c. 1490 BC
15 And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning.
The first time the word cloud is used in Scripture is in association with the Noahic Covenant. “I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth (Gen. 9:13).
Here, a Divine cloud has been appointed to be the visible sign and symbol of God’s presence with Israel.
The people were familiar with this particular cloud, for it had hung high over their camp guiding them during the days following their flight from Egypt. Now the cloud would settle upon the Tabernacle, and cover it to show that God was present with His people in a visible way.
While God is transcendent over all of His creation, He is not very far from any of us. In Him we live and move and have our being.
When people saw the cloud of God’s presence their hearts would be comforted. Faith would replace fear.
The people could be at peace, for God was with them. He was the sovereign God. He was the Almighty God. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was the God worthy of praise, love, and devotion.
Today, the Church does not have a visible cloud to guide her.
Today, God’s people must live by faith, not by sight. And yet, we do have the presence of the Lord by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And we have the Bible to guide our steps every day, if only we will obey.
16 So it was always: the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.
By always covering the Tabernacle by day, the Israelites remembered there was a Divine appointed place for meeting with the Lord.
To that place they must go. In like manner, Christians today are commanded not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
While private Bible study, worship, and devotion is essential for Christian growth, God has appointed a place for His presence to be manifested in a visible way.
The Church collectively is the body of Christ, and an expression of His presence in the midst of a nation. The presence of God is always there.
The special covering cloud which appeared by day, appeared as a fiery cloud by night.
It was not a different cloud, but only functioned differently for the LORD changes not. The way the LORD appears to His people may change, but the essence of the LORD is unchanging. “For I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6).
By changing from a covering cloud to a fiery cloud the Hebrew people would be reassured that the LORD would never leave them nor forsake them.
Their faith would be enhanced by the cloud. While the people slept, the LORD would be there when they woke up. The people will be kept by day, and by night (Isa. 27:3).
Any terrors of darkness could be dispelled by the burning cloud of God’s presence.
The manifestation of God as a pillar of fire might have frightened some, and that is not all bad, for the LORD is terrible in His anger.
He is to be feared. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The enemies of the LORD should respect and fear Him. But the fire of God’s presence is reassuring to His own, though it does demand a respectful distance.
“God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. 5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Ex. 3:4, 5).
There is an old adage that familiarity breeds contempt. That must not happen with the LORD. He reminds His creation that He is the sovereign, and we are His subjects. There is a respect that must be shown to God.
While we are to come boldly before the throne of grace, it is still a throne to which we come, on which sits the Creator of the Universe and all that is in it.
Come now, and let us worship the LORD, but let us be careful how we worship. People can draw near to God, while their hearts are far from Him.
17 And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.
When the night past, the covering cloud changed once again. The fiery presence was gone, but not the cloud. “I will never leave you nor forsake you” is the Divine promise.
When camp was broken, and the Ark of the Covenant, called the Tent of the Testimony, was placed on the shoulders of the Levites for transport, the cloud began to move.
The pillar of cloud and fire determined all the motions, marches, and encampment of Israel in the desert journey. Where the cloud travelled, the Hebrew people walked. Where the cloud stopped, the children of Israel stopped, and stayed until further notice.
The lessons of faith are noted. First, God has a geographical will for our lives. The LORD knows where He would have His people to be.
Every Christian should be asking, “Am I in the geographical will of God?” This is not just a grand inquiry but a local inquiry as well.
Some people get outside the geographical will of the LORD for their lives, and they get themselves into trouble.
When Lot lifted up his eyes and beheld the city of Sodom, he moved outside the geographical will of God. He left the camp of the righteous to live in the city of sin.
When David stayed home in Jerusalem while he sent the rest of the army of Israel to fight other nations and kings, he moved outside the geographical will of God for his life, and fell into great sin.
Only by keeping our eyes on the presence of the LORD can we be in the geographical will of God.
It is possible that some Israelites chaffed when the Covering Cloud rested.
No doubt some wanted to keep marching towards the Land of Promise. They wanted to get to Canaan as soon as possible, but, there was a lesson to learn. Not only does God have a geographical will for our life, our times are in His hands as well.
There are people who try to move too quickly in life, with terrible results. Forty years earlier Moses moved too quickly to become the leader of the Hebrew people. In his zeal he killed a man, and had to flee for forty years. It was not God’s timing.
Sarah became impatient waiting on the LORD, and tried to bring a child of promise into the world apart form God’s timing. Waiting upon the LORD to move is one of the most challenging parts of being a Christian. Yet, for those who wait, there will be good rewards.
“Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (Psalm 27:14).
“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew [their] strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; [and] they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
It is good to wait upon the LORD. It is good to be patient. One day, two months, a year may pass. Ten years may go by. Wait on the Lord. “There is no time lost while we are waiting on God’s time” (Matthew Henry).
Though the cloud lingered, it did move, and when it moved the people followed. Sometime the Cloud moved by day, and sometimes by night. It did not matter. The Hebrew people wisely followed in faith, trusting the presence of the LORD.
Because the cloud did move at night, a guard had to be posted to wake the people and make sure they were prepared to march.
In like manner, the Christian is to always watch, not knowing when the LORD will come again.
There is a healthy uncertainty to life that keeps a person dependent on the LORD, and watchful.
Had the people not moved when the cloud moved, had Israel keep moving when the cloud stopped moving, the people, and their God, would have parted company.
The Christian is reminded that while God is eternally omnipresent, intimate fellowship with Him can be broken. Sin breaks the harmony of the heart with God, leading to feelings of fear, shame, guilt, remorse, sadness and sorrow.
Therefore, guard the heart with diligence, for out of it comes forth the issues of life. Make sure to keep near the LORD by having no unconfessed sin, by praying without ceasing, by entertaining holy thoughts, by guarding the tongue, by deflecting hatred in the heart, by a constant commitment to obey.
Today, the Christian can maintain the presence of the LORD by not grieving the Holy Spirit, for the guidance of the cloud is spoken of as signifying the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:14).
How does the Spirit guide His people? The Doctrine of Divine Guidance helps to answer that inquiry.