Sunday, May 6, 2012

Even If There's No Pillar of Cloud to Guide You

If you have been having Monday Morning Manna here with us for any length of time, you've read about how God created me totally lacking in some areas in order to keep me humble.  It's hard to feel too much pride with your face burning hot in embarrassment.

One of the largest blank portions of my brain is the part that provides others with a sense of direction.  As you can imagine, being lost is a great fear of mine.  To leave my house and drive to a never-before-visited destination or even via a road I've only traveled a dozen times or so, I literally have to force down an almost tangible knot of fear, tell myself I'm a big girl with a fully charged cell phone, and slip the van into reverse.

Probably because I fear getting lost, I've always had this image in my head of the Israelites just meandering aimlessly around the wilderness.  Sand storms, a lack of direction, or some other divine stellar re-mix in the cosmos--I've always imagined this million man, woman, and child march continually getting lost in the Sinai peninsula, especially after they failed the test of faith when it came time to cross the Jordan River and possess the land.  In my mind, they lived out the forty year curse struggling to find their way back to Canaan after God allowed the land's native inhabitants to send them running. 

Yet, my childhood image is wrong. God never allowed this group straight off the bus from Egypt to just wander around aimlessly. 

Wander?  Yes and no.  God always had a definite goal in mind even if the Israelites couldn't see it and felt like they were meandering at an irregular pace.

Aimlessly?  Definitely  not..

God led them--visibly--all the way: " The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people" (Ex. 13:21-22).  

With these visible signs of His presence always with their camp, God's people had a sign they could always look to for confirmation that He was leading them. 

After God instructed them to build the Tabernacle and saw its construction complete, the cloud's presence over the tent of meeting determined when the Israelites would make and break camp: "Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp... 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" (Num. 9:17, 22).

I remember this part.  But what I don't think I ever understood was that even after they disobeyed, God didn't just shake His holy head and turn His back on the whole lot of them, then pick them back up forty years later.

Right before Joshua entered the land of Canaan after the forty years, when Moses spoke his last words to the Israelites, "The Lord appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud, and the pillar of cloud stood at the doorway of the tent" (Deut. 31:15).

The prophet Nehemiah later confirms this history of God's continued presence during the forty year wandering: "You, in Your great compassion, Did not forsake them in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way, Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go. You gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, Your manna You did not withhold from their mouth, And You gave them water for their thirst. Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want;Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell" (Ne. 9:19-21).

God's Presence had been with His people the whole time, leading them with this cloud over the Tabernacle.  His Presence had caused them to wander on a God-approved path, one with His continued presence.

Next week, we will look at where God led the Israelites.  But for now, I can only stop here and sit in wonder at our God and what this means for us who are called the children of God.

Even when we feel as if we're wandering with no clear direction, even when our sin leads us on a path of consequences and God's judgment in the wilderness--EVEN THEN, God's presence is still with us.

We may not have a literal pillar of cloud to serve as a guide, but for those of us who are called by His name, who are His children, He will never leave us or forsake us.  He is always present, leading, guiding and protecting.

"Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you" (Deut. 31:6).

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