15The Tabernacle was set up, and on that day the cloud covered it. Then from evening until morning the cloud over the Tabernacle appeared to be a pillar of fire. 16This was the regular pattern—at night the cloud changed to the appearance of fire. 17When the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel followed it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel camped. 18In this way, they traveled at the LORD’S command and stopped wherever he told them to. Then they remained where they were as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. 19If the cloud remained over the Tabernacle for a long time, the Israelites stayed for a long time, just as the LORD commanded. 20Sometimes the cloud would stay over the Tabernacle for only a few days, so the people would stay for only a few days. Then at the LORD’S command they would break camp. 21Sometimes the cloud stayed only overnight and moved on the next morning. But day or night, when the cloud lifted, the people broke camp and followed. 22Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on. 23So they camped or traveled at the LORD’S command, and they did whatever the LORD told them through Moses.
Numbers 9:15-23

This passage always fascinates me. On a number of different levels.

Visible Presence
God made His presence visible to all the Israelites – in the form of a cloud or fire. Imagine living in a place and time when God’s presence was always within sight! How would that impact you throughout the day? How would it impact…

  • Your actions?
  • Your speech?
  • Your decisions?
  • The way you think about yourself?

I can’t help but think that I’d be a better “me” if I was so obviously aware that God is always so close. Of course, He is always that close (or closer, actually).

Lord, help me to remember that You are always with me – not only when I cry out for help, but ALWAYS! May all my actions be molded Your presence.

Living a Life without a Plan
God made it very clear when and where He wanted the Israelites to go. I’m struck by how little the Israelites knew about their future plans. They had the big picture – the knew that God was taking them to the Promised Land, a place that would be their own, in which they would prosper and in which they would be free to serve their God; but they didn’t have a clue about where they would be tomorrow. Their lives were dependent on whether the Lord’s presence, either in the form of a cloud or fire, descended over the temple or lifted. Where they went depended on which direction the cloud went.

This is so foreign to me! My life is planned. My calendar reminds me what I will do tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. And I like it that way. To live without even being able to plan what I will do tomorrow is pretty much beyond my comprehension. Now I know it was a hugely different society and their life revolved around making the trip to the Promised Land. All the same, when I went to sleep each night, I’d like to have an idea whether or not I was packing up camp when I woke up or continuing life in the same place.

My point is that there is a mindset that they must have had that is radically different from mine. They went to sleep without knowing where they would be the next day – other than knowing that they would be following the Lord. Although the context is quite different, I am reminded of this passage in James:

13Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.
James 4:13-16

I’ve never thought of my planning as a means of boasting or bragging, but I can see how it is. My calendar becomes “MY plans” – I easily lose the perspective of “If it is the Lord’s will.” The Israelites were totally dependent on God to define their schedule, and to the extent that our schedules define our lives, they were dependent on God to define their lives.

Lord, may I always submit my plans to Your plan. Create in me a total dependence on You.

Obedience 101
The Numbers passage makes it clear that the Israelites stayed when God hovered over the temple and they moved when His presence lifted. When the cloud/fire moved, they moved. When it stayed, they stayed. I am tempted to ask: If I knew God’s will as clearly as the Israelites did, would I respond with such obedience? Would you? I’m afraid there’s enough evidence in my life to not be able to answer that question affirmatively. In other words, “Well, I don’t have a track record of always doing so!”

Lord, build in me the desire and impulse to follow closely after you – when you hover, I want to stay put; when your presence moves, I want to follow.

Here’s a little experiment for us: Purpose for today, to respond to every prompting from the Lord that you recognize. I wonder how doing that would change my day? How will it change your day?

Father, I pray that you would open our eyes and ears to recognize Your promptings today! And give us the desire and impulse (and courage) to respond to them.

It’s interesting that the verse that follows the James passage I quoted earlier is this:

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
James 4:17

James is saying that we fall into the trap of allowing our plans to keep us from following God’s will. When that happens, we are sinning. I’m sure this is true of me sometimes.

Lord, make me more responsive to You.

Responding to the Invisible God
But we can’t be responsive to God if we don’t see Him moving. God doesn’t reveal Himself as a cloud or pillar of fire any more (at least I haven’t heard about Him doing that for a couple thousand years!). Our challenge (or at least one of our challenges), is following the invisible God. That sounds like a great topic for my next blog. I’m off to write it. In the meantime, practice responding to what God has revealed. And let me know how it changes your day!

Comments are closed.

© copyright 2009-2013, Data Designs Publishing and Sandra J. Hovatter