“ On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. 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. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out. 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.” [Numbers 9:15-20]
The LORD used the cloud to tell the Israelites when to move
When Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, they were in a hurry to get out. Four hundred years of bondage can do that to you. It seemed the Promised Land was just around the corner. Except it wasn’t.
As soon as the sacred tent was set up, a thick cloud appeared and covered it. The cloud was there each day, and during the night, a fire could be seen in it. The LORD used this cloud to tell the Israelites when to move their camp and where to set it up again. As long as the cloud covered the tent, the Israelites did not break camp. But when the cloud moved, they followed it, and wherever it stopped, they camped and stayed there, whether it was only one night, a few days, a month, or even a year.
Weeks passed, then months, then years. Their sandals didn’t wear out, and most of them stayed hopeful that someday they’d be settled in a land flowing with milk and honey. But for the time being, the Israelites pitched their tents and broke them down, ready to move whenever the cloud or the fiery pillar of God’s presence let them know it was time to move on.
It’s harder to follow God when we can’t see Him. Most of use aren’t navigating with a miracle cloud hovering over the next step in our journey. And nights without a pillar of fire can seem long and lonely indeed. But we don’t have to be summoned by cloud or fire to know He’s there because we have God’s Word, the Bible. When we remain in His presence, we can trust we’re following God. Even if it seems that we’re staying in one place, God is still accomplishing His work.
Pillar of Fire at night
"...the cloud ... at night ... looked like fire"
“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. 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. ” [Numbers 9:22-23 ]