“And the ark of the covenant of the LORD went before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them. And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, whenever they set out from the camp” (Numbers 10:33b-34).
The people of Israel stayed at the foot of Mount Sinai for quite some time. During those months, God gave them instruction on how they were to follow Him, using the time of waiting to teach them about Himself and prepare them for entering the land He had promised them. At last, when all was ready, the cloud of His presence moved. This was the signal Israel had been waiting for: it was time to set out on their journey again. This had been the case ever since they departed Egypt. Whenever the cloud moved, they moved; whenever the cloud was still, they were still. They never moved until God did.
The image of the cloud by day and the fire by night has always been a fascinating one. Wandering in the wilderness, heading for a largely unknown land, the Israelites had ample reason to be a bit concerned. Did Moses really know where he was leading them? Were they perhaps going in circles? Heading for open desert? But the amazing thing is that it was never Moses who was leading them. It was always God Himself Who went before them, carving out a path and bringing them exactly where they needed to go. Sometimes He kept them in one place for a night; sometime, as at Mount Sinai, He kept them there for months. But always, when the time was right, He moved. The people’s job wasn’t to know where they were going: they simply followed God’s presence.
God expects us to follow Him in the same way. We may think we know where we’re going, but God wants to lead us. When He tells us to stop and wait, we must listen to Him. When He tells us to go when we think it might be better to wait, we also must listen. God is a great pathmaker, one Who knows exactly where He’s going and the best way to get there. He has never led anyone astray, and He will not begin to do so now. As the Israelites followed every move of the pillar of cloud, so we too must follow our Leader, wherever He leads. At the right time, He will bring us to the place He has promised.