These chapters continue the theme of God’s presence among His people. Numbers 7-10 form a bridge between the initial census of Israel (chs. 1-6), and the survey of the land and subsequent failure of faith within the community (chs. 11-14). Here the tabernacle—and its accompanying cultic activities—continues to serve as the fulcrum of the Lord’s covenant with Israel.
The twelve leaders who assisted Moses and Aaron in the census of Israel (see Num 1:4-16) later brought offerings for the tabernacle. Israel and the nation’s leaders understood that they were set apart from all nations by God’s special dwelling among them. In Num 7:10-83 the text records that these leaders brought equal offerings, together representing “the dedication gift” (Num 7:84). The voice from the mercy seat may be taken as the Lord’s approval of these offerings (Num 7:89). As was the case in Numbers 1-6, here too the text details the significance of those who would serve at the tabernacle. Numbers 8 gives special attention to the place of the Levites among the tribes of Israel.
Israel had begun to enjoy God’s favor even while they were yet an enslaved nation in Egypt. But from the exodus onward, the flow of the narrative emphasizes God’s jealous longing for His people to recognize His presence among them in a special way through the tabernacle (see Exodus 25-40). It is thus not difficult to understand why Numbers 9 would accentuate the Passover celebration. The Passover would annually recall Israel to their sanctification by and unto the Lord. The prominence of the Passover in the life of Israel can be deduced from three statements in the text: even some of the ceremonially unclean were allowed to partake of the Passover (Num 9:6-12); all ceremonially clean were required to partake of it (Num 9:13); and the willing foreign resident could observe the Passover according to the same statute as the native-born Israelite (Num 9:14). As Israel looked ahead to the conquest of Canaan, they were also to look back and remember their Deliverer who brought them out of Egypt.
The remaining portion of Numbers 7-10 pictures Israel as a nation preparing for the conquest of Canaan. They were led by the familiar cloud and fire (Num 9:15-23). As they moved forward, two silver trumpets were blown to summon the tribes when it was time to set out (Num 10:1-8) and to gather the tribes for cultic observation (Num 10:10). When the trumpets were blown in times of battle, Israel would be remembered by God and delivered from their enemies (Num 10:9). They were to march out according to their military divisions (Num 10:14, 18, 22, 25, 28).
During this time, Moses persuaded his brother-in law to assist Israel in their journey. As one who knew the wilderness well, he could serve as Israel’s eyes (Num 10:29-32). The scene concludes with the people acknowledging God’s presence among them both when the ark set out, and when it came to rest: “Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say: ‘Arise, LORD! Let Your enemies be scattered, and those who hate You flee from Your presence.’ When it came to rest, he would say: ‘Return, LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel’” (Num 10:35-36).
Numbers 7-10 emphasizes that as Israel set out for the conquest of Canaan, they were to remember all that God had done for them in the exodus. Partaking of the Passover every year provided Israel a sense of identity. In the storyline of Scripture, Jesus’ crucifixion at Passover provided a new identity to a new people. Throughout 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote that individual faith and church life are to reflect what God had done in Christ’s death and resurrection. For Paul, the fact that Christ had laid down His life as the final Passover lamb had implications for personal morality and corporate edification. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebuked the church for their casual attitude toward one of their own that had had relations with his stepmother. Rather than repent, some in the congregation boasted about the sexual freedom they supposedly enjoyed because of Christ (1 Cor 5:6). Paul reminded the church in Corinth that because Christ their Passover lamb was sacrificed, they needed to abstain from their old ways and practice their faith sincerely (1 Cor 5:6-8).