Ever since the Israelites first left Egypt, God has guided them with a pillar of cloud. Now that the Tabernacle is complete, the cloud covers it: a visible sign of God’s presence with his people.
On the day the Tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered it. But from evening until morning the cloud over the Tabernacle looked like a pillar of fire. This was the regular pattern—at night the cloud that covered the Tabernacle had the appearance of fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the Lord’s command wherever he told them to go. Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. If the cloud remained over the Tabernacle for a long time, the Israelites stayed and performed their duty to the Lord. Sometimes the cloud would stay over the Tabernacle for only a few days, so the people would stay for only a few days, as the Lord commanded. Then at the Lord’s command they would break camp and move on. Sometimes the cloud stayed only overnight and lifted the next morning. But day or night, when the cloud lifted, the people broke camp and moved on. Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on. So they camped or traveled at the Lord’s command, and they did whatever the Lord told them through Moses.
A pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night guided and protected the Israelites as they traveled across the desert. Some have said this pillar may have been a burning bowl of pitch whose smoke was visible during the day and whose fire could be seen at night. But a bowl of pitch would not have lifted itself up and moved ahead of the people, and the Bible is clear that the cloud and fire moved in accordance with the will of God. The cloud and the fire were not merely natural phenomena; they were the symbol of God’s presence and the visible evidence of his moving and directing his people.
The Israelites traveled and camped as God guided. God was teaching them how to follow him. They moved when he moved. They stayed when he stayed. Their lives and activities were fully submitted to God’s leading. When you follow God’s guidance, you know you are where God wants you, whether you’re moving or staying in one place. Wherever you are right now, instead of praying, “God, what do you want me to do next?” ask, “God, what do you want for me while I’m right here?”
Direction from God is not just for your next big move. He has a purpose in placing you where you are right now. Begin to listen for God’s purpose for your life by discovering what he wants for you right now!