May 2, 2007
Dr. Ligon Duncan III
I’d invite you to turn with me to Numbers, chapter nine. If you don’t have your Bibles with you, I believe that the text of tonight’s message is in the bulletin, and you can follow along there.
A couple of weeks ago we were in the longest chapter in the Bible (that is, if you don’t count Psalm 119), Numbers 7, running to 89 verses; and we read all of those verses as we worked our way through that great chapter, a chapter that tells us a lot about the importance and the function of giving in worship, the privilege that God’s people have with meeting Him, the responsibility that they have to hear His word, the importance of being cleansed (or pardoned, or forgiven) if we’re going to commune with the living God, and it ends with a great blessing from the heavenly Father on His people in verse 89.
Last week we were in chapter eight, a much shorter chapter, but a chapter that was equally rich in the truths that it taught. We saw Moses faithfully conveying God’s word to Aaron; and on this occasion Aaron obeys God exactly as those words are delivered, and so it’s a very special occasion. Aaron had greatly erred in the event of the golden calf, and now again it’s coming around time for Aaron to fulfill his priestly duties and God delivers a word to him through Moses, and then Aaron faithfully obeys that word fully.
We also saw the Levites baptized and consecrated for their service, and we said that Jesus’ baptism in (among other places) Matthew 3 has behind it this Levitical baptism in Numbers 8:5-20. And we also saw even God’s provision for the retirement of the Levites at age fifty. At any rate, it just shows God’s care for the Levites. They were involved in very heavy labor, and so the typical ages that they were to serve was either twenty-five to fifty or thirty to fifty, and then they were to hand off the heavy lifting to younger guys and they were to do things that were less demanding physically. And again, it’s a mundane way in which God manifests His love and care for His servants.
Well, tonight we come to Numbers, chapter nine, and we’ll look specifically at verses 1-14. This passage is the record of the second observance of the Passover. We are a year out from the first Passover and the exodus out of Egypt. Where was the first Passover? In Egypt. So this is the first Passover outside of Egypt, and it’s taking place in the wilderness at Sinai before the people continue to journey on, and so it’s a very significant passage. Let me ask you to give attention to God’s holy word. Before we read it, let’s pray.
Lord, this is Your word. Teach us wonderful things in it. Show us Christ, comfort our hearts, equip us to love and worship and serve, and to give You the glory due Your name. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Then 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, ‘Now, let the sons of Israel observe the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall observe it at its appointed time; you shall observe it according to all its statutes and according to all its ordinances.’ So Moses told the sons of Israel to observe the Passover. They observed 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 had commanded Moses, so the sons of Israel did. But there were some men who were unclean because of the dead person, so that they could not observe Passover on that day; so they came before Moses and Aaron on that day. Those men said to him, ‘Though we are unclean because of the dead person, why are we restrained from presenting the offering of the Lord at its appointed time among the sons of Israel?’ Moses therefore said to them, ‘Wait, and I will listen to what the Lord will command concerning you.’
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If any one of you or of your generations becomes unclean because of a dead person, or is on a distant journey, he may, however, observe the Passover to the Lord. In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight, they shall observe it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They shall leave none of it until morning, nor break a bone of it; according to all the statute of the Passover they shall observe it. But the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from his people, for he did not present the offering of the Lord at its appointed time. That man shall bear his sin. If an alien sojourns among you and observes the Passover to the Lord, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its ordinance, so he shall do; you shall have one statute, both for the alien and for the native of the land.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Passover passages of the Old Testament were favorite fodder for Easter Sunday preaching by the early church fathers. Often when they were looking for a text from which they could preach Christ and Him crucified, on the celebration of His resurrection they would go to passages like Exodus 12, that recorded the story of the Passover.
This is the second Passover. Exodus 12 gives us the instructions for the first Passover that occurred in Egypt. When they sat down to eat that Passover, God had not yet fulfilled the symbolism of that Passover in the Exodus event itself that was going to occur later on. Now as they get ready to sit down for the second Passover, they could look back and see how God has already fulfilled in His promise and in His faithfulness to Israel to bring them out of Egypt. Literally, the blood of the Passover lamb is responsible for them being alive and out of the land of Egypt. Without the blood of the Passover lamb, they’d all be dead. The death angel would have struck them as the death angel struck Egypt. And so the Passover was an event of tremendous significance, and this second Passover is an event of tremendous significance. So much has happened in the preceding year.
There are five things tonight that I want to draw your attention to as we look at this Passage. We can’t say everything about this passage, but I want you to see these five things.
First of all, I want you to see how the grace of God is displayed in God’s invitation to the children of Israel to come to the second Passover. You’ll see this especially in verses 1-3.
Secondly, I want you to see the connection between duty and delight in obeying the commands of God in worshiping Him through the Passover…the connection between duty and delight in obeying the commands of God in connection with worshiping Him through the Passover.
Thirdly, I want you to see how important it is for us to listen and wait upon the word of the Lord. You’ll see this especially in verses 6-8, when this question comes to Moses: ‘What do we do, Moses, if we’re ceremonially unclean on the first month and fourteenth day, and we can’t participate in the Passover?’ You know that every pastor, when those kinds of questions come, every pastor wants to say, “Aw, just come on anyway.” And notice, Moses doesn’t do that. Moses says, ‘We’re going to have to wait on what the Lord says here.’ And he inquires of the Lord. So we’re going to look at that thirdly.
Fourthly, in verses 9-13, I want you to see the Lord’s kind answer to this question, and at the same time His very solemn warning….verses 9-13.
And then fifth and finally, I want you to see this foreshadowing of grace in the kind invitation to the resident aliens of Israel to come and join in the Passover.
So let’s look at those five things very briefly together tonight.
I. First of all, I want you to see how the grace of God is displayed in God’s invitation to the children of Israel to come to the second Passover.
First of all, let’s see the graciousness of the Lord in His invitation to this second Passover meal. In verses 1-3, we’re told that the Lord speaks to Moses in the wilderness in the first month in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, and He says, “Now let the sons of Israel observe the Passover at its appointed time.”
I want you to understand this is an incredibly gracious invitation. The Lord is coming to Moses and in essence He is saying, ‘Moses, please go tell the children of Israel to come have dinner with Me. Please tell the children of Israel to come and celebrate this meal of My redemption of them, of the communion that I have with them because of that redemption.’ And why would that have been so special? Well, a lot had happened in the year before. These same children of Israel, just a few weeks before, had been worshiping a golden calf. And for God to say, ‘Moses, tell the children of Israel I still want them to come to My table…I still want them to come and eat the Passover meal,’ is an enormous word of grace from the living God. This is the first Passover outside of Egypt, and the very invitation that God gives in verses 1-3 is an indication of God’s forgiving and His forbearing with the children of Israel.
Did they deserve by their actions to come to this, the Passover meal? No. Did they deserve by their faithfulness to come to this Passover meal in communion with the living God? No. Did they deserve by the track record of their obedience to come to this Passover meal and fellowship with the living God? No. But He extended the invitation anyway: ‘Moses, go tell the people that just like I commanded you, just like you’ve written down in the book of Exodus, that on the fourteenth day of the first month, I want my people to come and celebrate this Passover meal with Me. You tell them to come and do it, despite all that has happened in the year before. You tell them to come.’ It’s a word of grace from the Lord, and it shows the forgiving, gracious, mercy of the Lord to His people.
II. I want you to see the connection between duty and delight in obeying the commands of God in worshiping Him through the Passover.
But there’s a second thing, too. Look at verses 4-5. Moses draws especial attention to the people’s response to this invitation. Moses tells the sons of Israel to observe the Passover, and then Moses gives you…here’s the snapshot view that Moses gives you of how the people of God responded…one verse:
“They observed the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight, in the wilderness of Sinai….”
Now what’s Moses doing in verse 5? He is mimicking exactly what God had said to him to say to the children of Israel back in verses 2-3:
“Let the sons of Israel observe the Passover at its appointed time. On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall observe it at its appointed time; you shall observe it according to all its statutes and according to all its ordinances.”
And in verse 5, Moses is telling you that that is precisely what the children of God did. They did exactly what God told them to do.
Now this is significant, first of all, in light of the golden calf, because there they did not do exactly what the Lord had told them to do. They did exactly what the Lord had told them not to do. But now, in response to this gracious invitation, Moses pauses to tell you they did it just like God told them to do. And what I want you to see is that in response to God’s gracious invitation, the children of Israel engaged in a dutiful delight and a delightful duty. They followed God’s commandments, they followed God’s directions, they followed God’s imperatives to the “T” and they didn’t gripe and whine about it! They delighted to do it just like God told them to do.
This is so important, my friends, because very often we’re told that in the Christian life we need to move from duty to delight, as if duty were some lesser thing and delight were a thing to be preferred above duty. But I want you to see that the children of Israel see them together. Their duty is delight, and their delight is duty. How does Isaac Watts put it in one of his paraphrases? He speaks of our worship of God in heaven, and he says “…where all our duty is delight, and all our songs be praise.” And the children of Israel are responding like this. And no wonder! I mean, they see God’s gracious hand in this. And so their attitude is not, ‘Oh, do I have to obey all those stipulations about the Passover?’ Their response is, ‘You mean I get to have this meal with God? You mean after all I’ve done in this last year, I get to have this meal with God? Moses, tell me exactly what I’m supposed to do! I want to do everything just like God told me to do in His word, because I get to have this meal with God!’ They’re delighted to do their duty!
You know Jesus tells the story of the elder brother (in “the prodigal son”) who seems to think that he has been given the short end of the stick because of God’s mercy to the forgiven prodigal. You know, he’s been obeying his father all his life and he’s never had a party like that. And the attitude is one of grudging duty–not delighting duty, but grudging duty. The problem is not duty, the problem is the grudging. And the children of Israel are delighting in their duty, and their duty is delightful, and their delight is dutiful. It was their duty to delight and they delighted in their duty, because grace works in us in such a way that we delight in God, and we love to obey. Grace produces in us a Godward-ness and a godliness that makes us to delight in our duty. And so because we know God and we delight in Him, and we are constantly conscious of His grace to us, His commands are not burdensome and we’re able to say with the psalmist, “How I love Thy Law, O Lord!”
III. How important it is for us to listen and wait upon the word of the Lord.
Thirdly, notice this question about observing the Passover that comes to Moses in verses 6-8. There are some men who are unclean. Maybe they have had family members who have died–mothers, fathers, wives, children, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews–whatever the case is, they have been exposed to dead persons. And you know the rule for worship in Israel. If you were exposed to a dead person, you were ceremonially unclean for a certain number of days. You couldn’t participate in worship. But this feast doesn’t occur every Saturday. This feast occurs one time a year, so if you’re ceremonially unclean when this feast occurs, you’ve got to wait another whole year before you can come to the Lord in the Passover. And so they come to Moses and they say, ‘Moses, we are so overwhelmed at this gracious invitation that God has given, but we’ve just been to funerals. We’ve just been near dead bodies. We can’t come. Isn’t there some way that you could make a provision for us to be able to come and enjoy the glories of communion with God in the Passover?’ And Moses does not say, ‘No problem, guys! Just come on. Forget about it. Just come on!’ Moses’ response–look at it–is,
“Wait, and I will listen what the Lord will command concerning you.”
(Is that not humble of Moses, by the way? This is God’s mediator. He’s the mouthpiece of God to Israel. And he does not say, ‘You know, I think I’ve got the authority to tell you that you can do that.’ He says, ‘Men, I’m going to have to go ask God, and you’re just going to need to wait and see what God says.’ Moses does not feel that he has the right to suspend the commandment of God. He does not have the right to trump the word of God, and so he says, ‘Let me go ask God.’ Moses cannot approve this on his own, and so he goes to God.)
Way to go, Moses! Way to go! Is that not an attitude for us? Is that not an attitude for us? You know, “I’ve got to go to the word and see what the word says about this.” Moses doesn’t discount their longing for communion. In fact, the very fact that Moses is willing to go to God and ask lets you know that Moses thinks these men have hearts that are right with God. In other words, they’re not just trying to find some loophole around God’s word. They’re excited about communing with God. They genuinely want to come into His presence on the Passover, but even though they’re longing for communion, they’ve still got to wait on the word of God because you can’t commune with the living God if you don’t care about His word. You can only commune with the living God by His word, and so they wait for the word of the Lord. That’s the third thing I want you to see.
IV. The Lord’s kind provision and His warning.
Now the fourth thing I want you to see is the answer. Look at verses 9-13, and here you see a tremendous provision of kindness on the part of the Lord. The Lord grants their exception. The Lord comes back and He says, ‘Moses, that makes perfect sense, and here’s what I’m going to do. There’s going to be a make-up Passover one month later.’ And in fact, He addresses a condition that the men didn’t even raise. He says, ‘If someone is ceremonially unclean because of proximity to a dead person or to a funeral, or if a man’s been on a long, long journey [Bo Bowen’s been in the Ukraine!], we’re going to set up a make-up date and they can come and fellowship with Me in the Passover.’ And so the Lord provides an exception and He shows His graciousness, His kindness, in this provision of kindness.
But notice that He also delivers a warning. Look at it in verse 13:
“But,” He says, “the man who is clean and is not on a journey, and yet neglects to observe the Passover, that person shall then be cut off from this people, for he did not present the offering of the Lord at its appointed time. That man will bear his sin.”
I wonder what Moses was thinking as he wrote those words. You know, Moses understood this particular warning in a very personal way. You know why? Because this almost happened to him. You remember the story? Exodus 4? God meets Moses on the way, after God’s already met him at the burning bush and has appointed him as a mediator, and Moses is on his way, and God meets him, and does what? Seeks to kill him. The ultimate cutting off! Why? Because Moses has not obeyed the command to circumcise his own son. Moses had violated the same statute; he had failed to do what God had said about the sign of circumcision. Even as he’s warning the people about the neglect of the sign of Passover. And so God’s warning reminds us, yes, He is kind, but He is holy. And neglecting His gracious covenant signs is a serious sin, as our own Confession of Faith reminds us.
So we’ve seen this word of grace from the Lord in verses 1-3; we’ve see this dutiful delight and delightful duty in verses 4-5; we’ve seen this question about observing in verses 6-8; we’ve seen this provision of kindness in response to the question, and also a word of warning, in verses 9-13. There’s one more thing I want you to see, and that’s in verse 14.
V. A foreshadowing of God’s grace to the Gentiles.
In verse 14, I think what we have is a foreshadowing of God’s grace to the Gentiles, because we have an invitation from the Lord to the ger, the resident alien. There were different categories of non-Israelites who lived with the tribes of Egypt, either when they were in the wilderness or when they were in the land of Canaan. The resident aliens…these ger…would have referred to people who had been attached to a Hebrew household. They were not of Hebrew blood. They might have been Midianite; they might have been Canaanite; they might have been Moabite; they might have been something else. They were resident aliens. They had attached themselves to a household and they had believed on the God of Israel; so they had no Hebrew blood, they were not of the bloodline of Abraham, but they were trusting in the God of Abraham, and their males had been circumcised. And what God says here is, ‘Moses, even believing Gentiles, these resident aliens, need to come to the Passover table, because there’s going to be one rule for both Hebrews and non-Hebrews who believe in My name. They come to the Passover table. They celebrate My grace. They celebrate My redemption. They celebrate communion with Me:
“If an alien sojourns among you and observes the Passover to the Lord, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its ordinance, so he shall do; you shall have one statute both for the alien and for the native of the land.”
It reminds us that what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 2– that Israel is not Israel according to the flesh, but the Israel of the heart of faith, of trust in the promises of God–has always been true. And just as in the book of Esther many of the Persians came to a saving trust in the living God and were circumcised and received into the number of the people of God, so also these resident aliens, these Gentiles, are invited to the table of the Lord at the Passover. And isn’t it a picture of what the Lord will one day do in our own era in spreading His grace to the Gentiles around the world? What will He say in the Psalms to His Son?
“Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance.”
And we see just a little tiny foreshadowing of that in offering the Passover lamb to these resident aliens, these Gentiles attached to a Hebrew household, in Numbers, chapter nine.
So we see a word of the Lord’s grace; we see a response of dutiful delight; we see a waiting on the word of the Lord; we see a provision of kindness; and, we see a foreshadowing of grace by God to the Gentiles in this invitation to the Passover supper.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this Your word. And we ask that as we come to the Lord’s Table that You would bring these things to remembrance in our hearts: that it is by Your word of grace that we come; that it’s our duty to come, but it is a delight for us to fulfill that duty because You are our delight; that whatever question we ask must be answered by the word of the Lord; that Your answers are kind, they’re not stingy and unreasonable; and that Your grace to the Gentiles should make us long that the nations would sit down with us at the Lord’s Table, and that the earth would be so full of the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ that it would be as full as the waters which cover the sea. We ask this all in Jesus’ name. Amen.