Cloud Cover

Numbers 7-10

Everyone loves a sunny day. But clouds can be good too. Take the experience of Israel as an example.

The people have received their instructions, the Tabernacle has been prepared, the priests and the Levites are set aside for their duties. Everything is set to go. All eyes are on Moses, the leader of this brave band…oops, all eyes are NOT on Moses. All eyes are on the cloud covering the Tabernacle.

Whenever the cloud lifted fro above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his commands through Moses” —Numbers 9:17-23.

Several things impress me here.

1. If I were editing this passage, I would cut it down to two lines. So my immediate question is why does it take so long to say something so simple. Duh, could it be that cloud-watching wasn’t so simple. To trust your present and your future to a cloud requires a whole lot of faith. The constant repetition in the passage reminds me of how many times I have to remind myself of the instructions, the promises that I already know but that, in my moments of anxiety, doubt and pure impatience, I want to forget. Our natural tendency is to rush forward, get things done quickly. Cloud-watching is not for the faint-hearted only for the faith-hearted.

2. The cloud (and the pillar of fire) required constant watching. God might decide to move at night so vigilance was required 24/7. There was no advanced warning. When it moved, Israel moved. “Where are we going?” “How are we going to get there?” Is there a McDonald’s on the way?” were questions that were not entertained or answered. When God moved, those who followed him also moved.

3. Patience was required (I HATE this one). The cloud might park over the Tent for a year. It might do a “one-nighter” and just stay for a few hours. Handling constant change is as hard on the patience as is dealing with no change at all.

4. Most impressive of all—considering Israel’s bent to disobedience—is the nation’s single-hearted constancy in doing what that cloud did. They failed in so many ways but I don’t recall (correct me if I’m wrong) a single instance when they didn’t follow that cloud when it moved, or sit still and wait when it didn’t move.

The age-old question comes to mind: “In the absence of a cloud, how do I know when to move and when to stay?”

The cloud of the Old Testament signaled the presence of God among his people. It served as a guide to God’s will. In these present times, the indwelling Holy Spirit is the evidence of God’s presence with us. He is our guide to all things that pertain to God’s will for us. Am I vigilant in watching in prayer for signs of my “cloud’s” movement through my circumstances? Am I committed to obedience and responsive to his commands in Scripture? Am I patient enough to wait when he waits, and free from any encumbrances that would hold me back from following him even at short notice?

The reassuring thing is that the cloud never led Israel astray. As long as she was vigilant and did what God indicated through this tangible evidence of his constant presence with her, everything played out exactly as God wanted it to as part of his plan to bless his nation and make them a blessing.

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