We Will Move...When the Cloud Moves: Part FourFriday, May 25, 2012
Part Four: Remember the Cloud
Paul was all about reminding his people, too. In his first letter to Corinthians he dealt with many, many issues in that church ranging from a guy sleeping with his step-mother, to church members suing each other in the courts of law, to false doctrine, to prejudice and rivalry, to dishonoring the Lord’s Supper, to abuse of spiritual gifts. It’s quite an amazing letter. And running beneath all of these issues was a strong undercurrent of doubt in his apostolic authority in the first place. So not only did they have all sorts of problems that stemmed from not listening to apostolic authority, they also doubted Paul’s authority and thereby shot themselves in the foot, precluding them from getting the very help they needed!
This is pretty much what the Jews in the wilderness were doing, though. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt by the most tangible, objective, verifiable, incredible, amazing miracle in all of the Old Testament. When God stood between them and the Egyptian army at night in a cloud of fire, and when God opened the Red Sea and led them through at night with that cloud of fire, and when God closed up the Red Sea early the next morning, killing all of Pharaoh’s army, there could have been and should have been zero doubt that God loved them and intended to protect them and provide for them. Yet within three days’ time they already doubted. Why? Because they were thirsty. I have looked at that story many times and mocked their lack of faith. Then God has turned around and taught me many a time that I much the same way so many times.
God led Israel through the wilderness for forty years with what looked like a pillar of cloud in the day time, which turned something like a pillar of fire at night. Every single day for about three months or so, they had a tangible, objective presence of God’s love and leadership out of slavery. Their lives consisted of waiting, though. As the cloud moved, they moved. When the cloud stopped, they stopped. They stopped and set up camp. They pitched their tents, unpacked their stuff, and settled down. Then, when the cloud moved, they took down their tents, packed up their stuff, and followed the cloud. Each waiting period was difficult, usually filled with complaining about the basics: food and water. God would provide for them, always through miracle. Yet the people continued to doubt and complain during the waiting periods.
On one particular occasion, when the wait was a little longer than usual, the children of Israel really sinned big time, in a way that was far worse than complaining about food and water. As Moses was up on the mountain for forty days receiving the law of God, Israel got tired of waiting. They assumed way too much, like most of us do, when we are waiting. Just like Abraham and Sarah were tired of waiting for their promised heir through whom God would fulfill His promise of making Abraham a “father of many nations,” the people of Israel got tired of waiting for Moses to lead them to the promised land. Abraham and Sarah hatched a plan which involved birthing an idol (Gen. 16). It would later prove to haunt them and their descendants even to this very day. Moses’ brother and the children of Israel hatched a plan which involved building an idol, out of their jewelry, and fashioned into the shape of a calf (Exod. 32). That moved also proved to haunt not just them, but most followers of God to this very day.
Paul wanted to be ultra-clear about that point with the saints in the Corinthian church. So he wrote to them in chapter 10.
I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry”…causing 23,000 of them to die in one day.
Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then they were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. (10:1-11)
Paul begins his rebuke, reproof, warning and teaching to them in chapter 10 with the cloud in the wilderness. I believe he does so for one reason: the presence of the cloud was the very presence of God, and doubting God when His very presence is clearly and tangibly perceived should make us very fearful…even as Christians. Doubting God always brings the building or birthing of idols. When we don’t believe God is near and that He is faithful, we begin hatching our own plans to “help God out,” or to help ourselves out, more likely. And in so doing we also hatch what will often become a lifetime of miserable consequences, all allowed, if not orchestrated by God, in order to become a living reminder that we must not doubt Him ever again.
The Bible is filled with stories that show this pattern. Most of the stories center on people whom God loved, which in turn provides us with hope that despite our doubt and consequences, God loves us, too. I think of Abraham and Sarah, as mentioned earlier. Twice they colluded on a lie about her being his sister, because they didn’t believe God would keep them safe. They colluded together on a plan involving Abraham and his maidservant having a child together. And to this day their child, Ishmael, and his descendants have been a living reminder that we must not doubt God again.
I recall the story of Jacob and Esau. A prophecy was given at birth that the older would serve the younger. And instead of waiting on God Jacob’s own mother hatched a plan to secure the fulfillment of her favorite son’s destiny. So she dressed Jacob up like his big brother, cooked her husband’s favorite dinner, and sent him in as a poser and he got the first-born blessing instead of Esau. The consequences included a painful lesson about lying, which earned him an unattractive first wife who caused relentless strife in his marriage to a second wife.
I think of Moses who doubted God’s ability to help him speak clearly and be the leader for Israel’s rescue from slavery. So God gave him his brother Aaron, who later became the very man who led the children of Israel into idolatry while Moses was on the mountain receiving the law. The consequences they had to live with for the rest of their lives must have been unbelievably painful.
I also think of Gehazi, the prophet Elisha’s right-hand man. Instead of being content with trusting God to provide for him every day, Gehazi decided to lie to Naaman to get a boat-load of gold and wealth. As a consequence he also ended up receiving the leprosy Naaman was just healed from earlier that day. The consequences Gehazi had to live with for the rest of his life were also unbelievably painful.
I am reminded of Peter who was tired of waiting on Jesus to defend Himself. So in a single moment of desperation took a sword and tried to be a one-man army for Jesus. Aiming for a soldier’s head, the soldier obviously ducked sideways and lost his ear instead. Though Jesus healed the soldier’s ear, and though Peter later became a rock for the early church, the consequences of his action that night are still told to this day, no doubt to Peter’s embarrassment were he still among us today.
Also waiting on Jesus to make His move and bring the promised kingdom of God by force was Judas Iscariot. Tired of waiting, and probably hoping to push Jesus into making a bold move to establish His kingdom, Judas hatched a plan to betray Jesus, putting Him right in the middle of a decision to act, and making a little money on the side. Judas’ consequences are felt by him to this very day, and will be for all eternity.
There are obviously many more similar stories. But two things are clear from just these few examples. Waiting on God to do what He said He would do can, if allowed, create a fog of confusion in our hearts and minds which leads us to either lie (like Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Gehazi, and Judas) or make foolish decisions out desperation (like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Peter, and Judas). Either way, we should not be surprised by difficult, if not painful, consequences which follow us the rest of our lives, serving as a loving reminder from our Heavenly Father that He never fails and He will always love us, protect us, and provide for us. That’s why Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth to essentially, “Remember the cloud.”
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.