Sunday, March 09, 2008

Camping Out

On the day the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered it. But from evening until morning the cloud over the Tabernacle looked like a pillar of fire. This was the regular pattern—at night the cloud that covered the Tabernacle had the appearance of fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the Lord’s command wherever he told them to go. Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. If the cloud remained over the Tabernacle for a long time, the Israelites stayed and performed their duty to the Lord. Sometimes the cloud would stay over the Tabernacle for only a few days, so the people would stay for only a few days, as the Lord commanded. Then at the Lord’s command they would break camp and move on. Sometimes the cloud stayed only overnight and lifted the next morning. But day or night, when the cloud lifted, the people broke camp and moved on. Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on. So they camped or traveled at the Lord’s command, and they did whatever the Lord told them through Moses. (Numbers 9:15-23, emphasis mine)

As much as I enjoy traveling, I'm not so sure that I would have enjoyed taking this journey with the Israelites. I like to know in advance where I'm going, and, specifically, how and when we're going to get there. If I'm going to an unfamiliar place, I like to do research and read up on what to expect, the best route to take, how much time to allow for getting there.

The Israelites, however, were not privy to this sort of information. It does not appear that they had much (if any) advance notice about when they would be packing their tents up and moving to the next location. And when they arrived at their destination, they didn't know how long they would be camping there. In some cases it was a few days, in others, a few months or longer. There was no itinerary or atlas to consult.

All they knew was to look for the presence of the Lord in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. Wherever the cloud went, they followed. And they did not move until the cloud did, and did not stop moving until the cloud stopped.

I can't help but marvel at how this method of traveling must have tried the patience of some of the Israelites. I wonder if they awoke each morning expecting this to be the day that their journey continued. Did they eagerly look forward to moving on to their next stopping place, or did they dread the packing process? How difficult it must have been to live out of suitcases for forty years.

As I read through this passage in Numbers, I was struck a couple of statements in particular. First, no matter how short or how long the amount of time was that they camped out at a location, the Israelites stayed there. They did not break camp without God's lead. I imagine that there were times of frustration over not knowing how long they'd be there. But they knew that it was in their best interest to follow God's lead rather than to strike out on their own.

The second statement that I noticed was the fact that as soon as the cloud lifted, they moved. They didn't dilly-dally or make excuses about not being ready to go. They were prepared at all times to move on whenever God was ready to move.

The image of the Israelites following God's lead through the wilderness is an important one to keep in mind in each season of life that we journey through. There are seasons that may only last a few weeks or months. Some may last years or decades. Some may go by in a flash, while other seasons seem endless. It is important for us to remain encamped wherever God wants us to, for as long as He wants us to. Waiting on God to move us can be a painful, frustrating experience if we keep looking ahead and trying to figure out the next destination on our journey or when we're going to get there. When, like Israel, we instead focus on our Guide, the journey is much more pleasurable.

It is equally important to be prepared to move on when He's ready for us to move into the next season of life. We can become so accustomed to where we are right now, so comfortable with the place God has us in this particular season, that we become reluctant to move on, fearful even. It's good to remember that God will not leave us in one particular place longer than absolutely necessary, nor will He lead us anywhere that does not ultimately benefit us.

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