Numbers 9:17-20 describes the presence of God visualized for the children of Israel in a cloud coming to rest on the tabernacle thusly:
“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.18 At the commandment of the Lord the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the Lord they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents. 19 And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the Lord, and journeyed not. 20 And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the tabernacle; according to the commandment of the Lord they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the Lord they journeyed.”
As I considered this passage, my first thought was how lucky the children of Israel were to always know exactly what they were supposed to be doing. They had the tangible presence of God guiding them! I long for something that visual. I long to know that what I’m doing is God’s will, I long to know God’s will for the next steps in my life. I crave tangible answers!
But as I meditated and continued my reading, some other thoughts struck me. First, the Israelites had no idea when they would go or stay. Verse 21 –
21 And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.
They could be roused from their beds at night and told they had to move on with no warning. How much security would that offer?
Second, they never had a guarantee that they would be in any one place for any defined length of time. Verse 22 –
22 Or whether it were two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud tarried upon the tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up, they journeyed.
At this point, I am beginning to think the Israelites were not so lucky. While they always had God’s visible presence with them, they were never sure of where they were going or when or why. They often had to move on quickly, (v. 21) but they also had extended periods of waiting in one place (v. 22). The children of Israel must have struggled with trusting that God knew how he was leading them through the wilderness. Yet, trust was their only recourse. How else could they journey through unfamiliar territory? Every day they knew they were exactly where God wanted them to be because they were there. Though they had no idea where God would take them next, they knew God knew.
So also in my life as I try to plan for the future, trusting God is my only intelligent recourse. I’ve never done life before, so I must trust that he knows what’s best for me. I know that I am where God wants me to be because if he didn’t want me here, he’d have put me somewhere else. I don’t know God’s plan for the rest of my life, but I know that he knows his plan (Jer. 29:11-13;Rom. 8:28-31). Whether I’m busily moving from one thing to the next or I feel as though I’m stuck in a holding pattern, God is in control. God has planned every step of my life for his glory, which is my highest good.
Now, I have an advantage over the children of Israel. All they had was a cloud over the tabernacle and the word of a man. I have all of God’s direct revelation at my fingertips every time I open my Bible. But, God’s guidance is the same for me as it was for them. I must stay near God’s presence, and trust that he not only knows the next step he wants me to take, but he will also reveal the next step to me at the perfect time.