When the Cloud Lifted, They Set Out

When Israel departed from the land of Egypt they were led by a most unusual phenomenon. In a truly epic version of “follow the leader”, Israel was led through the wilderness by the LORD “by day in a pillar of cloud…and by night in a pillar of fire” (Exodus 13.21). This divine GPS led them each step of the way from Egypt to Canaan and a closer examination of this process has some valuable lessons we can learn and apply to ourselves today.

The Camp Was Not Home

Numbers 9.15-23 describes the way the Israelites would make or break camp based on the Lord’s decision to move or not move. In short, however long the pillar of cloud/fire rested above the tabernacle, that was how long they were to remain in that place. This transient lifestyle would serve to reinforce one very important point: the wilderness was not their promised home. Israel was headed to a better land, a land promised to their forefathers hundreds of years before, and God’s movement of His people did not allow them to rest until they had reached Canaan.

Christians today must remember and reinforce this concept within one another. As the beloved hymn describes so well, “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing thru…”. Our home is in Heaven with the Father and our lives are spent in pursuit of that “place” prepared for us (John 14.4). 2 Cor. 5.8 words this beautifully: “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” It takes a great deal of courage and faith to live life in pursuit of that better land, to be willing to say with conviction “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1.21). May we never mistake our “camp” in this life for our home with God.

Obedience Amid Uncertainty

Numbers 9.22 is a fascinating verse to dwell upon: “Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained at camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out.” Place yourself in the shoes of an Israelite waking up each day not knowing whether you would leave or stay. The uncertainty of each day would have been impressed upon their minds as daily they looked upon that cloud, wholly clueless as to when it would lift. It is easy to imagine the frustration and impatience this would have caused in the minds of the Israelites. There was no discernable pattern, no way of being able to plan for future events. Sometimes you lived in a place for several weeks, and sometimes you remained there for several hours: “And sometimes the cloud remained from evening to morning.” (Num. 9.21a). In  taught to simply look upon Him every single day and do as He commanded, leaving or staying based on His word alone.  

If we as Christians could be taught to live this way before the LORD! Start every single day by looking upon Him and His word and use it to make our decisions for the day. We know not where the LORD will lead us, nor whether He will leave us in situations for several hours or several years. Much like the Israelites in the wilderness, you are not promised tomorrow (James 4.14). Just as they heeded the LORD’s instructions to either go or stay, we must be willing to obey God’s instructions for us whatever they may be. “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4.15)

Following God Amid Uncharted Territory

God led Israel through deserts, around mountains, and to oases. Each time the pillar of cloud would rise and begin to move a certain direction, not one single Israelite could say with any certainty “Oh, I’ve been here before.” Our passage in Numbers 9 describes Israel’s movement before being forced to return to the wilderness for 40 years (due to the faithless report of the 10 spies: Numbers 13-14). Again, put yourself in the shoes of a typical Israelite. Each new location presents unfamiliar terrain. Israel was headed to the land of their fathers, but it had been over 400 years since an Israelite had set foot on any of these lands. Furthermore, Israel had to camp wherever the pillar stopped: “and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped” (Num. 9.17b). No Israelite knew whether a foreign nation or hostile barbarian horde waited behind each rise or around each mountain. Israel’s trust in the LORD was tested each time they laid their belongings down in a new place, and their trust in God was vindicated every time they were protected, fed, and cared for by the LORD.

We, like Israel, are being led through the wilderness of this world by the LORD. Even in the most normal of days we are walking through unfamiliar terrain (after all, you’ve never been this old before, have you???). We need not look around for some sort of guidance or help in this wilderness, the LORD abides forever and is always faithful to deliver His people! The question is whether we will be faithful to Him and be led by Him. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8.14). We need not know the direction we are heading if we truly trust the One who leads us. “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand.” (Psalm 37.23-24)

Look to the Father. Go where He goes. Stop where He Stops. Be content and trust Him. -Kyle Sanders