Don’t Pass Up the Passover

And the Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, “Let the people of Israel keep the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules you shall keep it.” So Moses told the people of Israel that they should keep the Passover. And they kept the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the people of Israel did. And there were certain men who were unclean through touching a dead body, so that they could not keep the Passover on that day, and they came before Moses and Aaron on that day. And those men said to him, “We are unclean through touching a dead body. Why are we kept from bringing the Lord’s offering at its appointed time among the people of Israel?” And Moses said to them, “Wait, that I may hear what the Lord will command concerning you.”

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If any one of you or of your descendants is unclean through touching a dead body, or is on a long journey, he shall still keep the Passover to the Lord. 11 In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight they shall keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 12 They shall leave none of it until the morning, nor break any of its bones; according to all the statute for the Passover they shall keep it. 13 But if anyone who is clean and is not on a journey fails to keep the Passover, that person shall be cut off from his people because he did not bring the Lord’s offering at its appointed time; that man shall bear his sin. 14 And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native.” Numbers 9:1-14 ESV

The first 14 verses of chapter 9 record God’s call for Israel to celebrate the second annual Passover. A year had passed since He had instituted the original Passover meal that had resulted in the deliverance of the people of Israel from the divine judgment meted out by the Death Angel. Any home where the blood of an unblemished lamb had been spread on the doorpost and lintel had been spared the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12). The sacrifice of the innocent lambs provided protection from the wrath of God. Their lives were offered up in place of the firstborn sons of the Israelites.

God graciously reminded His people to keep this annual festival, knowing that they would naturally tend to forget. A lot had transpired since they had left Egypt a year earlier and the celebration of that long-forgotten night would have been the last thing on their minds. Yet, God had commanded them to commemorate that fateful day every year on the same day from generation to generation.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast.” – Exodus 12:14 ESV

The second-annual Passover was to occur in the first month of the second year after the Exodus, Which means it took place a month earlier than the census recorded in chapter 1, in which God had instituted “on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt” (Numbers 1:1 ESV). This tells us that the events recorded in Numbers are not necessarily in chronological order.

According to God’s command, the Passover was to be kept “at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules” (Numbers 9:3 ESV). Nothing was left to chance. They couldn’t skip it or make any changes to it. Everything had to be done in accordance with the requirements spelled out by God on the evening of the first Passover.

“Every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household.Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.” – Exodus 12:3, 5-6 ESV

As part of the celebration, the people of Israel were required to reenact all the requirements that  God had handed down regarding the Passover, including the sacrifice of the lamb.

“…take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.” – Exodus 12:7 ESV

While they were living in Egypt, the Israelites had been shepherds (Exodus 9:1-7), so they had ready access to the lambs necessary for obeying God’s commands. And even when they departed Egypt, they did so with “great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38 NLT).  So, they had plenty of resources to obey God’s command and commemorate this annual festival.

Once again, they were not free to twist the rules or skimp on the requirements. The lambs must be without blemish. They couldn’t cut corners by offering a flawed or disfigured animal. That would have made the sacrifice unacceptable to God. Every detail concerning the celebration of the original Passover had been critical and non-negotiable. If they wanted to experience God’s deliverance, the people would have to do everything according to His exacting standards. And as the years passed and each successive generation asked, “What does this ceremony mean?,” their parents were to answer, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he struck the Egyptians, he spared our families” (Exodus 12:25-27 NLT).

God had graciously spared the Israelites, but they had been required to do everything according to plan. Their obedience was non-optional and non-negotiable. And, a year later, that fact remained unchanged.

The Passover was all about God’s mercy and grace. When the Death Angel passed through the land of Canaan, all the firstborns of the flocks and herds were to die, as well as the firstborns of all the households in Egypt. That would have included the Israelites – unless they obeyed God’s command and purified their homes with the blood of the unblemished lamb.

The Passover meal had been ordained for the Israelites alone. God had made it perfectly clear that “no uncircumcised male may ever eat the Passover meal” (Exodus 12:48 NLT). Any foreigner wishing to celebrate that Passover and escape the wrath of God was required to undergo the right of circumcision. 

“If there are foreigners living among you who want to celebrate the Lord’s Passover, let all their males be circumcised. Only then may they celebrate the Passover with you like any native-born Israelite.” – Exodus 12:48 NLT

And a year later, another provision was made for those who were ceremonially unclean.

…some of the men had been ceremonially defiled by touching a dead body, so they could not celebrate the Passover that day. – Numbers 9:6 NLT

Having come into contact with a corpse, they had become defiled and ceremonially impure. As a result, they were unable to celebrate the Passover meal or take part in the rest of the events associated with the festival. So, they made an appeal to Moses.

“We have become ceremonially unclean by touching a dead body. But why should we be prevented from presenting the Lord’s offering at the proper time with the rest of the Israelites?” – Numbers 9:7 NLT

Unsure as to what to do about this unexpected conundrum, Moses sought direction from God. And He responded.

“They must offer the Passover sacrifice one month later, at twilight on the fourteenth day of the second month.” – Numbers 9:11 NLT

This act of leniency would not have been possible a year earlier. Passover took place the very night on which the Death Angel passed through the land. A month’s delay would have resulted in death. But God had already delivered His people. They had escaped His judgment. Now, a year later, He could extend them grace by allowing them to delay their eating of the meal for 30 days; just enough time for them to undergo ceremonial purification and restoration. Once the month-long delay was complete, they were to keep every aspect of God’s command down to the last detail.

“They must follow all the normal regulations concerning the Passover.” – Numbers 9:12 NLT

God was gracious and came up with a provision for their defilement. But anyone who simply neglected to keep the Passover could not expect to enjoy the mercy of God.

“But those who neglect to celebrate the Passover at the regular time, even though they are ceremonially clean and not away on a trip, will be cut off from the community of Israel. If they fail to present the Lord’s offering at the proper time, they will suffer the consequences of their guilt. – Numbers 9:13 NLT

These individuals were to be treated as ceremonially unclean and cut off from the faith community. Their failure to obey God’s command concerning the Passover would result in their banishment. There would be no Death Angel passing through the midst of the camp, but they would suffer relational death – a painful removal from their family and friends, but worse yet, from the presence of God.

And God held everyone within the Israelite community to the same exacting standards, whether they were Jews or Gentile converts to Judaism.

“…if foreigners living among you want to celebrate the Passover to the Lord, they must follow these same decrees and regulations. The same laws apply both to native-born Israelites and to the foreigners living among you.” – Numbers 9:14 NLT

There are some biblical scholars who believe the reference to being “cut off” from the faith community is really a reference to physical death. One of the verses they use to support this interpretation is found in the book of Leviticus.

“All who do not deny themselves that day will be cut off from God’s people. And I will destroy anyone among you who does any work on that day. – Leviticus 23:29-30 NLT

God commanded that the annual Day of Atonement be treated as a Sabbath day of rest. The people of Israel were prohibited from doing any work from sundown of one day to sundown of the next. If they did, they were to be cut off or destroyed. And those who failed to keep the Passover were also to be “cut off” so that they might “suffer the consequences of their guilt” (Numbers 9:13 NLT).

Whether the separation was merely physical, in terms of removal from the fellowship, or of a more permanent nature, due to death, it is clear that God considered obedience to His commands to be non-negotiable. His people were to keep His word or face the consequences.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.