When the Passover was originally instituted in the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were expressly informed that this important service was intended to be observed after their settlement in the land of Canaan. When the people were in the wilderness, they could not possibly forget their miraculous deliverance from Egypt; but there was a great danger of this when they came to Canaan. Hence they were told, “It shall come to pass, when ye be come to the land which the Lord will give you, according as he hath promised, that ye shall keep this service.” It is not surprising, therefore, that the people needed an express order from the Lord before they thought of keeping this feast in the Desert of Sinai. This was the only time during the 40 years of their wilderness wanderings that we read about them celebrating the Passover, and we are not told why the Lord made this one exception. Perhaps it was because the first Passover was observed in a hurry as they were departing Egypt; and so at the beginning of the next year, when they were more composed and better acquainted with the Divine law, the Lord desired for them to observe it again so that their children might more distinctly understand the solemnity and remember it better thereafter.
A portion of this chapter contains instructions that the Lord gave to those who were ceremonially unclean, concerning when they were to eat the Passover. Persons whose minds and consciences are defiled by sin are unfit for communion with God, and they cannot comfortably partake of the Gospel-Passover (the Lord’s Supper) until they are cleansed by true repentance and faith.
Let us take note of the great trouble and concern of these pious men mentioned in this chapter, who complained that they were kept back from observing the Lord’s ordinances because they were ceremonially unclean from burying a dead body. But with true wisdom, Moses determined to resolve this case by going to the Fountain of all wisdom. God’s ministers must ask counsel of His mouth; they must not determine things according to their own imaginations or affections, but according to the Word of God, to the best of their knowledge. And if time is taken, in difficult cases, to spread the matter before the Lord by humble and believing prayer, the Holy Spirit will surely direct us in the good and right way.
God’s directions for this and other similar cases was that those who were not able to observe the Passover with the rest of the people of Israel – either because of temporary uncleanness or because of absence during a long journey – were to keep the feast on the 14th day of the second month, instead of the first. And they were to be sure to observe all the precepts and commandments concerning the ordinance, just as when it was celebrated in the first month. But this was not to be an excuse for a lazy Israelite to avoid celebrating the Passover in its appointed time. God is not mocked; and the person who was not unclean and who was at home, and yet did not keep the feast in the first month – that person would be cut off from the Lord’s people, and bear their sin. Just as those who were forced to absent themselves from God’s ordinances could still expect the favors of His grace under their affliction; so also, those who chose to absent themselves could expect nothing but His wrath for their sin.
The pillar of cloud by day, and of fire by night, was appointed to be the visible sign and symbol of God’s presence with His people while they were in the wilderness. Indeed, God is always near us – both at night and during the day. As long as the cloudy pillar rested upon the Tabernacle, so long the people continued in the same place. Time is not lost when we are waiting for God’s time. However, when the cloud was taken up, then the people removed from their place and followed it – no matter how comfortably they were encamped. In a similar way, we are kept at uncertainty concerning the time of our putting off of the earthly house of this tabernacle, so that we may be always ready to go at the Lord’s command. It is very safe and pleasant when we see God going before us, and resting where He appoints us to rest.
The leading of this cloudy pillar was a picture of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In our day, we must not expect such visible tokens of the Lord’s presence and guidance; but the promise is sure to all God’s spiritual people, that He will guide them by His counsel (Ps. 73:24) – even unto death (Ps. 48:14). All the children of God shall be led by His Spirit (Rom. 8:14). He directs the paths of those who acknowledge Him in all their ways (Prov. 3:6). Our hearts should always move and rest according to the commandment of the Lord, saying, “Father, Your will be done; do with me and mine as You please. Whatever You wish, and wherever You wish – only let me be Yours, and always in the way of my duty.”
It is the inspired record of the Lord’s grace and mercy that will conduct us with unerring truth, through Christ, to everlasting peace! Let us follow the pillar of cloud and fire by laying the Bible to heart, and by meekly receiving the ingrafted Word which is able to save our souls!
Lord Jesus, we beseech You to guide us by day, and shelter us by night. In every season of darkness, ignorance, corruption, and trouble, show forth Your glory! Shine as the sun of righteousness, with healing in Your wings. Grant us grace, by the sweet influences of Your Holy Spirit, to follow You always. Amen.
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