first year, without blemish, and a male, was to be slain for every family (unless the family were too small to consume the lamb, in which case they were to unite with their nearest neighbour in the matter), and the blood sprinkled upon the posts of the door, and the flesh entirely eaten after having been roasted with fire. Such were the explicit commands of God by His servants Moses and Aaron. Exodus 12:3-10.

3. Deliverance from the most terrible evils through the sovereign grace of God. Their exemption from the stroke of the destroying angel, and their emancipation from their bitter slavery in Egypt, were due to the sovereign favour of the Lord God. The gracious purpose and the grand performance were alike owing to Him. “Thou hast with Thine arm redeemed Thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.”

4. Deliverance from terrible evils by means of faith and obedience. The sprinkling of the blood upon the doorposts was an act of faith and obedience, which God required as a condition of their exemption from the stroke of the destroying angel, and which, when performed, He graciously accepted. However ill-adapted the means might have seemed to the end, they employed them as they were directed, and so secured their safety (Hebrews 11:28).

So great and marvellous a deliverance demanded a fitting memorial.

II. A type of a greater deliverance.

This portion of the history of Israel typifies—

1. The morally enslaved and perilous state of man. Sinful men are in a far more terrible state of bondage than that of Israel in Egypt. Their slavery was physical; that of the sinner is spiritual. His soul is the slave of animal appetites, and turbulent passions, and evil habits. Their slavery was a calamity; that of the sinner is a crime. The Lord God pitied them because of their bondage; He condemns man because of his. To be the slaves of sin is to be guilty of grievous moral wrong in the sight of God. Their slavery, at the farthest, would end at death; but death has no power to terminate the slavery of the sinner. The death of the body cannot free the soul from the bondage of evil passions or tyrannical habits. The peril also of the sinner is greater than was that of the ancient Israelites. They were delivered from the stroke of the destroying angel. But the destruction of physical life is a small evil as compared with the destruction of all that constitutes the life of the soul. In many cases the death of the body is the great gain of the man. But what tongue or pen can describe the awfulness and the painfulness of the destruction by sin of the moral purity, the power, the reverence, the aspiration, the hope, the peace of the soul? Such is the destruction of which the sinner is in danger.

2. The Divine method of deliverance. The Lamb of the Passover exhibits the closest type of the atoning Sacrifice who died for us and has made our peace with God. Our Lord is spoken of in the Bible as a lamb. “Behold the Lamb of God,” &c. The Passover lamb was to be “without blemish.” St. Peter speaks of Jesus Christ as “a Lamb without blemish and without spot.” He was “holy, harmless, undefined, separate from sinners.” The Passover lamb was to be slain, and its blood upon the door-posts was the sign by which the houses of the Israelites were distinguished, and so exempted from the power of the destroyer. Jesus Christ was crucified for us. By His death we have life. “We have redemption through His blood.” “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.” “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin.” “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” God delivers us from sin through the self-sacrifice of Christ for us. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” (b)

3. The Divine Author of deliverance. The Lord God spared the first-born of Israel when the first-born of Egypt were destroyed. He also delivered them from their cruel bondage in Egypt. He only can emancipate the soul from the thraldom of sin, and deliver it from that death which is the wages of sin. He originated the method of deliverance; and His is the power by which the deliverance is accomplished. Neither of these things could man have done. Education, science, philosophy, means and efforts of social reform and amelioration, may do much for man; but they cannot free him from the dominion of sin, or deliver him from spiritual death—they cannot save him. God alone can do this; and He is “mighty to save,” “He is able to save them to the uttermost,” etc.

4. The human appropriation of deliverance. The Israelites were to “strike the lintel and the two side-posts with the blood” of the slain lamb as a condition of their deliverance. If they would be saved from the visit of the destroyer, they must believe the word of the Lord by Moses and obey it. If the death of Jesus Christ is to be of any real benefit to us personally, we must personally believe in Him as our Saviour. “Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (c)


Sentence of death has gone forth against all sinners. “The wages of sin is death.” “The soul that sinneth it shall die.” God in Christ is the only One who can deliver from this death. Faith in Him is the only condition by which we can avail ourselves of His deliverance. Believe in Him, at once and fully, and life eternal is yours.


(a) Such a night as never darkened from heaven before or since in Egypt, now descends upon her in the mysterious providence of God. It is “a night much to be remembered.” The children of Israel are all up and ready for departure, their loins girt, and their lamps burning, the Paschal lamb, the unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs with which it was to be eaten, in their hands and mouths; the blood from the basins sprinkled on the lintel and the two door-posts, and all awaiting the moment when the shriek of the victims of the angel of death shall act as the blast of God’s trumpet to tell them to depart! Such a feast! without one song of gladness or word of converse; ate in absolute silence and in a standing posture, and with every ear erect to listen to the sounds of wrath and woe which are expected. Do they hear the wings of the destroying angel without their dwellings, first sweeping near, then pausing (what a moment of suspense, for may not some have forgotten to stamp the stain upon the door, or stamped it too feebly?), and then hurrying onward? And do not, by-and-bye, faintly-heard and distant shrieks arise, swelling soon into one desperate and universal “cry,” proclaiming that there is “not an house where there is not one dead”? It is at midnight that this fell-stroke lights on guilty Egypt, and the darkness contributes to the confusion, the horror, and the despair. “All the firstborn are smitten, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sate on the throne to the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon.” In one house, a child has been newly born to those who had been long married without the usual fruits of wedlock, and the parents are, perhaps, with a fond and foolish joy, exulting over the recent birth, when a sharp short cry from the cradle tells them their child is dead. In another, all the family have been cut off previously, except their firstborn, a boy who has become more the delight of their parents that he is their little all, as if he had absorbed the interest and life of the rest, but he, too, on his small couch is smitten, and their hope and joy die with him. In a third house, the firstborn is a fair female, and to morrow is her wedding day, but death anticipates the bridegroom, and claps his cold ring upon her shrinking finger. In a fourth, a heroic youth who had projected a journey to the lands of Ethiopia and the sources of the Nile, and is dreaming that he has set out on his way, awakes for a moment to feel the death-pang summoning him to a farther and more adventurous exploration. In another house, one lies down who is on the morrow to be initiated into the higher mysteries of priestdom, but death says to him, “Understand this my mystery first, deeper infinitely than they.” In another, the firstborn son is to rise next day to bury his father, but long ere morning he is laid cold by his side How impartial this terrible angel! Here one firstborn has been condemned to die a public and a shameful death on the approaching day; but at midnight there is a corpse in the prison cell, and the law is disappointed of its prey. And there another, it is Pharaoh’s own eldest son, whose birthday, he is come of age, is to be celebrated tomorrow, expires at the very moment of midnight, and his father rises and begins that wild wail which is echoed by every homestead in the land of Ham—G. Gilfillan, M.A.

(b) Here is the firstborn, the unblemished beauty, the chaste Lamb of God; never came to mortal eyes any such perfect one before. And the expense He makes, under His great love-struggle and heavy burden of feeling, His Gethsemane, where the burden presses Him down into agony; His Calvary, where, in His unprotesting and lamb-like submission, He allows Himself to be immolated by the world’s wrath; what will any one, seeing all this, so naturally or inevitably call it, as His sacrifice for the sins of the world? His blood, too, the blood of the incarnate Son of God, blood of the upper world half as truly as of this—when it touches and stains the defiled earth of the planet, what so sacred blood on the horns of the altar and the lid of the mercy-seat did any devoutest worshipper at the altar ever see sprinkled for his cleansing? There his sin he hoped could be dissolved away, and it comforted his conscience that, by the offering of something sacred as blood, he could fitly own his defilement, and by such tender argument win the needed cleansing. But the blood of Christ, He that was born of the Holy Ghost, He that was Immanuel—when this sprinkles Calvary, it is to him as if some touch of cleansing were in it for the matter itself of the world! In short, there is so much in this analogy, and it is so affecting, so profoundly real, that no worshipper most devout before the altar having once seen Christ, who He is, what He has done by His cross, and the glorious offering He has made of Himself in His ministry of good, faithful unto death—who will not turn away instinctively to Him, saying, “No more altars, goats, or lambs; these were shadows I see; now has come the substance. This is my sacrifice, and here is my peace—the blood that was shed for the remission of sins—this I take and want no other.”—H. Bushnell, D.D.

(c) Let me suppose that you profoundly long to know what you must do, on what you must lay hold, in order that you may appropriate to yourself the benefits of Christ’s death, that you may be saved by His sacrifice, that you may be reconciled to God by His atonement. You come to me and ask, “What must I do? do first? How am I to set about this great quest and task?”

With much sympathy, as of one who has himself had to solve your problem as best he could, I reply, Fix your thoughts first and chiefly on the fact on which both St. Paul and St. John lay such extraordinary emphasis, viz., that the death, the cross, the blood, the sacrifice of Christ—take which term you will—is a manifestation of the eternal and inexhaustible love of God for sinful men, for all sinful men; a manifestation of the resolve and intention of that Love to take away the sin of the whole world, and to redeem you personally from all your iniquities. You see at once how great, how voluntary, how un-merited, how intense and Divine that Love is. It shrinks from nothing—from no effort, from no sacrifice, from no pang whether of body or of spirit, from no contact with evil, from no experience whether of the ingratitude and insolent wickedness of man or of the pain of self-limitation to any form of life or of death. So much you cannot fail to see with the story of the Gospel in your hand. And your first duty is to believe in that almost incredible Love, a Love that would be absolutely incredible but for its manifestation and proof in the history of Jesus Christ the Lord. You are to trust in that Love, to be sure that a love which extends to all the world must extend to you. You are to commit yourself to it—your soul as well as your body; commit yourself to it in life, in death, after death; and to sincerely believe that all must go well with you because that Love is over you and upon you. This is what you are to do and believe. It is this on which specifically you are to lay hold. It is thus that you are to appropriate the benefits of Christ’s death.

And, then, if you take this first step, what will be your second? What will be the inevitable result and consequence of having taken the first? Obviously, if you do sincerely and heardly believe in such a Love as that, your own love will spring up and run out to meet it. You will love Him who first loved you. And your love will be, or will come to be as God’s love takes effect upon you, of the same quality with His—an unselfish love, a love capable of living and dying for others, a love pure and righteous, strong and enduring; a love that will gradually transform you into His likeness, and make you of one will with Him.… You are to lay hold of the Cross of Christ as at once a manifestation of God’s righteous anger against the sins with which you, too, are angry, and from which you seek to be delivered, and a revelation of the Love which is bent on conquering sin and redeeming you from all evil. You are to so appreciate and trust that Love as that it shall quicken a corresponding affection, and make it the ruling affection, in your own soul.—Samuel Cox.


(Numbers 9:1-5)

The design of God in instituting this remarkable ordinance, the Passover, was to explain to us, as well as to prefigure to the Jews, the method of salvation through the blood of Christ. He is the One great Sacrifice for sin; and here, the application to Him in His mediatorial work is most comprehensive. Behold the analogy. It holds—

I. With regard to the victim which was chosen.

Was it a lamb? Christ is often so called on account of His innocence, meekness, and resignation (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:6.) Was it chosen from the flock? Christ was taken from among His brethren (Acts 3:22). Was it a male of the first year? Christ suffered in the prime of His days. Was it without blemish? Christ was altogether perfect (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 1:19).

II. With regard to the oblation which was made.

As the lamb was slain, so was Jesus (Revelation 5:9). As the lamb was slain before the whole assembly (Exodus 12:6), so Jesus was publicly put to death. As the lamb was slain between the two evenings, so Jesus was offered between three o’clock and six (Matthew 27:45). As the lamb was set apart four days before it was slain (Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6), so Christ entered the city four days before His crucifixion (Matthew 21:1 sqq).

III. With regard to the blood which was sprinkled.

The blood was sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop (Exodus 12:22, dipt into the bason; so the blood of Christ is the blood of the everlasting covenant, the deposit of privileges, which all become ours by the exercise of faith. The blood was sprinkled upon the door-posts of their dwellings. So the blood of Christ is to be applied to the hearts and consciences of believers (Hebrews 9:13-14; Hebrews 10:22). The blood was sprinkled upon the lintel and the side posts; but not behind nor below the door. So the blood of Christ is not to be trodden under foot (Hebrews 10:29). The blood secured every family where it was sprinkled, it being within the limits of the Divine protection, so that the destroying angel was forbidden to hurt them. So the blood of Jesus is the only refuge for the guilty.

IV. With regard to the flesh which was eaten.

The flesh of the lamb was eaten roasted with fire, strikingly exhibiting the severity of our Saviour’s sufferings. (Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 52:14-15; Psalms 22:14-15.)

It was eaten whole, and not a bone broken, which was amazingly fulfilled in reference to Christ. (John 19:31-36.) It was eaten in haste, with the staff in their hands, to intimate that Christ is to be received immediately without delay. It was eaten with bitter herbs, importing our looking to Christ with sorrow of heart, in remembrance of sin, as expressed in Zechariah 12:10. It was eaten with the loins girded, implying that we must be prepared for His coming. (Ephesians 6:14.) It was eaten with the feet shod, to remind us of the freedom and happiness which Christ imparts to the believing Israelites. (compare Isaiah 20:2-4 with Romans 5:11.) It was eaten with unleavened bread, because we are to receive and profess Christ with unfeigned sincerity. (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; John 1:47.)

Upon the whole, we learn from the subject the happy state of believers, who, though once afar off, are now made nigh by the blood of Christ; and likewise the unhappy state of unbelievers, who, rejecting the atonement, must inevitably perish.—William Sleigh.


(Numbers 9:6-12; Numbers 9:14)

In these verses we have the following homiletic points, which we may profitably consider:—

I. The Divine recognition of the need of personal fitness for an acceptable observance of religious ordinances.

A person who was ceremonially unclean was prohibited from taking part in the Passover; for only those who were clean could participate in any sacrificial meal, or offer any sacrifice. (Leviticus 7:20-21.) So “there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man who could not keep the Passover on that day.” A certain moral fitness is essential to an acceptable approach unto God. Our Lord taught that a man cannot present an acceptable offering to God who is not in right relations with his fellow-men. (Matthew 5:23-24.) And St. Paul exhorted the Corinthian Christians to examine themselves before partaking of the Supper of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:28.) Two things at least appear to us as indispensable to an acceptable approach to God in public religious ordinances:

1. Faith in the mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ. (John 14:6.; Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 2:18; Hebrews 4:15-16; Hebrews 10:19-22.)

2. Devout preparation of the heart. There are many persons who derive no benefit from the public means of grace because they enter upon them with minds engrossed by worldly engagements or anxieties, or with thoughless, frivolous minds, &c. Such mental states preclude communion with God. (a)

II. The unwilling exclusion of men from religious ordinances.

Here are certain men who were excluded from keeping the Passover through no fault of their own. Their defilement was not moral, but ceremonial; and this was contracted not of their own free choice, but of inevitable necessity; not by association with the morally depraved, but by the needful work of the burial of the dead; yet they were prohibited from observing the Passover. There are many to-day who are unwillingly deprived from taking part in public religious ordinances,—some by reason of severe bodily afflictions; others by the pressure of the infirmities of age; others by their ministry to the afflicted; and others by legitimate domestic duties, e.g., the care of infants and little children, &c. Every Lord’s day there are very many persons who would esteem it a privilege and joy to unite in the engagements of public worship, but they cannot do so. Let us learn to prize the opportunities of doing so while we have them.

III. A commendable enquiry concerning the reason of such exclusion from religious ordinances.

The men who were so excluded “came before Moses and before Aaron on that day;” &c. Their enquiry was commendable—

1. As regards its spirit. It implied

(1) Faith in the reasonableness of the Divine requirements. “Wherefore are we kept back”? &c. It is as though they had said, “There must be a reason for this prohibition; may we know that reason? can you explain it to us? or can you meet in some way what seems to us the hardship of our case?” All the Divine arrangements are in the highest degree reasonable; they are expressions of infinite wisdom.

(2) Affection for Divine ordinances. The deprivation was painful to them. It is a grief to the godly soul to be deprived of the public means of grace. “Lord I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth.” “How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth,” &c. There is good ground for this affection. In Divine ordinances God manifests Himself graciously to His people (Exodus 20:24; Matthew 18:19-20), and makes unto them rich communications of grace and truth.

2. As regards its direction. “They came before Moses and before Aaron,” and enquired of them. The leader and lawgiver, and the high priest, both of whom were appointed by God, were the proper persons to consult on the difficulty which had arisen. Let those who are religiously perplexed seek help from those who by reason of their character and attainments are qualified to render the same.

The solicitude of these men for participation in this religious ordinance is a rebuke to many who, in our own day, disregard the public worship of God and the ministry and the sacraments of the Gospel.

IV. The exemplary conduct of religious teachers in answering the enquiries of their charge.

“And Moses said unto them, Stand still,” &c. In the conduct of Moses we see,—

1. Exemplary humility. He tacitly admits his inability to answer their enquiry of himself. It is only ignorance and conceit that assumes the airs of infallibility. The minister of spiritual intelligence and power is ever humble. (b)

2. Exemplary enquiry. “I will hear what the Lord will command concerning you,” said Moses. That he might answer these enquiries, he himself enquires of the Lord. So should the Christian minister in instructing others. We have,

(1) The teaching of the sacred Scriptures: we should search them. We have
(2) The promised guidance of the Holy Spirit: we should seek it by prayer. (c)

3. Exemplary efficiency. Guided by God, Moses was enabled to deal with the difficulty satisfactorily,—practically to do away with it. Christian ministers should be able efficiently to counsel the people of their charge. Those who humbly acknowledge their ignorance, search the Scriptures, and seek help of God, will be able to do so. Let all religious instructors copy the example of Moses in this matter.

V. A Divine arrangement for the compensation of those who are unwillingly excluded from religious ordinances.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel,” &c. (Numbers 9:9; Numbers 9:12; Numbers 9:14.) Provision is here made for three distinct classes—for the defiled, for the traveller far from home, and for the stranger. For the two former a supplementary Passover is instituted; and for the latter who desired to unite in the observance of the ordinance, liberty to do so is granted. In the directions given to Moses by the Lord, two things are clear and conspicuous—

1. No one was to be unwillingly deprived of religious ordinances without compensation.

2. All must faithfully fulfil the Divine directions in the keeping of such ordinances as they had access to (Numbers 9:11-12; Numbers 9:14). The three leading points of the original institution are here repeated—that they were to eat the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, they were to leave none of it till the next day, and they were not to break a bone of it. The foreigner, also, who kept the feast was to do so with minute accuracy as to the directions concerning it. Compare Numbers 9:14 with Exodus 12:48-49. And still when any one is involuntarily detained from religious ordinances, God will supply unto him precious and abundant compensations. To the patient sufferer on his bed, to the attentive nurse as she ministers to the afflicted, and to the loving mother at home with her babe, if only the spirit of true worship be theirs, God will graciously reveal Himself, and enrich them with the treasures of His grace. He will be with them; and the chamber of sickness, or the nursery of infancy, shall become a Bethel, “a little sanctuary,” sacred with His presence and radiant with His glory. (d)


(a) Previous to your entering into the house of God, seek a prepared heart, and implore the blessing of God on the ministry of the Word. It may be presumed that no real Christian will neglect to preface his attendance on social worship with secret prayer. But let the acquisition of a devout and serious frame, freed from the cares, vanities, and pollutions of the world, accompanied with earnest desires after God, and the communications of His grace, form a principal subject of your private devotions. Forget not to implore a blessing on the public ministry, that it may accomplish in yourselves, and to others, the great purposes it is designed to answer; and that those measures of assistance may be afforded to your ministers which shall replenish them with light, love, and liberty, that they may speak the mystery of the Gospel as it ought to be spoken. Pastors and people would both derive eminent advantages from such a practice; they, in their capacity of exhibiting, you, in your preparation for receiving, the mysteries of the Gospel. As the duties of the closet have the happiest tendency, by solemnizing and elevating the mind, to prepare for those of the sanctuary, so the conviction of your having borne your minister on your heart before the throne of grace would, apart from every other consideration, dispose him to address you with augmented zeal and tenderness. We should consider it as such a token for good, as well as such an uneqivocal proof of your attachment, as would greatly animate and support us under all our discouragements.—Robert Hall, A.M.

(b) A more despicable character I know not than the poor mortal who proclaims his opinions as if they were the very Gospel of God; who denounces all who adopt them not as heretics. I pity the mental serfs, who, instead of drinking at the crystal river of truth, that rolls majestically by, consent to sip at the puddled cisterns of the would-be theological dictators. While around us have been flung, with God-like profusion, the fruits and beauties of a Paradise, shall we consent to confine ourselves to the scanty provisions of a petty kitchen garden? To all the dogmatists who would bind us to their own narrow creed we would say with Pope:—

“Go, wondrous creature! mount where science guides;
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and stem the tides; Instruct the planets in what orbs to run, Correct old time and regulate the sun. Go, teach eternal Wisdom how to rule, Then drop into thyself, and be a fool.”
It is the duty of every man to get convictions of Divine truth for himself, to hold those convictions with firmness, and to promote them with earnestness; but at the same time with a due consciousness of his own fallibility, and with a becoming deference to the judgment of others. Sure am I that he who has penetrated farthest into the realms of truth, wrestled most earnestly with its questions, will be the most free from all bigotry and dogmatism in the proclamation of his views. The more knowledge the more humility. True wisdom is ever modest. Those who live most in the light are the most ready to veil their faces.—David Thomas, D.D.

(c) Among all the formative influences which go to make up a man honoured of God in the ministry, I know of none more mighty than his own familiarity with the mercy-seat. All that a college course can do for a student is coarse and external compared with the spiritual and clear refinement obtained by communion with God. While the unformed minister is revolving upon the wheel of preparation, prayer is the tool of the Great Potter by which He moulds the vessel. All our libraries and studies are mere emptiness compared with our closets. We grow, we wax mighty, we prevail in private prayer. That we may be strong to labour, tender to sympathise, and wise to direct, let us pray. If study makes men of us, prayer will make saints of us. Our sacred furniture for our holy office can only be found in the arsenal of supplication; and after we have entered upon our consecrated warfare, prayer alone can keep our armour bright.—C. H. Spurgeon.

Moses was but the echo of God’s voice; John Baptist “the voice of one crying in the wilderness;” St. Paul “received of the Lord” what he delivered to the Church (1 Corinthians 11:23), and took care that the faith of his hearers “might not be in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Unwarranted doctrines come not cum gratia et privileqio.John Trapp, M A.

(d) Do not think for a moment that by frequenting places that have an odour of peculiar sanctity you can alone acceptably worship God. Have you got a contrite heart? That can consecrate the meanest place on earth. It does not matter where the congregation may gather, only let them be a congregation of faithful men, yearning for truth, ready to make any sacrifice to obtain it, and that God who is everywhere present will reveal Himself in blessings wherever they may choose to assemble. They may crowd into the solemn Minster, and while the organ peals out its alternate wail and psalm, to them it may be a spiritual service, and their hearts may glow in purer light than streams through painted windows. They may draw around the hearth of the farmer’s homestead, and while the frost king reigns outside, their spirits may burn with a warmth that may defy the keenness of the sternest winter. For them there may be a spiritual harvest more plentiful than the garnered store in the barn that has been lent for worship; or a season of refreshing beneath the thatch through which the penitent soul can filter up its signs for heaven. On the gallant vessel’s deck, with no witnesses of the service but the sky and sea, there may be the sound of many waters as the Lord of hosts comes down. And in the Alpine solitudes, where the spirit, alone with God mid murmuring streams, and bowing pines, and summits of eternal snow, uplifts its adoration, there may be a whisper stiller, and sweeter, and more comforting than that of nature, saying, “Peace, peace be unto you.” Oh! it is a beautiful thought, that in this, the last of the dispensations, the contrite heart can hallow its own temple! Wherever the emigrant wanders—wherever the exile pines—in the dreariest Sahara, rarely tracked save by the Bedouin on his camel—on the banks of rivers yet unknown to song—in the dense woodlands where no axe has yet struck against the trees—in the dark ruin—in the foul cell—in the narrow street—on the swift rail—there where business tramps and rattles—there where sickness gasp and pines—anywhere—anywhere in this wide, wide world, if there is a soul that wants to worship, there can be a hallowed altar and a present God.—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.


(Numbers 9:13)

In this verse we have set before us a case of,—

I. The wilful neglect of religious ordinances.

“The man that is clean, and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the Passover.” The Passover was instituted by command of God; neither ceremonial uncleanness nor absence from home prevented his observing it; yet he fails to do so—such is the case which is set before us in the text. In our day the wilful neglect of religious ordinances is painfully prevalent. Churches, chapels, mission halls, and religious services abound; yet in this nominally Christian country there are hundreds of thousands who are in a position to attend public worship, who live in the habitual neglect of it. (a)

II. The wilful neglect of religious ordinances is sinful.

It is said in the text that the man who wilfully forbeareth to keep the Passover “shall bear his sin.” The worship of God is not optional, but obligatory upon man; it is our duty. He who wilfully neglects religious ordinances by such neglect sins, because he,—

1. Withholds from God that which is His due. God has an indefeasible right to our homage. His greatness should excite our awe; His kindness should enkindle our gratitude; His skill should awaken our admiration; His holiness should inspire our adoring love.

2. Despises the gifts which God bestows. Worship is a privilege as well as a duty. It is a great kindness on the part of God that He has instituted the ordinances of worship, and great condescension that He graciously accepts our worship. To neglect public worship is to despise the ordinance and reject the gift of God.

3. Neglects the culture and development of the highest faculties of his being. Worship is a necessity of our nature. We have religious tendencies and aspirations which seek expression and satisfaction in worship. We cannot neglect worship without the deepest and most deplorable self-injury. (b) Wilfully to neglect religious ordinances, then, is to sin—to sin against our own nature and against God.

III. The wilful neglect of religious ordinances will be punished.

“The man that is clean and is not in a journey, and forbeareth to keep the Passover, even the same soul shall be cut off from among his people,” &c. The expression “cut off from among his people” denotes either capital punishment, or exclusion from the society and privileges of the chosen people. The latter seems to us the more probable. No one can neglect religious ordinances without incurring punishment—a punishment which grows directly out of the sin. By his wilful neglect he brings the punishment upon himself.

1. He foregoes the highest joys of life.

2. He dwarfs and degrades his soul.

3. He excludes himself from the highest fellowship on earth.

4. He renders himself unfit for the fellowship of heaven. The worship of God here is a natural and necessary preparation for uniting in His worship in the innumerable company of the glorified.


(a) The need of more effort to induce persons who never attend a place of worship to do so seems very great. Thus there are 2,500 people living in one block of buildings in the South of London, of whom not more than 130 frequent public worship. This is a sad fact, and needs the consideration of Christian people.—“The Christian World” May 10, 1878.

A very large proportion of the outside world is voluntarily irreligious or indifferent. A very large proportion of those who are not church-goers, who connect themselves with no religious society, and make no profession of religion, reside in the midst of those who do. Intelligent, educated, surrounded by religious influences, it is not through ignorance they remain where they are. Had they the longing for that peace which Christianity gives, they know in general where to find it. Their indifference and irreligion are in a great measure their own choice. No special mission is needed to them, as it is to those who have not their knowledge or their opportunities. They may be reached by the quiet, unobtrusive influence, and by the steady growth of vital religion among their neighbours; by the appeal of a Christian friend in sickness; by the perusal of a book; by the voice of some distinguished preacher whom they are led to hear. This class is very large; it is hindered by causes within rather than without.—Joseph Mullens, D.D.

That the religion of the working man is at a low ebb is a fact there can be no disputing. Our churches are for the rich, our chapels for the lower half of the middle class; the working man seldom finds his way to either. The Sunday morning is mostly spent in bed, the afternoon in an indolent and half apathetic condition, lolling on chairs or sofa, if he has one, nodding and slumbering over Lloyd’s, or the Weekly Times; it is only during the few hours of evening that he begins to show any signs of active life. On the Monday he feels more tired, and imagines the day to have been very considerably longer than any other. This is how the majority of London working men, at least, spend their Sunday, half sad to see it come, and wholly glad when it is over. This is a state of things to be lamented; who can doubt it is only in the degree in which families are happy (to rise to which there must be love, sympathy, confidence, and mutual esteem), that a nation becomes truly great; and this happiness is not possible without religion. We trust the day is not far distant when almost every working man will not only think it a duty to attend public worship, but will feel it a pleasure likewise.—Eclectic Review.

(b) Worship is the instinctive act and necessity of the religions consciousness. Its root lies in our recognition of God, and of our personal relationship to Him, its eucharistic element in our sense of His transcendent excellencies, and its supplicatory element in our consciousness of absolute dependence upon Him. We do not, that is, worship in mere compliance with a Divine injunction, nor in conformity with a conventional cultus, nor as a means of religious benefit. We worship under the impulse of our own religious instincts, because the constitution of our nature being what it is, we cannot without violence to it help doing so. Worship, therefore, has its ultimate reason neither in the sense of obligation, nor in considerations of utility; it is the simple necessity of the religious soul. Hence, in the severest persecutions of the Church, no considerations of personal peril have ever been sufficient to deter Christian men from assembling for social worship. Although there is no direct injunction of public worship, and although the spiritual relationships of the soul are so personal, and find their full expression in acts of personal and private devotion, yet the consecrating impulse of social worship has led men for the sake of it to dare and sacrifice life itself.—H. Allon, D.D.


(Numbers 9:15-16)

I. The Sphere of the Manifestation of the Divine Presence.

“And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony.” Previously the cloud had hung up on high over the camp; but now that the tabernacle is finished it descended and rested upon it. In the tabernacle and in the ordinances of religion God specially manifested Himself. He is everywhere present. The thoughtful mind discovers evidences of His power and skill everywhere. To the religious heart the whole world is a temple resplendent with His glory and resounding with His praise. But still He is specially present in His Church:

1. By the ministry of the Word. He speaks to men by His servants as they expound and apply the teachings of His Book.

2. By the observance of the Sacraments. To the believer Christ is really and blessedly present in the Sacraments which He instituted.

3. By the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. By His Spirit the Lord Jesus abides with His Church. In His material works we see Him as the God of nature; in His Church we see him as the God of grace and salvation, we realize His helpful and hallowing presence, and hold delightful communion with Him. Comp. Psalms 27:4; Psalms 132:13-16; Matthew 18:20. (a)

II. The Aspects of the Manifestation of the Divine Presence.

“The cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of testimony; and at even there was upon the tabernacle, as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning.”

1. The aspect of the manifestation of the Divine Presence was varied. In the day He appeared in cloud; in the night in the appearance of fire. The Divine Being does not present the game aspects to different minds; nor does He always appear in the same aspects to the same persons. He changes not, “with Him is no variableness;” but the forms of His manifestation to His creatures change. Moreover, our vision of Him varies with our varying spiritual conditions and moods.

2. The aspect of the manifestation of the Divine Presence was varied according to the need of the people. The diversity of the Divine manifestation was perfectly adapted to the diversity of human need. The cloud by day and the appearance of fire by night were easily discernible. Mark the precious truth of universal application which is here shadowed forth: God manifests Himself to His people according to their need. To the soul seeking Him in penitence He reveals Himself as a gracious Sovereign or a kind Father waiting to forgive; to the distressed mourner, as the great and tender-hearted Comforter; to the perplexed student of the Divine will and work, as the wise and kind Guide; to the lonely and sad by reason of the bereavements of death, as “the Resurrection and the Life;” &c. With infinite wisdom and goodness He adapts the revelations of His presence and the communications of His grace to our varying circumstances, conditions, and needs. (b)

III. The Permanence of the Manifestations of the Divine Presence.

“So it was alway: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.” Through the whole of their wanderings the blessed Presence never forsook them. God has never left His Church. The light of His Presence has varied, sometimes burning more brightly than at others; but it has never been extinguished or withdrawn. The light of the Church has waned in one place, but it has shone the more brightly in another. “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” In the abiding presence of our Lord and Saviour with us we have the guarantee of the continuance, the progress, and the ultimate triumph of His Church over all enemies. (c)


1. Here is admonition for Christians. The Lord is with us ever, His eye is ever upon us; let us, then, walk circumspectly, &c.

2. Here is encouragement for Christians. The Lord is ever present to guide us in our way, to sustain us in difficulty and trial, to defend us from harm, and to conduct us in safety and in triumph to our rest and home with God. Wherefore, let us be of good cheer.

“In thy presence we are happy;

In Thy presence we’re secure;

In Thy presence all afflictions

We will easily endure;

In Thy presence we can conquer,

We can suffer, we can die;

Far from Thee, we faint and languish:

Lord, our Saviour, keep us nigh.”

W. Williams.


(a) If Louis Napoleon could call a senate of all the potentates in the world in Paris, and hold a congress there, the whole of them put together would not be worth the snap of a finger compared with half-a-dozen godly old women who meet together in the name of Christ as a Church, in obedience to the Lord’s command; for God would not be there with the potentates—what cares He for them?—but He would be with the most poor and despised of His people who meet together as a church in Jesus Christ’s name. “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” is more glorious than ermine, or purple, or crown. Constitute a church in the name of Christ, and meet together as such, and there is no assembly upon the face of the earth that can be compared with it, and even the assembly of the first-born in heaven is but a branch of the grand whole of which the assemblies of the Church on earth make up an essential part.—C. H. Spurgeon.

(b) There are in the Bible many allusions to this cloud; all of them indicating its remarkable and peculiar and significant character. Several times we find allusions to it in the book of Psalms. See Psalms 78:14; Psalms 105:39. We also find it mentioned in Nehemiah 9:19. And we have a very beautiful allusion, assuming the shape of a cheering promise, in Isaiah 4:5-6 We find in all these passages very plain and unmistakeable allusions to this symbol. Now what does it seem to have been? First a lumincus fire, in the midst of the darkness of the night; supposed to extend to a mile in height into the sky, as if a great pillar, majestic in appearance, but phosphorescent or luminous and shining. Then in the daytime, when the splendour of a fire would be lost in the greater splendour of the sun, and could not necessarily be a guide to those that sought to follow it, the fire, or the luminous portion of it, retreated into the innermost recesses of the cloud, and a dark pillar, as it made of smoke or of cloud, stretched from the place where the tabernacle rested, a mile upward into the sky. And when God meant that the children of Israel should proceed forward, it marched before them, or moved before them, their signal, their director, and their guide. It was adapted exactly to the circumstances of their journey; a beautiful proof in its being cloud by day, and in its being fire by night, that God adapts the manifestations of Himself, the supplies of His wisdom, His grace, and His bounty to the peculiar circumstances, necessities, and condition of His believing people. Now, this symbol, as we gather from all the allusions to it scattered through the Scriptures, was a type of Christ, God manifest in the flesh. It was God’s mode of revealing Himself to that people in the midst of the desert; and was to them the perpetual pledge of His favourable and gracious presence.—John Cumming, D.D.

God rises upon the sight of some Christians as the sun comes right up against a clear sky, and over a sharp-cut horizon, and upon others as the sun comes up behind clouds, which it is his first work to wear out and disperse with His bright beams. I have seen men that never realized God till they were dying. Some never see Him till the midday of their life. Others see Him early in the morning. Some see Him during sickness; some after sickness; some on the occurrence of some special providence. Sometimes Christians are lifted up, through the susceptibility of their imagination, their affections, and their reason, all conjoined, into such an extraordinary sense of God’s glory that it seems as though their soul could not abide in the body, and they think, “Praise God! At last He has had mercy on me, and revealed Himself to me”—supposing that He had not before cast the light of His countenance upon them.—H. W. Beecher.

(c) It was enough for the army of Cromwell to know that he was there, the ever-victorious, the irresistible, to lead on his Ironsides to the fray. Many a time the presence of an old Roman general was equal to another legion; as soon as the cohorts perceived that he was come whose eagle eye watched every motion of the enemy, and whose practised hand led his battalions upon the most salient points of a tack, each man’s blood leaped within him, and he grasped his sword and rushed forward sure of success. My brethren, our King is in the midst of us, and our faith should be in active exercise—“The shout of a King is in the midst of us,” it is said, for where the King is there the people shout for joy, and because of confidence of victory. The preacher may preach, but what is that? but if the King be there, then it is a preaching in very deed. The congregations may have met, and they may have gone again. “The panoramic view which has dissolved,” you say. Ah, so it may seem to you, but if the Spirit of God was there, all that has been done will abide, and remain even to that day of judgment, when the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. “Nothing but a simple girl sitting down to talk to a few little children about their souls.” Just so, but if the Lord be there, what awe gathers round that spot! If the King Himself sit in that class, what deeds are done that shall make the angels of heaven sing anew for joy! “Nothing but a humble man, unlettered, earnest, but not eloquent, standing at the corner of a street addressing a few hundred people. His talk will soon be forgotten.” The footprints of every true servant of the Lord shall not be in the sand, but in the enduring brass, the record of which shall outlast the wreck of matter.—C. H. Spurgeon.


(Numbers 9:16)

One of the most extraordinary things associated with the journey of God’s ancient people was the pillar of cloud and fire. The fame of this wonderful phenomenon was spread abroad among the nations of the earth. There were several miraculous things connected with it that made it differ from other clouds. Its form was never changed. It always maintained its station over the tabernacle, unlike other clouds, that are carried about with the wind and tempest. It preserved its consistency and shape for forty years; while other clouds are either exhaled in the sun, dissipated by the wind, or dissolved in rain or dew, and in a very short time blotted out of the firmament. It moved in a peculiar direction. And, above all, it was brighter at night than by day. We cannot be mistaken in the typical meaning of this cloud. It must be viewed as a symbol of the presence and glory of God in the midst of His people (see Exodus 16:10; Exodus 19:9; Exodus 34:5; 1 Kings 8:10). Notice two things in reference to the presence of God:

I. The Advantages of its Possession.

Let us select some of the advantages to be derived from it by believers on earth:

1. The distinction it maintains. The pillar of cloud and fire among the Israelites may be viewed as a token of their being a separate people from other nations. This distinguished them; they were the only nation that were so privileged. It was a complete division of their forces one from the other (see Exodus 14:19-20). Christians, you are a peculiar people—your origin is peculiar—your character is peculiar—your spirit—your desires and affections—the objects of your pursuit. You have peculiar privileges and honours conferred on you. There is to be a marked difference between you and the world. “No man can serve two masters,” etc.

2. The guidance it ensures. All the movements of the Israelites were under the direction of this cloud. God’s presence now goes with His people for their guidance, and shall conduct them safely home. “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” Jesus is now the guide of His people. He leads in the way of truth and wisdom. How? By His example. He has gone before us in the path of duty, temptation, and sorrow. By His Word. This is our rule. By His ordinances. He sends His ministers as your guides. By His Spirit, effectually. By the leadings of His providence. As the Israelites watched the motion of the cloud, so must we the movements of His providence.

3. The protection it affords. This was remarkably the case with the Israelites when pursued by their enemies, the Egyptians.… (Psalms 77:16-20.) How admirably does this apply to the protecting presence of God with His people now. They have their enemies, who thirst for their destruction. How numerous, crafty, and powerful they are! But God is their hiding-place, etc.

4. The joy it inspires. God is the source of happiness, the fountain of life. His presence gives joy even in sorrow, and makes us glory in tribulation.

5. The glory it confers. What a wondrous, glorious sight must have been the exit of the Israelites out of Egypt, and their encampment in the wilderness. Balaam viewing them from a neighbouring mountain, cried out in admiration, etc. (See Ch. Numbers 23:9-10). The presence of God is our highest, best, only real glory. But what is all that God confers here to what is in reserve! The partial enjoyment of God’s presence affords some particles of glory; but the full enjoyment of Him shall constitute a weight of glory.

II. The perpetuity of its enjoyment.

“So it was alway.” Notwithstanding all the sins and provocations of the Israelites, the cloud did not leave them till they arrived in Canaan. Will not this apply to Christians now in their enjoyment of God’s presence? Observe two things:

1. Its necessity. It was indispensably necessary to the Israelites, for the purposes to which we have alluded; and is it loss so now? We always need the Divine presence. We are dependent on Him for every thing. We need His providential presence and agency to continue us in being and supply our numerous wants; and we require His gracious presence for the maintenance of spiritual life, and for the reception of spiritual blessings. We need His presence for the duties of life, for consolation in sorrow, for support in temptation, peace in death, and happiness in glory. If we have His presence, we have everything; if we want it, we have nothing.

2. The manner in which it is ensured. This may be seen three ways. From what He has done—is doing—and has promised to do.

(1) A retrospect of the past. May not we say of God’s presence with His Church, “So it was alway?” Was not His presence with Abraham? and Moses? and David? and Daniel? And in the New Testament times, was He not with Peter? and Paul? He has never left His Church to the will of her enemies. But come to individual experience. Has He not been with you? Recall past scenes, deliverances, comforts, joys.

(2) A view of the present. Is He not near at hand? always accessible?

(3) A glance at the future. So it shall be always. How is it ensured? His past dealings with us would be enough; but we have more. Look at His promises. “I will never leave you,” etc. Look at the mediation of His Son. The death and intercession of Christ ensure it. Look at the influences of His Spirit. All combine to testify His continual care and watchfulness over you.


1. What a privileged character is the Christian. How many peculiar mercies.

2. The misery of the ungodly. Without God. How deplorable!—Ebenezer Temple.


(Numbers 9:15-19).

The cloudy pillar may be regarded—
I. As an emblem of Divine truth.

1. Supernatural as to origin.

2. Stable: only a cloud, yet not dispersed.

3. Adapted to both night and day.

4. Reliable.

5. Intolerant:This is the way,” and no other.

II. As a symbol of Divine Providence.

1. Different appearance to different characters.

2. Presented alternations of aspect to the same people.

3. Mysterious in its movements.

4. Aims at the good of all who follow its guidance.

II. As a type of the Divine Saviour.

1. Mysterious nature.

2. Challenges attention.

3. His purpose beneficent.

4. The source of great comfort.

5. Constant in His attachment. LEARN,—

(1) Seek to be on the right side of the cloud.
(2) To seek it in the right place—over the tabernacle.
(3) To follow its guidance.—Biblical Museum.


(Numbers 9:17-23).

We propose to use these verses as illustrating the Pilgrimage of the People of God. So regarding them they present three main homiletical points for consideration:

I. The infallible Guide in the Pilgrimage of the Good.

In journeying through the desert the Israelites needed constant direction. There were no well-defined roads along which they could travel; there were no beaten tracks of travellers for their guidance; it was customary for “travellers to steer their course as mariners at sea do, by a mathematical chart. But the Israelites went by a better direction.” The Lord Himself led them by means of “the fiery, cloudy pillar.” “In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.” The movement of the cloud was to them “the commandment of the Lord;” its ascent from the tabernacle was the signal of departure; its descent upon the tabernacle was the signal for halting. Thus Infinite Wisdom was their Guide. In the pilgrimage of our life we also need guidance. There are perils to be avoided, misleading and evil ways to be shunned; and we have not the experience, the skill, or the wisdom to shun these ways and avoid these perils. “The way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” God is still the Guide of all who acknowledge Him. Compare Psalms 32:8; Psalms 73:24; Proverbs 3:6.

In what way is this guidance now exercised?

1. By the indications of Providence. Circumstances sometimes become to us a guiding pillar, sometimes summoning us to arise and depart, or to pitch our tent and rest awhile. The good man in the combinations of circumstances frequently reads the directions of God.

2. By the teachings of the Bible, and especially by the example of Jesus Christ as it is there set forth. “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” “When thou goest it shall lead thee.… For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life”. “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you”. “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps.” “I am the Light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

3. By the influences of the Holy Spirit. He enters into our being, and mysteriously and mightily influences our intellect and heart and will, and works within us deep convictions which lead to corresponding actions. Thus the Divine guidance, though no longer outward and visible, but inward and spiritual, is as real as when He led His people through the wilderness, (a)

II. The perfect Protector in the Pilgrimage of the Good.

The pillar of cloud and of fire was not only a guide, but a protection also to the Israelites. In the passage of the Red Sea it was an impenetrable barrier between them and their Egyptian pursuers. During the scorching heat of the daytime in the desert, like a veil it sheltered them from the fierce rays of the sun. And during the night its brightness shielded them from the attacks of wild beasts. It is a beautiful symbol of the Divine protection of the people of God in their pilgrimage.

1. This protection was constant. Night and day, during all their life in the desert, it was never withdrawn. (Comp. Psalms 91:1-13; Psalms 121:0; John 10:27-28; 1 Peter 1:5.)

2. This protection was adapted to the varying circumstances of the people. By day it assumed the aspect of a cloud, and by night that of fire. God is perfectly acquainted with us and with our circumstances, and with infinite skill He adapts His defence to our danger. He renders His faithful servants, and their very garments, utterly insensible to the heat of the furnace, even when it is heated “seven times more than it is wont to be heated”. He shuts the mouths of the hungry lions; and to His servant, tried and true, makes their den a place not only of perfect safety, but of angelic fellowship also.

3. This protection was inviolable. When this cloud was their shield, not even the mightiest and most malignant force could penetrate it to their hurt. (Comp. Psalms 27:1-3; Psalms 118:6; Romans 8:31; 1 Peter 3:13. (b)

III. The true Spirit in the Pilgrimage of the Good.

The spirit of the Israelites in their wanderings in the desert had two characteristics which are worthy of imitation:

1. Dependence upon God. They were uncertain as to the duration of their sojourn in any place; when the cloud came down upon the tabernacle, they did not know whether it would continue there for a few hours, “or two days, or a month, or a year”. And with respect to the time of their departure, they did not know “whether by day or by night the cloud” would be taken up. They were entirely dependent upon the will of God in these matters; and, believing that the Divine Presence was in the cloud, they trusted God, and waited and watched for its movements as for His orders. We, too, are dependent upon God in our pilgrimage. Let us endeavour to realize our dependence; let us trust in Him; let us watch the movements of His providence, etc (c)

2. Obedience to God. “The children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord”, as indicated by the rising and resting of the cloud. Disobedient and rebellious in many things, yet in this they obeyed the commandment of the Lord. In this let us imitate them; let us make God’s “statutes our songs in the house of our pilgrimage”; let our prayer be, “Teach me, O Lord, the way of Thy statutes, and I shall keep it unto the end”. When God commands let us promptly and cheerfully obey; so shall our pilgrimage end in the rest and refreshment, the sanctity and society, the gladness and glory of Home.


Life here is a pilgrimage in the case of every one. Be it ours to realise the fact; to seek the infallible guidance and inviolable protection of the Shepherd of Israel in our pilgrimage; and to maintain and manifest the true spirit of pilgrims; so shall our pilgrimage be secure, and our rest glorious, (d)



Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,

Lead Thou me on;

The night is dark, and I am far from home;

Lead Thou me on;

Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou

Shouldst lead me on;

I loved to choose and see my path; but now

Lead Thou me on.

I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.
So long Thy power has blest me, sure it still

Will lead me on

O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till

The night is gone,

And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since and lost a while.

J. H. Newman.

(b) The utmost degree of personal security that can be enjoyed under any form of civil power, is a most imperfect shadow of the safety which Jesus Christ bestows upon the subjects of His spiritual reign. Until a man submits to His mediatorial authority, he remains exposed to unutterable evils. He ought to feel perpetual anxiety and alarm; for, in the declared judgment of God, he is in a state of condemnation and death:—“he that believeth not in the Son of God is condemned already”; he that is not “quickened together with Christ Jesus” is “dead in trespasses and sins;” he is a criminal under sentence of execution, and only respited for a brief and uncertain period; the sword of Divine justice, suspended over him, may fall at any moment, and he is lost for ever. This is certainly the condition of every unconverted sinner—every one that has not yielded himself a willing subject to Jesus Christ his Lord. But “Kiss the Son;” yield yourself as such a subject to Him; and from that moment, you are placed in a state of perfect security; you are saved with a great salvation—protected from the wrath of God, from the dread of eternity, from the misery of sin; according to the prophet’s beautiful description of our Saviour—“In that day a King shall reign in righteousness; and a man shall be as a covert from the storm, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land”. The subjects of Jesus Christ, justified by faith, have peace with God. The last donation He promised His disciples was peace:—“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth give I unto you”. “My peace!”—the same peace which filled the bosom of the eternal Son of God, when, having finished His work, He was acknowledged by the Father as His “Beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased”. For, “because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts”—of His Son, the First-born of many brethren. And (as the Apostle argues) “if God be for us, who shall be against us? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Shall God that justifieth? Who is he that condemneth? Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen for us? Who shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?” The Church of Christ, as a collective society, is invested with absolute security; it is a city on whose walls is engraven the name, JEHOVAH SHAMMAH, THE LORD IS THERE! it stands fast “like Mount Zion that cannot be moved;” it is founded on a Rock, and that Rock is Christ: He has “all power in heaven and earth” for its preservation; and not “the gates of hell shall prevail against it”. But a portion of this general security of the body belongs to every member of it: every believer in Christ enjoys the same; and, as he grows in grace and knowledge, he feels himself at peace with God; this peace keeps and justifies his heart and mind against every assailing trouble; and, on the most trying occasions, he learns to say with humble confidence, “I will go forth in the strength of the Lord”.—Robert Hall, A.M.

(c) Everything in their experience taught them their dependence upon God. They were led throught a region that no adventurer had ever explored, or foot had ever trod. When they pitched their tents at eventide, they knew not at what hour they should strike them, nor whether they should strike them at all; there might be forced years of encampment in that one spot; there might be forced marches and rapid progress; but they had no control over it: as the pillar went, and wherever the pillar went, they went; and as they sounded forth their matin song of praise there was not a man in the whole congregation that could tell through what rocky clifts or woody defiles the echoes of the vesper hymn would sound. Their supply was as miraculous as their guidance. No plough had turned up the soil, no river murmured by their side; they never gazed for forty years upon one solitary blossom of the spring time, nor the golden grain ever once in their sight bent gracefully to the sickle of the reaper; they were fed with manna which they knew not.

“When faint they were and parched with drought,
Water at His word gushed out.”

Oh! it is the world’s grandest illustration of man’s absolute feebleness and of God’s eternal power 600,000 fighting men, besides women and children, led by Divine leadership, and fed by Divine bounty, for the space of forty years. Brethren, the dealings of Providence with ourselves are intended to show us our dependence upon God, and to humble us in the dust under His mighty hand. We are very proud sometimes, and we talk about our endowments, and we boast largely of what we have done, and what we intend to do; but we can do absolutely nothing. The athletic frame—how soon can He bring it down! The well-endowed heritage—how soon can He scatter it! The mental glance, keen and piercing—how soon can He bring upon it the dimness and bewilderment of years! We cannot any one of us, bring ourselves into being; we cannot, any one of us, sustain ourselves in being for a moment. Alas! who of us can stay the spirit when the summons has gone forth that it must die?—W. M. Punshon, LL.D.

(d) We are all upon a journey. We are walking either by faith or by sight. We have either committed our destiny to God, or we have taken it under our own care. Can you order your own destiny as well as God? Would you rather trust your own eye than the eye of Omniscience? I address some who have no other care than to walk with God. With firm hold of His hand they wander on, knowing that He will lead them by a path they have not known. Happy the people that are in such a case! They are what they are by the grace of God,—that grace which stands for ever revealed and honoured in the Person and work of JESUS. And now we are going on; the road is often mountainous, and many a wild beast prowls upon it; but we are obeying God, and obedience ensures perpetual joy. It is God’s to lead; it is man’s to follow. We are going to a land of which Canaan was but a poor emblem,—we advance toward a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God! If the road is sometimes dreary, the Guide is ever safe. God hath not permitted imagination to conceive the end. Fancy’s mighty wing cannot soar to the altitude of such sublimity. It remains a mystery till our eyes are closed in death. Be it ours to move our tent and erect our altar as God may direct. We shall in due time exchange the tent for an ever-during mansion, and our prayer shall burst into praise. Our journey hath an end,—its name is HEAVEN. But what is involved in that term “heaven,” we can never know on earth. Loiter not in the way. The shadows deepen. One star more venturous than others is already twinkling, and telling of the coming night. Up! my brethren,—FORWARD, ye hosts of God!

“Here in the body pent,
Absent from Him we roam,
Yet nightly pitch our moving tent
A day’s march nearer home”.

Joseph Parker, D.D.


(Numbers 9:22)

The Israelites were favoured by God with the pillar of fire and cloud. Hereby they were reminded of His special presence, and instructed as to His will. If it moved, they must journey; if it tarried, they must encamp. Let us describe these seasons, when the cloud tarried. Remembering although we have no visible symbol of the Divine will, yet we are not ignorant of His mind. If Israel of old had the cloud, we have the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit to teach us.

I. A word of description.

The time “the cloud tarried” was:

1. One of rest. Such times in our experience. Blessed tranquillity. Sweetest fellowships with each other.

2. One of spiritual activity. Then they worshipped in the tabernacle, etc. Use your opportunities. Go while you can to the means of grace.

3. Peculiarly a time of temptation. Remember Taberah and the consuming fire, Numbers 11:1; Hazeroth and Miriam’s leprosy, Numbers 12:10; remember the fiery serpents, and the blasphemy of Sinai. In these haltings the people sinned most grievously.

II. A word of exhortation.

1. Be more anxious to keep the cloud in sight than to see it tarry. We are responsible for the one, but not for the other. We must strive to delight more in God’s will, than in what we desire.

2. Be more anxious to improve than enjoy these refreshing times. Times like these are for holy labour as well as for peaceful quiet and contemplation. Think not that Nathanael was always sitting beneath the fig tree.

3. Be more anxious to improve than prolong these periods. Seek not so much a protracted as a useful life. Strive to use seasons of rest and prosperity, rather than marring them by over anxiety about the morrow.

III. A word of caution.

1. If the cloud tarry long, think not it will never move. The Church, the home, the soul must have vicissitudes. Activity is necessary to every form of life. Rest should be the preparation time for exertion.

2. Be not impatient if it tarry when you wish to journey. It does rest sometimes over a desert land. Such is life to some of you aged ones. There were most arid deserts in the confines of Canaan.

3. Be ready, that whenever the cloud moves you may be ready to journey. Whether it be to go forward to the fight, to the Elim of plenty, or the land of promise.—R. A. Griffin.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 9". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/numbers-9.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile