From Cloud to Fire—Waiting on God

Have you ever spent the night in the desert?

I haven’t and I’m not sure I want to because the desert is a hostile place. Temperatures soar in the daytime as the sun reflects off light-colored sand. At night, they quickly plunge and drive travelers into tents for protection against wind and cold.

Yet it was into this exact environment that the Israelites were taken after their exodus from Egypt. Moses led them as the human leader designated by God, but the Lord’s presence guided them, also.

How did God choose to lead? In a cloud and in fire.

The cloud led them in the daytime—a form of traveling umbrella, if you will—to shield them from the glaring sun. In the evening, the cloud rested over the tabernacle and turned into fire; a source of light, and possibly warmth as well. The Israelites were told to follow the changing appearance. And to wait. The cloud rested over the tabernacle for a day, a month or a year at a time. All they had to do was to wait for it to move.

How hard could that be?

Just as hard as it is for us to wait on God for answers. Day by day, the children of Israel awoke and looked out to see if the cloud was remaining on the tabernacle or if it had lifted. Whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. And when it settled, they encamped. There was no long-range planning—no itinerary for the week or month or year.

It was daily leading, daily grace.

In a way, that seems comforting to us. We wouldn’t have to do anything but check a cloud for direction. But on the other hand, it would be terribly frustrating. How are we to plan if we don’t know the plan from day to day?

The implications to us as believers are great. This is the epitome of the life of faith—following God one day, one moment at a time. We are to be flexible followers, only moving when he directs. Jesus himself reinforced this idea of dependence on God. In Matthew 6:33, in the middle of the section known as The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated:

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

It’s a famous verse that many people claim for guidance in life. But rarely is the verse right after quoted along with it—

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

After stating the promise about receiving everything we need, Jesus speaks to our fainting, fearing hearts. Do not be anxious. Do not worry about tomorrow. Do not fear.

Just do today. Like the Israelites.

 If we’re honest, the reason we’re anxious is because we’re considering our own finite strength instead of depending on his. Or someone else's strength or lack of it. We imagine a future without God in it, which thrusts the whole responsibility on us—or them—to make things happen.

There is leading and direction available by the presence of the Holy Spirit—our own personal form of cloud and fire. We wait on God, seeking him morning and evening through prayer and through words in Scripture. The promise is that all the extras, or “all these things” will be given to us. We will know what to do. Day by day. And we’ll let tomorrow take care of itself.

We wait.

And we follow.

One moving cloud and illuminating light at a time.



[For the whole story, read Exodus 13:20-22 and * Numbers 9:15-23]