I’ve been awestruck by the presence of God lately by Numbers 9:15-23:
15 On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and it appeared like fire above the tabernacle from evening until morning. 16 It remained that way continuously: the cloud would cover it, appearing like fire at night.17 Whenever the cloud was lifted up above the tent, the Israelites would set out; at the place where the cloud stopped, there the Israelites camped. 18 At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at the Lord’s command they camped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they camped.
19 Even when the cloud stayed over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites carried out the Lord’s requirement and did not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud remained over the tabernacle for only a few days. They would camp at the Lord’s command and set out at the Lord’s command. 21 Sometimes the cloud remained only from evening until morning; when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out. Or if it remained a day and a night, they moved out when the cloud lifted. 22 Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out. 23 They camped at the Lord’s command, and they set out at the Lord’s command. They carried out the Lord’s requirement according to his command through Moses.
The Presence of God Brings Peace in Uncertain Times
What a beautiful time that must have been for the Israelites. Not too long ago they were crossing the parted Red Sea by the multitudes. That was surely a time of confusion, hopefulness, and uncertainty like I’ll likely never experience in my life. God gave them the Law and the instructions for building a home. A home that He would dwell in on earth. Now here they are, they’ve constructed the tabernacle and something wonderful has happened. God followed through on His promise. He is present with them.
A cloud (God’s presence) has covered the tabernacle and it remained that way continuously. I don’t understand continuously very well, everything in my life will eventually come to an end – even the very closest relationship I have, with my wife, will end one day in death.
There’s something about the word “continuously” in this context that brings peace. God was with them continuously. He never once left them. He wasn’t just looking down from a far, the very presence of God was entangled with them. During the day, during the night, He was visible to them – present with them. His presence never took a break. He never “checked out” on being with them.
Give the Israelites some credit
I’m fascinated when I read about the response of the Israelites. “Whether it was two days, a month, or longer, the Israelites camped and did not set out as long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle. But when it was lifted, they set out. They camped at the Lord’s command, and they set out at the Lord’s command.”
We talk a lot about how unfaithful the Israelites were to God, but it seems they got it right during this season of life. I imagine a beautiful figure skating routine when I read about the back and forth between God and his people. It’s in perfect sync. If he rests, they rest. If he moves, they move. All while carrying out the Lord’s requirement (The Law) according to his command through Moses.
Can you imagine? Perfect harmony. A balanced life between God and His people. Obedience, faithfulness, unwavering allegiance.
An envious spirit rises up within me. I want that. I want the simplicity of being able to look up into the sky at night, see fire, and know that God is pointing me in a direction.
The Cross proves that this type of life isn’t the fulfillment of what God desires for us, though. See, God was with, but He wasn’t personal. He was present for all, but not present in all.
The Presence of God wants to be personal
God wants to get personal with us. The same cloud by day, fire by night, is in those of us who have faith in the Son of God. That same cloud by day, fire by night, is not just out there, it’s in here. It’s personal, close, abiding.
The Word became flesh and tabernacled (dwelt) among us in order that we may see the Glory of God and one day become Children of God if we believe in the Son’s finished work on the Cross.
The cloud by day, fire by night, is the guidance of God, the power of God, and the presence of God. He has given us, in this cloud, this fire, everything that we need. Everything that pertains to life and godliness, he has poured out onto us and into us.
The same way the Israelites lived in perfect harmony with God, we too can live in harmony with him. We get the better end of the deal anyway. He is no longer out there, but as a God who is in here, He speaks to us directly. God is still shows us which way to go, night and day. He does it continuously, for all of eternity through the power of his Holy Spirit. “I will be with you always.” (Matt. 28:20)
Christian, He is with you, leading you, guiding you, abiding with you, and making his presence known to you like a cloud by day, and a fire by night. The questions you and I both must ask ourselves are these:
Am I going to pay attention and seek to live in perfect harmony with him?
Will I move when He moves, stay when He stays?
Will I carry out the Lord’s command of loving Him and loving my neighbor?