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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on Numbers

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Israel Prepares to Leave Sinai ( 1:1–10:10 )

This entire section comes from the Priestly tradition. The chronological report ( 1:1 ) situates the census one month after the completion of the tabernacle (Ex 40:17 ) and nineteen days before the departure from Sinai ( 10:11 ), where Israel had been for almost a year (Ex 19:1 ). The tabernacle stands in the centre of the camp. Encamped around it are members of the tribe of Levi. Encircling them are the various tribes of Israel, three in each direction. The tabernacle situated in the centre of the camp expresses a divine centring for the community generally. At the same time, while God dwells among the people and guides them through the wilderness ( 9:17 ), the nature of that guidance is divinely limited. Hence, while God leads them from one oasis to the next, the divine guidance is not all-controlling and human leadership is crucial ( 10:29–32 ). The divine presence does not issue in a situation where the people have no option but to obey; disobedience is a lively possibility. Indeed, warning signs punctuate the narrative (e.g. 1:53 ); they alert Israel to the care needed by the community with respect to the near presence of God in their midst and the importance this has for the shape of the journey.

( 1:1–54 ) The First Census

The early mention of the ‘tent of meeting’ (v. 1 ) signals its importance for what precedes as well as what follows; it is synonymous with the tabernacle. How it is to be related to the tent of the epic tradition (Ex 33:7–11 ) is uncertain; the tabernacle may have assumed the role of the tent (see 7:89 ). The rare phrase, ‘tabernacle of the covenant’ ( 1:50, 53; 10:11; Ex 38:21 ) extends the designation for its major sacred object, the ‘ark of the covenant’; the language focuses on the God–Israel relationship and the divine speaking associated with that.

This census list plays an important structural role in Numbers (see NUM c.2). God commands the census and also names one male from each tribe to assist (except Levi; two Joseph tribes keep the number at twelve, see Gen 48 ), ‘the leaders of their ancestral tribes’ (v. 16; cf. 2:3–31; 7:12–83; 10:14–28 ). To appear on this list was a continuing sign assuring each tribal group of their present identity and future place among God's chosen.

The census is to include the males of the old generation, 20 years and older. The purpose is conscription, to determine ‘everyone able to go to war’ (cf. 2 Sam 24:9 ); battles are expected (though there will be few to fight, see 21:1–3 ). Israel has good reason to be confident with these numbers (but they are not, 14:1–4 ). The results of the census (perhaps the same census as in Ex 38:26; cf. 12:37 ): 603,550 males; the second census yields 601,730 ( 26:51 ), though the tribal distribution changes somewhat. When women, children, and Levites are added, the total must have been about 2 million. The unrealistic number has not been resolved (for a survey, see Ashley 1993: 60–6); probably it was thought, if mistakenly, to be actually this large. Whether literal or symbolic, the number testifies to God's blessing and preserving this people, and keeping the divine promises. This generation will be unfaithful and, by divine decree ( 14:22–30 ), will die off in the wilderness. At the time of the new census, ‘not one of them was left’, except Joshua and Caleb ( 26:65 ).

The Levites, who do not bear arms and are not registered here (see 3:14 ), are given duties with respect to the tabernacle and its furnishings (detailed in NUM 4). They are charged to encamp around it, protect it from casual contact, maintain it, carry it during the journey, and pitch it at each stop. The ‘outsider’ (v. 51 ) refers to all who are not Levites, whether Israelite or alien ( 16:40 ). The sense of ‘come near’ is ‘encroach (see Milgrom 1990: 342–3). Violation of the tabernacle precincts means death, not as a court verdict, but as a penalty delivered on the spot by the levitical guards (see 18:7 ).

This drastic action is in the interests of the community as a whole, so that it will not experience the wrath of God (v. 53 ). God's wrath in Numbers is impersonal in its basic sense; it ‘goes forth’ or ‘comes upon’ ( 16:46; 18:5 ). Wrath is not a legal penalty, or a divine decision, but inevitably issues from the deed as a matter of the moral order; it is an effect intrinsically related to, growing out of, the violation of the place of God's presence or the divine–human relationship (see NUM 14). God is not conceived in deistic ways, however, and sees to the movement from deed to consequence, in sometimes sharp language ( 11:33 ). The effect may be death, often in Numbers because of plague ( 16:46–50; 31:16 ). It can be overcome by various means, from sacrificial ritual ( 8:19 ) to priestly intercession ( 16:47–50; 25:11 ).

Looming large over the exacting concern for the tabernacle are Israel's past infidelities, especially the golden calf débâcle, where Israel violated its relationship with God and jeopardized its future (Ex 32:9–10 ). God graciously chose to dwell among them; but, given the people's propensity to apostasy, safeguards had to be instituted. These strict measures are not to protect God from the people or the people from God (though violation could mean violence, v. 53 ), but to preserve a proper relationship between God and people. Israel has been honoured by this incredible divine condescension, but God remains God and this divine move is not to be presumed upon without the endangerment of life.

In v. 54 and throughout chs. 1–9 , the Israelites are reported to have done exactly as God commanded. One wonders how anything could go wrong. Later failures cannot be blamed on faulty preparations.

( 2:1–34 ) The Encampment

With the tabernacle centred in the camp, and the Levites camped immediately around it (see NUM 3), God commands that the tribes be precisely ordered around the perimeter. They are to be ordered as companies (‘hosts’ or ‘armies’), specifying military readiness. Three tribes are to be positioned at each side of the tabernacle, under their distinctive banners; each triad is named for the dominant tribe of the three (seen from the perspective of Israel's later history; cf. Gen 49 ), which is flanked by the other two tribes in each case—the camp of Judah (the most dominant) to the east, the side where the tabernacle opening was located, and Moses and the Aaronides were camped; Reuben to the south; Ephraim to the west; Dan to the north (the leaders of the tribes as in 1:5–15 ). This order of the tribes is the order for the march, beginning with Judah. The tabernacle, set in the midst of the Levites (v. 17 ), is to move between the camps of Reuben and Ephraim. God's commands are again followed. This camp may have been modelled after an Egyptian pattern (see Milgrom 1990: 340).

( 3:1–4:49 ) The Levites

This section describes two censuses of the tribe of Levi, its organization, and its responsibilities for transporting and guarding the tabernacle and its furnishings. The genealogical formula ( 3:1 ) links the generation of Moses and Aaron with those in Genesis (the last is 37:2; cf. Ex 6:14–25 ).

( 3:1–13 )

occurs ‘at the time when God spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai’ (v. 1 ). Since that time Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, have died childless (Lev 10:1–2 ); this reference alerts the reader to dangers associated with handling holy things, and the tasks of the Kohathites in particular ( 4:15–20 ). Aaron's other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were ordained as priests by Moses (the ‘he’ of v. 3; cf. Lev 8:30 ) and served with their father throughout his lifetime.

A distinction is made within the tribe of Levi between the descendants of Aaron, who attend to priestly duties, and other Levites, who assist the priests, with responsibilities for ‘service at the tabernacle’ (cf. 1:50–3 for an earlier summary). vv. 11–13 (restated in 8:16–18 ) recall the killing of the Egyptian firstborn and the sparing of the Israelite firstborn (see Ex 13:1–2, 11–15 ), in remembrance of (or repayment for) which God had consecrated the latter to a life of religious service; the Levites serve as substitutes for them (and their livestock for Israel's firstborn livestock). While the Levites are responsible to the sons of Aaron, it is as representatives of all Israel. It may be that God himself takes the census of the Levites and reports the results to Moses ( 3:12, 15–16 ).

( 3:14–39 )

continues in narrative time and space from 2:34 and describes God's command of a census of the non-Aaronide Levites (total: 22,000), their encampment positions, and their specific responsibilities. The census of Levites was prohibited in 1:47–9 because they were non-military, served the tabernacle, included all from one month and older, and represented all Israel's firstborn (cf. 3:40–1 ). The levitical camp is ordered in terms of Levi's sons (Gershon, Kohath, and Merari); their clans encamp on three sides of the tabernacle and have varying duties with respect to its transit. The Kohathites (from whom Moses and Aaron are descended) are responsible for the most sacred objects ( 4:4 ; e.g. the ark), the Gershonites for the fabrics, and the Merarites for the supporting structures (responsibilities are detailed in 4:1–33 ). Aaron and his sons encamp on the pre-eminent, entrance (eastern) side of the tabernacle (v. 38 ). Aaron's son, Eleazar, is in charge of the leaders of the three clans (v. 32 ) and has general oversight of the tabernacle and certain special details ( 4:16 ); his brother Ithamar has oversight over the work of the Gershonites and the Merarites ( 4:28, 33 ). Again, God's commands are followed ( 3:16, 39, 42, 51 ).

( 3:40–51 )

The firstborn system is detailed more fully here, where the firstborn of all Israel are numbered (22,273); each of the 273 persons over and above the 22,000 Levites is redeemed by five shekels apiece (paid apparently by the firstborn, v. 50 , and given to the priests; cf. Lev 27:6 ). The figure of 22,273 seems too low in view of the census numbers in 2:32 (even assuming an equal number of female to male firstborn, this would entail an average of fourteen male children per family); no satisfactory explanation has been given. The redemption of the firstborn keeps the exodus action of God explicitly before the people as a reminder of their redeemed status. The recurring phrase ‘I am the LORD’ (common in Leviticus) is shorthand for the divine origin of the commands.

( 4:1–33 )

delineates God's commands regarding the second levitical census, taken to determine the number of those (ages 30–50) who are to perform the actual duties; these ages differ somewhat from 8:24–6 and from other OT texts (e.g. Ezra 3:8 ), perhaps reflecting expanding community needs. Aaron and his sons are responsible for packing and unpacking the most holy things, with differently coloured cloths marking gradations of holiness (vv. 5–15 ); only they are allowed to see and touch them. The responsibilities of the three levitical groups for certain sanctuary items, as noted above, are also divinely commanded in detail, so that each item is exactly accounted for (Kohathites, vv. 1–20 ; Gershonites, vv. 21–8 ; Merarites, vv. 29–33 ). A special emphasis is given regarding the work of the Kohathites ( 4:17–20 ), not because their status is higher, but because they handle the ‘most holy things’. God graciously takes their greater risk into account and specifies precautionary procedures for their handling of these objects. To die for improper contact with the most holy objects (vv. 15, 19–20 ) seems to have reference to direct, though mediated action by God (see NUM 1:53; Lev 10:1–2 ). This concern may be rooted in the golden calf apostasy, where the holiness of God was compromised.

( 4:34–49 )

describes the implementation of God's commands; once again, they are obeyed to the letter (vv. 46–8 summarizes the results). The encampment is now fully prepared for the journey through the wilderness.

( 5:1–6:21 ) Purification of the Camp

This section, probably added late in the redactional process, deals with matters needing attention for the journey. Why these particular issues are collected at this point and ordered in this way is uncertain; some links are evident (e.g. ‘be unfaithful’ in 5:6, 12 ; guilt offerings) and they deal both with matters of ritual purity and moral living among the laity (male and female), and the priests have responsibilities relating to both spheres. More generally, matters of purity are important in recognition of God's dwelling in the camp ( 5:3 ), but so also are matters of moral wrongdoing, which ‘break faith with the Lord’ ( 5:6 ). Several cases extend or modify statutes in Leviticus.

( 5:1–4 )

Persons who are ritually (and communicably) unclean for various reasons are to be put outside the camp to live in tents or caves, without access to worship, so as not to contaminate the community or defile the tabernacle. This statute reinforces or extends those in Leviticus (see Lev 13:45–6; 15:31–3; 21:1–3, 11 ).

( 5:5–10 )

extends Lev 6:1–7 ; the new focus is on wrongdoing (including a false oath) where the injured party dies without next of kin, in which case priests receive the appropriate restitution. The public confession of this deliberate sin against the neighbour (see Lev 5:5 ) is also newly integral to the ritual; note that the sin against the neighbour ‘breaks faith with God’. vv. 9–10 note that priests are to receive their rightful dues.

( 5:11–31 )

has a complex history given the literary difficulties; yet at least some features (e.g. repetition) serve a purpose in the present redaction (for detail, Milgrom 1990: 350–4). Though often called a trial by ordeal, the coalescence of verdict and sanction, effected by God not the community, suggests rather an oath that is dramatized. The focus of this case-law is a wife, possibly pregnant, whose husband suspects (‘is jealous of’) her of adultery but has no evidence, whether she has actually committed adultery (vv. 12–14a ) or is only suspected of doing so ( 14b ). In the former case, this text softens the penalty prescribed for an adulteress in Lev 20:10 , probably because there was no evidence. In the latter case, a woman unjustly accused could be vindicated; so the jealous husband (or the community) could not arbitrarily decide her fate.

In either case, the man brings his wife (who is ‘under [his] authority’, vv. 19, 29 ) to the priest with a grain offering, though without the usual oil and frankincense (Lev 2:1–10 ), as was the case with sin offerings (Lev 5:11 ). Such offerings bring ‘the [potential] iniquity to remembrance’ before God. The procedure: the priest prepares a mixture of holy water (see Ex 30:17–21 ) and dust from the tabernacle floor, probably thought to have potency because of its contact with holy things, in an earthen vessel (which could be broken after use, Lev 11:33 ). The priest is then to bring the woman ‘before the LORD’ (the altar), loosen her hair—a sign of (potential) uncleanness, Lev 13:45 —and put the grain offering in her hands. The priest has her take an oath regarding the suspicions registered (vv. 19–22 ): if she has been faithful, she will be immune from the water; if unfaithful, the water will cause her sexual organs to be affected adversely in some way (the effect is correlated with the crime) and she will be ostracized among the people (see Job 30:9 ) and precluded from having children (v. 28 ). If the woman is pregnant, the effect may be a miscarriage. The nature of the effect of the water upon the woman is considered a sign as to whether the woman has told the truth. The repeated ‘Amen. Amen’ (‘so be it’), expresses her willingness to accept either result of the ritual (see Deut 27:15–26 ). Unlike her husband, she is given no other voice in the ritual.

In 5:23–8 (v. 24 anticipates 26b , as v. 16a does 18a ), the priest writes the curses on a surface from which the ink could be washed off into the water the woman is to drink; the imbibed water is thought to contain the power of the curses (cf. Ex 32:20; Ezek 3:1–3 ). The priest takes the grain offering from her and burns a portion of it on the altar, after which she drinks the water (vv. 25–6 ). If the woman has been unfaithful, she will experience distress (no time frame is specified), hence the phrase, ‘waters of bitterness’. The potion actually has no bitter taste nor brings pain in itself, but this would be the effect if God adjudged the woman guilty (v. 21; cf. Zech 5:1–4; Jer 8:14; 9:15 ).

( 5:29–31 )

summarizes the essence of the two types of case for which this ordeal would be applied. The husband is freed from any responsibility for a false accusation (the need to express this is striking, and it opens the way to frivolous expressions of jealousy). If the woman is guilty, she bears the consequences (by divine agency).

One might claim that the ritual could not accurately determine the truth; but, as in the sacrificial system, it is God, before whom the woman is brought, who knows the truth of the situation and is believed to act in the ritual and to effect the proper result. Yet, one wonders if this procedure ever verified suspicions; perhaps the threat was sufficient to elicit confessions. It was only women who lived under such threat, and the ritual is degrading; that no comparable law existed for the male, or no concern is expressed that undisclosed male infidelity might contaminate the camp, is revealing of the patriarchy involved. The language of jealousy is also used in the marriage analogy for Israel's relationship with God, her husband (who is jealous, e.g. Ex 20:5; 34:14 ), and may have informed prophetic rhetoric (e.g. Isa 3:16–17; Ezek 23:31–4 ). Jesus' attitude towards women (Lk 7:36–50; Jn 4:1–30; 8:1–11 ) breaks open the one-sidedness of the Numbers ritual (see Olson 1996: 38–9).

( 6:1–21 )

provides for a temporary, voluntary nazirite vow (from nāzîr, meaning ‘set apart’; the unpruned vine was also called a nāzîr, perhaps a symbol of Israel as consecrated to the Lord; the word for uncut hair is nezer). As with the other statutes in this section, the laity are the focus of concern; yet these statutes highlight priestly obligations relating thereto (and may suggest priestly control over their activity). The text does not institute the nazirite vocation, but regulates a consecrated life in certain ways. Vows, always individual acts, were common in ancient Israel (see 30:1–16 ) and this vow was ‘special’ (v. 2 ).

Yet, the precise purpose for becoming a nazirite remains elusive. Generally, nazirites were male or female individuals who took a vow of consecration for a special vocation. Am 2:11–12 states that God raised up nazirites; the parallel with the prophets means they had a high calling (as does their parallel with the priests). That they generated opposition among the people, who made them drink wine and thereby prevented them from fulfilling their calling, suggests their importance. The stories of Samson and probably Samuel, lifelong nazirites (dedicated by their parents from the womb, cf. Jer 1:5 ), suggest that God called such persons to specific tasks (cf. Judg 5:2; Gen 49:26 ). Wenham (1981: 85) calls them ‘the monks and nuns of ancient Israel’, but we do not know if this was considered an ‘office’, whether many took the vow, or how long a term was.

The nazirite vow entailed separation from products of the vineyard (and other intoxicants), haircuts, and corpses; their return to secular life was signified by cutting the hair. As such, these persons were highly visible members of the community, signs to all of total dedication to God. They bore similarities to the Rechabites (2 Kings 10:15; Jer 35 ), conservative proponents of ancient Israelite traditions who rejected Canaanite culture, including viticulture and building houses.

Like the high priests, nazirites were not to come into contact with (even within sight of) a corpse, but unlike them, accidental contact required rites of purification (vv. 6–12; cf. 5:2–3; 19:11–12, 19 ). Upon being purified, they were to ‘sanctify the head [hair]’, i.e. be reconsecrated (vv. 11c–12 ). vv. 13–20 describe the ritual at the completion of their consecration; the range of offerings (cf. Lev 8 ) suggests the high status of the nazirite; returning to secular life was a major step. The ritual includes the shaving of the head and the burning of the hair (because it is considered holy). v. 21 summarizes the force of the previous verses. On possible links to Jesus, John the Baptist, and the early church, see Mt 2:23; Lk 1:15; Acts 18:18; 21:23–4 ; on nazirites in Second-Temple Judaism, see Milgrom (1990: 355–8).

( 6:22–7 ) The Aaronic Benediction

The placement of this benediction seems unusual; it may be another item that prepares the people for the journey through the wilderness. This is the blessing for the time of departure, and daily throughout their journey. Each line, with God as subject, is progressively longer (three, five, seven Hebrew words); besides the name YHWH, twelve Hebrew words signify the twelve tribes.

This benediction in some form was widely used in ancient Israel, especially at the conclusion of worship (see Lev 9:22; Deut 21:5; 2 Chr 30:27; Ps 67:1; 121:7–8 ; see its ironic use in Mal 1:8–10 ). Putting the name of God on the people may have been understood literally, given the inscription on two cigarette-sized silver plaques found near Jerusalem, dating from the seventh–sixth centuries BCE (for such parallels, see Milgrom 1990: 360–2). The blessing has been commonly used in post-biblical Jewish and Christian communities.

One probably should not see a climactic arrangement in the clauses; so, for example, blessing would include peace. Perhaps the second verb in each case defines the first more specifically, but together the six verbs cover God's benevolent activity from various angles and state God's gracious will for the people.

Blessing has a wide-ranging meaning, touching every sphere of life. It testifies most basically to the work of God the Creator, both within the community of faith and without. No conditions are attached. It signifies any divine gift that serves the life, health, and well-being of individuals and communities. Keeping is a specific blessing to those with concerns for safety, focusing on God's protection from all forms of evil (Ps 121:7–8 ), pertinent for wilderness wandering.

God's face/countenance (the same Hebrew word) is a common anthropomorphism (esp. in Psalms; see Balentine 1983 ). The shining face of God (contrast the hiding face) signifies God's benevolent disposition towards the other, here in gracious action, for which Israel can make no claims (Ps 67:1 ). The lifting up of the Lord's countenance signifies a favourable movement towards the other in the granting of peace, that is, wholeness and fullness of life. Putting God's name on the people (supremely by means of the word) emphasizes the divine source of all blessings.

( 7:1–8:26 ) Final Preparations for Tabernacle Worship

The chronological note at 7:1 indicates that what follows is a flashback (it continues through 10:10 ); it is one month earlier than the time of 1:1 and coincides with Ex 40 and the day Moses set up the tabernacle; yet it assumes Num 3–4 and the provisions made for carrying the tabernacle. This literary technique suspends the forward movement of the narrative and returns the reader to the occasion of the divine descent to dwell among the people and their grateful response.

( 7:1–88 )

describes the consecration of the tabernacle in connection with which offerings were made by the leaders of the twelve tribes. vv. 1–9 describe one gift: six wagons and twelve oxen to carry the tabernacle and its furnishings. The Merarites received two-thirds of the wagons and oxen because they carry the supporting structure; the Kohathites carry the most holy things by hand. 7:10 refers to the offerings presented in both vv. 1–9 and 12–88 . vv. 11–83 specify other gifts: necessities for the public altar sacrifices and the priesthood—silver and gold vessels, animals, and flour mixed with oil and incense—to be offered at the altar whenever needed (not at one dedication occasion). The tribal leaders, in the order given in 2:3–31 , each give the same offerings on the successive days of the celebration; they are listed out twelve times, and vv. 84–8 provide a total. This striking repetition underlines the unity and equality of the tribal groups and the generosity of their support for the tabernacle.

( 7:89 )

seems out of place, but it emphasizes that God's ongoing commitment to Israel (not only to dwell among them, but to speak to Moses) matches the people's obedient response regarding God's dwelling-place. The mercy seat is the cover of the ark of the covenant, upon which were fixed two cherubim, sphinx-like creatures, shaped to form a throne for the invisible God (1 Sam 4:4; 2 Sam 6:2 ); in effect, the ark was God's footstool (2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chr 28:2 ; for description, see Ex 25:17–21 ). From this place, God will speak to Moses on a regular basis when he enters the tabernacle; this fulfils God's promise in Ex 25:22 and is reported in the narrative that follows (Num 11:16–30 ).

( 8:1–4 )

specifies lighting directions for the seven tabernacle lamps (commanded by God in Ex 25:37 , but not reported in Ex 37:17–24 ), with a reminder of how the lamps were constructed. Their seven branches and flowery design may have symbolized the tree of life (see 1 Kings 7:49 for the temple lampstands; cf. also Zech 4:1–14; Rev 11:4 ); the branched lampstand or menorah remains an important symbol of light in Judaism.

( 8:5–26 )

(the setting is still as Ex 40; cf. Num 3:11–13 ); the Levites are consecrated ‘to do service at the tent of meeting’ (v. 15; cf. Lev 8 ; the priests are sanctified, while the Levites are purified). vv. 5–19 state the divine command and rationale for the ceremony and vv. 20–2 stress that it was obeyed. This entails participation in a purification rite (vv. 5–7; cf. 6:9; 19:1–22; Lev 14:8–9 ) so they can perform this service without endangering themselves or the community. The Levites are then presented ‘before the LORD’ (v. 10 ) and before ‘Aaron and his sons’ (v. 13 ) in the presence of the people. The people lay their hands on them, symbolizing that the Levites have become their sacrifice, a ‘living sacrifice’ dedicated to the service of God in their stead (vv. 10–11; cf. 3:40–51 ). The Levites in turn lay their hands on the head of the bulls, which are sacrificed to cleanse the sanctuary (the whole burnt offering, v. 8a ) and to atone for sins they had committed (v. 12b ). God claims that the choice of the Levites is rooted in the Exodus events ( 3:5–13 ), and that they are ‘mine … unreservedly given to me from among the Israelites’ (vv. 14–16 ); God in turn gives them to the Aaronides for service at the tabernacle (see 3:9 ). This constitutes an act of atonement for the Israelites (for whom the Levites undertake the work) to prevent any plague resulting from too close a contact with the holy things. The section concludes with the typical reference to obedience and a summary of the Levites' cleansing (vv. 20–2 ), followed by a reference to age requirements (vv. 23–6; cf. 4:47 ) and a clarification that they are not priests, but assist the Aaronides in their responsibilities.

( 9:1–14 ) The Passover at Sinai

This section continues the flashback begun at 7:1 . vv. 1–5 report a second celebration of the Passover in fulfilment of the ‘perpetual ordinance’ of Ex 12:24 . This celebration also precedes the wilderness journey, and enhances this moment of departure in Israel's life.

A question is presented to Moses (and Aaron) as to whether those who had become unclean through touching a corpse (see 5:1–4; 19:11–20 ) could celebrate Passover. Upon consulting the Lord (see 7:89 ), Moses is told that such unclean persons (and possible descendants) should not be denied Passover and are to keep it one month later, i.e. the fourteenth day of the second month. In view of v. 6 (‘could not keep’) this represents an adjustment in the law (see NUM D.10). The (later?) addition of another case of persons away from the camp (v. 9 ) assumes the land settlement and is a still further adjustment of passover law. For stipulations regarding celebration, see Ex 12:10, 46 . For reference to not breaking the bones of the passover lamb ( 9:12 ), see Jn 19:36 .

Supplemental instructions also adapt older regulations for those who are clean and at home (v. 13 ). Such a strict ordinance at this point reflects a concern that others might delay celebration until the second month. A permissive rubric in v. 14 is given for the aliens, non-Israelites who are residing permanently in the land (cf. Ex 12:19, 48–9 ). Being ‘cut off from the people’ is explained as bearing (the effects of) one's own sin, which is either banishment or execution, either judicially or at God's own hand. As in 5:31 , the last seems likely (see Milgrom 1990: 405–8).

( 9:15–23 ) Divine Guidance in the Wilderness

This section begins (v. 15 ) with a flashback to Ex 40:34 and supplements Ex 40:36–8 regarding the relation between the cloud/fire and the stages of Israel's journey. It describes in advance an ongoing feature of that journey; the actual departure is not reported until 10:11 . vv. 17–23 anticipate the march, stressing Israel's obedience to the divine leading at every stage.

In Israel's pre-tabernacle journeying, God ‘in’ (not ‘as’) the pillar of cloud and fire led them through the wilderness (Ex 13:21–2 ). Divine leading follows this Passover as it did the first. This was a single pillar, with the fire within the cloud (Ex 14:24; 40:38 ); references to the ‘glory’ of the Lord in the cloud (Ex 16:10 ) refer to the fire (Ex 24:17 ). Here this ‘glory-cloud’ is linked to the tabernacle (and the ark, 10:33–6 ); its rising and setting schedule the stages of Israel's journey. It is likely that the cloud would rest on the tabernacle and, while the tabernacle remained in the middle of the marching people, the cloud would proceed to the front of the procession (see v. 17; 14:14 ). The various timings of this cloud activity (v. 22 ) emphasize obedience and the need to follow a schedule (‘charge’) set by God, however irregular. At the same time, divine activity does not function apart from human agency (see 10:1–10, 29–32 ).

( 10:1–10 ) The Two Silver Trumpets

God commands Moses to make two trumpets of hammered silver (about 1 ft. long with a wide bell). They are to be blown by priests on various occasions: summoning the congregation or its leaders (vv. 3–4 ), breaking camp (vv. 5–6 , presumably all four sides according to the order in Num 2 , so the LXX), engaging in battle (v. 9; see 31:6 ), and on days of rejoicing (see 2 Kings 11:14; Ezra 3:10 ), appointed festivals (see chs. 28–9 ), and monthly offerings (v. 10; see 28:11–15 ). In vv. 9–10 , the language anticipates the land settlement. A distinction is made (v. 7 ) between an ‘alarm’, perhaps a series of short blasts, and a ‘blow’, one long blast.

A rationale for the blowing of trumpets is given in vv. 9–10 : to bring Israel's situation before God, who is thereby called to act on their behalf, either in battle (salvation from enemies) or in and through the offerings (forgiveness and well-being). The call of the trumpet is picked up in eschatological contexts (Zech 9:14; 1 Cor 15:51–2 ), exemplifying continuity across all generations of God's people. The blowing of the trumpets by the sons of Aaron complements the rising and the setting of the cloud. With the role of Hobab in 10:29–32 , it becomes apparent that clear-sighted human leadership is integral to effective divine guidance.

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