The Word Made Fresh
1In the first month of the second year after they left Egypt, the LORD spoke to Moses in the Sinai desert, and said, 2“Tell the Israelites to observe the Passover at the specified time; 3at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month. Tell them to follow all the instructions.”
4Moses thus instructed the Israelites, 5and they did so in the Sinai desert at sunset on the fourteenth day of the month, following all the instructions the LORD had given Moses.
6However, some of them had come into contact with a dead body and could not participate, so they approached Aaron and Moses that same day and said, 7“We have been exposed to a dead body and are thus unfit to participate. But why should we be prevented from bringing the offering to the LORD at the specified time?”
8Moses said, “Wait, and I’ll find out what the LORD says.”
9The LORD said, 10“Tell them that whenever anyone is unfit to participate because of having touched a dead body, they may still take part in the Passover observance, 11but they must wait until sunset on the fourteenth day of the second month. Then they may eat the lamb with the unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12They must not hold any of it over until the next morning, nor may they break any of the lamb’s bones. They must follow all the rules. 13But anyone who neglects to take part in the meal, who has not been made “unclean,” and is not traveling out of the country, is to be banished from the people because they did not present the offering at the specified time. They must suffer the consequences of their refusal to follow the rules. 14Any foreigner living with you is also required to observe the LORD’s Passover; the same law applies to native and foreigner.”
15When the sanctuary and meeting tent were erected, on that day the cloud covered it and from evening until morning it had the appearance of fire within it. 16It continued to be so; whenever the tent was set up the cloud would cover it, and at night it would look ablaze. 17When the cloud lifted, the Israelites would set out, and wherever the cloud settled they would set up camp. 18So, it was at the LORD’s command that they would travel, and at the LORD’s command they would camp, and remain there as long as the cloud was over the meeting tent. 19If the cloud hovered for a long time they would not travel. 20And if the cloud was there only a few days they would camp and then leave when the cloud lifted. The cloud was the LORD’s command. 21Sometimes the cloud was only there for the night, and in the morning when it lifted, they would set out again. 22It didn’t matter how long the cloud remained, whether two days or a month, or even a year. The Israelites would stay put while it was there. Whenever it lifted, they would travel. 23So, it was at the LORD’s command that they camped, and at the LORD’s command that they traveled. They were obedient to the LORD’s command through Moses.
1-14: The little details of being obedient are gradually worked out. Here the issue is what to do with those folks who are “ceremonially unclean” because they have touched a dead body and cannot take part in the Passover rituals. Moses consults God, and a very simple arrangement is made: just celebrate the Passover with your family in the second month rather than the first.
15-23: The cloud over the sanctuary would let them know when it was time to break camp and move on. Sometimes the cloud would stay for an extended period; sometimes it would move after only a few days. In the next chapter we will read about a secondary method of calling the people to pack up and move on, but their primary source of command is, and will continue to be, God through Moses.
Clouds will remain an important way God communicates to people throughout the Bible. In the New Testament we will read about a cloud over the Jordan River where Jesus is baptized — God’s voice is heard to say, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Later on, three of the disciples — Peter, James, and John — are with Jesus on the “Mount of the Transfiguration” where a cloud rolls in and God’s voice is heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7) And, of course, after the resurrection Jesus was with his disciples and told them they would receive the Holy Spirit, and then he ascended and “a cloud took him out of their sight.” (Acts 1:9)