First Passover as free Israelites
It’s time for Passover1 It was springtime in the Sinai badlands when the LORD spoke to Moses. Their talk took place just over a year after the Israelites left Egypt. The LORD told Moses: 2 It’s almost time for the Israelite people to celebrate Passover. 3 It starts in the evening on day 14 of the first month, at twilight. Follow all the instructions I’ve given you about how to observe that day.
Passover in the Sinai badlands4 Moses reminded the Israelites to celebrate Passover. 5 They were still camped in the Sinai badlands. They celebrated Passover as the LORD instructed. They started at twilight on day 14 of the first month of their second year of freedom. 6 Sadly, some Israelite men missed out on Passover. They had come into contact with a dead person. That left them ritually unclean. So, they were unfit to take part in anything holy. Well, that very day the men went to Moses and Aaron.
7 The men said, “Listen, we’re unclean because of a dead person. We understand that. But why can’t we take our offerings to the LORD when we’re supposed to, like the LORD told all Israelites to do?” 8 Moses said, “Okay, why don’t you wait here while I go and listen to what the LORD has to say about your situation?” 9 The LORD told Moses: 10 Give this message to all the Israelite people:
If any of you becomes ritually unclean because of a dead person or you find yourself on a long trip and you can’t be where you normally celebrate Passover, celebrate it a month later. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the road, or if you’re ritually clean or unclean. Don’t let these kinds of situations keep you from celebrating the Passover that the LORD established.
11 Your Passover will be a month later. At twilight on day 14 of the second month of the year, you’ll eat the Passover meal, including the yeast-free bread and the bitter-tasting plants. 12 Eat the entire meal. And don’t break any bones of the sacrificed animal. Follow all our Passover rules.
13 But I’m warning you, if you skip the Passover without an excuse—if you’re ritually clean and not on a trip—you’re no Israelite anymore. You’ll be guilty of not bringing your offering to the LORD when you were supposed to. In a case like that, you’ll suffer the consequences for your sin. 14 Guests are welcome to celebrate Passover with you. They don’t have to be an Israelite. But they’ll need to follow all the LORD’s instructions about how to observe this sacred time. The rules about it apply to everyone—Israelites and anyone else with them.
Cloud chasers15 On the day the tent worship center was set up, a cloud descended above it. The cloud hovered over the tent of the law. In the daylight hours, it looked like a column of smoke. But at night it became a column of fire. 16 Once the cloud descended, it stayed where it settled day and night. 17 When the cloud lifted, the Israelite people knew it was time to break camp and follow it. When the cloud stopped, the Israelites stopped and made camp.
18 This is how the LORD directed them about when to go and when to stay. Whenever they made camp, they stayed until the cloud lifted away from the tent sanctuary and began to move on. 19 When the cloud hovered over the tent for a long stay, the people camped and did whatever the LORD told them. 20 If the cloud hovered above the tent for a few days, the people stayed in camp for a few days. But whenever the LORD let them know it was time to move on, they moved on. 21 If the cloud stayed with the tent overnight and lifted the next morning, the people followed the cloud the next morning.
22 It didn't matter if the cloud stayed with the tent for two days, a month, or a year. If the cloud hovered above the tent, the Israelite people camped. But as soon as the cloud lifted and started moving on, the people followed. 23 It was the LORD who commanded when to make camp and when to break camp. The people did whatever the LORD commanded through Moses.
It was literally “the first new moon of the second year” of their freedom. Nisan is the name of the first Jewish month of the year. It’s when Jews today celebrate one of their most revered holidays: Passover. The month falls around Eastertime, in March or April. Jesus went to Jerusalem to observe Passover when he was arrested and crucified. In the time of Moses, the Israelites followed a lunar calendar, with every month starting at the first tiny crescent after the new moon. A new moon is when the moon is hidden behind earth’s shadow for one day. The sun, moon, and earth are aligned, with earth in the middle. For more on Passover, see Exodus 12.
The Hebrew word is pesach (PAY sock). It refers to the annual Passover meal today called a seder (SAY dur), which means “order.” That’s a reference to the fact that the Passover meal is eaten as a meticulously detailed ritual of reading, remembering, and prayer. The word “Passover” comes from the story of God or one of his angels killing the Egyptian firstborn, but “passing over” Hebrew homes with animal blood on the doorframes.
The Hebrew word is mārōr. It means “bitter.” Jews today eat a variety of bitter-tasting plants during their Passover meal. Thy might eat lettuce, chicory, or horseradish,
God’s instructions at the first Passover, in Egypt: “You need to eat the food at one sitting. You can’t take any out of the house. And you can’t break any bones of the sacrificed animal” (Exodus 12:46).
More literally, the person “should be removed from the community” or “cut off.” This is a consequence repeated throughout these early books of the Bible. It’s unclear how and by whom the offenders were removed. Perhaps they could no longer worship at the tent worship center, or they lost their rights as citizens of this emerging nation that Moses seemed to be organizing. Maybe they were executed. Or perhaps the community let God deal with the person. Scholars seem uncertain about what happened.
“Tent of the law” is a rare way for a Bible writer to refer to the tent sanctuary. It shows up just a few more times—twice more in Numbers outside this chapter (17:7; 18:2) and once elsewhere (2 Chronicles 24:6). It’s apparently a reference to the Ten Commandments, which rested directly below in a gold-plated box known as the Ark of the Covenant. Israelites kept this, their most sacred object, in the Most Sacred Room of the tent. God talked to Moses in that room.
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