Life of Moses
The Cloud: When to Pull Up Stakes and When Not To…
Introduction…How does one know if one is following the Cloud? Not the internet cloud, but the presence of God…i.e. for us, members of his church…his Spiritual gathering of saints? What do you think that means—to move and do when God leads, as well as, to rest and worship when the Cloud or Spirit ceases to move? I mean, how does one know if what I am doing is just me or from God? Do you think that God wants us to sit still sometimes…i.e. rest? And listen for or to his voice. I know, it seems for me when I have rested, it seems that God does inspire me with refreshed insights that I didn’t have before I rested and was Spiritually refreshed? Do you think that God does want us to go, go, go all the time? If God did say to sit still, could you? How would you? Would that sitting still at some point in time involve worship?
If I were a teacher, I might even play a competitive game of still water to see who can be the stillest and why? Afterwards, I would ask my students, how it felt to be still for a few moments? Was it comfortable or uncomfortable and why? What were the greatest distractions to remaining still?
General Study Introduction…
Note: Today’s passage represents a major transition.
We are skipping over the later portion of Exodus, Leviticus and the beginning of Numbers.
Both Exodus and Leviticus contain significant sections dedicated to the establishment and construction of the tabernacle or movable tent where Yahweh God intends to Spiritually dwell with his bride, Israel.
Also prescribed are special sacrifices, along with offerings, that Israel was to bring to her divine husband, either as acts of devotion or to atone for her sins committed against the Law or her covenant with Yahweh. In turn, these sacrifices and offerings were ritually received by and offered by the Levites (one of the 12 tribes of Israel), as well as a set apart subset of the Levites, the anointed Priests. The Priests were descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron, both of whom were members of the tribe of Levi.
Numbers gets it’s title from the national census that begins the book. Ultimately, the book of Numbers takes Israel from God’s mountain at Sinai where she receives her Covenant or Law, to her promised ancestral lands in Canaan. Along the way, there are several major plot twists that dramatically shape the biblical narrative.
It has now been almost one year (see Ex 19:1; Numbers 10:11) since Israel first arrived at Mt. Sinai to enter into her covenant with her Divine Sovereign, and almost 15 months since she first left Egypt (Ex 12:1).
Now with her law in hand and having committed a major spiritual debacle, under the leadership of her mediator, Moses, Israel prepares to leave for her promised ancestral lands.
Read Passage several times…
9:15 On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire.
What kind of cloud? Was God in the cloud? Why a cloud? And why did the cloud appear like fire at night? Was this to reveal that this was no ordinary cloud, but the glory of God?
16 That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire.
Why over the tabernacle, the set apart place where God chose to meet with his bride Israel via their mediator Moses?
17 Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped.
No doubt, this represents a repeated pattern. When the cloud lifted, the bride knew it was time to pack up and travel. When it did not, she would remain camped. Follow the cloud. Israel’s total dependence was upon this God…this manifestation of God.
18 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.
The cloud was everything. Everything.
19 When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out.
What was a long time? And why? What was God up to when the cloud remained stationary for extended periods of time?
20 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.
A few days…
21 Sometimes the cloud stayed only 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.
Tent city: An aerial view of the thousands of campers that Prince Charles witnessed at Glastonbury
Sometimes even just one day…
22 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.
Sounds like obedience to me. Heaven’s timetable—do we understand, or does it make any difference? To us, it is solely about being and undertaking life with the presence of God, our direction, power, love and refuge.
23 At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out. They obeyed the LORD’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses.
Now that a Spiritual rationale has been giving of why they traveled or not has been given, it is time for Israel, armed with her covenant and God’s presence, and much as believers in the New Testament, armed with their New Covenant and the Spirit of God, to take her next step, as God’s bride, towards her promised destiny.
(Skipping to 10:11…)
10:11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the Testimony.
Just over a year after Israel departed from Egypt—since the Passover plague occurred freeing Israel from her Egyptian slavery on the fifteenth day of the first month (Ex. 12)—Israel prepares to depart Sinai.
12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran.
How far was Paran from Sinai? Notice, this is from one desert to another. How many days was this journey?
(Skipping to 10:33…)
10:33 So they set out from the mountain of the LORD and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest.
Their covenant with God leads them to their next temporary place of rest…
34 The cloud of the LORD was over them by day when they set out from the camp.
35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Rise up, O LORD! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.”
No doubt a confession of faith….
36 Whenever it came to rest, he said, “Return, O LORD, to the countless thousands of Israel.”
The cloud descending and enveloping the tent of meeting?
Summary… Through Moses’ command and the visibility of the fiery cloud, Israel strictly followed the Lord’s leading and presence.
Bottom line…The Lord leads his people through the wilderness via his fiery cloud.
What truths do I learn about God, man, people, myself, life?
• God was present with his people in a very visible way.
• God directed their journey, including how far they would travel and how long they would rest. Does not the Divine do the same with us, beginning with our Spiritual rest forever in Christ’s atonement for our sin, thus ensuring us…God’s children…the promise of heaven forever? So both in Christ’s atonement for sin and the giving of the Holy Spirit, the church and its individual members are given both daily and eternal Spiritual leadership and rest at the same time and forever.
• And, in this case, the people were obedient. They did stick close to God, and thus his direction and protection.
• Moses pronounces a blessing or confession upon the Divine who is both leading and protecting Israel’s dangerous journey.
• In the end, God both protects and leads his children through the haunting deserts of this world to their promised objective—rest with God forever in his presence. As God leads and move, so we move and live. As God rests, so we rest. And as he leads and moves or rest, we worship or confess the truth that it is God that lead, protects and rests, an no other.
2015 Application…Ironically, over the years, little has changed in the way of dealing with the changing seasons and motivations. These days, thank God, I do have a part-time executive assistant that God has sent my way and that works with me to overcome my seasonal fatigue and rebellion. We are learning that because there is so much, I have to be held accountable for smaller tasks over smaller amounts of time. In other words, such as writing, we break huge tasks into smaller bites in order to fit into what can feel like a very demanding schedule at times…demanding not just in time, but emotionally-draining as well. For instance, I spent four hours with a couple last night. I had not intended to, but it just worked out that way. They were referred to me by a member of our body, thus they have not attended our church, but I am teaching them about love and marriage. I help them sort out and untie their marital and relationship knots. At the same time, I am not kidding myself concerning the mental and emotional energy required to focus this intensely for this amount of time. So it is not just time, but how I spend that time.
Thanksgiving…So appropriate, now that we are at this culturally seasonal moment for giving thanks. I am thankful for so so so much. 1) God’s financial provision still remains amazing, and I certainly don’t want to take this for granted. 2) It seems like everyday God is also providing for me Spiritually. I mean every day something amazing takes place—some answered prayer, a great counseling session, someone being broken and coming back to God, a truth I have never thought about before revealed in his word, a song…some kind of seemingly more mystical revealing of God’s presence, a crucial text…It’s like I am beginning to see God in so many thing and in so many ways…I am very very very blessed.
Struggle…My counseling load seems demanding and at times draining, but I just keep on going everyday, thankful whether an appointment makes it or not. I just pick up one counseling foot and place it in front of another. At the same time, it has been difficult to focus on writing, as well as, other crucial pastoral duties. In response, I am attempting to leverage my part-time executive assistant, and that is what she certainly is, because of her over-the-top competence and Spiritual sensitivity, into more and more accountability with respect to either doing or managing all the tasks, lists, needs, dreams, hopes, goals and demands that fill my mind. My prayer and hope is the work, dreaming and planning that we are doing now will translate into my better empowering the Body to do whatever the heck the Spirit has in mind for our precious body…
Truth…I think as I relook at this passage 12 years later, almost to the day, and certainly to the week, is both the unrevealed, but clearly-communicated, day-by-day plan that Yahweh God had for his bride. In other words, whether she was to travel or rest for a day or a year, that was what she was supposed to do. Oh for a people of God that would be that obedient to the Spirit or the Cloud’s leading and protection. Are we supposed to sit still, rest and wait or are we to pull up stakes and follow the Cloud for this day. Heaven has a timetable for all things, but it is our temptation to NOT watch the cloud and either do it all on our own or sit stubbornly, when we ought to be moving. What an amazing paradoxically and beautiful plan of truth, trust, presence, rest and risk…all with the expressed purpose of bringing us through the world’s wildernesses to our promised destiny and rest in the real presence of God. What a plan! What a journey! What a Divine! Amen.
Application…Today, I will finish the lesson; get some rest…and then see what God has in store. A few pastoral contacts perhaps. Some writing…simplifying almost seven hundred references concerning what is ultimately implied as Spiritual love…not just love, but Spiritual love…not just agape, but Spiritual agape. Hopefully a walk. God, I will move and rest as you lead. I trust you. I pray my Body will also follow my lead and trust you with going and resting as well. Amen.
Joseph M. Cross
Scripture quotations, unless noted otherwise, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version‚ NIV‚ Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. All rights reserved.