We Will Move...When the Cloud Moves: Part Five

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Part Five:  The Cloud Provided a Constant, Unmistakable Leadership

In the narrative Moses left us about the whole wilderness experience (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy), we get one important glimpse of a very important function of the cloud in Exodus 40 and Numbers 9.

Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle…Now whenever lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it.  But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted.  The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it.  This continued throughout all their journeys.   (Exod. 40:34-38)

On the day the Tabernacle was setup, the cloud covered it.  But from evening until morning the cloud over the Tabernacle looked like a pillar of fire.  This was the regular pattern – at night the cloud that covered the Tabernacle had the appearance of fire.  Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it.  And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp.  In this way, they traveled and camped at the Lord’s command wherever he told them to go.  Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle.  If the cloud remained over the Tabernacle for a long time, the Israelites stayed and performed their duty to the Lord.  Sometimes the cloud would stay for only a few days, as the Lord commanded.  Then at the Lord’s command they would break camp and move on.  Sometimes the cloud stayed only overnight and lifted the next morning.  But day or night, when the cloud lifted, the people broke camp and moved on.  Whether 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.  So they camped or traveled at the Lord’s command…  (Num. 9:15-23)

I tend to like the Exodus reading over the Numbers passage simply because it’s more…simple.  The Numbers passage is definitely redundant, recounting the same basic thing three different times.  However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years of Bible study, hermeneutics, and exegesis it’s this:  something emphasized or repeated is definitely not something to miss!  Moses spent nine verses repeating the obvious important fact that God’s leadership was unmistakable in the wilderness.  Why?  Why do you think?  Obviously the answer is simple.  Moses wanted them to live their lives in a daily habit of stepping out of their tents and looking upward, heavenward, for daily directions from God.  He wanted to stress the habitual nature of an entire nation of people who kept their eye on the Tabernacle, all throughout the day, to see what God wanted them to do.  Man!  How I love that picture for my life today!

The cloud was something Israel could see, and even touch…but only if they wanted to die!  It was God’s literal presence with them on earth.  Exodus 33:9 talked about it this way:  “As [Moses] went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses.”   God, in the cloud, told Moses, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.”  Then in 34:5 Moses described it this way:  “Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with [Moses]; and he called out his own name, Yahweh.” 

The cloud was a literal representation of God Himself.  God was in the cloud, speaking to Moses, almost face-to-face, if the cloud would have had a face.  God was holy, other, and separate, to be transcendently avoided yet imminently embraced.  It was His way of giving Israel a visible, tangible, objective, living-color means of embracing His presence with them.  It was a means of removing ALL doubt as to whether God was still with them.  All they ever needed to do when in doubt was to exit their tent, look to the center of town, and see the cloud resting above the tabernacle.  It was as simple as that.

What is more, there was never a “what if” about when they were supposed to pack up and move to the next destination in the wilderness.  They moved when the cloud moved.  Yet how do often I struggle to this day with “what if’s” about my own transition.  What if God wants to do this or that?  What if God wants to give me this job?  What if God wants me to move in this house?  What if God is trying to…?  What if God is planning to…?  In my more insane moments, these questions are spawned and like an infestation of flies they busy my mind with needless distractions which I feel a strange sense of obligation to answer and deal with.  It’s almost like I become obsessed with a fictional sense of responsibility, trying to figure out what God is doing.  Have you ever felt like that before? 

In my sane moments it becomes ridiculously clear that all of these kinds of questions and scenarios are really unnecessary.  When the cloud moves, God moves.  It’s that simple.  When God does something for me, I’ll know it.  When God provides a job for me, it will be obvious.  When God provides a house for us it’ll be as plain as the nose on my face.  When I need money to do something or pay something, God will provide it.  When I need work to earn that money, God will give it to me.  When I’ve worked all I can and don’t know what else to do, God will provide for me.  When I’m looking for jobs and sending out resumes like everybody in the world wants one, and I’m getting only “No Thank You” emails, God will provide. 

Here’s one thing I’ve learned during this transition period:  if it feels like striving, it probably is.  When I’m in a mode of contriving and striving, I’m in a state of disorder mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Allowing “what if’s” to occupy my heart throughout the day, and even late at night, is nothing but contriving.  I’m trying to concoct, devise, fabricate, or manufacture a strategy God might be using, so that I can feel some sort of confidence about getting up the next morning and doing something that seems remotely helpful in getting me from point A to point B.  But in another day or two, I’ll turn to striving as the contriving I did earlier seems to fall apart and my confidence dissolves into a pit of despair again.  What an emotional roller coaster ride, right!?

I don’t believe God wants any of His children to live like that.  And I’m so thankful for this example, this story, this historical evidence found in the cloud in the wilderness.  When the cloud moved, God was ready to move His people.  There was no doubt as to what the lifting of the cloud meant.  And there was no doubt as to what the moving of the cloud meant.  And there was no doubt as to what the settling of the cloud meant.  It was as simple for them as red light, yellow light, and green light are for us today.  Well, maybe not so much the yellow light.

Read the entire series here in one document.

About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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