On the day that the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it and appeared like fire above the tabernacle from evening until morning.
Nehemiah 9:12, 19; Psalm 78:14). Some such signal was absolutely necessary. To direct the march of a nation through the wilderness was no easy matter. When Alexander the Great led his army across the wide levels of Babylonia he caused a grating filled with a blazing fire to be borne aloft on a long pole, that its smoke might guide the march by day, and its fire by night. A similar device is constantly made use of by the caravans which make the pilgrimage to Mecca. The march of the tribes from Egypt had the Lord himself for its Guide, and the cloud of his presence showed the way. No feature of the long march has more deeply impressed itself on the imagination of the Church than this guiding pillar. It has been instinctively accepted as a sign in which we too may claim an interest. For are not we also, as truly as the Church in the wilderness, making the journey from the land of bondage to the promised rest? Is not our life a wilderness journey; a march along a path we never trod before? The forty years' wanderings being thus a parable of our life on earth, may we not warrantably see in the pillar of the cloud a token of certain happy conditions of the journey which it is the business of faith to apprehend?
I. Observe that the children of Israel had THEIR ROUTE DETERMINED FOR THEM. It was the hand of God which chalked out the strangely circuitous line of their march; which measured the several stages; which fixed upon the halting-places; and determined the length of the stay at each. "At the commandment of the Lord they rested, and at the commandment of the Lord they journeyed." No doubt there still remained large scope for the exercise of judgment on the part of leaders so familiar with the desert as Moses and Hobab. There were a thousand details to care for. But the general fact remains, and is noted with extreme care in the history, that - so far as regards the line of march and the successive stages - the ordering of the journey from first to last was by the Lord. It would not be difficult to prove that our route also is determined for us. God has determined our appointed times, and the bounds of our habitation (Acts 17:26). The mapping out of our lives is his doing. This, I say, is capable of proof. Yet I should imagine that, to such as have been reasonably careful to observe their own course, no formal array of evidence will be needed. They know how often their own plans and those of friends have been upset, and the whole circumstances of their lives arranged quite otherwise than they ever contemplated, and yet with a most wise and considerate regard for their good. What then?
(1) Do not forget to give God the glory. Acknowledge his overruling hand (Psalm 107:43). Many forget to do this; and accordingly they learn nothing of his mind, even when his providence speaks most plainly. A thing dishonouring to God and entailing great less to them.
(2) Thankfully commit your way to him for the time to come.
II. The Lord not only determined the route of the tribes but gave them A VISIBLE SIGN of his guidance. Here, it may be supposed, the parallel fails, and we must resign ourselves to a more uncertain and precarious guidance than the tribes enjoyed. But it is not so. For the guiding pillar in the wilderness was meant for the comfort of the Church in all times. Remember the principle laid down by the apostle in 1 Corinthians 10:11. The moving cloud was an "ensample" or type which did not cease to speak when it disappeared from view as the tribes entered the land. To faith it continues still to attest the Lord's presence and guiding wisdom. The Divine guidance was not more patent in the desert to the sight of the tribes than it is this day to the faith of the Church. "Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Patent to faith! That saying lays bare the difficulty of which we complain. A visible guide - every one can appreciate that. An invisible guide, discerned only by the mind, or rather by faith alone - that is too shadowy, intangible, precarious. So men are apt to judge. But without reason. Arduous our faith certainly is. But precarious, barren, impotent to sustain and comfort, it certainly is not. God's presence visible to the eye availed to guide and cheer the tribes in the wilderness; but God's presence seen by faith has availed much more to guide and cheer the Church of Christ these nineteen centuries. To walk by faith is the achievement of the Church's maturity. To walk by sight belonged to the Church's childhood. And we can trace all through the Scripture a gradual weaning of the Church from the one, and a gradual training of it to the other. In the wilderness the Church's weakness was comforted with the pillar of cloud and fire towering high in the sight of the whole camp: during the time of the first temple the cloud was seen only within the holy place: during the period of the second temple it was quite withdrawn. Yet Ezra and his company made the journey as safely as Moses and the tribes; and the glory of the latter house was greater than of the former. "He hath said, I will never leave thee; so that we may boldly say, I will not fear." - B.
I. THE PILLAR OF CLOUD AND OF FIRE IS A PERPETUAL FACT IN THE LIFE OF GOD'S PEOPLE.
I. AS AN EMBLEM OF DIVINE TRUTH.
I. When the tabernacle was finished this cloud, which before had hung on high over their camp, SETTLED UPON THE TABERNACLE AND COVERED IT; TO SHOW THAT GOD MANIFESTS HIS PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE IN AND BY HIS ORDINANCES.
III. This pillar of cloud and fire DIRECTED AND DETERMINED ALL THE MOTIONS, MARCHES, AND ENCAMPMENTS OF ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS.
1. As long as the cloud rested upon the tabernacle, so long they continued in the same place and never stirred. Though no doubt they were very desirous to be pressing forward in their journey towards Canaan, where they hoped to be quickly, yet as long as the cloud rested, if it were a month or a year, so long they rested (ver. 22). Note, he that believeth doth not make haste. There is no time lost whilst we are waiting God's time. It is as acceptable a piece of submission to the will of God to sit still contentedly when our lot requires it, as to work for Him when we are called to it.
2. When the cloud was taken up they removed, how comfortably soever they were encamped (ver. 17). Whether it moved by day or night they delayed not to attend its motions (ver. 21). And probably there were some appointed to stand sentinel day and night within ken of it, to give timely notice to the camp of its beginning to stir; and this is called keeping the charge of the Lord. The people being thus kept at a constant uncertainty, and having no time fixed for their stays and removes, were obliged to hold themselves in a constant readiness to march upon very short warning. And for the same reason we are kept at uncertainty concerning the time of our putting off the earthly house of this tabernacle, that we may be always ready to remove at the commandment of the Lord.
3. As long and as far as the cloud moved, so long and so far they marched; and just there where it abode they pitched their tents about it, and God's tent under it (ver. 17). Note, it is uncomfortable staying when God is departed, but very safe and pleasant going when we see God go before us, and resting where He appoints us to rest.Lessons:
1. The particular care God takes of His people. Nothing could be more significant of God's tenderness of Israel than the conduct of this cloud was. It led them by the right way (Psalm 107:7); went on their pace; God did by it, as it were, cover them with His feathers. We are not now to expect such sensible tokens of the Divine presence and guidance as this was. But the promise is sure to all God's spiritual Israel, that He will guide them by His counsel (Psalm 83:24) even unto death (Psalm 48:14); that all the children of God shall be led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14); that He will direct their paths who in all their ways acknowledge Him (Proverbs 3:6). There is a particular providence conversant about all their affairs to direct and overrule them for the best. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord (Psalm 37:22).
2. The particular regard we ought to have to God in all our ways. In our affections and actions we must follow the direction of His Word and Spirit; all the motions of our soul must be guided by the Divine will; at the commandment of the Lord our heart should always move and rest. In all our affairs we must follow providence, reconciling ourselves to all its disposals, and bringing our mind to our condition, whatever it is.
( Matthew Henry, D. D..)
1. Supernatural as to origin.
2. Stable: only a cloud, yet not dispersed.
3. Adapted to both night and day.
5. Intolerant: "This is the way," and no other.
II. AS A SYMBOL OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
1. Different appearance to different characters.
2. Presented alternations of aspect to the same people.
3. Mysterious in its movements.
4. Aims at the good of all who follow its guidance.
III. As A TYPE OF THE DIVINE SAVIOUR.
1. Mysterious nature.
2. Challenges attention.
3. His purpose beneficent.
4. The source of great comfort.
5. Constant in His attachment.Lessons:
1. Seek to be on the right side of the cloud.
2. Seek it in the right place — over the tabernacle.
3. Follow its guidance.
(J. C. Gray.)
1. We see the pillar in God's Word. The Bible has not a precept for every emergency which can arise in daily life, so that at such a point you can see a guide-board, like the signs pointing to the old cities of refuge; but it is full of general principles which, if obeyed, will direct without mistake to the promised land.
2. We see the pillar in God's providences. Sometimes it appears in prosperity, beckoning us onward; sometimes in adversity, turning us back.
3. We see the pillar in God's special revelations. They come, perhaps, at the threshold of some great undertaking. Shall we move out from Egypt toward the Red Sea? And there, if we are watching, will be the sign in the sky I When Pastor Harms, in Germany, was deliberating whether, without one dollar in his possession, he should build a ship to carry missionaries to Africa, he says, describing his conflict: "I prayed fervently to the Lord, laid the matter in His hands, and as I rose up at midnight from my knees I said, with a voice that almost startled me in my quiet room, 'Forward now, in God's name.' From that moment there never came a thought of doubt into my mind." Such an experience must, indeed, be interpreted with great care, there is so much danger of delusion. Yet it is true that with a prayerful mind, with diligent study of the Word, especially with the intuitions of a filial spirit, such revelations may be as distinct as any that ever came to Moses.
II. THE PILLAR IS A BLESSING ONLY TO THOSE WHO TRUST AND FOLLOW IT. On some sides the Israelites are a poor example for us, but we may learn something from them in this particular: that they followed the pillar.
1. They followed it promptly. Whenever and wherever it moved, then and thither they moved without delay. If it aroused them from their sleep they obeyed with alacrity. It is when the cloud speaks to us "suddenly," unexpectedly, that our obedience is most severely tested. But that is our standard; a mind to run in the way of God's commandments.
2. They followed the pillar constantly (vers. 21, 22).
3. They followed the pillar by faith. They obeyed even when they could not understand. If troubles were only explained they would be so much easier to bear. But the best faith endures without understanding. A generation ago some of us used to hear of an afflicted woman in Connecticut named Chloe Lankton, who, many will be surprised to know, is living still. For fifty-five years she has lain upon her bed and suffered, but without losing her Christian faith. Acknowledging, not long ago, a remittance sent for her support, she wrote: "Jesus only knows how much I endure. He knows it all and supports me I have a strong arm to lean upon and will trust Him to the end Oh, how thankful I feel... for the many comforts and blessings God gives me!" Poor soul! How long, for her, the cloud has tarried! And she is only one of the great "shut-in-society" who have learned to trust and follow "two days or a month or a year," or a lifetime, if God wills, It would be a mistake, however, to think of this truth as applying only to the darker side of human experience. It is great joy in the brightest prosperity to see the pillar; and no one has so good a right to live in the sunshine as a Christian. Friendship is joy, home is joy, music is joy, learning is joy. The world is full of such pleasures. But does it not intensify these to realise that they are all signs of the Father's love? Is not the water at Elim more sweet if, as we quench our thirst, we can look up and see the pillar? Then, too, is there not comfort in knowing that if farther on we have cause to apprehend another experience of thirst and suffering, we shall be under the same heavenly presence and can hear the voice out of the cloud? So for all, in every condition and need, the pillar has heavenly blessing. Still we must remember the blessing is only for those who trust and follow.
(T. J. Holmes.)
II. THE GUIDANCE OF THE PILLAR. When it lifts the camp marches; when it glides down and lies motionless the march is stopped and the tents are pitched. The main thing which is dwelt upon in this description of the God-guided pilgrimage of the wandering people is the absolute uncertainty in which they were kept as to the duration of their encampment, and as to the time and circumstances of their march. Is not that all true about us P We have no guiding cloud like this. So much the better. Have we not a more real guide than that? God guides us by circumstances, God guides us by His Word, God guides us by His Spirit, speaking through our common sense and in our understandings, and, most of all, God guides us by that dear Son of His, in whom is the fire and round whom is the cloud. The pillar that we follow, which will glow with the ruddy flame of love in the darkest hours of life, will glide in front of us through the valley of the shadow of death, brightest then when the murky midnight is blackest, nor will that pillar which guides us cease to blaze as did the guide of the desert march when Jordan has been crossed, but it will still move before us on paths of continuous and ever increasing approach to infinite perfection. They who follow Christ afar off and with faltering steps here, shall there "follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth." In like manner, the same absolute uncertainty which kept on was intended to keep the Israelites (though it failed often) in the attitude of constant dependence, is the condition in which we all have to live, though we mask it from ourselves. That we do not know what lies before us is a commonplace. The same long tracts of monotonous continuance in the same place, and doing the same duties, befall us that befell these men. Years pass, and the pillar spreads itself out, a defence above the unmoving sanctuary. And then, all of a flash, when we are least thinking of change, it gathers itself together, is a pillar again, shoots upwards and moves forwards; and it is for us to go after it. And so our lives are shuttlecocked between uniform sameness, which may become mechanical monotony, and agitation by change which may make us lose our hold of fixed principles and calm faith, unless we recognise that the continuance and the change are alike the will of the guiding God whose will is signified by the stationary or moving pillar.
III. THE DOCILE FOLLOWING OF THE GUIDE. That is what we have to set before us as the type of our lives — that we should be as ready for every indication of God's will as they were. The peace and blessedness of our lives largely depend on our being eager to obey, and therefore quick to perceive the slightest sign of motion in the resting or of rest in the moving pillar which regulates our march and our encamping. What do we want in order to cultivate and keep such a disposition? We need perpetual watchfulness lest the pillar should lift unnoticed. When Nelson was second in command at Copenhagen, the admiral in command of the fleet hoisted the signal for recall, and Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye and said, "I do not see it." That is very like what we are tempted to do; the signal for unpleasant duties that we want to get out of is hoisted, we are very apt to put the telescope to the blind eye, and pretend to ourselves that we do not see the fluttering flags. We need still more to keep our wills in absolute suspense if His will has not declared itself. Do not let us be in a hurry to run before God. We need to hold the present with a slack hand, so as to be ready to fold our tents and take to the road if God will. We must not reckon on continuance, nor strike our roots so deep that it needs a hurricane to remove us. To those who set their gaze on Christ no present from which He wishes them to remove can be so good for them as the new conditions into which He would have them pass. We need, too, to cultivate the habit of prompt obedience. "I made haste and delayed not to keep Thy commandments" is the only safe motto. It is reluctance which usually puts the drag on, and slow obedience is often the germ of incipient disobedience. In matters of prudence and of intellect second thoughts are better than first, and third thoughts, which often come back to first ones, better than second; but, in matters of duty, first thoughts are generally best. They are the instinctive response of conscience to the voice of God, while second thoughts are too often the objections of disinclination or sloth or cowardice. It is easiest to do our duty when we are first sure of it. It then comes with an impelling power which carries us over obstacles on the crest of a wave, while hesitation and delay leave us stranded in shoal water. If we would follow the pillar we must follow it at once.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)I. THE ADVANTAGES OF ITS POSSESSION.
1. The distinction it maintains. Only Israel so privileged. Christians, you are a peculiar people, your origin is peculiar, your character is peculiar, your spirit, your desires and affections, the objects of your pursuit. You have peculiar privileges and honours conferred on you. There must be a marked difference between you and the world.
2. The guidance it ensures. Jesus is now the guide of His people. He leads in the way of truth and wisdom. How?(1) By His example. He has gone before us in the path of duty, temptation, and sorrow. By His Word. This is our rule.(2) By His ordinances. He sends His ministers as your guides.(3) By His Spirit effectually.(4) By the leadings of His providence.
3. The protection it affords. God is the Christian's hiding-place.
4. The joy it inspires. God is the source of happiness, the fountain of life.
5. The glory it confers. The presence of God is our highest, best, only real glory. This is the glory of our nation — this is the glory of our churches — this is the glory of our religious assemblies — this is the glory of our families — and this is our individual glory. But what is all that God confers here to what is in reserve? Everything shall be glorious there.
II. THE PERPETUITY OF ITS ENJOYMENT.
1. Its necessity. We always need the Divine presence. We are dependent on Him for everything. We need His providential presence and agency to continue us in being and supply our numerous wants; and we require His gracious presence for the maintenance of spiritual life and for the reception of spiritual blessings.
2. The manner in which it is ensured. This may be seen three ways. From what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do.
(C. H. Mackintosh.)
I. If the cloud be taken up by day — THAT IS, IF GOD BLESSES A MAN WITH PROSPERITY — it is, in the first place, to make him an eleemosynary ordinance, or MEANS OF USEFULNESS TO OTHERS. It is entrusting him with the "five talents," as compared with the two or the one talent.
II. We have to learn, in the second place, THAT DIFFICULTY IS NO GROUND FOR DISPENSING WITH DUTY: "whether it was by day or by night the cloud was taken up, they journeyed." To obey under embarrassment is the more characteristic obedience of a Christian. There are many forms of the night-journey of the pilgrim of Christ. We have considered the day-journey under the illustration of wealth and easy circumstances, or in any other shape of general prosperity; let us meditate upon the night-journey in the shape of poverty, sickness, bereavement, or domestic opposition to the Christian life.
(J. B. Owen, M. A.)impression. What is an impression? Who created it? Who determined its meaning? How do you account for the impression? Upon what is the impression made? — upon the mind, upon something subtler than itself, upon the consciousness, the soul, the spirit — the innermost man. That is a mystery! Or we speak of "circumstances." We say that circumstances seem to point in this direction or that. What are circumstances? Where do they begin? How do they sum themselves up into influence or into definiteness? Having spoken about "impression" and "circumstances," we speak about another mysterious thing which has come to be known by the name of "tendency." We say the tendency of things is —; or the tendency of life seems to indicate —. We have created a species of rhythm, or harmonic movement, falling into which we say, This is the sweep of tendency, and to resist tendency is impossible. How anxious we are to get rid of religious names! Men who will speak of impression, circumstances, and tendency, will hesitate before saying Providence, God, Father in heaven. Let the Church beware how it gives up the grand old names — God, Providence, heavenly direction, spiritual influence! Why shrink from the definite religious testimony of the eighteenth verse, "At the commandment of the Lord," &c. When a man rises in the morning in God's strength, lies down at night in God's blessing, walks all day in God's energy, he lives and moves and has his being in God; God is in his inmost thought, and every word upon his tongue is an implied or actual confession of childlike trust in God. We need not be ashamed of this definite testimony. It exalts human life. What is the meaning of it? Evidently that our life is recognised by God, our movements are of some consequence to Him; He knows our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in; and there is not a word upon our tongue, there is not a thought in our heart, but lo, it is known wholly in heaven. This consciousness of Divine guidance in life, Divine care of life, Divine redemption of life, necessitates prayer. The man who seizes this view of things must pray. This religious view of life brings the spirit into the restfulness and blessed joy of obedience. The children of Israel simply obeyed. Theirs was not a life of controversy, ours, unhappily, is. We have made it a life of controversy when we need not. We are always arguing with our orders; we are trying to construe them into different and inferior meanings; we are wasting life by discussing in idle words, which can settle nothing, the gravity and authority of our marching orders. If we accept God's Book, do let us accept it with full trust, not as a field for criticism, but as a code of life — the Word, or the testimony, by which every thought, feeling, and action is to be determined. Live that life and risk your destiny. To obey is to live.
(J. Parker. D. D.)I. A WORD OF DESCRIPTION. The time "the cloud tarried" was —
1. One of rest.
2. One of spiritual activity.
3. Peculiarly a time of temptation.
II. A WORD OF EXHORTATION.
1. Be more anxious to keep the cloud in sight than to see it tarry. We are responsible for the one, but not for the other.
2. Be more anxious to improve than to enjoy these refreshing times.
3. Be more anxious to improve than prolong these periods.
III. A WORD OF CAUTION.
1. If the cloud tarry long, think not that it will never move. Rest should be the preparation time for exertion.
2. Be not impatient if it tarry when you wish to journey. It does rest sometimes over a desert land.
3. Be ready, that whenever the cloud moves you may be ready to journey.
(R. A. Griffin.)I. WHY IS THE CHURCH IN OUR DAY SO MUCH OF THE TIME UNDER THE CLOUD, AND SEEMINGLY PUT BACK IN THE PROGRESS OF LONG-CONTINUED REVIVALS OF RELIGION? Sin is the trouble. It took but a few moments to bring it into the world, but it takes ages to get it out. It makes us ignorant, weak, self-reliant, and self-seeking, so that we cannot march long at a time without getting so elated that God must let down the cloud a little while; a day, a month, or a year, as our case may be, to get us ready to march again. It requires great grace and a large measure of previous discipline, and frequent humiliations to keep us feeling and saying, as we go to our work of conquest for Christ, "Not by might, nor by power, but by Thy Spirit, O Lord." And so, God must often bring us into pecuniary straits, and cut off our men and our means, and cause painful delays, and sad embarrassments, and short triumphs, and unforeseen obstacles, and cloud-falling times, that we may feel our weakness and renew our strength; and, with all our facilities for saving ourselves and the world, that we may just lay ourselves over, with the simplicity of children, upon the supernatural power of God, and the sole guidance of Christ, saying, "Help, Lord, for without Thee we can do nothing."
II. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROMINENT DUTIES WHICH GOD REQUIRES FROM US WHILE UNDER THE CLOUD, THAT WE MAY BE READY THE SOONER TO ARISE AND GO FORWARD IN THE MORE ACTIVE DUTIES, AND IN THE MORE JOYFUL EXPERIENCES OF THE REVIVAL DAYS?
1. In general, to be ready for the lifting up of the cloud, that we may go forth in efficient service in revival scenes, we must be diligent in all the ordinary duties of the tabernacle when it is resting.
2. Among the duties which are specially incumbent when the Church is under the cloud we will enumerate those which God has signalised in the history of the tabernacle as those which are at all times essential to the Christian character and life.(1) Christian benevolence, which answers quickly to the voice of God, as stewards of His manifold grace, in liberal and conscientious giving to the various objects of religious charity which are designed to promote the good of men and the glory of Christ.(2) The ordinary means of grace should be specially improved by the entire membership of the Church as a preparation for seasons of extraordinary effort. It is not by artificial stimulants, occasionally taken, that we gain the compactness of muscle and the strength of frame which fit us for those emergencies which call forth great physical strength. This strength is the slow growth of nutriment habitually taken to satisfy the cravings of hunger and to supply the daily waste of the system.
(E. S. Wright.)— A preacher of the gospel was travelling by steamboat from Chicago to the north of Lake Michigan, and found that at a certain point the course lay through a narrow and difficult channel between several small islands and the shore. The difficulty of advancing here is greatly increased by the fact that a dense fog almost always rests upon the surface of the water. When, therefore, this part of the voyage is reached, a man is sent up to the mast-head where he can see the landmarks on either side rising above the fog, and, though himself out of sight, is able to give directions for steering to those below. Thus the vessel is guided safely through. So our gracious God sits above the clouds of temptation and trial which surround us on earth, and make our voyage through life so perilous, and, seeing all the dangers of the way, He counsels us as to the track of safety. Let us fully trust the guidance of His eye, and boldly proceed as He directs.
(H. W. Beecher.)
(T. De Witt Talmage.).
LinksNumbers 9:15 NIV
Numbers 9:15 NLT
Numbers 9:15 ESV
Numbers 9:15 NASB
Numbers 9:15 KJV
Numbers 9:15 Bible Apps
Numbers 9:15 Parallel
Numbers 9:15 Biblia Paralela
Numbers 9:15 Chinese Bible
Numbers 9:15 French Bible
Numbers 9:15 German Bible
Numbers 9:15 Commentaries