One thing I envy about God’s interactions with His people in the Old Testament is the physical, tangible way He made His presence known, although I wouldn’t trade the great privilege of God’s Holy Spirit that indwells us today. Before Christ returned to heaven, He promised His disciples not to leave them as orphans (John 14:18) but would send the Holy Spirit to indwell them (John 16:5-15). This happens for every believer; when we come to faith and receive salvation, the Spirit of God is given to us as a seal or pledge of our redemption (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13, 4:30).
For the children of Israel, the Holy Spirit was visible in the cloud that led them by day and the fire that protected them by night. Wherever they were in the camp, this tangible evidence of God’s presence continued to assure them that they were God’s chosen people and that He was with them.
They also heard God’s voice. For the people, God’s voice manifested in thunder and lightning, but Moses heard God’s voice audibly (Numbers 7:89). It was intimate, personal, and clear, just as a man speaks face to face (Exodus 33:11). God speaks to us today as well through His Word, as the Holy Spirit illuminates our understanding, and we perceive the meaning of it. I also believe the Holy Spirit speaks to our minds and hearts, prompting us to speak or act, in accordance with the truth of His written Word.
Numbers 9:15-23 is a great lesson for us in listening to God. On the day the tabernacle was finally and completely set up, God’s presence came to dwell in the midst of the camp, hovering above the tabernacle. This is a picture of our heart; the New Testament clearly teaches that when we come to faith in Christ, we become the temple where God dwells (1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 2:5; Ephesians 2:21-22). When the children of Israel saw the cloud begin to move, they knew it was time to pack up their tents and follow. When the cloud stopped, they unpacked their tents and settled in to live until God decided it was time to go.
Numbers 9:22-23 – Whether 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. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the commanded of the Lord they set out; they kept the Lord’s charge, according to the command of the Lord through Moses.
Every person in that congregation knew where this journey was leading them. They were well aware of the geographical location their forefather Abraham had walked; they knew the land of Canaan, the promised land, was their destination. Knowing the personalities of men and women, I’m sure there were many who wondered why God delayed. Many would have liked to go farther and faster than the cloud decreed, frustrated with their slow pace. Others likely became content and desired to linger a bit longer, unready to do the hard work of packing up their belongings and corralling animals and children into a caravan ready to move.
They had to make choice. They could focus on the destination and neglect to appreciate the presence of God. Or they could rest and relax in His timing and plans and enjoy the journey, trusting that He knew best.
Like the children of Israel, we know our final destination. For our time on earth, it’s allowing the Holy Spirit to develop the character and image of Christ in us, and to fulfill the good works He has prepared for us to walk in. Ultimately, we have a heavenly destination, our promised land. But when and how we arrive at the destination isn’t our responsibility. Our role is simply to follow God.
Sometimes God tells us it’s time to get up and move forward.
Sometimes God tells us it’s time to rest.
Sometimes we have to wait just a short time before we see promises fulfilled.
Sometimes we have to wait years.
We can’t leave this analogy without pondering what the results would have been for an individual or family to separate from God’s presence and His people, make their own plans and take their own path. They would have been fair game for the dangers in the wilderness, both man and beast, with little to no chance of surviving and arriving at the promised destination. Perhaps worst of all, they would have grieved God’s heart and missed the blessings He had intended for them to enjoy.
The key to success in our Christian life and journey isn’t answering all our “how,” “why,” and “when” questions. It’s learning to listen and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit, through His Word. It’s a determination to stay in the presence of God, making Him the center of our lives just as the Tabernacle sat in the very center of the camp. It’s recognizing that a delay is a divine intervention. It’s knowing that even when we feel rushed, God is ready.
Are you struggling with God’s timing?
Are you frustrated with His pace?
Are you wondering about the path He has you on, thinking there’s a better, faster, easier way?
Don’t lag behind or rush ahead. Just walk with Him. He will fulfill all His promises and accomplish all He intends in us and through us if we keep to the command of the Lord.