Chapter nine goes back in time just a little before chapters seven and eight. Moses had not yet assembled the tabernacle for the first time, so God spoke to him in the wilderness rather than from the tent. This chapter contains two sections. The first section seems to be just another reminder by way of command, but it reveals a supreme act of grace. God told Moses to remind the people that they were to celebrate Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month (Numbers 9:1-5). This was the first Passover since leaving Egypt. It happened that some men were unable to participate in the celebration because they were ceremonially unclean, so they asked Moses why they should be left out (Numbers 9:6-8). He said that he would bring their case to God, which he did. In a most gracious act, God declared that only two reasons could allow someone to celebrate Passover a month later, on the fourteenth day of the second month: ceremonial uncleanness or being away on a journey (Numbers 9:9-14). The extra month would be enough time to become ritually clean again or return from the trip. This gracious allowance made it possible for everyone to participate. However, if someone neglected to participate properly at the proper time, he was found guilty and executed. This applied to natural-born citizens and foreigners equally.
The second section describes the movement of the nation in the wilderness (Numbers 9:15-23). The nation’s travel was dependent solely on the shekinah glory cloud and fire. Whenever it moved, they moved; whenever it stopped, they stopped. Sometimes the cloud would stop for “many days” and rest over the tabernacle. However, no matter whether “it was for two days, or a month, or a year” that it rested, the people assembled the tabernacle and stayed there. “At the commandment of the LORD they camped, and at the commandment of the LORD they traveled on.”