Whether it was two days, a month, or a year that the cloud remained above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would remain encamped and not journey; but when it was taken up, they would journey. Numbers 9:22
“If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour.” —that was a common maxim I heard growing up in the great State of Michigan, where weather is notorious for turning on a dime, especially in the hot and humid months of July and August when churning afternoon updrafts build cumulus sky-castles right before your very eyes.
Watching the rapidly changing skyscape became a favorite pastime of mine; a hobby that became even more of a passion when I graduated from Michigan State University and began my career as an Earth Science teacher. Throughout my 7 years in the public school classroom and the following 14 years as a home educator, I never tired of the sight of billowing clouds morphing in the dynamic summer sky.
The key characteristic of clouds is change. So a fresh reading of the story of Israel’s encampment in the Desert of Sinai became markedly more fascinating to me as I considered how God used a cloud to communicate His will to them.
Now on the day that the Tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony: from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire. So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. Numbers 9:15-16
By day, the cloud hovered over the Tabernacle. Challenge question 1: How common are clouds in the desert sky? I can’t help but think of this cloud as the blessing of shade from the scorching desert sun. At night, the cloud appeared like fire. I imagine it something like a large glowing night light in a wilderness with no street lamps or porch lights.
As long as the cloud remained over the Tabernacle, Israel was to stay put. When the cloud moved, Israel was to respond by packing up camp and following the cloud until it came to rest again. There was no forewarning, no specified length of time, and no guarantee that once they had followed all of the meticulous rules involved in setting up camp and re-assembling the Tabernacle with all of its intricate furnishings, they wouldn’t have to turn right around and tear it down again.
There were no shortcuts. Israel had to live fully engaged in their day-to-day lives, meeting all the demands of ordinary life and survival, simultaneously carrying out the multitude of regulatory jots and tittles of the Mosaic Law —all the while, remaining prepared to respond in obedience and pack up and move at a moment’s notice.
They had to be all in, all of the time.
At the command of the Lord the children of Israel would journey, and at the command of the Lord they would camp… Numbers 9:18
The crux of the lesson to be learned here is that FAITH is more about the journey than the destination. You can bet that God could have moved Israel from Point A to Point B with far less rigmarole. But that was not what His people needed. His aim was not just to get them to their destination. They needed to learn to hear His voice, to listen and obey, to yield to His plan. The aim was for them to become a people after God’s own heart.
This detail of Israel’s story is intensely challenging to me. By my nature I am prone to over planning, over organizing and over scheduling my life. All too readily I plow myself into a furrow and become entrenched in my own ideas of what my life ought to be. In reading this account I am compelled to ask myself: How responsive am I to the Lord’s voice? How moveable am I?
Imagine if I were prepared to respond to God’s voice with the same faith and obedience required of the Children of Israel!
Lord, you gave it all for me. My life belongs to you. Create in me a heart that is sensitive to Your still small voice and yielded to go whenever, and wherever You lead me. Even when I don’t understand the plan or the circumstance, give me the courage and passion to be all in, all of the time!