In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and the fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels. (Ex 40:36-38)
Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. 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 set up camp, and at the Lord’s command they set out. (Num 9:21-23)
As we travel through life, we face a slew of decisions every day. These range from the mundane (what to put on in the morning) to the momentous (choosing a life partner). Several factors may enter into even the smallest decisions: “do the colors or patterns clash” are considerations just as “will our values and living patterns clash” are. The ramifications are what makes one decision much more crucial than another.
The Israelites were on a journey of life-changing ramifications, not just for them but for generations to come. Under God’s leading and power, Moses had brought them out of slavery in Egypt and was leading them through the wilderness on their way to the land He had promised. It wasn’t a cakewalk by any means. There were thousands upon thousands of people, flocks and herds, camping equipment to pack and unpack; altogether a huge operation to manage. It was new territory to all of them; how were they to know where to go, and how long to stay?
They knew because they waited for God to lead them. He provided a very clear visual aid in the cloud that signaled His presence with them. Everyone could see the cloud above the tabernacle. Even at night, it glowed like fire – there was no mistaking it, no fearing it had left town in the pre-dawn hours. And so, they kept looking at the cloud and waiting for God to indicate it was time to move. If the cloud didn’t move, neither did they, no matter how long it took.
We don’t have the visible cloud of God’s presence today. We have something far greater, infinitely more valuable, as we travel in the wilderness that is this world. We have God’s presence within us, His very Spirit, to guide our every decision. As was the cloud, His presence is with us day and night, and will never leave us or forsake us.
But therein lies a difficulty. Just as we can take those closest to us for granted and feel free to ignore them, so it is with God. So often, we seem to take it for granted that God will be there if we really need Him, but in the meantime we’ll go ahead and make our own plans, chart our own course. When things go wrong, we’ll have the nerve to wonder how God could let us wind up in a place like this, and expect Him to extricate us from it and its consequences.
At other times, we may look for God’s direction, but if it takes too long coming (like more than 24 hours) we’ll complain that God isn’t answering our questions. We want the cloud to lift, not hover there for like what seems forever. So we’ll decide to forge ahead on our own, or do what our friend suggests, or what the “how-to” book advises. If that ends badly, see above.
We may think the small decisions don’t matter; surely we don’t have to look to God to decide what to wear, or what to have for dinner. But even small decisions reflect a God-centred approach to life – or a deficiency of it. The green or blue shirt doesn’t matter, but modesty does. The choice of broccoli or spinach doesn’t matter, but a healthy eating pattern as opposed to consistently unhealthy choices dishonors the body God has entrusted to us. Small decisions add up to big consequences, positive or negative.
The new territory of each day brings its “whethers” – whether to do this or that, here or there, now or later. Lord, help us look to You, and to be willing to wait for the cloud to lift before we move.