Numbers 9:15 And on the day the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and in the evening there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning. 16 So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. 17 (1) And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents. 18 (2) At the commandment of the LORD the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the LORD they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents. 19 And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the LORD, and journeyed not.
In Numbers chapter 9 we find Israel in the heart of the wilderness. They’ve been led out of bondage, passed through the baptism of the Red Sea, and now find themselves nomads - seemingly wandering in a place wholly foreign to them, with only Moses and a cloud to guide them.
Any christian knows what these people must’ve felt like - at least in some sense. Every christian goes through that elated feeling of discovering Christ, being freed from their worldly perspectives, and rising up from their baptism newborn, full of expectation and wonderment. Israel no doubt felt this way as they watched the armies of their captors swallowed up in the sea. They must have experienced unparalleled relief - they must’ve danced and sang praises to their Lord as they looked on the world with new eyes - a world of limitless possibilities.
But now, in Numbers 9, almost a year after their grand escape, they have a new discovery: they’re in the middle of nowhere - with only open, blazing desert in every direction - not knowing which way to go; how they will eat, what they will drink, or when, if ever, this wandering will cease. They no longer have the certainty of a tangible master. They no longer have a guaranteed house to live in, or a job to go to, or someone to put food on their plate. Sounds strangely similar to the current state of this country, does it not?
It is not long after that christian comes out of the water before he or she realizes, much to their chagrin, that the world is still the world; suffering is still suffering, people are still people, and flesh is still flesh. We still find ourselves confused. We still get scared. There are still uncertainties. And things - at least for the time - are more unknown to us than ever, because we are told to do things like, “Wait upon the Lord and He will renew your strength”, and, “His Will be done”, and though it all sounds nice, we just don’t know what all of it means exactly.
We are told that we are led and protected, yet we see nothing of Him. We know Him by His Word; we feel Him in our hearts, and over time, we do in fact see Him acting in our lives - but most often, only in hindsight. Faith is a precarious thing. By its very nature it eludes proof of its own validity. And because “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” we are never 100% certain of it - at least most of us are not, and so we must simply go on believing. Christ knew this, to be certain - else I suspect He would’ve asked more from us than that which equaled the quantity of a mustard seed.
Israel, while coming out of Egypt, had what I like to call a “shock and awe” God experience. It was radical - it was unmistakeable, and then it was gone. Now the real work had begun and all they’d been told was that they were to follow a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. Surely, at least one person among them thought maybe that guy Moses had stumbled onto a little Peyote up there in the mountains. Yet that cloud, I believe, had a very profound message both for Israel and for us - a lesson worth its weight in mustard seeds.
I believe many times in our lives we pray for something that we desperately desire. We want it so bad we can taste it. We aren’t content with our jobs, or we would like more money, or our cars have rust on them and we really don’t like that. Or we’re having static at work with a fellow employee and we want God to fix that for us because it feels uncomfortable - and we flesh folks really don’t like discomfort. And like good, obedient christians, we get down on our knees and we ask God to fix it.
Then we strain our eyes and ears to their limits, trying to find something that looks like it could be God’s answer for us anywhere and everywhere. Like little kids unable to wait for Christmas morning, we start digging through closets and attic spaces to find our presents before its time.
Then we reason with everything in our being to find the answer we’ve convinced ourselves He’s given us. Why? Because we want what we want, and we feel if we are not doing something, then we are most certainly doing nothing at all. This is not so. Staying put is not the same as doing nothing.
We’ve been told that God will answer our prayers and that He will give us the desires of our hearts, so we automatically assume we’ll get what we’ve asked for. And many times, in the midst of our impatience, we mistakenly walk out into the blazing sun, expecting the cloud to follow us. Then when it doesn’t, we cast many a disappointed gaze skyward with our blistered, sunburnt faces, wondering why He didn’t do it our way.
Surely Israel did not desire to spend years in tents in the middle of nowhere. Surely they longed, though they were indeed slaves, for the creature comforts they had under the strong arm of the Egyptians. In other words, they preferred the security of indentured servitude, to the uncertainty of freedom and personal accountability. Surely Israel too, got antsy during their wilderness years of “ambiguity”. How many times in our lives would we rather be anywhere but where we are? But God tells us repeatedly that there is much merit and necessity in the waiting. In fact, it could be argued that the waiting is as important as the going. And as far as faith is concerned, it is often the more trying of the two.
Numbers 9:20 (3) And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the LORD they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the LORD they journeyed. 21 (4) And so it was, the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.
Talk about inconvenient. Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night, and at a moment’s notice having to pack up everything you own and start walking without any idea of where you’re going.
Numbers 9:22 Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed. 23 (5) At the commandment of the LORD they rested in their tents, and at the commandment of the LORD they journeyed; they kept the charge of the LORD, at the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moses.
Why does God insist on repeating this over and over again to us? What could possibly be so important about this event that God would take the time to state it five times to us in rapid succession? There can be no other point to it than that He wants us to pay very strict attention to this teaching. This lesson has to do with how God leads us; how to know when He wants us to move, and when He wants us to stay.
When something is harped on so much by our Father it is our duty to give it our undivided attention. We must analyze - pull it apart and stitch it back together until we’ve extracted every piece of wisdom He is willing to give us from it. Then study it again.
First, we know the cloud dwelt over the tabernacle of the Lord. What is the tabernacle of the LORD today? One interpretation would be the many membered body of Christ - the church. But another, and perhaps the one we should pay more attention to in this particular instance would be our own bodies. Each Christian’s body is the temple of the Lord.
Second, if you’re in the desert and the cloud that serves as shade for you - providing a shield from the sun, moves, it is certain things are going to get hot. Slowly, as the heat increases, discomfort would increase as well. This is not a discomfort coming from sin, but rather from a natural cause you have no control over and no way to fix.
Third, if and when that cloud does move, the sun will shine down on everything around you without interference - giving you a better and clearer perspective on all things.
Do you see where I’m going with this? Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m kind of foggy on that” when speaking of uncertainty in making a decision, or trying to recall a memory?
God tells us not to move while the cloud remains. I believe many of us, if not most of us, get impatient and move too soon. We try to “interpret” God’s answer instead of waiting for Him to clearly give us a direction to go. We then move forward in complete uncertainty because, in truth, the cloud has yet to move. People are strange this way - we would rather be moving then sitting still - even if the way we’re going is the long way around.
What if Israel had gotten up and left without the cloud to lead them? They would’ve been lost in a wilderness that looked the same in every direction, without any idea of where to go or what danger lie ahead of them. Today is no different. We’ve just gotten better at selling ourselves on the belief that we know where we’re going - even when we’ve no idea. Our wilderness may not look like a desert, but I can assure you it’s every bit as dangerous and confusing if we try to go it alone.
If you’ve prayed about something to God, until you are absolutely clear - until the cloud moves - you are to stay put and tend to your business. Do not get impatient. He knows better than you what is around the next bend. Trust Him and “”wait on the Lord”. He will answer. And when He’s ready for you to move, “whether it were two days, or a month, or a year...”, not only will things become clear to you, but if at that time you choose not to move, there is a very good chance things will get rather uncomfortable for you.
Surely we’ve all had this experience. Can you not look back on your life and remember a time when what you were to do was so abundantly clear it was inescapable?! It was quite literally like a light bulb going on in your head, was it not?! And after that do you recall the momentum that followed once you committed to the action? That, to my understanding, is what an open door looks like. The cloud moved and the sun lit the way. All you had to do was follow.
And don’t think you’re off the hook if you have the gift of patience. Because sometimes stubbornness can veil itself very well in patience. It is every bit as detrimental to us if we refuse to accept change when it comes - i.e. when the cloud moves and we don’t. One can very easily find themselves alone in the desert without the cloud to lead them because they were too bull headed to move when prompted. Don’t get so comfortable that you are not willing to move when the Master calls.
We are servants after all - we need to learn to trust our Master, whether His instruction is to stay or to go. For obedience is the Litmus Test of faith. And that is why we must stay patient, diligent and steadfast as long as the cloud remains.
“Yes, a man may say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works’. You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe and tremble. 20 But will you know, oh vain man, that faith without works is dead?” James 2:18-20
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