The provisions God has given so far relate to the establishment and holiness of the camp. Now come the facilities for the trip itself. There are two: the cloud (verses 15-2315Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning.16So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it [by day], and the appearance of fire by night.17Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp.18At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped.19Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the LORD’s charge and not set out.20If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the LORD they remained camped. Then according to the command of the LORD they set out.21If sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, when the cloud was lifted in the morning, they would move out; or [if it remained] in the daytime and at night, whenever the cloud was lifted, they would set out.22Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out.23At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’s charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses.) and the silver trumpets (Num 10:1-101The LORD spoke further to Moses, saying,2“Make yourself two trumpets of silver, of hammered work you shall make them; and you shall use them for summoning the congregation and for having the camps set out.3When both are blown, all the congregation shall gather themselves to you at the doorway of the tent of meeting.4Yet if [only] one is blown, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall assemble before you.5But when you blow an alarm, the camps that are pitched on the east side shall set out.6When you blow an alarm the second time, the camps that are pitched on the south side shall set out; an alarm is to be blown for them to set out.7When convening the assembly, however, you shall blow without sounding an alarm.8The priestly sons of Aaron, moreover, shall blow the trumpets; and this shall be for you a perpetual statute throughout your generations.9When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies.10Also in the day of your gladness and in your appointed feasts, and on the first [days] of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be as a reminder of you before your God. I am the LORD your God.”). Both means show that the people are completely dependent on God when they walk through the wilderness. The cloud is there “continuously” (verse 1616So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it [by day], and the appearance of fire by night.). What a special concern of God! The special privilege of the guidance of God through the column of clouds is referred to several times in the history of Israel (Psa 105:3939He spread a cloud for a covering,
And fire to illumine by night.
; Neh 9:1919You, in Your great compassion,
Did not forsake them in the wilderness;
The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day,
To guide them on their way,
Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go.
With the cloud we can think of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life to give him directions for his going through the wilderness of this life. However, the personal aspect is not paramount. The cloud here is in fact the covering of the tabernacle, which is called here “the tent of testimony”. God has entrusted us with a testimony. He wants to give a testimony of Himself through us to the world. For this the Holy Spirit came to dwell in the church.
The first time the cloud shows the way, after the redemption from Egypt, is to lead them to the Red Sea (Exo 13:2121The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.). It is a picture of the guidance of the Holy Spirit Who, after redemption, will lead His people. The second time we see the cloud when it takes position at the entrance of the tent of meeting erected by Moses outside the camp (Exo 33:99Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses.).
The lifting and settling down of the cloud are described in detail here. The whole path of the people is connected to the lifting and settling down of the cloud. As the cloud indicates, the people must act. The people as a whole, not just the few, must aim for it. Even as local churches, we should not plan our own way, but surrender our way to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
God wants every local testimony of the church to pass through the wilderness. Every exercise in a church is related to watching the cloud. In questions about allowing someone to take part in the Lord’s Supper, or in the case of removing sin from the midst of the church or any other form of care, we must pay attention to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Also in the night the cloud is there to determine our walk. In the night the cloud looks like a fire. Everything is presented in a childishly simple way. It is the sure way of blessing for testimony. Everything must be done at or according to “the command of the LORD” (verse 1818At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped. [2x], verse 2020If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the LORD they remained camped. Then according to the command of the LORD they set out. [2x], verse 2323At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD’s charge, according to the command of the LORD through Moses. [3x]), a command expressed in the movements of the cloud.
The people can go a certain way if they watch the cloud and act according to what it does. Because the people never know when the cloud will stop or move forward, it is necessary to constantly look at it. For each step we depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Taking action without His guidance only brings misery, as well as staying where we are, while the Spirit urges us to do a certain work or make a certain decision.
Paying attention to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is also important in discussions of brothers with a certain responsibility in the church. It is not a matter of business minded brothers, who can talk best, but of whether there is real dependence on the Holy Spirit in a spirit of prayer. Not only a case must be clear, but also the time of action. No time is lost when we wait for God’s time. In order to act in the right way and at the right time, it is necessary to always look upwards. Our actions and the time when we should act, should not be dictated by what we see around us, for example, in business.
We must give the Lord the opportunity to lead us. He wants to lead us through His eye. He can also lead us through bit and bridle (Psa 32:8-98I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.
9Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
[Otherwise] they will not come near to you.
). In the latter case, He keeps us under control so that we do not take the wrong path. In the first case there is fellowship with Him in going the right way. Therefore, we should not ask if the Lord wants to stop us when we are in danger of going wrong, but rather entrust ourselves to Him and ask for His will. Then we will not act until we are certain that something is His will.