Following the Cloud.
"God led the people," says the Word, as they came up out of Egypt. He gave them the two leaders by whom He had broken the power of Pharaoh, and set His people free, and He also set a great cloud in the air, just above and before them, to lead them in the right way. It was to them the presence of the Lord. By day it rose white and beautiful against the blue sky, and moved slowly before them. At night it stood still while they rested, and shed light over all the camp, for there seemed to be a fire within the cloud at night. How safe and happy they must have felt away from the cruel taskmasters of Egypt, and the Lord's presence, spreading a wing of cloud over them. They were not led by a straight way to Canaan, for a warlike people lived in the land which they must pass through, but they were led at first through a country without cities or armies, where they would not trouble many people or be troubled by them. They bore with them the embalmed body of Joseph, for they had promised to bury him with his fathers in the cave of Machpelah; and they also had much wealth in herds, and flocks, and gold, and silver. Pharaoh thought of this after they had gone, and his wicked heart grew harder than before, so he ordered his chariots and horsemen to follow them, and they found the Israelites camped by the Red Sea.

Then there was great fear and mourning in the camp when they saw the army of Pharaoh coming, but Moses cried:

"Fear ye not, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace."

Then the Lord told Moses to speak to the people that they go forward. He also told him to lift up his rod and stretch his hand over the sea and divide it, and the children of Israel should go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. Night was falling, and the waters lay dark before them, but the angel of God, the pillar of cloud and fire, moved from its place before them and went behind them, while Moses and Aaron led them on. Then the presence of the Lord was a cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, but it gave a light by night to the Israelites. A strong east wind drove the waters apart all night, so that there was a way through the sea, and the waters were a wall upon their right hand and on their left. Pharaoh's army saw the broad path through the sea, and followed fast after the Israelites, but as morning dawned the Lord looked from the cloud and troubled the Egyptians. Their chariot wheels came off, and all went wrong with them.

At last the Lord told Moses to stretch his hand forth over the sea, that the waters might come back upon the Egyptians, and he did so; and as the sun rose, the sea swallowed up the Egyptian host, and their bodies were cast upon the shore. There on the other side stood the great host of Israel, and saw the salvation of God, and they believed in Him, and in Moses His servant.

[Illustration: Destruction of Pharaoh's army]

Then a great shout went up from the host of Israel. Moses led them in a song of praise, and Miriam, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine, and the women followed her in dances as they answered in a chorus of praise: --

"Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and the rider hath he thrown into the sea."

Soon they took up their journey, the cloudy pillar going before. There was but little water by the way, and after three days of thirst, they came to the waters of Marah, but they were bitter, and the people cried to Moses,

"What shall we drink?"

Then the Lord showed him a tree which he cast into the waters, and they were made pure and sweet. Soon after they came to Elim, where there were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm trees, and there they rested.

Again they took up their journey and passed through a desert land, where they could get no food, and again they complained to Moses because he had brought them into the wilderness to die. They did not yet believe that God could supply all their need.

"I will rain bread from heaven for you," said the Lord to Moses. He was ready to provide, if they would only believe in Him and obey Him.

Moses called them to come near before the Lord while Aaron should speak his word to them. As they came near and looked toward the wilderness where the cloud stood, the glory of the Lord shone out of it. The Lord had heard them speak harshly to Moses for bringing them into a desert to die, but he said,

"At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread."

And his word came true. Great flocks of quails came up and covered the camp at sunset, so that they caught them for food; and in the morning the dew lay around them, and when it had risen, there lay on the ground a small, round, white thing, something like frost, or a little seed, and it tasted like wafers made with honey. The Lord told Moses that the people must gather just enough to eat through the day, and no more. The morning before the Sabbath they must gather enough for two days, for none would fall on the Sabbath. This was the bread that the heavenly Father provided for his children through all the years of their journey from Egypt to Canaan, and they called it "Manna."

There were hard things to bear in the wilderness. Often when they wanted water for their little ones and their cattle, and could not find it, they were like fretful children when they were tired and thirsty. Once, at Horeb, Moses struck a rock with his wonderful rod, and water sprung out in a stream.

There were enemies also in the way. The Amelikites came out to fight with the Israelites. The strong men went to meet the enemy, but Moses stood on a hill with the rod of God in his hand, and Aaron and Hur were with him. While Moses held up the rod, Israel prevailed; but when he let down his hand Amalek prevailed.

But Moses grew tired and they placed a stone for him to sit upon, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands on either side until the going down of the sun, when Amalek was conquered. Moses built an altar there, and called it "The Lord my Banner."

They were now drawing near the Mount, where Moses saw the burning bush, and heard the Lord calling him to be the leader of his people.

They were far out of their way to Canaan, but it was in the Lord's purpose to bring them into obedience and faith before he brought them into the promised land. They had lived long among the Egyptians, and were very far from being like Jacob and Joseph, but there were good and true men like Aaron, and Joshua, and Hur, who helped Moses. It was about three months after the children of Israel left Egypt, that they came into the wilderness of Sinai. There the "Mount of God" still lifts its great granite cliffs toward the sky. There are high valleys midway where it is cooler than below, and there the people encamped and waited to hear what God would say to them, for God talked with Moses on the Mount.

He said He had chosen them, if they would obey his voice, to be a holy nation. He told Moses to tell the people to be ready, and on the third day He would come down in the sight of all the people on Mount Sinai.

And so it was, as the people looked there was a thick cloud upon the Mount, from which came thunder and lightning, and the sound of a great trumpet, while the mountain trembled as with an earthquake. Only Moses and Aaron could approach the holy Mount, and from it God gave to Moses the laws that the people were to live by, and Moses wrote them all down that he might read them to the people. A company of the Elders of Israel went up and saw the glory of God afar off, but God called Moses up into the Mount, and the cloud closed him round, while the Lord gave him the laws for a great nation, and the pattern of the tabernacle which He wished him to make for a church in the wilderness.

Forty days and forty nights Moses was on the Mount with God, and then God gave him the ten great commandments written with his own hands on tablets of stone, that he might give them to the people. They were to be kept as the rules of life for all people in all times.

Forty days and nights seemed a long time to the people camped around the Mount. Perhaps they thought Moses would never come back to lead them, for they began to think of the gods of Egypt, and asked Aaron to make one for them. So to please them he told them to bring him their gold ornaments, and he melted them and made a golden calf such as the Egyptians worshiped, and before it they made an altar, and they worshiped the calf.

The Lord who sees all things told Moses to go down to the people for they were worshiping an idol. So Moses went down a little way and met Joshua, and they both went down and saw the people feasting, and singing, and dancing, and Moses cast the tablets of stone upon the ground and they were broken. The heart of Moses, too, was almost broken, but he destroyed the golden calf, and punished the people for their great sin, and then went up to the Mount to plead for the life of his people.

"O this people have sinned a great sin," he cried, "and have made them gods of gold, yet now if thou wilt forgive their sin, and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of the book which thou has written," so great was the love of Moses for his people.

There was a time of repentance among the people after this, and Moses and his servant Joshua reared a tent outside the camp and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. It was for worship until the true Tabernacle should be built according to the pattern given in the Mount. All who sought the Lord went to worship there, and the pillar of cloud came and stood at the Tabernacle door while Moses talked with God, and all the people saw it and worshiped.

Moses prayed again for the people, and the Lord said:

"My presences shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest."

The Lord called Moses again into the mount, and told him to bring with him two tablets of stone and He would again write the ten commandments upon them.

So Moses hewed them from the rock and took them up into Mount Sinai. Then the Lord came down again in a thick cloud and talked with Moses, and wrote upon the tablets of stone.

After forty days Moses came down to the people bringing the commandments with him, but his face shone with a strange light that the people never saw before, and they were afraid of him. It was something above the light of the sun, for Moses had seen the Glory of the Lord.

[Illustration: Moses descending from the Mount]

While they still camped around the mount they began to build the Tabernacle. Moses told the people to bring gold, and silver, and brass, and wood. They also brought precious stones, and oil for the lamp, and fine linen, and they gave so willingly that at last Moses told them that there was more than enough.

These were put in the hands of two wise men whom the Lord had chosen and taught to do the work, and they had willing helpers among the people, for wise hearted women did spin with their own hands, and bring what they had spun, of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen to make the hangings of the Tabernacle.

If you would know all the beautiful and costly and curious things that were made for this church in the wilderness, you will find them described in the last chapters of Exodus.

The Israelites camped a long time in the high valleys around the Mount of God, and at last set up the Tabernacle. It was so made that it could be taken down and carried with them when they journeyed, for it was a beautiful tent. Over it the pillar of cloud stood. Whenever it moved the people followed, and when it stood still, they rested. Within the Tabernacle they placed a beautiful chest of wood overlaid with gold, which ever after held their most precious things, the tablets of stone written upon by the Lord himself.

This "Ark of Testimony," as it was called, had rings at the sides through which men laid strong rods by which to carry it, and so had the golden table for bread, and the golden altar of incense. There was a beautiful seven-branched candlestick of pure gold in which olive oil was burned for a sacred sign, and there was a brazen altar for burnt offerings, and a great brazen bowl for washing, and other things to be used in the worship of the Sanctuary.

There were beautiful garments, also, for the priests, Aaron and his sons, and for Aaron there was a wonderful breast-plate of gold set with twelve precious stones, bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.

When all was finished, and the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud that veiled the presence of the Lord came and covered it, and the glory of the Lord filled it, so that Moses could not enter; but the Lord spoke to him from the cloud, and told him how the priests should order the worship of the Lord there.

Afterward, Aaron and his sons offered burnt offerings for their sins, and the sins of the people, in the way the Lord had commanded, and fire from the Lord came down and consumed the offering.

When the people saw the answer of the Lord they fell on their faces before him.

In the second month of the second year the cloud rose from over the Tabernacle, and then the people knew it was time to go on their Journey. So they took down the tent of the Tabernacle and put all things in order for the journey. Each of the twelve tribes descended from the twelve sons of Jacob marched by themselves, carrying banners, and having captains. In the midst of them all marched the Levites carrying the Ark and the different parts of the Tabernacle, and when the cloud stood still, they stopped and set up the Tabernacle, while the people formed their camp all around it in the order of their tribes.

Still the manna fell with the dew at night, and the people gathered it in the morning, and when they tired of it, the Lord sent them quails again.

Over and over the people complained and rebelled, but the Angel of the Lord's Presence still hovered over them, and led them toward the promised land. Forty years they were on the journey that was so easily made by the sons of Jacob when they went back and forth to buy wheat in the time of famine; and forty-two times did they encamp on the way, yet the mercy of the Lord never failed them, and they were brought into their own land at last. Then the cloud was no longer needed to go before them, but long after, when they built a beautiful temple at Jerusalem in which to put the sacred Ark of Testimony, the cloud came again and filled the temple with the glory of the Lord.

chapter xi the rod that
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