Over the last few months I have been reading through the first five Old Testament books of the Bible. At times I’ve rolled my eyes in exasperation at the disobedience and downright rebellion of the Israelites. They seemed to be in a constant state of discontentment. In the areas of faith, righteous living, and sacrifice they continually lacked an attitude of thankfulness.
As I continued to read, I realized the exasperation I felt was a direct correlation between my unbelief at the Israelites attitude and the spiritual reality within me. I was seeing my “inner Israelite” reflected in the pages of the biblical text. I may not be guilty of such societal disobedience or religious idolatry (that I am aware of) but I have my moments lacking in faith, full of willful disobedience, and needing a spirit of thankfulness.
Now, this self-realization is not what’s prompted me to write today. What I read in Numbers 9:15-23 (mostly verse 22-23) is. Even in the midst of their thanklessness and disobedience, the Israelites recognized and followed the presence of God. They may have been recklessly rebellious, yet, above all else they valued the presence of God.
“Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with His command through Moses.” (Numbers 9:22-23)
It was the presence of the Lord in their midst that they valued. It was He who brought them up out of Egypt, who protected them, and it was He who dwelt in their midst in the tabernacle. During the day His presence was manifest in the form of a cloud and at night as fire. It was a constant visual reminder that He was with them. There was no question of going ahead of the Lord or staying behind. As He moved they moved and when He stayed they stayed. They followed His presence, if not always His commandments.
It is true that they often questioned the His goodness in bring them into the dessert, His provision for them, and the choice of Moses as their leader. But here we read, when it came to guidance upon their journey, they only moved upon direction from God. Where His presence went they went.
As I reflected upon this in regards to my life today, I had to realize the Lord does not dwell in a tabernacles made of wood or stone (Acts 7:48), nor is His presence normally manifest as a cloud or pillar of fire. Today, He dwells in the body of those who faithfully believe (I Cor. 6:19), within me, and His Holy Spirit leads me (John 16:13) as the cloud and fire did for the Israelites. His Spirit dwelling in me is more than a visual manifestation of His presence, but a visceral one. His presence lives in me, is felt by me, and worked out in/through me. (Not to be misunderstood as limiting the many other ways the Lord may choose to work or be known)
Yet, even with this visceral, tangible connectedness to God, we are found to be disobedient, I’m found disobedient. It is often said that our faith would be so much easier if we lived in a time when God worked in such visible and miraculous ways, and yet His presence lives in us and we often do not recognize it. The Israelites camped and moved in response to the visual representation of God and yet, how often have we set out without knowing fully if God was with us. I have heard it said, and prayed it myself, that God would be with me as I moved into a new area of work or ministry. In actuality, I should not be moving at all without God first moving. As my body is the living tabernacle/temple I must only move as the presence of the Lord moves.
Today, as I find myself “encamped” within transitional stag of life, much like that of the Israelites journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, I find myself seeking to follow the presence of God. I am encamped because His presence has not moved me on. There have been times I have not moved but He has not let me. I have to recognize I a responsibility to live, work, and minister within His presence and with His power here where He has me encamped. Yet, I feel His presence may be moving me (me and my wife) soon, and I am ready to move as His moves. At least I pray I am. And I pray I do not move before He does.
How about you? Are you encamped with the presence of God? Have you pulled up camp and moved on as you have seen Him move? Or have you gone in a direction without Him and then asked Him to join you? It is easy to set our life on a course that we desire and then ask God to bless us and be with us. However, it is He that we need as a guide if we have any hope of making it to the Promised Land. The Lord lives in you. Seek His presence and His movement as you seek to live out your lives in obedience to Him.
Lord, I pray you give me the unalterable focus so I may remain fixed on Your presence. When You arise may I follow. When You descend may I set my camp. May I never move ahead of You or stay when I know you are on the move. I desire to be in your presence wherever that may be. Lord I pray You help me recognize your presence in me as tangibly as did the Israelites did the cloud and pillar.