Numbers Chapter Nine
Of the Passover. (1-14) The removals of the Israelites. (15-23)
Commentary on Numbers 9:1-14
God gave particular orders for the keeping of this passover, and, for aught that appears, after this, they kept no passover till they came to Canaan, Joshua 5:10. It early showed that the ceremonial institutions were not to continue always, as so soon after they were appointed, some were suffered to sleep for many years. But the ordinance of the Lord's Supper was not thus set aside in the first days of the Christian church, although those were days of greater difficulty and distress than Israel knew in the wilderness; nay, in the times of persecution, the Lord's Supper was celebrated more frequently than afterward. Israelites in the wilderness could not forget the deliverance out of Egypt. There was danger of this when they came to Canaan. Instructions were given concerning those who were ceremonially unclean, when they were to eat the passover. Those whose minds and consciences are defiled by sin, are unfit for communion with God, and cannot partake with comfort of the gospel passover, till they are cleansed by true repentance and faith. Observe with what trouble and concern these men complained that they were kept back from offering to the Lord. It should be a trouble to us, when by any occasion we are kept back from the solemnities of a sabbath or a sacrament. Observe the deliberation of Moses in resolving this case. Ministers must ask counsel of God's mouth, not determine according to their own fancy or affection, but according to the word of God to the best of their knowledge. And if, in difficult cases, time is taken to spread the matter before God by humble, believing prayer, the Holy Spirit assuredly will direct in the good and right way. God gave directions in this case, and in other similar cases, explanatory of the law of the passover. As those who, against their minds, are forced to absent themselves from God's ordinances, may expect the favours of God's grace under their affliction, so those who, of choice, absent themselves, may expect God's wrath for their sin. Be not deceived: God is not mocked.
Commentary on Numbers 9:15-23
This cloud was appointed to be the visible sign and symbol of God's presence with Israel. Thus we are taught to see God always near us, both night and day. As long as the cloud rested on the tabernacle, so long they continued in the same place. There is no time lost, while we are waiting God's time. When the cloud was taken up, they removed, however comfortably they were encamped. We are kept at uncertainty concerning the time of our putting off the earthly house of this tabernacle, that we may be always ready to remove at the command of the Lord. It is very safe and pleasant going when we see God before us, and resting where he appoints us to rest. The leading of this cloud is spoken of as signifying the guidance of the blessed Spirit. We are not now to expect such tokens of the Divine presence and guidance; but the promise is sure to all God's spiritual Israel, that he will guide them by his counsel. Psalm 73:24, even unto death, Psalm 48:14. All the children of God shall be led by the Spirit of God, Romans 8:14. He will direct the paths of those who in all their ways acknowledge him, Proverbs 3:6. At the commandment of the Lord, our hearts should always move and rest, saying, Father, thy will be done; dispose of me and mine as thou pleasest. What thou wilt, and where thou wilt; only let me be thine, and always in the way of my duty. In applying general precepts to particular circumstances, there should be good counsel and fervent prayer. When any undertaking is evidently wrong, or doubtfully right, and yet the mind leans that way, in such a case "the moving of the cloud," as men sometimes miscall it, is generally no more than a temptation Satan is permitted to propose; and men fancy they are following the Lord, when they are following their own wayward inclinations. The record of his mercy will conduct us with unerring truth, through Christ, to everlasting peace. Follow the pillar of the cloud and of fire. Lay the BIBLE to heart, and receive with meekness the ingrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Numbers》
 And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying,
In the first month — And therefore before the numbering of the people, which was not till the second month, Numbers 1:1,2. But it is placed after it, because of a special case relating to the passover, which happened after it, upon occasion whereof he mentions the command of God for keeping the passover in the wilderness, which was done but once, and without this command they had not been obliged to keep it at all, till they came to the land of Canaan.
 And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the passover on that day: and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day:
They came — For resolution of their difficulty.
 And those men said unto him, We are defiled by the dead body of a man: wherefore are we kept back, that we may not offer an offering of the LORD in his appointed season among the children of Israel?
An offering — Which if we neglect, we must be cut off, and if we keep it in these circumstances, we must also be cut off. What shall we do?
 Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD.
Unclean or in a journey — Under these two instances the Hebrews think that other hindrances of like nature are comprehended; as if one be hindered by a disease, or by any other such kind of uncleanness; which may seem probable both from the nature of the thing, and the reason of the law which is the same in other cases.
 And if a stranger shall sojourn among you, and will keep the passover unto the LORD; according to the ordinance of the passover, and according to the manner thereof, so shall he do: ye shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger, and for him that was born in the land.
A stranger — Who is a proselyte.
 And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up the cloud covered the tabernacle, namely, the tent of the testimony: and at even there was upon the tabernacle as it were the appearance of fire, until the morning.
Namely, the tent of the testimony — Or, the tabernacle above the tent of the testimony, that is, that part of the tabernacle in which was the testimony, or the ark of the testimony; for there the cloudy pillar stood. This was an evident token of God's special presence with, and providence over them. And this cloud was easily distinguished from other clouds, both by its peculiar figure and by its constant residence in that place.
Fire — That they might better discern it and direct themselves and their journeys or stations by it. Had it been a cloud only, it had scarce been visible by night: And had it been a fire only, it would have been scarce discernable by day. But God was pleased to give them sensible demonstrations, that he kept them night and day.
 And when the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, then after that the children of Israel journeyed: and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel pitched their tents.
Was taken up — Or, ascended on high, above its ordinary place, by which it became more visible to all the camp.
 At the commandment of the LORD the children of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the LORD they pitched: as long as the cloud abode upon the tabernacle they rested in their tents.
The motion or stay of the cloud is fitly called the command of God, because it was a signification of God's will and their duty.
 And when the cloud tarried long upon the tabernacle many days, then the children of Israel kept the charge of the LORD, and journeyed not.
The charge — That is, the command of God, that they should stay as long as the cloud stayed.
 And so it was, when the cloud abode from even unto the morning, and that the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they journeyed: whether it was by day or by night that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.
When the cloud abode — This is repeated again and again, because it was a constant miracle, and because it is a matter we should take particular notice of, as highly significant and instructive. It is mentioned long after by David, Psalms 105:39, and by the people of God after their captivity, Nehemiah 9:19. And the guidance of this cloud is spoken of, as signifying the guidance of the Blessed Spirit, Isaiah 63:14. The Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest, and so didst thou lead the people. And thus, in effect, does he guide, all those, who commit their ways unto the Lord. So that they may well say, Father, thy will be done! Dispose of me and mine as thou pleasest. Here I am, waiting on my God, to journey and rest at the commandment of the Lord. What thou wilt, and where thou wilt: only let me be thine, and always in the way of my duty.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Numbers》
09 Chapter 9
Keep the Passover.
Ordinance of the Passover
The design of God in instituting this remarkable ordinance, the Passover, was to explain to us, as well as to prefigure to the Jews, the method of salvation through the blood of Christ. He is the one great Sacrifice for sin; and here the application to Him in His mediatorial work is most comprehensive. Behold the analogy. It holds--
I. With regard to the victim which was chosen. Was it a lamb? Christ is often so called on account of His innocence, meekness, and resignation (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:6). Was it chosen from the flock? Christ was taken from among His brethren (Acts 3:22). Was it a male of the first year? Christ suffered in the prime of His days. Was it without blemish? Christ was altogether perfect (Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 1:19).
II. With regard to the oblation which was made. As the lamb was slain, so was Jesus (Revelation 5:9). As the lamb was slain before the whole assembly (Exodus 12:6), so Jesus was publicly put to death. As the lamb was slain between the two evenings, so Jesus was offered between three o’clock and six (Matthew 27:45). As the lamb was set apart four days before it was slain (Exodus 12:3; Exodus 12:6), so Christ entered the city four days before His crucifixion (Matthew 21:1, &c.).
III. With regard to the blood which was sprinkled. The blood was sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop (Exodus 12:22), dipped into the bason; so the blood of Christ is the blood of the everlasting covenant, the deposit of privileges, which all become ours by the exercise of faith. The blood was sprinkled upon the door-posts of their dwellings. So the blood of Christ is to be applied to the hearts and consciences of believers (Hebrews 9:13-14; Hebrews 10:22). The blood was sprinkled upon the lintel and the side-posts; but not behind nor below the door. So the blood of Christ is not to be trodden under foot (Hebrews 10:29). The blood secured every family where it was sprinkled, it being within the limits of the Divine protection, so that the destroying angel was forbidden to hurt them. So the blood of Jesus is the only refuge for the guilty.
IV. With regard to the flesh which was eaten. The flesh of the lamb was eaten roasted with fire, strikingly exhibiting the severity of our Saviour’s sufferings (Isaiah 50:6; Isaiah 52:14-15; Psalms 22:14-15). It was eaten whole, and not a bone broken, which was amazing]y fulfilled in reference to Christ (John 19:31-36). It was eaten in haste, with the staff in their hands, to intimate that Christ is to be received immediately without delay. It was eaten with bitter herbs, importing our looking to Christ with sorrow of heart, in remembrance of sin, as expressed in Zechariah 12:10. It was eaten with the loins girded, implying that we must be prepared for His coming (Ephesians 6:14). It was eaten with the feet shod, to remind us of the freedom and happiness which Christ imparts to the believing Israelites (compare Isaiah 20:2-4 with Romans 5:11). It was eaten with unleavened bread, because we are to receive and profess Christ with unfeigned sincerity (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; John 1:47). Upon the whole, we learn from the subject the happy state of believers, who, though once afar off, are now made nigh by the blood of Christ; and likewise the unhappy state of unbelievers, who, rejecting the atonement, must inevitably perish. (William Sleigh.)
The Passover and the Lord’s Supper
There is this connection between the passover and the Lord’s Supper, that the former was the type, the latter the memorial, of the death of Christ. Thus we read in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13., “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us.” This sentence establishes the connection. The passover was the memorial of Israel’s redemption from the bondage of Egypt; and the Lord’s Supper is the memorial of the Church’s redemption from the heavier bondage of sin and Satan. Hence, as every faithful Israelite would surely be found keeping the passover, in the appointed season, according to all the rites and ceremonies thereof, so will every true and faithful Christian be found celebrating the Lord’s Supper in its appointed season, and according to all the principles laid down in the New Testament respecting it. If an Israelite had neglected the passover, even on one single occasion, he would have been cut off from the congregation. And may we not ask in the face of this solemn fact, Is it a matter of no moment for Christians to neglect, from week to week, and month to month, the supper of their Lord? Are we to suppose that the One who, in Numbers 9:1-23., declared that the neglecter of the passover should be cut off, takes no account of the neglecter of the Lord’s table? We cannot believe it for a moment. To a pious Israelite there was nothing like the passover, because it was the memorial of his redemption. And to a pious Christian there is nothing like the Lord’s Supper, because it is the memorial of his redemption and of the death of his Lord. How is it, then, that any of God’s people should be found neglecting the Lord’s table? If the Lord Christ instituted the supper; if God the Holy Ghost led the early Church to celebrate it, and if He has also expounded it unto us, who are we that we should set up our ideas in opposition to God? No doubt, the Lord’s Supper should be an inward spiritual mystery to all who partake of it; but it is also an outward, literal, tangible thing. There is literal bread, and literal wine--literal eating, and literal drinking. If any deny this, they may, with equal force, deny that there are literal people gathered together. We have no right to explain away scripture after such a fashion. Nor is it merely a question of subjection to the authority of scripture. There is such a thing as the response of love in the heart of the Christian, answering to the love of the heart of Christ. If our blessed and adorable Lord has in very deed appointed the bread and the wine in the supper as memorials of His broken body and shed blood; if He has ordained that we should eat of that bread and drink of that cup in remembrance of Him, ought we not, in the power of responsive affection, to meet the desire of His loving heart? (C. H. Mackintosh.)
The history of the cloud
We have here the history of the cloud. Not a natural history--“who knows the balancings of the clouds?” but a Divine history, of a cloud that was appointed to be the visible symbol of God’s presence with Israel.
I. When the tabernacle was finished this cloud, which before had hung on high over their camp, settled upon the tabernacle and covered it; to show that god manifests his presence with his people in and by his ordinances.
III. This pillar of cloud and fire directed and determined all the motions, marches, and encampments of Israel in the wilderness.
1. As long as the cloud rested upon the tabernacle, so long they continued in the same place and never stirred. Though no doubt they were very desirous to be pressing forward in their journey towards Canaan, where they hoped to be quickly, yet as long as the cloud rested, if it were a month or a year, so long they rested (Numbers 9:22). Note, he that believeth doth not make haste. There is no time lost whilst we are waiting God’s time. It is as acceptable a piece of submission to the will of God to sit still contentedly when our lot requires it, as to work for Him when we are called to it.
2. When the cloud was taken up they removed, how comfortably soever they were encamped (Numbers 9:17). Whether it moved by day or night they delayed not to attend its motions (Numbers 9:21). And probably there were some appointed to stand sentinel day and night within ken of it, to give timely notice to the camp of its beginning to stir; and this is called keeping the charge of the Lord. The people being thus kept at a constant uncertainty, and having no time fixed for their stays and removes, were obliged to hold themselves in a constant readiness to march upon very short warning. And for the same reason we are kept at uncertainty concerning the time of our putting off the earthly house of this tabernacle, that we may be always ready to remove at the commandment of the Lord.
3. As long and as far as the cloud moved, so long and so far they marched; and just there where it abode they pitched their tents about it, and God’s tent under it (Numbers 9:17). Note, it is uncomfortable staying when God is departed, but very safe and pleasant going when we see God go before us, and resting where He appoints us to rest.
1. The particular care God takes of His people. Nothing could be more significant of God’s tenderness of Israel than the conduct of this cloud was. It led them by the right way (Psalms 107:7); went on their pace; God did by it, as it were, cover them with His feathers. We are not now to expect such sensible tokens of the Divine presence and guidance as this was. But the promise is sure to all God’s spiritual Israel, that He will guide them by His counsel (Psalms 73:24) even unto death (Psalms 48:14); that all the children of God shall be led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14); that He will direct their paths who in all their ways acknowledge Him (Proverbs 3:6). There is a particular providence conversant about all their affairs to direct and overrule them for the best. The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord (Psalms 37:22).
2. The particular regard we ought to have to God in all our ways. In our affections and actions we must follow the direction of His Word and Spirit; all the motions of our soul must be guided by the Divine will; at the commandment of the Lord our heart should always move and rest. In all our affairs we must follow providence, reconciling ourselves to all its disposals, and bringing our mind to our condition, whatever it is. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
The pillar of cloud and fire
I. As an emblem of divine truth.
1. Supernatural as to origin.
2. Stable: only a cloud, yet not dispersed.
3. Adapted to both night and day.
5. Intolerant: “This is the way,” and no other.
II. As a symbol of divine providence.
1. Different appearance to different characters.
2. Presented alternations of aspect to the same people.
3. Mysterious in its movements.
4. Aims at the good of all who follow its guidance.
III. As a type of the divine saviour.
1. Mysterious nature.
2. Challenges attention.
3. His purpose beneficent.
4. The source of great comfort.
5. Constant in His attachment.
1. Seek to be on the right side of the cloud.
2. Seek it in the right place--over the tabernacle.
3. Follow its guidance. (J. C. Gray.)
The pillar of cloud and of fire
I. The pillar of cloud and of fire is a perpetual fact in the life of God’s people.
1. We see the pillar in God’s Word. The Bible has not a precept for every emergency which can arise in daily life, so that at such a point you can see a guide-board, like the signs pointing to the old cities of refuge; but it is full of general principles which, if obeyed, will direct without mistake to the promised land.
2. We see the pillar in God’s providences. Sometimes it appears in prosperity, beckoning us onward; sometimes in adversity, turning us back.
3. We see the pillar in God’s special revelations. They come, perhaps, at the threshold of some great undertaking. Shall we move out from Egypt toward the Red Sea? And there, if we are watching, will be the sign in the sky I When Pastor Harms, in Germany, was deliberating whether, without one dollar in his possession, he should build a ship to carry missionaries to Africa, he says, describing his conflict: “I prayed fervently to the Lord, laid the matter in His hands, and as I rose up at midnight from my knees I said, with a voice that almost startled me in my quiet room, ‘Forward now, in God’s name.’ From that moment there never came a thought of doubt into my mind.” Such an experience must, indeed, be interpreted with great care, there is so much danger of delusion. Yet it is true that with a prayerful mind, with diligent study of the Word, especially with the intuitions of a filial spirit, such revelations may be as distinct as any that ever came to Moses.
II. The pillar is a blessing only to those who trust and follow it. On some sides the Israelites are a poor example for us, but we may learn something from them in this particular: that they followed the pillar.
1. They followed it promptly. Whenever and wherever it moved, then and thither they moved without delay. If it aroused them from their sleep they obeyed with alacrity. It is when the cloud speaks to us “suddenly,” unexpectedly, that our obedience is most severely tested. But that is our standard; a mind to run in the way of God’s commandments.
2. They followed the pillar constantly (Numbers 9:21-22).
3. They followed the pillar by faith. They obeyed even when they could not understand. If troubles were only explained they would be so much easier to bear. But the best faith endures without understanding. A generation ago some of us used to hear of an afflicted woman in Connecticut named Chloe Lankton, who, many will be surprised to know, is living still. For fifty-five years she has lain upon her bed and suffered, but without losing her Christian faith. Acknowledging, not long ago, a remittance sent for her support, she wrote: “Jesus only knows how much I endure. He knows it all and supports me I have a strong arm to lean upon and will trust Him to the end Oh, how thankful I feel . . . for the many comforts and blessings God gives me!” Poor soul! How long, for her, the cloud has tarried! And she is only one of the great “shut-in-society” who have learned to trust and follow “two days or a month or a year,” or a lifetime, if God wills, It would be a mistake, however, to think of this truth as applying only to the darker side of human experience. It is great joy in the brightest prosperity to see the pillar; and no one has so good a right to live in the sunshine as a Christian. Friendship is joy, home is joy, music is joy, learning is joy. The world is full of such pleasures. But does it not intensify these to realise that they are all signs of the Father’s love? Is not the water at Elim more sweet if, as we quench our thirst, we can look up and see the pillar? Then, too, is there not comfort in knowing that if farther on we have cause to apprehend another experience of thirst and suffering, we shall be under the same heavenly presence and can hear the voice out of the cloud? So for all, in every condition and need, the pillar has heavenly blessing. Still we must remember the blessing is only for those who trust and follow. (T. J. Holmes.)
The guiding pillar:
I. The double form of the guiding pillar. The fire was the centre, the cloud was wrapped around it. The former was the symbol, making visible to a generation who had to be taught through their senses the inaccessible holiness and flashing brightness and purity of the Divine nature; the latter tempered and veiled the too great brightness for feeble eyes. The same double element is found in all God’s manifestations of Himself to men. In every form of revelation are present both the core of light, that no eye can look upon, and the merciful veil which, because it veils, unveils; because it hides, reveals; makes visible because it conceals; and shows God because it is the hiding of His power. So, through all the history of His dealings with men, there has ever been what is called in Scripture language the “face,” or the “name of God”; the aspect of the Divine nature on which eye can look; and manifested through it there has always been the depth and inaccessible abyss of that infinite Being. We have to be thankful that in the cloud is the fire, and that round the fire is the cloud. God hides to make better known the glories of His character. So a light, set in some fair alabaster vase, shines through its translucent walls, bringing out every delicate tint and meandering vein of color, while itself diffused and softened by the enwrapping medium which it beautifies by passing through its pure walls. Both are made visible and attractive to dull eyes by the conjunction. He that hath seen Christ hath seen the Father, and he that hath seen the Father in Christ hath seen the man Christ as none see Him who are blind to the incarnate Deity which illuminates the manhood in which it dwells. But we have to note also the varying appearance of the pillar according to need. There was a double change in the pillar according to the hour, and according as the congregation was on the march or encamped. Both these changes of aspect symbolise for us the reality of the Protean capacity of change according to our ever-varying needs, which for our blessing we may find in that ever-changing, unchanging Divine presence which will be our companion if we will. When the deceitful brightness of earth glistens and dazzles around me, my vision of Him may be “a cloudy screen to temper the deceitful ray”; and when “ there stoops on our path in storm and shade the frequent night,” as earth grows darker, and life becomes grayer and more sombre, and verges to its even, the pillar blazes brighter before the weeping eye, and draws near to the lonely heart. We have a God that manifests Himself in the pillar of cloud by day and in the flaming fire by night.
II. The guidance of the pillar. When it lifts the camp marches; when it glides down and lies motionless the march is stopped and the tents are pitched. The main thing which is dwelt upon in this description of the God-guided pilgrimage of the wandering people is the absolute uncertainty in which they were kept as to the duration of their encampment, and as to the time and circumstances of their march. Is not that all true about us P We have no guiding cloud like this. So much the better. Have we not a more real guide than that? God guides us by circumstances, God guides us by His Word, God guides us by His Spirit, speaking through our common sense and in our understandings, and, most of all, God guides us by that dear Son of His, in whom is the fire and round whom is the cloud. The pillar that we follow, which will glow with the ruddy flame of love in the darkest hours of life, will glide in front of us through the valley of the shadow of death, brightest then when the murky midnight is blackest, nor will that pillar which guides us cease to blaze as did the guide of the desert march when Jordan has been crossed, but it will still move before us on paths of continuous and ever increasing approach to infinite perfection. They who follow Christ afar off and with faltering steps here, shall there “follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.” In like manner, the same absolute uncertainty which kept on was intended to keep the Israelites (though it failed often) in the attitude of constant dependence, is the condition in which we all have to live, though we mask it from ourselves. That we do not know what lies before us is a commonplace. The same long tracts of monotonous continuance in the same place, and doing the same duties, befall us that befell these men. Years pass, and the pillar spreads itself out, a defence above the unmoving sanctuary. And then, all of a flash, when we are least thinking of change, it gathers itself together, is a pillar again, shoots upwards and moves forwards; and it is for us to go after it. And so our lives are shuttlecocked between uniform sameness, which may become mechanical monotony, and agitation by change which may make us lose our hold of fixed principles and calm faith, unless we recognise that the continuance and the change are alike the will of the guiding God whose will is signified by the stationary or moving pillar.
III. The docile following of the guide. That is what we have to set before us as the type of our lives--that we should be as ready for every indication of God’s will as they were. The peace and blessedness of our lives largely depend on our being eager to obey, and therefore quick to perceive the slightest sign of motion in the resting or of rest in the moving pillar which regulates our march and our encamping. What do we want in order to cultivate and keep such a disposition? We need perpetual watchfulness lest the pillar should lift unnoticed. When Nelson was second in command at Copenhagen, the admiral in command of the fleet hoisted the signal for recall, and Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye and said, “I do not see it.” That is very like what we are tempted to do; the signal for unpleasant duties that we want to get out of is hoisted, we are very apt to put the telescope to the blind eye, and pretend to ourselves that we do not see the fluttering flags. We need still more to keep our wills in absolute suspense if His will has not declared itself. Do not let us be in a hurry to run before God. We need to hold the present with a slack hand, so as to be ready to fold our tents and take to the road if God will. We must not reckon on continuance, nor strike our roots so deep that it needs a hurricane to remove us. To those who set their gaze on Christ no present from which He wishes them to remove can be so good for them as the new conditions into which He would have them pass. We need, too, to cultivate the habit of prompt obedience. “I made haste and delayed not to keep Thy commandments” is the only safe motto. It is reluctance which usually puts the drag on, and slow obedience is often the germ of incipient disobedience. In matters of prudence and of intellect second thoughts are better than first, and third thoughts, which often come back to first ones, better than second; but, in matters of duty, first thoughts are generally best. They are the instinctive response of conscience to the voice of God, while second thoughts are too often the objections of disinclination or sloth or cowardice. It is easiest to do our duty when we are first sure of it. It then comes with an impelling power which carries us over obstacles on the crest of a wave, while hesitation and delay leave us stranded in shoal water. If we would follow the pillar we must follow it at once. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The pillar of cloud and fire
I. The advantages of its possession.
1. The distinction it maintains. Only Israel so privileged. Christians, you are a peculiar people, your origin is peculiar, your character is peculiar, your spirit, your desires and affections, the objects of your pursuit. You have peculiar privileges and honours conferred on you. There must be a marked difference between you and the world.
2. The guidance it ensures. Jesus is now the guide of His people. He leads in the way of truth and wisdom. How?
3. The protection it affords. God is the Christian’s hiding-place.
4. The joy it inspires. God is the source of happiness, the fountain of life.
5. The glory it confers. The presence of God is our highest, best, only real glory. This is the glory of our nation--this is the glory of our churches--this is the glory of our religious assemblies--this is the glory of our families--and this is our individual glory. But what is all that God confers here to what is in reserve? Everything shall be glorious there.
II. The perpetuity of its enjoyment.
1. Its necessity. We always need the Divine presence. We are dependent on Him for everything. We need His providential presence and agency to continue us in being and supply our numerous wants; and we require His gracious presence for the maintenance of spiritual life and for the reception of spiritual blessings.
2. The manner in which it is ensured. This may be seen three ways. From what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do. (E. Temple.)
Dependence on Divine guidance
A more lovely picture Of absolute dependence upon, and subjection to, Divine guidance it were impossible to conceive than that presented here. There was not a footprint or a landmark throughout the “great and terrible wilderness.” It was therefore useless to look for any guidance from those who had gone before. They were wholly cast upon God for every step of the way. They were in a position of constant waiting upon Him. This to an unsubdued mind, an unbroken will, would be intolerable; but to a soul knowing, loving, confiding, and delighting in God, nothing could be more deeply blessed. Here lies the real gist of the whole matter. Is God known, loved, and trusted? If He be, the heart will delight in the most absolute dependence upon Him. If not, such dependence would be perfectly insufferable. The unrenewed man loves to think himself independent, loves to fancy himself free, loves to believe that he may do what he likes, go where he likes, say what he likes. Alas; it is the merest delusion. Man is not free. Satan holds the natural man--the unconverted, unrepentant man in terrible bondage. Satan rules man by means of his lusts, his passions, and his pleasures. There is no freedom save that with which Christ makes His people free. He it is who says, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” And again, “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Here is true liberty. It is the liberty which the new nature finds in walking in the Spirit and doing those things that are pleasing in the sight of God. (C. H. Mackintosh.)
The day and the night journey
We must look to have our portion of the cloud so long as we remain below the skies. It will be the lot of the believer, in the somewhat analogous image of St. Paul, to “see through a glass darkly” so long as he remains in this tabernacle. Possibly a clearer light to our imperfect organs of spiritual vision would only tend to dazzle and obscure. Enough for us to know there is light enough, and that what there is is light from Heaven that cannot lead astray. In following the cloud Israel followed God. In our obedience to the will of God, as expressed in His providence or revealed in His Word, we obey Him too; and the true believer’s attachment to and connection with God, is like that which is expressed in the touching and holy plighted troth of marriage--“for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.”
I. If the cloud be taken up by day--that is, if God blesses a man with prosperity--it is, in the first place, to make him an eleemosynary ordinance, or means of usefulness to others. It is entrusting him with the “five talents,” as compared with the two or the one talent.
II. We have to learn, in the second place, that difficulty is no ground for dispensing with duty: “whether it was by day or by night the cloud was taken up, they journeyed.” To obey under embarrassment is the more characteristic obedience of a Christian. There are many forms of the night-journey of the pilgrim of Christ. We have considered the day-journey under the illustration of wealth and easy circumstances, or in any other shape of general prosperity; let us meditate upon the night-journey in the shape of poverty, sickness, bereavement, or domestic opposition to the Christian life. (J. B. Owen, M. A.)
The journey of life
There is no strain upon the imagination in thinking of life as a journey. That is one of the simplest and most beautiful figures by which the action of life can be represented. We are travellers; we are here but for a little time; on our feet are sandals and in our hands are staves; here We have no continuing city, and we are called upon to testify to the age that we seek a country out of sight. So, then, we are familiar with the figure; it commends itself to us, as life enlarges, as quite expressive of the reality of the case--every day a milestone, every year so much nearer the end. Regarding life, then, as a journey, according to the pattern of this text, is there not a mysterious presence or influence in life which really affects our action? In the text that influence is spoken of as a cloud by day and a fire by night--two striking natural images. Our controversy is not about the image or the metaphor; behind it is there not this ever-abiding solemnity, that in life there is a mysterious action--a ministry we cannot comprehend, an influence we cannot overrule? We speak of “impression.” When we think of changing our position in life, we say we have an impression. What is an impression? Who created it? Who determined its meaning? How do you account for the impression? Upon what is the impression made?--upon the mind, upon something subtler than itself, upon the consciousness, the soul, the spirit--the innermost man. That is a mystery! Or we speak of “circumstances.” We say that circumstances seem to point in this direction or that. What are circumstances? Where do they begin? How do they sum themselves up into influence or into definiteness? Having spoken about “impression” and “circumstances,” we speak about another mysterious thing which has come to be known by the name of “tendency.” We say the tendency of things is--; or the tendency of life seems to indicate--. We have created a species of rhythm, or harmonic movement, falling into which we say, This is the sweep of tendency, and to resist tendency is impossible. How anxious we are to get rid of religious names! Men who will speak of impression, circumstances, and tendency, will hesitate before saying Providence, God, Father in heaven. Let the Church beware how it gives up the grand old names--God, Providence, heavenly direction, spiritual influence! Why shrink from the definite religious testimony of the eighteenth verse, “At the commandment of the Lord,” &c. When a man rises in the morning in God’s strength, lies down at night in God’s blessing, walks all day in God’s energy, he lives and moves and has his being in God; God is in his inmost thought, and every word upon his tongue is an implied or actual confession of childlike trust in God. We need not be ashamed of this definite testimony. It exalts human life. What is the meaning of it? Evidently that our life is recognised by God, our movements are of some consequence to Him; He knows our downsitting and our uprising, our going out and our coming in; and there is not a word upon our tongue, there is not a thought in our heart, but lo, it is known wholly in heaven. This consciousness of Divine guidance in life, Divine care of life, Divine redemption of life, necessitates prayer. The man who seizes this view of things must pray. This religious view of life brings the spirit into the restfulness and blessed joy of obedience. The children of Israel simply obeyed. Theirs was not a life of controversy, ours, unhappily, is. We have made it a life of controversy when we need not. We are always arguing with our orders; we are trying to construe them into different and inferior meanings; we are wasting life by discussing in idle words, which can settle nothing, the gravity and authority of our marching orders. If we accept God’s Book, do let us accept it with full trust, not as a field for criticism, but as a code of life--the Word, or the testimony, by which every thought, feeling, and action is to be determined. Live that life and risk your destiny. To obey is to live. (J. Parker. D. D.)
The cloud tarrying
I. A word of description. The time “the cloud tarried” was--
1. One of rest.
2. One of spiritual activity.
3. Peculiarly a time of temptation.
II. A word of exhortation.
1. Be more anxious to keep the cloud in sight than to see it tarry. We are responsible for the one, but not for the other.
2. Be more anxious to improve than to enjoy these refreshing times.
3. Be more anxious to improve than prolong these periods.
III. A WORD OF CAUTION.
1. If the cloud tarry long, think not that it will never move. Rest should be the preparation time for exertion.
2. Be not impatient if it tarry when you wish to journey. It does rest sometimes over a desert land.
3. Be ready, that whenever the cloud moves you may be ready to journey. (R. A. Griffin.)
The cloud and the tabernacle:
I. Why is the church in our day so much of the time under the cloud, and seemingly put back in the progress of long-continued revivals of religion? Sin is the trouble. It took but a few moments to bring it into the world, but it takes ages to get it out. It makes us ignorant, weak, self-reliant, and self-seeking, so that we cannot march long at a time without getting so elated that God must let down the cloud a little while; a day, a month, or a year, as our case may be, to get us ready to march again. It requires great grace and a large measure of previous discipline, and frequent humiliations to keep us feeling and saying, as we go to our work of conquest for Christ, “Not by might, nor by power, but by Thy Spirit, O Lord.” And so, God must often bring us into pecuniary straits, and cut off our men and our means, and cause painful delays, and sad embarrassments, and short triumphs, and unforeseen obstacles, and cloud-falling times, that we may feel our weakness and renew our strength; and, with all our facilities for saving ourselves and the world, that we may just lay ourselves over, with the simplicity of children, upon the supernatural power of God, and the sole guidance of Christ, saying, “Help, Lord, for without Thee we can do nothing.”
II. What are some of the prominent duties which god requires from us while under the cloud, that we may be ready the sooner to arise and go forward in the more active duties, and in the more joyful experiences of the revival days?
1. In general, to be ready for the lifting up of the cloud, that we may go forth in efficient service in revival scenes, we must be diligent in all the ordinary duties of the tabernacle when it is resting.
2. Among the duties which are specially incumbent when the Church is under the cloud we will enumerate those which God has signalised in the history of the tabernacle as those which are at all times essential to the Christian character and life.
God’s guidance:--A preacher of the gospel was travelling by steamboat from Chicago to the north of Lake Michigan, and found that at a certain point the course lay through a narrow and difficult channel between several small islands and the shore. The difficulty of advancing here is greatly increased by the fact that a dense fog almost always rests upon the surface of the water. When, therefore, this part of the voyage is reached, a man is sent up to the mast-head where he can see the landmarks on either side rising above the fog, and, though himself out of sight, is able to give directions for steering to those below. Thus the vessel is guided safely through. So our gracious God sits above the clouds of temptation and trial which surround us on earth, and make our voyage through life so perilous, and, seeing all the dangers of the way, He counsels us as to the track of safety. Let us fully trust the guidance of His eye, and boldly proceed as He directs.
A trustworthy guide
I trust myself implicitly to the pilots on the ferry-boats. I do not know the tides and currents that change with every trip across the river, but I have no doubt that they know them, and I have never stopped to question them as to how they came by their knowledge. I am satisfied that they are good pilots, for I see them carrying millions of people back and forth between the two cities without accident; and I think that our Brooklyn and New York ferries as they are served are a miracle of safety; and if I put my life, my happiness, all that is dear to me, in the hands of those men because I believe that they know what they can do, and know what they are about, how much more can I put my trust in Jesus Christ, who has, by His deeds, by His death and by His resurrection, manifested Himself as worthy of all trust. (H. W. Beecher.)
Following the Divine leading:
I said to an aged minister of much experience, “All the events of my life seem to have been Divinely connected. Do you suppose it is so in all lives?” He answered, “Yes, but most people do not notice the Divine leadings.” I stand here this morning to say from my own experience that the safest thing in all the world to do is to trust the Lord. I never had a misfortune or a trial or a disappointment, however excruciating at the time, that God did not make turn out for my good. My one wish is to follow the Divine leading. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》