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The Lord Leads the Israelites by the Cloud

15 [a] On[b] the day that the tabernacle was set up,[c] the cloud[d] covered the tabernacle—the tent of the testimony[e]—and from evening until morning there was[f] a fiery appearance[g] over the tabernacle. 16 This is the way it used to be continually: The cloud would cover it by day,[h] and there was a fiery appearance by night. 17 Whenever the cloud was taken up[i] from the tabernacle, then after that the Israelites would begin their journey; and in whatever place[j] the cloud settled, there the Israelites would make camp. 18 At the commandment[k] of the Lord the Israelites would begin their journey, and at the commandment of the Lord they would make camp; as long as[l] the cloud remained settled over the tabernacle they would camp. 19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle many days, then the Israelites obeyed the instructions[m] of the Lord and did not journey.

20 When[n] the cloud remained over the tabernacle a number of days,[o] they remained camped according to the Lord’s commandment,[p] and according to the Lord’s commandment they would journey. 21 And when[q] the cloud remained only[r] from evening until morning, when the cloud was taken up[s] the following morning, then they traveled on. Whether by day or by night, when the cloud was taken up they traveled. 22 Whether it was for two days, or a month, or a year[t] that the cloud prolonged its stay[u] over the tabernacle, the Israelites remained camped without traveling;[v] but when it was taken up, they traveled on. 23 At the commandment of the Lord they camped, and at the commandment of the Lord they traveled on; they kept the instructions of the Lord according to the commandment of the Lord, by the authority[w] of Moses.

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  1. Numbers 9:15 sn This section (Num 9:15-23) recapitulates the account in Exod 40:34 but also contains some additional detail about the cloud that signaled Israel’s journeys. Here again material from the book of Exodus is used to explain more of the laws for the camp in motion.
  2. Numbers 9:15 tn Heb “and/now on the day.”
  3. Numbers 9:15 tn The construction uses the temporal expression with the Hiphil infinitive construct followed by the object, the tabernacle. “On the day of the setting up of the tabernacle” leaves the subject unstated, and so the entire clause may be expressed in the passive voice.
  4. Numbers 9:15 sn The explanation and identification of this cloud has been a subject of much debate. Some commentators have concluded that it was identical with the cloud that led the Israelites away from Egypt and through the sea, but others have made a more compelling case that this is a different phenomenon (see ZPEB 4:796). A number of modern scholars see the description as a retrojection from later, perhaps Solomonic times (see G. H. Davies, IDB 3:817). Others have tried to connect it with Ugaritic terminology, but unconvincingly (see T. W. Mann, “The Pillar of Cloud in the Reed Sea Narrative,” JBL 90 [1971]: 15-30; G. E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation, 32-66, 209-13; and R. Good, “Cloud Messengers?” UF 10 [1978]: 436-37).
  5. Numbers 9:15 sn The cloud apparently was centered over the tent, over the spot of the ark of the covenant in the most holy place. It thereafter spread over the whole tabernacle.
  6. Numbers 9:15 tn The imperfect tense in this and the next line should be classified as a customary imperfect, stressing incomplete action but in the past time—something that used to happen, or would happen.
  7. Numbers 9:15 tn Heb “like the appearance of fire.”
  8. Numbers 9:16 tc The MT lacks the words “by day,” but a number of ancient versions have this reading (e.g., Greek, Syriac, Tg. Ps.-J., Latin Vulgate).
  9. Numbers 9:17 tn The verb in this initial temporal clause is the Niphal infinitive construct.
  10. Numbers 9:17 tn Heb “in the place where it settled there”; the relative clause modifies the noun “place,” and the resumptive adverb completes the related idea—“which it settled there” means “where it settled.”
  11. Numbers 9:18 tn Heb “at the mouth of” (so also in vv. 20, 23).
  12. Numbers 9:18 tn Heb “all the days of—that the cloud settled over the tabernacle.” “All” is the adverbial accusative of time telling how long they camped in one spot—all. The word is then qualified by the genitive of the thing measured—“all of the days”—and this in turn is qualified by a noun clause functioning as a genitive after “days of.”
  13. Numbers 9:19 tn This is the same Hebrew expression that was used earlier for the Levites “keeping their charge” or more clearly, “fulfilling their obligations” to take care of the needs of the people and the sanctuary. It is a general expression using שָׁמַר (shamar) followed by its cognate noun מִשְׁמֶרֶת (mishmeret).
  14. Numbers 9:20 tn The sentence uses וְיֵשׁ (veyesh) followed by a noun clause introduced with אֲשֶׁר (ʾasher) to express an existing situation; it is best translated as an adverbial clause of time: “and it was when the cloud was….”
  15. Numbers 9:20 tn The word “number” is in apposition to the word “days” to indicate that their stay was prolonged for quite a few days.
  16. Numbers 9:20 tn Heb “mouth of the Lord.”
  17. Numbers 9:21 tn The construction is the same in the preceding verse.
  18. Numbers 9:21 tn “Only” is supplied to reflect the contrast between the two verses.
  19. Numbers 9:21 tn The construction in this half of the verse uses two vav (ו) consecutive clauses. The first is subordinated to the second as a temporal clause: “when…then….”
  20. Numbers 9:22 tn The MT has אוֹ־יָמִים (ʾo yamim). Most translators use “or a year” to interpret this expression in view of the sequence of words leading up to it, as well as in comparison with passages like Judg 17:10 and 1 Sam 1:3 and 27:7. See also the uses in Gen 40:4 and 1 Kgs 17:15. For the view that it means four months, see F. S. North, “Four Month Season of the Hebrew Bible,” VT 11 (1961): 446-48.
  21. Numbers 9:22 tn In the Hebrew text this sentence has a temporal clause using the preposition with the Hiphil infinitive construct of אָרַךְ (ʾarakh) followed by the subjective genitive, “the cloud.” But this infinitive is followed by the infinitive construct לִשְׁכֹּן (lishkon), the two of them forming a verbal hendiadys: “the cloud made long to stay” becomes “the cloud prolonged its stay.”
  22. Numbers 9:22 tn Heb “and they would not journey”; the clause can be taken adverbially, explaining the preceding verbal clause.
  23. Numbers 9:23 tn Heb “hand.”