"At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out; they kept the LORD's charge..."Numbers 9:23
When I was a child, Mother and Dad would plan our family vacations. We would see them pouring over maps and travel guides at the kitchen table. The night before we were to go, they would hand each of us a paper bag with a list of clothing we were to pack inside. If we packed well, we could add a toy or book on top for the journey.
We were told to be up and ready at a certain time. Dad drove, Mother navigated and we went along for the ride. When Mother said it was time to eat, we would stop at a rest stop and have a picnic. When Dad said it was time to stop the day's journey, we would pull into a hotel or motel, unpack and either jump into the pool, get supper or see the sights.
It was a very easy and relaxing journey, if you could discount the arguing over space in the back seat! Most of the journey was filled with games or singing to occupy our time on the road. But as a child, I did not have a say in where or when we were going. And to tell you the truth, it was quite nice.
The Israelites had the LORD's cloud as their tour guide. When the cloud moved, the Israelites moved. When the cloud hovered over a spot, the Israelites rested. Sometimes the movement of the journey was like a marathon. Sometimes the cloud guide instructed the camp to stay put.
"Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the Israelites remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out."Numbers 9:22
There are lessons in these verses.
God's people are a people on the move. They are nomads. They do not stay in one spot, stagnant or rigid.
God's people are always ready to move at a moment's notice. They travel lightly and do not necessarily sink roots in deeply.
God's people move at God's initiative. They watch and wait. When they see God moving, they pick up and join.
God's people never venture forth without God traveling with them. Whether God leads the pack or dwells in the midst of the pack, God is always present with them.
God's people must sometimes wait a long time. Sometimes it takes a year of rest before the camp breaks and sets out again.
God's people go where God charges them to go. Movement is in the direction God chooses.
Whether we hear this story literally and physically, or metaphorically and spiritually, or both, I think the lessons can either be comforting or disconcerting.
The comfort is for those who trust God and want to go along for the ride. The comfort is there for those who are willing to just pack their bags and get on board.
It would be disconcerting, though, for those who either are restless and want to move ahead of God's leading, or for those who get comfortable and want to stay in one place.
Perhaps each of us is neither one way or the other, but a combination of both, depending upon the camp we are in or our experience on the road.
Perhaps the key is who is watching the cloud. It seemed very apparent to the Israelites when to move and when to set up camp. The sign seemed obvious.
How does one learn the art of "cloud" watching?
Who are the "cloud watchers" in my community of faith?
How do I discern the movement of the "cloud" in my life and in our lives together?
"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees on a summer`s day, listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time."John Lubbock