Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse
Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages
“Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.”
The Levites are washed (even the ministers need cleansing), “waved” before God as an offering, and ordained to minister before the people. The law of God has been given; the tabernacle has been designed, built and dedicated; the people have been counted and organized; and they are now ready to head to the land of promise as a worshipping community. The one-year anniversary of their salvation from Egypt is marked through the observance of the Passover meal, and the journey begins.
The emphasis in this section is on the Lord’s abiding presence. He is with them day and night on the journey to the land of promise. He is with them waking and sleeping. He is with them fighting and resting. Imagine a great funnel cloud hovering above the place of worship by day. At night, it looks like a funnel of fire. The people are constantly reminded of His presence. When it is time to continue the journey, the trumpet sounds and the people gather. Other times the trumpet sounds to call the people to rest, or worship, or feast, or even battle. Like the national anthem before a ballgame or “Taps” at a military funeral, different sounds (or songs) came to be associated with the various calls of God. This is the background for the “trumpet call of God” in the New Testament, the clarion cry summoning the dead in Christ to rise and gather for a great feast celebrating the arrival of God’s kingdom (1 Thes. 4:16-17).
God is no less present with His people today. While there is something special about His presence when we gather as a community (see Matthew 18:20 and additional discussion in the commentaries), He commits to being with us every single day. We are in the presence of a God who has promised never to leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). That is a great encouragement for the believer. He is with us waking and sleeping. Throughout the day, whatever trials we encounter or joys we experience, He is with us. Throughout the night, when we return to our “tents” to rest, He is there. Our Shepherd is beside us in the green pastures, and He stays close when we face the dark night of the soul in the valley of the shadow of death. He will be with us until we arrive at the land of promise, where we will enjoy Him and each other forever (Ps. 23). This God we worship is Lord over everything; there is nothing that confounds Him, nothing that prevents or corrals Him. When He tells the Devil where to go, he goes (Mark 5:1-20). Rejoice with me today in God’s abiding presence on the journey.